Archive for April, 2017

This Is Weird 4-30-17

This morning’s sermon is based on the Road to Emmaus story found in Luke 24:13-35. I explore what is, to me, a quite familiar story, but wonder if it is as familiar to everyone.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-is-weird-4-30-17

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

I have confession to make…sometimes pastors will reuse a sermon. This can happen for a variety of reasons…maybe a week becomes too hectic and they don’t get a new sermon prepared. Sometimes, they just said what needed to be said really well the previous time. (pause)

Now, I will say that this is not one of those times…but I have been guilty of this tactic…called recycling…in the past…and though it pains me to say it…I have done it with this very scripture.

The first time I preached on this passage, July 2012…it was towards the end of my year of internship. That congregation does not follow the lectionary as we do here at Underwood, but it came around during a sermon series and happened to fall on my week to preach…I’ll admit it…I was proud of that sermon…it was a good one.

Fast forward 3 months, and I was slated to return to my home congregation and preach…but it was a crazy week…and I…shamefully, recycled that Road Emmaus sermon…that was the fall of 2012. (pause)

Then, in 2013, I was called here to Underwood Lutheran…and my first Sunday was July 7…we moved into town on the 5th and I knew that in the craziness of the move…I would not have time to prepare a sermon…once again…shamefully…I recycled that same Road to Emmaus sermon. (pause)
Low and behold…the next spring…actually my first Confirmation Sunday as the pastor here at Underwood…the lectionary brought the Road to Emmaus back around again…now that time, I actually prepped a different sermon, so at least I’m not completely unoriginal. (pause)
Now here’s the thing…I have enough history with this particular gospel lesson in my history as a preacher…that this week, as I worked towards today’s sermon…I was convinced that this passage comes up every single year in the lectionary.  I was mistaken…but, given my personal history…its safe to say that this is a familiar passage for me…and maybe, just maybe…it’s a familiar one to you as well. (pause)
Now to put things in context…this is another post-resurrection appearance of Jesus…we’ve been having these over the course of the past few weeks as we move through the early part of the Easter Season…and so it stands to reason that we’re going to have the resurrected Jesus appearing to someone that he knows.

As I stand here, the first though that goes through my head is that we all know this story.  2 minor disciples of Jesus…followers though not among the “12” disciples…are heading home. The festival of Passover is over…the Sabbath has come and gone…and so they join the throng of faithful Jewish people heading of the city.

Now remember…even though we celebrated Easter and the Resurrection a couple weeks ago…for these two guys…its still that day…the women had just found the empty tomb and heard the angelic proclamation that morning…and a few of the men had gone and seen the tomb…but as the moment that these two guys hit the road…no one really seems to know what’s going on.  Is Jesus alive? Is he not…is there something crazy going on?  What should we do? Do we pack it all in and go back normal?

This is the state of these two guys…the man that they had followed…the man that they thought was the Messiah…the one to deliver Israel…had died…and despite some odd happenings that morning, no one seemed to know what do.  And so they walk along when another random guy starts walking with them and asks “What are you talking about?” (pause)
Now we know the rest of the story, its Jesus…they don’t recognize him for WHATVER reason…there’s a little back and forth, as these two guys are flabbergasted that he seems to be unaware of what’s been going on…asking if he’s a stranger…but then he opens up the truth of the Old Testament scriptures to them…and once they finally arrive in Emmaus, they invite him in…they all sit down together, he blesses the bread and breaks it…and BOOM…their eyes are open and they recognize the Risen Lord…and now everything makes sense to them so they hightail back to Jerusalem where they find the others and excited relay the message they have encountered the Lord and he was made known in the breaking of the bread.

That’s the story…familiar right? We’ve heard it plenty of times in the past…and combine it with the past 2 weeks’ worth of hearing about Jesus appearing in random ways to various people…and maybe, just maybe, its become a little too familiar.

I wonder if anyone else has fallen into the same trap that I have this week…thinking that EVERYONE knows this story…and like the 2 disciples…astonished that someone would have to ask “What are you talking about?”

But here’s the thing that I realized this week…not everyone knows this story…I think, this is what Jesus is modeling for us today. He approaches the two men with a question…asking them what they’re discussing…and what they’re discussing is the death of the Messiah…as well as the crazy possibility that maybe, just maybe that dead man was alive again…its crazy to them that he would ask…because apparently its all anyone in the city had been talk about since the previous Friday when Jesus had died on the cross…this is why they ask him if he’s a stranger. (pause)
But I’ll say it again…I think Jesus is modeling the stranger in our midst.  (pause) Now I’ll admit it…I live and breathe this stuff week and week out…and sometimes I forget that even regular church people aren’t as familiar with stuff as I might be…but even beyond that…there are times when I taken completely of guard and find out that someone is utterly unfamiliar with this whole story….and not just the road to Emmaus, but the gospel in general.

Granted we live in a society where, most people have in the very least, the passing idea that Jesus is somehow connected to God and that he died and that on Easter he wasn’t dead anymore…but for some…that’s pretty where understanding stops…that’s just the reality.

I came face to face with a good reminder of this through the week. I was sitting down with the high schoolers…and we read through this story…and our newest member Brandy, who is just scratching the surface of a lot of this stuff…she starting asking questions.

Wait a sec…so this is Easter right? And he had just risen? Yes.  And now he’s appearing to his friends…but they don’t recognize him? Yes. Why not? Does he look different? I don’t know…but for some reason they don’t.  Okay…but then when he finally broke the bread, and they recognize him…he disappeared? Yes. (Pause) This is weird. (pause)

Sometimes it takes someone seeing this with a fresh set of eyes to reveal very important truth.  WHATEVER IT IS, that the resurrected Jesus was up to during these various appearances…it doesn’t make a lot of sense to us…and maybe, just maybe, its not supposed to make sense.

