Archive for September, 2017

Grace Isn’t Fair 9-24-17

grapes

In this sermon, based on Matthew 20:1-16, I explore the parable of the generous landowner. God’s grace and mercy isn’t really fair…but that’s actually a good thing.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/grace-isnt-fair-9-24-17

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

When I was really young, like “too young to go to school yet” young…we had some neighbors that lived on a farm pretty close to my parents farm…and they had a couple of daughters…one of which was about my age…in terms of a class in school, I was one of the really young ones, and she was one of the really old ones…so even though, by my understanding, we were the same age, we really weren’t.

But regardless…we grew up together…often playing together while our parents socialized…and so, when we started kindergarten, all I knew was “she’s my friend.” A little bit of time went by, I can’t really tell you how much…but it wasn’t long before my friend, who could already read, was jumping up to work with the 1st grade class in reading…and then pretty soon, since she was technically old enough, she was jumping up to 1st grade.

Now of course they didn’t explain everything that was going on to the rest of us in the class…and even if they did we probably wouldn’t have really understood what was happening anyway…but all I knew was that if my friend was going up to 1st grade…then I should be able to do it too…and when I said something to my parents and they told me no…I reacted exactly how you would expect a 5-year old to react. “THAT’S NOT FAIR!” (pause) I think its safe to say that this was my first lesson…the first of many lessons that I am still trying to learn…that life…and many of the different aspects of life…just isn’t fair.

This brings us to the gospel for today…a parable in which Jesus is attempting to reveal yet another truth about the kingdom of heaven…and interestingly enough, Jesus is sharing this parable as a response to a question posed by Peter…a question that seems to be aimed the issue of fairness.  You see, Jesus has been talking about entering the kingdom of heaven and just how hard it is and Peter pipes up “Hey Jesus, we’ve left everything to follow you. What then will we have?” (Pause) Peter might as well be asking “hey, look at how much we’ve given…so we do we get out of it?” And with this, Jesus rockets into a story.

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who defies all logic…over and over again. He goes to hire workers…which the landowner would never by the way…he’s got people for that…but regardless…he rolls himself out early enough to be out in the marketplace at 6am…and he grabs a batch of people…promises them the normal daily wage if they go work for him…and sends them off to work.

So far, the only odd thing is that he went on his own…but then a few hours pass…and for whatever reason…he ventures out again…and low and behold…there’s some more people standing around doing nothing…Yo! Head off into my vineyard…I’ll give you what’s right…interesting.

He wanders out again at noon…and then again at 3…seriously, doesn’t this guy have anything better to do than wander around the unemployment line? Regardless, when he finds more idle workers, he sends them off too. (pause) And then…defying any and all logic, he heads out again at 5…seriously, there’s only an hour before the closing whistle blows…and yet, here’s more people…and when he asks them why they’ve been standing around all day, they respond “because no one has hired us.”

This makes no sense at all…but with no mention of compensation…not to mention zero thought as to if he needs any more workers or not, which he wouldn’t have by the way…the landowner sends these guys off to work as well. (pause) Now, you’d think that this would be the end of it…but we’re just getting started aren’t we?

Because when quitting time roles around…we see that it’s time for paychecks…and for whatever reason the landowner has…he tells the foreman to pay the guys he hired at the end of the day first…pay them in reverse order…this makes no sense at all…none…seriously why would the landowner want to show off like this? You’d think, knowing what he was about to do…that if he ever wanted the credibility to hire workers again in the future, he’d have done things in order that they were hired…but that’s not what he does.

And as we see…the people who had only toiled for an hour get a full day’s wage…and everybody else start getting excited…especially the group that have been working since 6am. “Look how much he gave for an hour…imagine how much more he’s gonna give us.”  But then they reach the front of the line…and the foreman drops a denarius in their hands…precisely what they had been promised. (pause)

They might as well be a batch of 5 year old kindergarteners who’s friend got jumped up to 1st grade. THAT’S…NOT…FAIR! (pause) Look at how much we have done…look how long we have been here…look how hard we have worked and how much we have endured…and you have made them equal to us…you have given them the same as us…They don’t deserve it…That’s not fair. (pause)

That sound familiar? I’m guessing it does…I think its likely that we all see evidence of life not being fair with quite a bit of regularity don’t we? Younger siblings crying out “that’s not fair” when the older one is given more privileges. Someone on the job who does their work and keeps their head down, only to see co-workers constantly slack off without issue, and muttering under their breath “That’s not fair.” Watching the news and seeing some big-shot business person accused of corruption and getting off with a slap on the wrist, instead of facing the consequences like anyone that can’t afford a bunch of big-shot lawyers and we think “that’s not fair.”

