Archive for August, 2017

Imagine What You’ll Know Tomorrow 8-27-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 16:13-23, I explore Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, followed up by his misconception of what that means.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/imagine-what-youll-know-tomorrow-8-27-17

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

There are a handful of actors who have made a solid career out of playing the same type of character over and over again. Tommy Lee Jones is one of these actors. Over the course of the past couple of decades, he’s pretty much played the role of the older, wiser guy who’s seen it all…and he’s perpetually annoyed as he teaches the new young guy the ropes.

And there is one example that perfectly captures this sense…Men in Black…the very first one…came out back in the late 90’s and tells the story about a secret organization of agents, dressed in black of course…that help police the presence of aliens on our planet.  Fairly early in the movie, his character sits on a bench next to the new guy talking about this strange reality.

Inevitably the question comes up “Why don’t you tell everyone…people are smart, they can handle it.”  Tommy replies with the fact that people in groups are foolish and dangerous…and that there are certain things that they simply cannot accept in their current experience…and I love what he has to say. (pause)

1500 years ago, everyone KNEW…the earth was the center of the universe.  500 years ago everyone KNEW…the earth was flat…15 minutes you KNEW…that humans were alone on this planet…imagine what you’ll KNOW…tomorrow. (pause)

Throughout the course of our history…human beings have learned a lot…but with every new discovery…we tend to find an old way of thinking has to give way…the old thought…the old “fact,” whatever it is that we used to KNOW.

And this theme is all over today’s gospel reading.  (pause) Now this is a fun passage…we find ourselves in the midst of a temporary breather during Jesus’ ministry. He’s been out teaching, healing, interacting with individuals and crowds…he’s bumped heads with the religious elite…he’s performed miracle after miracle…all the while proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near.

All this different stuff that Jesus has been doing is causing word to spread all over the place…and so it would seem that Jesus is ready to test the waters…he’s curious as to what the word on the street is as far as he’s concerned…and so he turns to the disciples to ask the big question…who do people say that the son of man is?

The disciples stand there…scratching their heads as they think for a moment…Well Jesus…some say that you’re John the Baptism…we’ve heard some call you Elijah…or Jeremiah or one of the prophets…and you know what…maybe that makes sense…with his history of pushback against the religious elite, Jesus certainly fits the mold of those well known prophets that came before him in Israel’s history…but to simply call Jesus a prophet…to simply place him among that batch of individals…clearly that’s only picking up a portion of the work that he’s up to…and so…with that…Jesus dives a little deeper.

Okay…so that’s what everyone else says…but I’m going to put you disciples on the spot…you’ve been around me long enough now…who do YOU…say that I am? (pause) Now honestly, that’s not a bad question to ask…and its one that we should probably consider.

After all, if Christianity relies on anything, it’s the proclamation of the Good News….that personal testimony of what we as individuals have witnessed God do in our own lives…and in the sharing of these thoughts…these testimonies…that’s how our story really begins to connect into God’s greater story in our reality.

This is something that we continue to see throughout the course of the Biblical Narrative, as God somehow crosses paths with a group or an individual and invites them forward into something new…over and over again…humanity continuous to be invited to join with God as things move forward.

And as the event of Jesus walking around Israel 2000 years ago is the physical embodiment of God’s divine action of invitation for humanity in the world…then its important to consider the question “Who do you say that I am?” (pause)
Now I think it goes without saying that Peter serves as a pretty solid connection point for us within the gospel narrative…he’s just SO DARN human isn’t he?  Impulsive, quick to speak…quick to jump to conclusions…but often unsure of himself.  I think Peter is one we can relate to isn’t he?

But today…in response to this important question of Jesus…this question of who we say Jesus is…Peter lays out the ultimate answer. You are the messiah…the son of the living God. (pause)

Jesus…is…pleased. I can almost picture the heavens opening up, music beginning to play, and bright light shining down upon Peter as Jesus smiles at him…YES!!! Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah…for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you…but my father in heaven.