After all…this whole gospel story is pretty off the wall isn’t it? The ultimate creator of the universe and everything in it…an entity or presence or something that we call God enters into our reality as one of us…and then God dies…and then, defying all logic…this dead man who is also God, is raised from the dead and starts popping up in random places before ultimately going back to heaven, but empowering his followers with the Spirit of God and the command to announce that somehow, someway we have been forgiven of our brokenness and through his resurrection, somehow we will be given life after death. (pause)

Sometimes I say that…and I don’t even want to believe myself…and yet…because of the power Holy Spirit…I do…and as I see a few of you nodding out there…or as I simply look out and see you gathered here today…it would seem that you believe it to.

This is the amazing thing about the gospel…this thing that shouldn’t make any sense…and in many cases…doesn’t make any sense…suddenly…does. We can’t explain why…we can’t explain how…and yet, just as the two men experienced but didn’t recognize until Christ was revealed to them…something about all this burns within us.

But today, here’s the takeaway.  We need to remember that not everyone gets it…not everyone knows it…and some have never heard it before. And so I pose this question…who is the stranger that needs us to tell them what happened? Who is the stranger that needs to hear the events that surround this dead messiah who somehow isn’t dead anymore?

I ask this question, because I think that when we miss those opportunities in our regular day to day lives…maybe we’re missing the presence of the Risen Lord.  Maybe we’re walking along, and our eyes are kept from realizing that God is at work right in front of us…or even that God is here with the stranger in our midst…just waiting for the opportunity to open up a whole world that we all get to be a part of.

So yah…this whole thing is pretty weird isn’t it?  But its also pretty wo

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Peace in the Midst of Life 4-23-17

This morning’s sermon is based on John 20:19-31. This story is commonly known as Doubting Thomas, but yet makes up 2 separate examples of Post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/peace-in-the-midst-of-life-4-23-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I’ve got quite a few pictures that decorate my office. Some are pretty new…others quite a bit older…they were taken in a wide variety of different situations and places…but a couple of them were taken in one of my favorite places in the world. Rainbow Trail Lutheran Bible camp in the mountains of southern Colorado.

Most of you have probably heard me talk about Rainbow Trail before. Once a year, my family packs up the car and road trips out west for a week of family camp. We drive and we drive…and finally after winding our way around countless mountain peaks, we turn off the main highway, and drive about 3 miles up a bumpy gravel road to camp.

Its usually the highlight of our year. We are refreshed and rejuvenated. We enjoy the company of wonderful people that we’ve gotten to know over the course of the past 11 years. We spend every waking moment taking in glorious views, with the constant programming we are going from morning till night…and perhaps most wonderful of all, up in the mountains there is zero cell reception…so there are no interruptions from the outside world.

But inevitably…the end of the week rolls around…and we pack ourselves back in the car…and the tiredness of the week catches up…and the cramped feeling of being in the car at the beginning of more than 11 hours’ worth of driving sets in…and as we drive back down that bumpy gravel road…back into the presence of cell service…the phone starts beeping with all the missed calls and texts…and usually before we’ve even driven 5 miles, we’ve started bickering.  And when that happens, one of us, usually my wife makes the statement “Welcome back to real life.” (pause)
I can’t help but think that same sort of situation has been our reality in our very recent history. Just 1 week ago…we all experienced the mountaintop that is Easter Sunday…and it was glorious.  Here at the church, Easter kicked off with our Confirmation Students leading the worship for our Sunrise Service…This led into a wonderful time of fellowship downstairs for breakfast…a couple hours later the sanctuary was packed to the rafters for our regular Easter service…and after that everyone scattered out in their own directions for various family dinners and gathers and celebrations…and it seemed…for that brief moment anyway…that everything was perfect…and nothing could mess up that feeling. (pause)
But I find myself wondering…just how long that feeling lasted for everyone? How long did it take for real life to take hold again…how soon did the craziness of life push that mountaintop experience of Easter to the back burner? (pause) THE TOMB IS EMPTY…HE HAS RISEN…HALLEJAH!!!!!! Oh, but guess what, welcome back to real life. (pause)

As true as that seems to be for us today…I can’t help but think that the earliest followers of Jesus must have been experiencing the very same thing…and I wonder just how quickly real life…how quickly reality…got in the way for them. (pause)

Over the course of the next several weeks…we’ll continue to encounter the various stories that occurred when Jesus made post-resurrection appearances…times when various individuals would encounter the risen Lord. And as we begin to take a look at those different stories…those different encounters…we begin to see some similarities between them…but we also see some pretty major differences for the individuals who have these experiences.

Now interestingly enough…our story today…commonly known as the Doubting Thomas story…it begins on Easter…so as we pick things up today, we almost need to backtrack a week…almost like the beginning of most tv shows anymore that give you a quick reminder of “previously on our show.” (pause)
Well previously on this show was Easter Sunday…when the tomb is empty and as we hear in John’s gospel…Mary Magdalene is the first one to encounter the risen Lord…but at first she doesn’t recognize him…and its only through their ongoing encounter that she does…but when she does, she goes off and tells the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” (pause)
Well now, we jump ahead a few hours…to the evening of Easter Sunday…and we find 10 of the disciples, no Judas, no Thomas…but the rest of them…huddled in a locked room out of fear. They’ve heard Mary’s report, but it doesn’t seem that its made much difference for them…and they are stuck in the reality of fear…afraid for their lives…afraid that their association with Jesus might just land them in the same boat with the Religious leaders…and they might be arrested or killed just like Jesus had been.