Each and every day it seems like we see something, or hear something, or experience something that continues to pile on the evidence of this truth… “its not fair.”

But what makes this really eye opening, especially coming back around to the parable…is when we remember that Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven…and he’s talking about wages, or rewards, or compensation…and we start to wonder just what’s that all about…and perhaps we begin to consider the possibility that the daily wage that the workers all receive, regardless of how many hours they put in…was entrance into the kingdom of heaven…or salvation…or eternal life…whatever we want to call it…but all of it, or any of it contingent on the grace of God being shown in our direction…on God’s mercy being shown our way.

This seems to be the thing that the workers are taking issue with. “We’ve done it all…we’ve been around long enough…we deserve it…they don’t.”  Or maybe just maybe that if they’re going to receive this much…we should get a whole lot more. I don’t know what to call this…greed…pride…something else? Whatever the cause…the generosity of the landowner draws the anger of those who have also benefited from it.

Now part of me starts to think that this is something that we can understand…and if we’re talking about grace and mercy of God…well then that also makes sense in Jesus time…but you know what…it goes back way farther than that…this anger at God’s mercy.

Take into account the story of Jonah that we heard today. Now, Jonah’s best known for getting swallowed by a whale only to get barfed back up on land 3 days later after he learns his lesson. But the big story of Jonah is important. God had given him a task to go to Nineveh and proclaim their need to repent and turn towards God. But this is the last thing Jonah wants to do.

Now Jonah was around about 700 years before Jesus…shortly after the northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by the superpower of the day known as the Assyrians…anyone want to guess where the capital of Assyria was? (pause) PSST…IT WAS NINEVAH!

Jonah has been sent to proclaim the need to repent to the very heart of the people that had conquered his people…and Jonah knows that if they repent, God will show them mercy. (pause) Now do you think Jonah considered the Ninevites…the Assyrians…the enemies of “God’s chosen people,” do you think he considered them worthy of God’s mercy? I’m guessing no…and low and behold when he finally does get there and start preaching, and his sermon is really lousy by the way…seriously, you should read it, the whole book is only a few chapters long…but wouldn’t you know it…they repent…and God’s shows mercy…and Jonah loses his mind over it…and then God corrects him. Should I not be concerned about this great city with more than 120,000 people in it…people who do not know their right from their left?”

Jonah gets ticked off when God shows mercy to those that he thinks are unworthy…The laborers who spent the full day in the vineyard get ticked off when those who have done less receive the same thing they do…and maybe, just maybe we get all up in arms when God’s mercy and grace is shown to the people that we think are undeserving. We do don’t we…its offensive that God’s grace is given to them. (pause)

But here’s the thing about God…here’s the thing that’s revealed by the actions and the worlds of the landowner in the parable…when he hears the grumbling he pulls one of them aside…doesn’t matter which one…it could be any of them…it could be any of us…and the master says “Friend…I do you no harm. Are you jealous because I am generous?”

The grace of God isn’t fair…which is probably a good thing because if it was fair and we got what we earned…then none of us would receive it would we? Grace is free or its not grace and whether we like or not, we benefit from it because God freely gives it to those that he loves…those that he takes delight in…those who God has made in his image…and if I’m not mistaken that includes all of humanity…whether we think they deserve it or not. God will show grace on whoever God choses…and we can either get offended by it, or we can recognize it as cause for celebration…that another person has been touched by the joy of belonging…the joy of knowing they have been claimed by the one who made them.

The amazing thing about the Grace of God is that there’s no limit…Its not like God’s grace is a pie…and if someone else gets a piece there’s less available for us. This is why the master says “I have done you no harm” when he generously offers others the same as he has offered you.