This gives us an important reminder…the ability to understand the truth of just who Jesus is…comprehension of his identity is not something self-generated. Peter didn’t just make up his mind that Jesus is the Messiah…it was revealed to him…and in this we are reminded that faith is not of us…but it is a gift from our father in heaven. (pause)

Now at this point in the story, we have a wonderful exchange as Jesus seems to issue a name change…and Simon son of Jonah becomes Peter…the rock on which the church will be built…and then…just like that…the lectionary stops us short today…and it would seem, at first glance anyway that Peter has learned all he needs to know…and Jesus might as well just hand over control of the church right then and there. (pause)

But the story doesn’t stop there does it? This is why I included the extra couple of verses at the end today…even though we’re going to hear them again next week…it’s a mistake to leave them out today.  Think about what happens. Peter has just made this divinely inspire proclamation, calling Jesus the messiah…the Christ…and then Jesus begins to teach them just what that means.  (pause)
Yah, so, we’re gonna go to Jerusalem, and I’m going to be betrayed and handed over…and I’m gonna get beaten and tortured…and I’m even gonna die…but then after a few days I’ll come back again. (pause) And Peter, the one who just won the gold star…loses his mind over it. He begins to rebuke Jesus who in turn calls him a stumbling block…calls him Satan and tells him that he’s too focused on human things instead of divine things. (pause)

All of this is a little wonky…admittedly, I sorta think that Jesus is getting a little on the weird side here…especially if we throw in that side comment about his command to the disciples not to tell anyone that he’s the Messiah…and so maybe the big question here is just what is going on in this back and forth exchange.

But the truth that we need to remember is that Peter hasn’t learned everything yet has he? He knows about the messiah…but clearly he doesn’t get just what the messiah is now…Peter’s operating on old information, not realizing that Jesus is doing something different…something new.

He’s the MESSIAH RIGHT? He confirmed it…so everyone, what’s that mean…and to answer that question we’ve got to back up about 1000 years and remember who else is a messiah…now that word…messiah or christ,  same deal…it means God’s anointed one…and the anointed ones were the kings…the ones that God had chosen to lead the people…Saul…David…Solomon…they’re all anointed…they’re all messiahs.

And so for Peter…and not just him but for the whole Jewish culture…the long awaited Messiah is a political figure…the one who’s going to rise up…retakes the throne of David…bring Israel back to glory and kick out their oppressors…who in this particular instant happens to be the Romans. (pause) Anyone remember what the Romans tend to do when someone rises up against them?  Its not pretty…and since Jesus’ time hasn’t come yet…no wonder he doesn’t want anyone calling him the messiah…because if the people try to make him king that’s gonna end poorly for him, although of course it ultimately will anyway…but it’ll also end badly for the people he has come to save.

And so where do we go from here? What do we learn from Peter today? Well, we see that Peter still has a lot to learn…he’s made a faithful confession…and in the name change we see a new identity bestowed upon him by God…something that sounds pretty baptismal if you ask me…but we also see that he’s not finished yet.

His understanding of the messiah is incomplete…and will continue to be until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. For no one can truly comprehend just what it is to THE MESSIAH until after Jesus comes back from the dead…Peter included.

And so we are reminded today that our lives of faith are ongoing…and its not about a single expression of identity or faith or belief at one time that’s going to be the end all be all for us…because even once we are claimed by God…once we are giving that identity, God’s not done with us yet…and we still have more to learn…more to experience…more to be revealed by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Often when we are young, we are foolish enough to think that we’ve got it all figured out…but I continue to learn the truth that the older I get the more I realize the less I know…and that’s okay.  But God continues to reveal new things all the time…and that can, and should…and does change the way we think about things…the way we understand things.

None of us are the same person as we were 10 years ago…and we are not the same person that we will be 10 years from now…for we have a God who continues to invite us forward into something new…a new way of thinking…a new way of acting…a new way of interacting with those around us…and isn’t it wonderful to know that the basis for all of this…the motivation for God’s continued work, both in the world and in our lives…is because God takes delight in us.

Who do the people say that Jesus is? (pause) Who do you say that Jesus is? (pause) This is a question that we should answer differently today than we did in the past…and a question that we should answer differently in the future…all depending on what God reveals to us in the midst of our lives.

Think of that song that we all learn as children…Jesus loves me this I know. (pause) When you’re a child that’s enough…that’s what you believe…that’s what you understand…that’s what you’ll know, and its different from what you understand…what you know, now… and now   imagine…what you’ll know…tomorrow. Amen.

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Are We Uncomfortable 8-20-17

In this sermon. based on Matthew 15:21-28, I explore a troubling passage in light of troubling events that have occurred in our country.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/are-we-uncomfortable-8-20-17

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

I spent a pretty big chunk of last weekend in a car…as my family and I were on our way home from our annual trek to family camp in the mountains of southern Colorado. I’ve shared before how isolating that week of camp is, because there is very little cell signal…and its about the only time all year when I’m able to put my phone down and be utterly out of contact.