Suddenly…out of nowhere…Jesus is standing among them. We don’t know quite how he manages this…but he does…and he says to them, not once but twice. Peace to you…and he shows them his wounds so that they know its really him…and then he strengthens them by breathing out the very spirit of God…the Holy Spirit into each one of them. (pause)

Amazing right? Now, here in the midst of their fear…the resurrected Jesus has appeared, defying all logic…and for these men, everything is different for they have encountered the Risen Lord…all except Thomas. Poor guy.

When he hears the news he can only think that he’s missed out…that he’s missed his opportunity…but since he’s heard the reports…it seems that he hopes to have the same experience.  Mary encountered the Risen Jesus and reported “I have seen the Lord.”  Then the other disciples encountered the Risen Jesus and gave the same report “We have seen the Lord.”

So don’t sell Thomas short here…even though history remembers him for doubting…it seems to me that he’s simply expressing his hope…his desire…to physically encounter the Risen Jesus just as the rest of them had….and low and behold…a week goes by…and the situation is still pretty similar….they’re all still locked away…and so it seems that the fear is still hanging around…and this time Thomas is there…and once more Jesus is among them with the same message…Peace to you…and then he turns to Thomas, who gets his personal encounter with the Risen Jesus…and once he does, Thomas makes the ultimate confession…My Lord and My God. (pause)
Now these are just a few of the different stories we have of the Risen Jesus and the encounters that different have with him.  We also hear of the road to Emmaeus when two disciples encounter him…and walk along side him for 7 miles…talking…and they don’t recognize him…being to consumed by grief.  (pause) We hear of the disciples encountering Jesus on a mountain, and they worship him…but we hear that they doubted.   We hear that Jesus appears on the seashore after Peter and handful of the others decide to go fishing.

And interestingly enough…John tells us that there are others stories that we haven’t been told…that he did many other signs in the presences of his followers that are not recorded…but we hear about these ones so that we might come to believe…and even Jesus himself reminds us that blessed is the one who has not SEEN…and yet comes to believe. (pause)

Now I bring all of this up…all of these stories…to remind us that countless people encountered the Risen Jesus in many different circumstances…and it would seem that none of those individuals was in an overly happy mode when it happened.

Likewise…I think its safe to say that as wonderful as our Easter mountaintop experience was last Sunday, real life came crashing back in pretty quickly didn’t it…because real life is still happening at the same time as our celebration of the Risen Christ.

This craziness of life comes at us in many different ways. Different for each of us. I discovered it first hand as I tried to deal with a malfunctioning air conditioner and lack of internet connection in the office. Granted these are minor problems, but they added up to create a couple of crazy days this week. But there are others out there who have experienced a whole lot more “real life” than this. Some are dealing with the last days of a loved ones life.  Some are dealing with surgeries and sickness. Others with unease in their employment and finances…others experiencing broken relationships…and the list goes on and on.

Every single one of us is experiencing the ups and downs of life…the roller coaster…with wonderful things happening in one instant…and devastating things happening in the next…and that’s life.  But here’s the thing…that is where we encounter the risen Lord.  Remember that from last week…no one encountered Jesus in the tomb…they encountered him in the midst of the pain and the anguish of life…and so do we.

But if there’s one thing we can take away from today’s story…and the encounter of Jesus with the disciples in the locked room, both the first time around as well as a week later when Thomas was around…its this…the first words of Jesus to us in the midst of the craziness of life…the first words uttered by the Risen Lord are this. Peace be with you. (pause)
He doesn’t tell them not to be afraid…he doesn’t tell them hi or anything else so trivial as that…in the midst of whatever anguish and pain that life had dealt them in that instant he offers them peace.

This is what our Lord can do…this is what our Lord has already done.  He has come into our broken existence…and through his life, death, and resurrection has somehow, some way made it possible for us to find a sense of peace right in the middle of all of it…he has given us something to cling to when things are darkest…he has given us hope…and we receive this hope through the power of the Holy Spirit that he has given us. (pause)

I can’t tell you just how you have encountered the Risen Lord…because as we see in the scripture, that’s different for everyone…and its especially important to note that our experience is very different from his first followers…for they were actually able to see him…and like Thomas they were able to see the marks in his hands and feet…they were able to physically encounter the Risen Lord…but our reality is a little different…and our encounter with the Risen Lord comes through the proclamation of others…through their stories of ways that they have encountered the power of God at work…through their stories of what the Holy Spirit has done….and yet Christ reminds us that we are blessed because we have not seen and yet we come to believe. (pause)

Whatever craziness of life you are facing in this moment…whatever storms are raging in the back of your mind…because they are the reality of your life…remember this…the Risen Lord grants you peace in the midst of it….a peace which passes all human understanding…a peace that we cling…just as we cling to one another for support…and as we look around this room today, may we see one another as a gathering of people who are willing to offering this to one another…for this is why we gather together today, to get through this thing called life…knowing that with the peace of God given to us by Christ, and the strength that we find in the united body of Christ here on earth…that somehow, some way, we will find God’s peace in the midst of the craziness of this life. Amen.

Behold 4-16-17 Easter Sunday

In this Easter Sunday sermon, I explore Matthew’s account of the Resurrection, found in 28:1-10. We see a lot…and we are intended to. The tomb is open so that we can be witnesses to what has occurred.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/behold-4-16-17-easter-sunday

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The first of my grandparents to die was my grandpa on my mom’s side.  He and my grandma had moved to the Phoenix Arizona are when I was 5 years old…and they were still living there in the midst of my junior year of college, when Grandpa, quite suddenly had a serious health problem. He hung in there for a while…long enough for my mom to get down there to see him…but shortly after that he died. There was a small funeral for him, attended by those who could make it…but the timing was off for me, happening right in the midst of college mid-terms and sadly, I was unable to attend.