Grace isn’t fair…its not supposed to be. That’s what makes it grace. Amen.

 

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Math Doesn’t Cut It 9-17-17

math

In this sermon, based on Matthew 18:21-35, I explore the parable of the wicked slave. The lord forgives an astronomical debt, but the recipient is unable to show the same mercy.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/math-doesnt-cut-it-9-17-17

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

I think at one time or another, every single young person tells themselves that they won’t turn out like their parents.  That when the roll is reversed and they are the parent, they won’t act the same way, they won’t think the same way…and they sure won’t talk the same way…When I have kids…I’ll be different.

Parents…how’s that working for you? (pause) I think its inevitable that certain patterns are going to emerge, because we have been shaped by those who came before us…and I recently realized this in conversation with my kids over the subject of homework…and specifically math…because I have heard from both of them “I hate math…I wish I didn’t have to do it.”

And just like every other parent that has come before…not to mention every math teacher who has taught…we say the same thing “You need to learn it, because you’ll use math everyday.” (pause) Now the old adage is true…math is everywhere…but…up until this point, I never really needed to worry about using math here in the context of preaching, (long pause) until….now.

Jesus is teaching his followers about forgiveness…reminding them of how important it is…how vital it is…especially among believers within the church. There is sin and brokenness…and there is repentance…and there is forgiveness…all of it aimed at the ongoing reconciliation that can and must occur among individuals.

Now as this conversation is going…Peter raises his hand…and I can’t help but picture Peter as the kid who squawks in math class saying “I’m never gonna need this.” (pause) Well actually Peter raises a more direct question…because Jesus has just told them that fellow believers…that other people are going to sin against them…and since Jesus has also given instructions on how to go about seeking reconciliation…I think Peter wants to clarify just how far we need to take this whole forgiveness thing.  “Lord…if a brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive?” He goes on a bit too, and actually Peter has probably given this a bit of thought because he doesn’t just pull a random number out of the air when he proposes a cap on the forgiveness scale…he says 7 times…and 7 happens to be the number of completion as far as the Jewish culture goes…after all, God created the world in 6 days, and on the 7th established the Sabbath…and Peter knows this…and so…to offer forgiveness to the same person 7 times…that should bring the matter to completion right?

But that’s not quite what Jesus has in mind is it…and here it is…math in the gospel. “Peter…dude! Not 7…but seventy times seven.” (pause) With this Jesus gives us a tiny little glimpse of the ongoing nature of forgiveness and reconciliation…when we think we’ve completed it…we’re just getting started. (pause) But as we see today, Jesus is just getting started…and following this little mathematical tidbit…he jumps into a parable to illustrate his point. And wouldn’t you know it…we have the opportunity for some more math in the midst of it.

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who’s ready to settle debts…so he starts calling in his markers…and low and behold…in walks one of the high rollers…a guy with a debt that goes beyond our imagination…10,000 talents. Now 10,000 of anything seems like a lot…but if we do a quick bit of math we begin to see just how astronomical his debt really is. A talent is equal to 15 years’ worth of daily wages for a laborer…15 years per talent…so this guy has got a bill worth 150,000 years of salary.

Now the second guy, he’s got a debt too…and here’s the last bit of math…100 denarii…which figures out to about 3-4 months of daily wages. Still a decent amount…but nothing compared to the first guy. This second slave…he can probably do something about it, but the first guy…not a chance…and yet…they both answer the same exact way. “Be patient with me and I will pay you everything.”

They are both buying a myth…regardless of the cost…we like to think that we can solve it don’t we? We like to think that given enough work…given enough time…given enough effort…we can earn our way back to even…like we’re playing Jeopardy and we’re in the hole because of answering too many questions wrong…but if we start answering them correctly we can get ourselves out of that hole.

And here’s the thing…at first…it seems that the king is buying into this system as well. Because he knows that there is no way that the slave is going to be able to repay that debt…and maybe just maybe, the king realized that he was kind of stupid to allow a debt that large in the first place…and so in order to soften the blow, the king follows the system and orders that the man and his wife and his kids all be sold…so in the very least he gets a tiny bit of value back. That may seem a little barbaric to us…but that’s the way things worked back in Jesus’ day.