We left mid-morning and Saturday, and as I spent the vast majority of that day behind the wheel as we moved across Colorado and then much of Nebraska, I was still pretty oblivious to the news…but after stopping for the night, I found myself awake early Sunday morning…round about 4 am in a hotel room in Kearney…and so I picked up my phone to scroll through the news…and it was in that instance that I realized that in August of 2017…there was a white supremacy rally including the glorification of Nazi’s in America.

I wish I was making this up…but you all know that I’m not. The truth of the matter is that this evil still exists in our country…and people died as a result of it. (pause) Are we uncomfortable yet? (pause)

If you are expecting some humorous antidote today, I’m going to disappoint you…because I don’t have one. And honestly I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to even attempt it today…because in the past week, we have been violently reminded of a pretty big issue that too many of us have hoped to sweep under the rug in our nation.

We have been reminded that there are those in our country who can and do look at other people…and they see someone who is less than human…and I don’t know about you, but that makes me pretty ashamed to be a part of this society…and even worse…to know that many of those who claim white supremacy call themselves Christians.

All too often when something like this happens…individuals are quick to distance themselves from the hate-mongers…and part of me thinks that’s a smart move…but unfortunately…there’s a distinction that they share with all of us…we’re all fellow members of the human race. (pause)
Hate for one another exists within our species…whether we like it or not…whether we want to acknowledge it or not…and even though it pains me to think it, much less to say it out loud…we all need to acknowledge it…because in some way shape or form…we’re all a part of it…and it’s a part of us. (pause)

When I first sat down to begin my initial sermon prep this week…knowing full well that I’d be bringing all this stuff up…I wondered just what the gospel might have to say about this situation…and then I opened my Bible to Matthew 15…and low and behold…I come across the story that many will argue…me included…is the single most troublesome passage in the New Testament…Jesus interacting with the foreign woman seeking healing for her daughter.  Here she’s called a Canaanite…Mark calls her a Syrophoenician Greek…and we know that Jesus is essentially in enemy territory, as the narration tells us he’s gone to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

There’s a bunch of stuff going on in the background here that all points in the same direction…that Jesus has left the realm of the Jews…and he’s in the land of the Gentiles…and on top of all that…we’ve got the distinction within the Jewish culture that they are God’s chosen people…Jesus aside…the cultural history and tension between the chosen Jews and the unclean gentiles is working against things here…we need to keep all this in mind as we consider this short story.

Jesus is hanging around…word has spread. His message has spread, stories of his miracles has spread…and not just through Israel but throughout the entire region…everyone has heard about this Jesus guy…including this gentile woman who’s daughter is possessed…this woman who’s sole purpose is to free her daughter from that which hinders her…and if that means she’s got to approach this uppity Jewish rabbi that everyone’s talking about…well that’s what she’ll do. (pause)
Have mercy on me…Lord, son of David…my daughter has a demon. (pause) His reply? Nothing…he ignores her…eye opening to say the least but perhaps not the first time something like this has happened…so she keep crying out.

Attracted by the commotion the disciples come waltzing over…and hearing her continued cries for mercy…her continued appeals to the Lord, they make a request as well…Now our translation says “send her away” but they were likely saying “release her” as in release her from her troubles…honestly I think the disciples, even if they are acting out of annoyance, are at least trying to get the woman some help…and Jesus spouts of about only coming for the lost sheep of Israel…and then…finally to top it all off, when she asks again…Jesus, the pillar of love and acceptance…the one who we’ve come to bank on doing what is right and good even when we can’t see just how or why…Jesus, seems to call this woman a dog. (pause)

Are we uncomfortable yet? (pause) Did that actually happen? Did the savior of the entire world really just address a person and pretty much tell them to their face that they are less than human? If you know what the acronym WTF means, I think we can insert that here…because I don’t know about you but I can’t make heads or tails of this. I’ve preached on it a couple times before, once here out of Matthew and once out of Mark’s account…and every time I’ve wrestled with it I’ve come to the same conclusion. Jesus is acting like a jerk.