Then about three years later…I was finished with college. My wife and I had been married for about 18 months or so, and we decided to fly down to Arizona to visit my grandma…and while we were there, the three of us hopped in the car and visited the cemetery where my grandpa had been buried.

Now of course, I had mourned my grandfather when he died…but when we walked up to his grave and I looked at his tombstone, I just…lost it. I can’t explain why this happened, but I learned an important lesson that day. There are certainly things that you just have to see in order to fully experience them…and in this case…it was the grave of my grandfather.

(pause) Now, perhaps it seems a little strange to kick off an easter sermon by talking about death. Admittedly, I sort of thought the same thing as I sat at my desk on Friday, working my way through the preparation of this message.  As you likely realize, Friday was, of course…Good Friday…and I struggled with this message because my head was in two different places…I was thinking about Good Friday and our worship service that was coming up that evening…and at the same time I was thinking about this morning and the joy of Easter Sunday…and I was stuck in that tension between the two…I was stuck in thoughts about death while I was trying to think about new life.

But then I read today’s gospel lesson again and I realized that this is exactly where the story of Easter begins…with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb…and rest assured, they know where to find it.  If we back track just a little ways, we hear that these two women have been witnesses to all that Jesus has endured. They are among the women standing there when he dies on the cross…and they are watching when his dead body is taken off the cross and laid in this very tomb.

And so, as the action picks up…early morning on this random Sunday 2000 years ago…these two women are walking to see the tomb.  That’s an interesting point here in Matthew’s gospel…there are no spices in tow…and nothing about going to anoint his body…the tomb is closed…he’s dead and buried…they are simply going to see the tomb.

Now I pondered on that fact for a while…and then I remembered what happened to me at my grandpa’s grave…sometimes you’ve got to see it…and maybe, just maybe they were going there in order to try and feel a tiny little bit of connection to this man that they had known and loved.

Isn’t that what we do when we visit a cemetery…when we walk up to the grave of someone that we loved in this life…when we sit there and talk to them…what is it that we are doing, besides trying to have a tiny little bit of connection to this beloved person who has crossed the boundary that death creates.

Make no mistake…we all know, as we walk up to that tombstone…that in no way are we going to see the person again. We know that if we talk them, they aren’t going to talk back again…we all know about this division…this boundary created by death…and the two women knew it too.

They knew he was dead…but yet they went to SEE the tomb…and make no mistake…they saw the tomb…but they saw a whole lot more than that…Interestingly enough…the phrase “to see” or “to behold” is all over this short passage today…and there is a lot to behold.

They went to behold to tomb…and BEHOLD…there was an earthquake….and BEHOLD and angel descended from heaven and rolled the stone away. The angel greets the women, telling them fear not…You are looking to Behold Jesus who was crucified…BUT BEHOLD…he is not here…come and see.

The angel has a message…and a command…go and tell the disciples…he has been raised…but go into Galilee and there you will BEHOLD the risen Christ…this is so amazing…also frightening…but with joy the women run away from the tomb…and wouldn’t you know it…BEHOLD, there’s Jesus….who tells them the very same thing…don’t be afraid, but go tell my brothers to go out into Galilee and there they will BEHOLD me. (pause)

If the old saying is true…and seeing is believing…then we’ve got a lot to believe today don’t we? But what is truly amazing to me, is that what the women expect to see is the polar opposite of what they experience. They went looking for the tomb…but they found a whole lot more…and so…do…we. (pause)
Now…I don’t even need to tell you that Christ is Risen do I? I mean, of course he has…but you already know that…you’re already here today…clearly the Resurrected Jesus is something that is prominent enough on your radar that you are already here.

But imagine if you didn’t know that…because that’s the situation the women found themselves in. They went expecting death…and interestingly enough…but what they experienced included and earthquake, and an angel opening up the tomb…and then the angel pointed something out to them…not the Risen Christ…they didn’t find him there…the angel pointed out the lack of a dead Jesus. You are looking for Jesus was crucified, but see he is not here.

Here’s the amazing thing about that angel’s message and action of rolling away the stone. He didn’t show up in order to let the risen Jesus out of the grave…somehow that had already happened, even with the stone blocking the entrance…he moved the stone to let the women…and to let us IN…so that we can BEHOLD that the tomb is empty…that death didn’t get the last word…and that somehow, some way, there’s more to this story.

Now in it in their fear AND great joy…experienced at the same time mind you…as they follow the command of the angel to go and tell the disciples what they experienced…that’s when they encounter Christ…not among the dead, but out there in the world….and his command, repeated to the women in order that they might share it with the disciples is the same…tell my brothers that they must go out into the world and THERE they will see me. (pause)

This is the big deal about today…like the women, we expect to find death…and sure enough, we all experience it…and I’m not just talking about physical death…but something I tend to call little deaths…because this world is not perfect…and our lives are not perfect…and simply being followers of Christ in whatever capacity we find ourselves today does not excuse us from that.