Now when faced with the reality the slave begs for patience…and not only does he receive it…the king cancels the debt completely. Its done…its gone…the man is free from it…because the king chose to step away from the old system. Now by rights, this should just trickle down past the slave himself…this gift…this forgiveness of what he owes should benefit everyone else that’s a part of the system as well.

Consider this…for the slave to have this much of a financial burden to the king…he’s gotta be pretty high up in the whole system…with a lot of layers underneath him…a lot of different moving parts and people that all add up to an enormous financial responsibility…and so, if the king is still going to demand payment, then this slave needs to turn the cranks on everything and everyone below him in order to bring in what he’s response for.

But, on the flips side…if the king forgives the debt…if he erases it…which we know is exactly what he’s done…then this freedom…this blessing…it should trickle down through all those different layers as well…isn’t that amazing…that the act of mercy for one person, would affect the lives of so many others? (pause)
But what actually happens? Does the first slave make good on this wide spread blessing? Is he changed by it? Or does he keep playing by the same set of rules…by the same system that got him here in the first place?  (pause) We hear that he goes out and finds one of the slaves that owes him money…a tiny portion of the astronomical sum that was just removed from his responsibility…and rather than letting the blessing flow downward and outward…the first man keeps playing the game.

Give me what you owe…the second man responds in the very same way…word for word…be patient with me and I will repay everything…but he refused…and as we see, when news of his wickedness reaches the ears of the king, he’s punished…and the judgment which the first slave passed on, is the judgement that he in turn receives.  (pause)

Now here’s the thing…I’ve been talking about math and money…and debt and repayment…a lot of things that we’re familiar with…things that can be quantified…things that we can assign a specific value to…even if some of those values are so amazing huge that they go beyond our ability to really comprehend.

But what if there is no value…what if there is no scoreboard…and all we can really say about this whole parable is that the mercy of the king…who’s God just in case you were wondering…is beyond measure. No slave is ever going to earn 150,000 years of wages…you might as well call it a million years…or infinite…there is no amount that we can assign, nor should we…because when we fall in the trap of assigning a specific value or amount, then we’re still stuck in the same old system.

The system that says you’ve got to do this…or you have to avoid that…that you have to earn it…or even, that the mercy of God…the grace of God…the forgiveness of God is something that you can lose. (pause) The first man was forgiven and it should have affected every single relationship that he has. His family is safe from condemnation…and every other person that’s beholden to him in the system should be freed from it.

This is what the grace of God does when it truly lands within the heart and mind of the individual…because we realize in that moment that living in the reality of the kingdom of heaven right here, right now…it frees us from the burden of the system. And in turn we are freed to pass that same mercy…that same grace…that same freedom on to every other person that we are relationship with…whatever that relationship looks like.

But the guy in the parable couldn’t do it. Because the gift of the king never reached his heart…and his own brokenness…whether greed, or fear, or whatever it was that he was clinging to kept him trapped…and that’s why he was unable to show the same mercy to the second slave…and the result…torment…he found himself outside of the grace-filled gift of his Lord. (pause)
Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven has come near…and I believe that we are given the opportunity to live our lives each and every day in a way that reflects the kingdom that will be. Yes we are still broken and flawed…and yes we do still harm one another…but we also live in the freedom from the old system that requires us to earn it.  That’s the freedom that the man in the parable misses out on…he finds himself imprisoned…because he was never really free in the first place.

Truly…the grace of God…the forgiveness of our sins is beyond measure…and its foolish for us to even begin an attempt to quantify it. Because math just doesn’t cut it when we’re talking about the gospel…it is so utterly other to our limited minds…but the amazing thing about it…is that the freedom that we find within it…it already offered to you…the king has already canceled any and all debts…so let us live our lives in that freedom…and let us mirror that to all those around us…so that they too might encounter and embrace the same freedom that is so freely given through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Caution Contents Are Hot 9-10-17

Contents HotIn this sermon, based on Matthew 18:15-20, I explore Jesus’ odd little teaching about how to deal with sin among believers. In the end, we need to remember that its not about punishment, its about reconciliation.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/caution-contents-are-hot-9-10-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
(note that I post the manuscript, though sometimes I go off script, so there might be some differences with the audio)