I’ve had a lot of conversation…I’ve read a lot of different commentaries…all of them aimed at trying to make head’s or tails of what’s going on here. Some will say that Jesus was testing the woman, and that through her persistence she passes the test. Others have said that Jesus was still in the process of learning and that this chance encounter opens his eyes to the reality that his mission goes beyond the Jewish culture to all the world…still others have suggested that because we hear that the disciples came on the scene and its only then that Jesus actually starts talking, that he’s actually at work to point out their cultural bias to them…these are just a few of the possible explanations…and there are others as well…but none of them really help to shed any light what so ever…and in the end the only thing that I can think is that somehow, someway, Jesus is managing to hold up a mirror for us today.

Because I don’t know about you but when I see Jesus, whether intentionally or on the sly-teaching side, act like an utter dirt bag to this woman, I’m reminded of every single time that I’ve done the same. Every time that I’ve failed to show mercy…every time that someone comes to the church with a story that doesn’t quite add up and I’ve turned them away. Every time I’ve driven past a homeless person holding a sign and I’ve kept looking straight ahead to avoid making eye contact. Every time I’ve heard about violence on the news and I’ve shrugged my shoulders because it didn’t affect me.

Whatever it is that Jesus is up to in this passage, regardless of how uncharacteristic it is…Jesus reminds me of the reality that there are many in this world who are treated as if they are less than human…as if they have less worth, or no worth…that there are individuals who are treated as God’s creation of humankind bearing the divine image doesn’t apply to them….and that since this is true and there are those who are treated this way…there are those on the other side who are doing the treating. (pause) Are we uncomfortable? (pause)

I remember watching the movie A Time To Kill back in the mid-90’s…a story that revolves around racial tension and murder and features the presence of the KKK…and I remember thinking to myself that this kind of blatant hatred just seemed so wrong…so utterly wrong…and I also remember thinking that I was glad it was only a movie…and that its an important lesson for us to think about.

Never did I think that 20 years later, we’d actually be seeing this type of hatred…this unwarranted, pointless…blatant hate on display in our reality…and yet here it is. And though many of us are likely asking the question of why is this, or how can this actually be real…I fear that we’ve all been complacent for too long.

Because for too long we’ve sat in our homes and in our communities…and yes even here in our church…thinking that it doesn’t affect us…or even ignoring it all together…but we can’t ignore it anymore…because its not just a situation that’s happening over there…and its not just something that is a mild concern for a few people here and there.

We have to call this what it is. White supremacy is a sin…period. Because to say that one person is better…or is in any way more of a person that another is to deny what God has said and done in the creation of every member of the human race. Everyone bears the divine image…end of story.

To be faced with the reality of this evil within our reality…within our culture…it must force us to act…we must feel the outrage that this behavior warrants…because this atrocity is happening to our fellow brothers and sisters…and we are reminded in scripture that we share one another burdens…we share one another’s sorrows…and if we are completely honest with ourselves…I think we will agree that we’ve failed to do that…and realizing that…acknowledging that fact darn sure better make us uncomfortable. (pause)

Now perhaps when we are forced to think about all of this stuff, the thought crosses our minds “what can I do” or “how can I change it” or “what am I supposed to do about the attitudes of someone else?” I think the first thing we do is recognize it…and be honest with it. But then we need to take a deep breath and actually feel the outrage that is warranted when this kind of sinful hate and bigotry rears its head.

Ironically our bulletin tells us that we are about to sing the hymn It is Well With My Soul…and while it is important that we seek the hope of Christ in the midst of turmoil, I think its also vital that we realize that in many ways it is not well…and especially for my brothers and sisters who are black, or brown, or yellow, or red, or Jewish or Muslim or whatever other label gets thrown on them in our society…you think you’re uncomfortable today, trying walking a mile in their shoes and see how well it is with their soul. (pause)

Today Jesus holds up a mirror…and I don’t like what I see…both within me as an individual and within us as a culture…but then I am reminded that the woman did get her miracle…her daughter was healed…and despite the fact that I don’t like this story, the end result is not up to me. Healing happens whether we want it to or not. And somedays, that’s got to be enough for us…that God will act, whether we approve of it or not…and that in the end God’s grace is enough for all of us…and its given to all the world whether we think any of us deserve it or not…which newsflash we don’t…because if we did it wouldn’t be grace would it? (pause)

Today let us live in the beauty of this perfect grace of God…and let each of us repent of whatever part we have played in our society coming to the point where we find it today…even if the part that we as individuals have contributed is apathy…and then as forgiven people of God lets go be the church in the world…and instead of trying to be different in the world…how about we go out and make the world different. Amen