We come to worship this morning…expecting the empty tomb…expecting trumpets and joyful proclamations…expecting the Resurrected Jesus…BUT…we come bearing all sorts of little death…you know what they are in your life. Those things that you struggle with…those voices in the back of our heads that tell us that we aren’t good enough…that we aren’t smart enough…that we haven’t done and will NEVER be good enough. We all have those hardships…those trials…those things that stand in the way of joy. (pause)
BUT…the tomb is empty. (pause) Death doesn’t get the last word…and what we experience…what we see…what we BEHOLD in the empty tomb is that we have a God who can…who has…who DOES create new life out of death…and as we go forth…out there into the world, bearing the news that the tomb is empty…bearing the knowledge of our experience…of our own story about what we have seen God do in our lives…when we are out there….that’s where the joy of the resurrected Christ meets us…and as we share this news as WE have experienced it…just like the women…just like the disciples at the end of the gospel…that’s where we find the Resurrected Lord….not in here…because here today…we find an empty tomb…but out there…as we bear this news that the tomb is empty…that death doesn’t get the last word…as we look in the face of the beloved child of God that we share this news with….that’s where we see Jesus….and maybe, just maybe, they’ll see him too. (pause)
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, for he is risen…and that’s something to behold. Amen.

Love Wins 4-13-17 (Maundy Thursday)

In this sermon for Maundy Thursday, I explore the importance of the foot washing that Jesus provides for his disciples at the Last Supper.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/4-13-17-love-wins-maundy-thursday

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

As we get older, I think its fair to say that bit of advice and wisdom that someone chose to share with us in our younger years tends to stick…and soon enough we find ourselves bestowing that very same wisdom or advice on to others.  I’ve certainly discovered that to be true within the various aspects of ministry that I am involved with.

Some of you have probably picked up on this. When I find myself in a situation that repeats, what comes out of my mouth probably sounds the same time after time. Its true in teaching…its true in preaching…I’ve found it to be true in the proclamation of the gospel in funerals…and I’ve found it to be true in the advice I give couples on their wedding day.

Now, perhaps this will come as no great surprise, but this wedding advice that I pass along was advice given to my wife and I during our wedding ceremony. It speaks to the patient nature of mutual love for one another…especially in situations when we start getting on one another’s nerves…those situations when we let one another down…those times when we just aren’t getting along.

In those times, as we look at each other, and we aren’t feeling a whole lot of warm fuzzies for each other…we need to remember this advice. Even though I don’t like you very much right now…I still love you.

I think that very sentiment reflects the truth about our relationships with one another…because we all fail…we all get selfish or moody…we all get frustrated and angry…and in one way or another we always end up hurting one another…I guess you could call that a true aspect of the human condition. (pause)
Now I was thinking along these very lines earlier this week as I pondered on tonight’s scripture and sermon. This is, of course a familiar passage…one featured every year here on Maundy Thursday…John’s account of the Last Supper, as Jesus gathers along with the 12 disciples to share one final meal…to share in a time of teaching and fellowship…and a time when Jesus will show his love for his disciples by setting aside the position of honor and authority as the host of the meal…and taking on the role of the lowliest servant to stoop down and wash the feet of these men that he loves. (pause)

Now admittedly…Holy Week is a time when I tend to think of all that God is doing…and because of this…when I think about Jesus…I tend to think about his divinity…that Jesus is the personification of God’s literal and physical action within our reality…and throw in the strong focus of John’s gospel on the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh…and for me…it becomes quite simple to forget that in addition to being fully divine…Jesus was also fully human.

Yes, this is God playing host to the disciples at the Last Supper…but at the very same time…this is also a Man.  And just like each one of us…Jesus…experienced the full gambit of emotions. We hear about that in various aspects of the gospels. He experiences joy. He experiences anger. He experiences sorrow and mourning…He experiences frustrations…just like us.  And even though we likely fail to realize…I think its safe to say that Jesus experienced his share of frustrations…even with those he cared about most…even the 12 disciples. (pause)

But despite that reality…Jesus invites them into the meal…and as we have heard, he serves them all.  But there’s one point that catches my attention right at the beginning of this passage. Jesus…knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands…all things. Jesus…knew…everything. (pause)

He knew what was coming. He knew the hearts and minds of those 12 men who sat at the table with him. He knew what they were going to do. (pause) If we look ahead in the story…knowing what’s coming over the course of the next 24 hours…Jesus looked at these guys and I can’t imagine the disappointment he must have felt.  Judas…well that’s a no brainer. Judas would utterly betray him. Judas would be responsible for leading the soldiers to arrest him.  He looks at Peter…knowing that even though Peter is his strongest supporter…he would ultimately deny even knowing Jesus not just once, but three times.  He looks into the face of each and every one of them…knowing that when things get ugly out there in the garden…every one of them is going to run away…every…single…one.

And I can only imagine that as Jesus sat there at the table with them…and then as he got up and filled the basin, and then knelt at the feet of each one of them…and gently washed their feet and dried off…looking each on in the face as he did so…I can only imagine the disappoint that he must have felt…knowing that he has poured his heart and soul into them…teaching them…guiding them…only to have them run away when things get darkest.  (pause) Maybe, just maybe in that instant, Jesus is thinking to himself…Right now I don’t like you very much…but, I still love you. (pause)
That’s the thing…that is what we need to remember…because that’s what this night is all about. Jesus has gathered with those closest to him…these men, who in a few short days, will take over as the core group of his body here on earth…and in spite of any negative human emotions that Jesus must have been experiencing…his love for them as individuals is on full display….and not just for one or two of them…but all 12.

He washes the feet of the men who will abandon him in the garden…He washes the feet of the 3 guys who fail to stay away and pray with him, even though he asks them more than once…He washes the feet of Peter, the one who will deny him…and he even washes the feet of Judas…the one who will betray him…he knows all of this is about to happen and he serves them anyway.

Why would he do that? I think its safe to say that is any of us were in his position….we’d probably err on the side of condemnation…or in the very least shooting a guilt trip at each person for the failure that they will ultimately endure…But Jesus doesn’t do it?