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

I often joke that we should have three sacraments. Two of them are obvious as they actually are the sacraments, baptism and communion…but the third one…the one that I jokingly propose…is coffee.  Its wonderful…its one of those things that I cite as evidence that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

But that being said, I also believe that there are crimes that are, all too often, committed against coffee. I learned the first one at a young age…as I learned from my father…if you want a cup of cream and sugar, don’t ask for coffee.  We drink that stuff straight up. (pause)

Now the second crime has only come on the scene in the past few years…a travesty that you can find in any local coffee shop…(pained) Iced Coffee. I mean, what’s the point? Coffee is supposed to be hot…its supposed to be steamy and wonderful…you are supposed to pick up a hot mug of coffee and cup it in your hands on a cold morning just to warm them up…that is the nature of coffee…bitter and black and hot…as God intended it. (pause) And so that being said…you can about imagine my response every time a get a to-go cup and read “Caution, contents are hot.”  DUH!!!!!

It always strikes me as stupid…a waste of ink in the printing…a waste in production value just to print on the cup to watch out because the Coffee you ordered is hot…But that being said, most of you sitting out there probably know why its on there…because all we have to do is think back in the news about a dozen years to the story of the woman who went through the McDonalds drive thru, got a coffee…spilled it all over herself and then…successfully…sued McDonalds for not warning her that the coffee was hot. (Facepalm)

How many warning signs…or instructions are in place because of something like this? How many common sense things need to be spelled out because someone wasn’t paying attention? And perhaps the big question…what does this have to do with Jesus words out of Matthew for today? (pause)
I bring this up…because it seems that Jesus is actually offering a bit of instruction here…a how-to guide when they are faced with a situation within the assembly.  Now we could argue that this is a bit on the strange side, as the church that Jesus seems to be referencing didn’t really exist yet…but make no mistake…its referring to something that common sense should tell us is a no brainer…sin among the people. (pause)

Now I wonder…is this a familiar instruction to us? I mean, its laid out pretty nicely…step by step…Step 1…if your brother or sister sins against you, go speak to them in private…if they listen to you…if they repent, rejoice…for you have regained that one…and the instruction is complete.  If they do not…continue to step two. (pause)

Step two…take one or two others along with you, so that they may confirm the words that you say to your brother or sister. If they listen to you and your witnesses…if they repent, rejoice, for you have regained that one…and the instruction is complete. If they do not…continue to step three. (pause)
Step three…tell the church…make it public…if they repent, rejoice…for you have regained that one…and the instruction is complete. If they do not…continue to step 4…Step 4….treat them like a Gentile and tax collector. (pause) Hmmm…there is no step 5 is there? (pause)

I’m guessing you’ve heard this. In fact…this passage has the distinction of being included in just about every church constitution that has come and gone…and it deals with a very real thing…sinfulness…brokenness. In short…the reality of our flawed humanity…even within the church.

Now admittedly, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in our congregation’s constitution, and sure enough…Chapter 15, Discipline of Members and Adjudication…section 15.01…and I quote…Prior to disciplinary action, reconciliation will be attempted following Matthew 18:15-17. (pause)

It may have been odd that Jesus had to lay out step by step instructions for the event of sin occurring between his followers…but yet 2000 years later…we still follow those guidelines. (pause) And so I pose the question…how can this be?

This is the church…this is the body of Christ on earth, called…united…and empowered by the Holy Spirit…so why would we need to hear this…why would Jesus need call attention to it? (pause) Anyone remember why “Caution, contents are hot” is printed on a coffee cup? Its there to remind us of the reality of the world. Coffee is hot…and people sin against one another…even in the church…shocking though that might be.

But here’s the thing…often times when this passage gets thrown around…I fear its being used as a weapon…here’s what you do…talk to them first…but then get people on your side…and if you can’t shame them into repentance then kick them out. (pause) But if that’s how we hear this portion of scripture then I think we need to back up and reconsider.

Whoever was responsible to producing our current constitution that was ratified and adopted by our congregation in 2005 stated it pretty well…listen to these words again. Prior to disciplinary action, reconciliation will be attempted…Reconciliation is the key…and it is the goal.