Because for Jesus…who is fully human in this moment…and yet is also fully God…love wins.  Love trumps everything.  We hear this…having loved his own…he loved them till the end…he loved them in the midst of their failures…he loved them through his own death and resurrection…and he still loves them…because we haven’t reached the end yet.

This is the amazing thing about the God that we serve…about the God that we worship…that ultimately…even though this world is dark and broken…and even though we ultimately end up failing one another with startling regularity…God still loves us. And just as he washed the feet of his disciples knowing what was in their hearts, he took the cross for all of us, knowing what is in our hearts.

Now there are times when that amazing news seems so clear…and its so easy to hold on to…to believe…but there are also times when it seems so unrealistic…but you know what…Jesus knew that too…and as he says to Peter…what I am doing you do not know now…but later you will understand.

This gospel that we profess is so utterly and completely mind blowing…that it should come as no great shock that we experience moments of doubt and disbelief. Likewise, it should come as no great shock to us that express this belief that there are many in the world who can’t wrap their heads around the gospel.

This is the reality that we live in…but there is a promise that we can cling to in the midst of all this. Remember the exchange between Jesus and Peter.  When Jesus offers something to Peter…at first he tries to refuse…and then in his lack of understanding he asks for more than he needs. But Jesus assures him in the end…Peter, you are clean…

The amazing thing that we need to remember from this night…is that salvation is not up to us…its not a choice that we make ourselves…because God offers it to us freely…and at the same time…its not difficult…and in the end…salvation is simply about what Jesus has said about you…and what he has said is that you are mine.  This action of action…and this declaration of Christ is not up to you…but it is for you.

And tonight, we begin the final journey that Jesus will endure in order to show you just how far he is willing to go to prove this amazing sacrificial love for you.  Despite any and all failings on our part…he still makes the choice to do this…because when it comes it comes to God…our failures don’t matter…and in the end, love wins.  Amen.

Who Is This God? 4-9-17

This sermon is based on Matthew 21:1-11, which is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, kicking off Holy Week.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-is-this-god-4-9-17

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

These days, with the weather warming up, its getting increasingly common for me to walk around town. Here in Underwood there aren’t many places that you can’t walk to inside of 10 minutes.  But there was a time in my life when I relied on walking a whole lot more than I do now…and that time was my 2 years at Iowa State.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the campus at Iowa State. Its good sized…covering approximately 4 square miles, dotted with all kinds of different buildings. And when I was in school those two years, I walked all over the place.  Go here and there for various classes and events. I always had my rhythm depending on the day that would dictate where I was going.

And as I think back, Friday’s always included a trip to the Memorial Union…because you could cash a check in the Union…and having cash in my pocket was always a necessity going into the weekend.

Now week in and week out, this would work out just fine…but there was one time when things got a little tricky. It was early in the fall of 2000…and for the first time ever…politics interfered with my day…because on this particular Friday afternoon…the Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore was scheduled to give a campaign speech on the front steps of the Union….something I was actually unaware of until I approached the building on my usual Friday afternoon quest for cash.

But because he was going to be there…security forces had blocked off the street that I had to cross…something I didn’t realize until I got within about 100 feet of the building…and in order to get the rest of the way into the building…I had to walk an extra ¾ of a mile…and I remember being SO irritated by this whole situation. I kept asking myself “Who does this guy think he is?”  I might as well have been asking the same question posed in today’s Gospel. “Who is this?”

Now interestingly enough…that Friday afternoon on the campus of ISU had some similarities with this exciting day in Jerusalem that happened 2000 years back.  Something big was happened…the upcoming festival in Jerusalem…a visiting political VIP in Ames…and because of both situations…people were in a tizzy.

Now, Al Gore aside…that was the situation as Jesus approached the city. He’s been traveling around…his ministry is now come to a close…and its time to come into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Interestingly enough, Jesus and his band of followers would have been a tiny group in the thousands upon thousands of Jewish people flocking into the capital for this festival. And yet…out of all those people…Jesus is the one whose arrival causes a scene.

Now personally, I find this whole situation a little odd…because there are aspects of Jesus showing humility…and at the same time there are hints of something greater going on.  (pause) We hear that Jesus approaches from the Mount of Olives…which is quite close to city…only about 300-400 yards outside the walls, but across a deep valley…and when he arrives at that point, he sends two of his disciples ahead, into the outskirts of town where they’ll find a donkey and her colt…and he has them bring the animals out to him.

Once they get back, Jesus hops on…and slowly rides down the winding road from the top of the mountain, down through the valley, and back up towards the city…and coming along this road, sitting on the back of a donkey…we hear that he’s fulfilling an old prophecy that the king will come into the city just like this. (pause)

Now, we know that Jesus has a following…and not just the 12 disciples, but there are others as well…and as Jesus rides along, these followers, along with the other people that they begin to encounter…they all start treating Jesus like a VIP…and we see this in a couple different ways.

First off…we see in their shouts of jubilation. Hossana to the Son of David….Hossana in the highest…Simply calling him the son of David is pretty telling…because they would all know that a descendent of David would retake the throne…God had made that promise to David afterall…and so, clearly…they see Jesus as royalty.

But the second sign of this VIP status, is how the people prepare the road for him to pass.  We hear that they pull of their cloaks and that they yank branches off the trees, laying them in the road before him. (pause) Now have you ever stopped to wonder why they did that? What would possess these people to treat anyone like this, regardless of if its Jesus or not?

Well, have you ever walked along a parade route once the parade is over…and you discover that there were horses in that parade because you aren’t paying attention and you step in the wrong spot? (pause)
Interestingly enough, that’s what the people are trying to avoid. Anytime a visiting dignitary would come into the city…the people would do this…but it had to be a very important person…someone like, maybe a king perhaps?  (pause) They spread their cloaks so that Jesus wouldn’t have to step in anything…and that was the common practice.

Now imagine you’re in the city…and you hear shouts of jubilation for someone approaching…you hear rumors of royalty…of a Son of David…someone who might just be the long awaited Messiah…and then as he comes around the corner…you see a humble traveling Rabbi getting the Royal VIP treatment.

This isn’t a king…if it was…he’d be in a chariot…we’d be able to tell…this is just some guy?  And so, even though the city is turmoil because of all this stuff going on…the people ask the question. WHO…IS…THIS? (pause)

I can’t help but think that the entire world has been asking this same question for the last 2000 years. Who is this? This Jesus guy. This guy who travels around…who spends time with the lowly and the outcast. This guy who heals the sick…who challenges the elite…Who is this guy who feeds thousands with a few morsels of bread? Who iis this guy that brings hope to the powerless…and brings rebukes to the powerful? And maybe the biggest question of them all…Who is this, that claims to be God?

We’ve heard Jesus called many things…and we’ve heard the stories of the amazing things that he does.  We hear them week in and week out all year long…we read them in the scriptures…and there are countless examples that we could point to. But who is this God?

What do we find if we ask this question just through what we’ve encountered here during the season of Lent?  Who is this God? He is one that faces temptation and somehow overcomes it.

Who is this God? He is one that commands Satan, and Satan listens.

Who is this God? He is one who speaks of the mysteries of faith…that we must be born again…and in doing so he teaches the teachers.

Who is this God? He is one who can look at an individual and KNOW them…he is one who can tell me everything I ever did. Could he be the Messiah?

Who is this God? He is the one who can open the eyes of the blind.

Who is this God? He is one who weeps…who mourns in the face of death…but he is also the one who does something about it. (pause)
We stand here today…Palm Sunday…mere days before the event of God entering our reality comes to completion through the death and resurrection of Christ…and perhaps we are all asking the question. Who is this God…Who is this man?  Who is this Messiah? (pause)
The people in Jerusalem had the wrong idea…They though the Messiah was someone who would establish the earthly throne of David…who would toss out their political oppressors and lead them to freedom…they thought he was someone so important in the human sense that his delicate feet must be protected from stepping in manure…But little did they realize that this man…this Messiah…this God in human form was about to accomplish something even greater…but he would do it through the most humbling…the most humiliating…the most brutal fashion…but if we go there today, we get ahead of ourselves. (pause)

Today Jesus enters the city…triumphantly…in a fashion that begs the question Who is this? And today, we leave it right there…but in the days to come, continue to ask yourself that same question.

Ask, “Who is this?” when he shares a meal with his friends and humbles himself to wash their feet.

Ask, “Who is this?” when he prays in anguish for the cup to pass from his lips.

Ask, “Who is this?” when he is betrayed…when he is tortured…when he is nailed to the cross.

And then, ask you ponder on that question throughout this week to come…take it one step farther…and ask “Who is this God” who willingly does this? (pause) We’ll leave it right there…for now.

Death Stinks 4-2-17

In this sermon, based on John 11:1-45, I explore the raising of Lazarus, as well as the long story leading up to it. Death, like many of life’s other hardships, leave us asking the question “Where are you on this one?”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/death-stinks-4-2-17

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

There’s a story about a young couple, maybe you’ve heard it before…but the story goes that this young man and woman get married, and on their first day together after they get home from the honeymoon, the new bride decides that she’s going to cook a big fancy meal for her new husband. So she goes out to the store and buys all the fixings…including a great big, tasty ham for the main dish.

Now he’s home when she’s cooking…and as she’s getting ready to put the ham in the roaster pan…he watches his new bride pull out a knife, and slice the end off the ham, before putting in the oven.  Now he’s curious…why would she do that…and so he asks the obvious question. Honey…why did you cut the end off the ham?  She looks at him for a moment, clearly thinking about it…and she responds…well…because that’s what my mom always did before she cooked a ham…I guess I don’t really know why. That’s just what my mom taught me.

So now both of them are a little curious…and so the young woman pulls out her cell phone, puts it on speaker and calls her mom.  Mom…when I was growing up, whenever you were cooking a ham, I remember that you always cut the end off…how come?  Mom thinks about it for a moment and replies…Well…because that’s what I always saw my mom do? I guess I really don’t know why? That’s just what my mom taught me. (pause)
You see where this is going. Now the young bride dials up Grandma…and poses the same question. Why do you cut the end off a ham before you cook it?  And Grandma laughs…well dear…when I was first married to your grandpa…we had a tiny little oven…so small, that I couldn’t fit an entire ham in it…and I got in the habit of cutting the end off so it would fit…and now that I think about it…I never stopped, even when I got a bigger oven. (pause)

Sometimes the things that just seem normal, have a very different, often unexpected reason why they start in the first place. We have many different examples in our day to day lives…things that we do, because that’s just what you do…but they have their roots in something specific.

And one of these things happens around the subject of funerals.  Now the first funeral I remember going to was my great grandmother when I was about 8 years old…and I don’t remember much of anything about that day…except the flowers. The front of the church was blanketed in flowers…and with good reason.  Because when someone dies, what do we do? A batch of us get together and place an order to have flowers sent…its just what you do…and I know that, because that’s what my mom taught me.

But have you ever stopped to consider the reason why? Why do we send flowers? Why is the automatic association with someone’s death, flowers? There’s a reason…but it goes back aways…back before the days of funeral homes…and mortuaries. Back when most people didn’t die in a hospital…they died at home…they’d get sick…they’d be cared for in their final days at home in their bed…and then when they died…the body would stay right there…and when loved ones came for the visitation, they would find the bedroom draped in fresh flowers. Because fresh flowers give off a pleasant smell…and that smell was intended to cover up the smell of death.

Now in the years since, we’ve outsourced funeral prep…and that’s not a bad thing…but in the process, the flowers have just become the go-to sympathy gift…and the masking of death has gone the route of science. We prepare bodies for the funeral in an attempt to hold off decomposition…and we dress up the body, with nice clothes and makeup…trying to make the individual look life-like, and pleasant, and nice…but make no mistake. Death isn’t nice.  Death has an effect…and death has a smell.

Now many of here today are familiar with farm life. And one of things that I can remember most vividly, having grown up around livestock, as the rendering truck when an animal died. That smell is locked in my brain…you can’t put it in words…but its awful…and that smell sticks with you. Last summer, we were sitting at a baseball game for my son…and this particular field was right next to a gravel road…and as we sat there, 3 or 4 different times the rendering truck drove by…and for about 5 minutes…all you can smell is…death.

Now imagine for a moment…that you are Mary and Martha…and your brother has died…and not only that, he’s been in the tomb 4 days…not just dead, but buried…enclosed…rotting…and then Jesus shows up, and he asks you to open the tomb. (pause) That’s exactly what happens today, but interestingly enough not till quite late in this rather lengthy story.

We hear that Lazarus is sick…this man, who along with his two sisters are beloved friends of Jesus. And this is a sickness that isn’t going to get any better so they send word to Jesus…because if anyone can help him…if anyone can make a difference…its Jesus…he’s opened the eyes of a blind man after all…certainly, he can heal Lazarus…

But when Jesus hears the news…he promptly sits around for 2 more days before finally working up the gumption to head towards Bethany…and by the time he meanders there…as we have heard…Lazarus is already rotting away in the tomb.

Needless to say, the sisters…well they’re a little perturbed aren’t they…and apparently they are close enough to Jesus…that they can get away with ripping into him a little bit…and we hear the exact same accusation from both them at different times. If you had been here…my brother wouldn’t have died.

Now I can’t help but think that this is a pretty common reaction…when something bad happens…when something occurs in our lives that we can’t make heads or tails of…and we happen to be in the group of people that express belief in God…I think its safe to say that at one time or another…we have probably all uttered a statement like that haven’t we…or maybe asked the question…Hey God…where were on that one?

I think there are many different examples of things that happen in our lives that bring that question to our minds. Its not just limited to a illness and death…maybe we ask it when our family faces a financial crisis…or when we lose a job.  Maybe we’ve prayed that our marriage will work out…but instead it deteriorates and we find ourselves getting divorced.

Or maybe we are facing the trials of bullying with no end in sight…or maybe we’re being abused…or maybe we’re facing the difficulties of mental illness…there are countless ways that people suffer…and as we look around this room today…who knows what someone is experiencing in the depths of their heart…who knows what hardships are present…hardships that make us ask the question “Where are you on this one God?”

But if the story of Lazarus shows us anything today, its this.  While God might not act according our timing…and while God might not respond to our prayers or requests or questions quite like we hope for…God isn’t afraid to get into stuff that’s messy.

Take the stone away…Lord he’s gonna smell. I don’t care…take it away. (pause) A lot has happened in this story before Jesus cries out in a great big voice…a voice that’s somehow big enough that not even death can hinder it.  Jesus has been accused of not caring.  He’s been blamed for coming too late…but he’s also witnessed death of someone that he loves…and he’s gotten mad…and he’s mourned…but now…finally we see that somehow, someway…Jesus, God in the flesh…cries out in the same voice that spoke creation into existence in the beginning…and in this same amazing voice…he speaks to the dead…and the dead listens. (pause)

That’s the amazing thing about this God that we serve…this God that we worship…this God that we look to for salvation…This God, is willing to get messy…this God is willing to step into those things that make no sense…those things that bring us pain…even death. God gets into it…and not only that, but God get’s his hands dirty in the process…because life’s messy and so is death…its messy because of the way that power of sin has twisted our reality away from that which is good and joyful…but we have a God who loves us so much…who loves us beyond anything we can imagine…this God will go to any length in order to overcome that brokenness.

And that is what the cross is all about…We are almost there…next week Jesus gets to Jerusalem…and just a few days later, he’s betrayed…he’s beaten…he tortured…and he’s nailed to a cross where he suffers and dies. (pause) But the cross is not about God saying I’m so angry with you that I’ll punish my son. (pause) The cross is God saying I’ll endure even this to show you that I love you. (pause)

I am the resurrection and the life. These words of Jesus are a corrective today…both for Martha and for us…because there is this misconception that the life death and resurrection of Jesus is only something that’s intended to benefit us out there in the unknown future.  But Jesus reminds us that we live in the hope of the resurrection…and through that hope we live in the freedom from all that which hinders us…right here right now…and if we don’t believe that…then look at the tomb…because Jesus get in the stink…and cries out in that amazing voice that not even death can stop and says Lazarus come out.  (pause)
And this same God calls us by name…inviting us into a new life…a life free from the things that hinder us…a life where we are not defined by what the world says about us.

And so, wherever you find yourself today…whatever it is in your life that isolates you…whatever suffering makes you ask the question Where are you on this one God…rest assured…that whether we are able to recognize it or not…God…is right beside you…whether it makes sense or not…and as I say this, I pose the same question that Jesus asked Martha…Do you believe this?

I hope so…because believing it grants a freedom that goes beyond words…a freedom that goes beyond the ability to explain…but I believe that its true…I don’t know why…its just what faith has taught me. Amen