We do not hear these words of Jesus and utilize them as a checklist that we have to go through in order to take revenge on someone who has wronged us…the whole point here is to be reconciled…and Jesus even says that…if your brother or sister listens to you…YOU HAVE REGAINED THAT ONE…and that, is worth celebrating.

In fact, Jesus has been talk about this very thing…chapter 18 is full of it…right before this brief portion…he tells a story about a shepherd with 100 sheep…and one goes missing…so he leaves the 99, defying logic…and he searches high and low till he finds the one that’s lost, and he brings it back…and why would he do this?  (pause) Because the flock isn’t full…its not complete…its not as it is intended to be without every single one of them accounted for and included. And when the one that is lost is returned…they celebrate. (pause)

The theme continues too…because right after this Peter asks how many times we need to forgive one who sins against us…even as many 7…and Jesus says no…but seven times seven…He might as well be telling Peter that you forgive him as many times as he repents…and there is no limit.

But if we think about his instructions…that if our brother or sister refuses to listen even to the entire church, then it almost seems like we’re supposed to kick them out right? Treat them like a Gentile and a tax collector? (pause)

But now consider who Jesus was often spending time with…consider the company that often drew criticism from the elite…people like Gentiles…people like Tax collectors? (pause) Maybe what Jesus is telling us here is that if an individual can’t even hear the truth from the church…then we need to start over with them…they need to be treated as one who has yet to hear the gospel…because the opportunity for repentance is not a nice tidy 4 step process that either works or is discarded. Its ongoing…because the brokenness that resides within each of us is ongoing as well…even as we live in peace with God through the gift of his grace, we know that each of us is simultaneously saint and sinner. Fully forgiven and yet fully broken…and because of this fully capable of harming one another…while also fully capable of offering the mercy which has been shown to us. (pause)

Here’s the thing…Jesus has told us that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us…even that it is among us…but when we see or feel or experience that brokenness that is also still present…we realize that there are things in our reality that are standing in the way of the kingdom of heaven coming into fruition now.

Because whatever it is that the kingdom of heaven is…or will be…I believe this about it…everything that is “in the kingdom” will exist in line with God’s will…whatever that looks like…and that which is outside of God’s will…which includes the brokenness and pain that exists within us and between us…that will somehow cease to be.  Now that’s not the case yet is it?

But we are given the opportunity to live in a way that reflects the reality of the kingdom in how we treat one another…how we act towards one another…how we act towards God…how we act towards this world that we have been given…We have been given the ability to mirror the love and grace and mercy of God right here right now….and even though brokenness still exists, we are invited to participate in the coming of the kingdom of heaven…every…single…moment.

Now to live in this reality is to seek out reconciliation. Because brokenness is still here…and pain is still a reality and we harm one another, even in the church…I think Jesus was well aware of that.

And so, as we hear, wherever two or three are gathered, Jesus is there among them…because wherever two or three are gathered…brokenness will follow…but with the presence of Christ…with the power of the Holy Spirit…the opportunity for reconciliation is also there.

That’s what Jesus came to do in the first place…In Jesus, God is reconciling all the world…all of the brokenness…all of the pain…all of the hurt…all of it. Now it might not be finished yet…but through Christ…God is inviting all of us to come along for the ride. And we are reminded, to be reconciled.  Today we are reminded that if another sins against us, we should seek to be reconciled…and earlier Jesus tells us the opposite…that if we have harmed another that we should seek to be reconciled.

So if he’s covering both sides of the reconciliation coin…I guess it doesn’t really matter who sinned against who…just be reconciled…for it is only when we are included…it is only when we are all present and accounted for…that the flock is how it is intended to be…and all the world will rejoice when that is finally a reality. Amen.

What Stops a Hero 9-3-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 16:21-28, I explore the continued back and forth between Peter and Jesus following Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as Messiah. Its an odd situation that reveals the human expectations of Peter.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-stops-a-hero-9-3-17

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

Earlier this week I saw a headline that grabbed my attention…that after months and months of rehab, Tiger Woods has been cleared by his doctors to start swinging a golf club again…and as I thought about this I realized just how far he has fallen.

Now putting aside all the regrettable personal decisions that Tiger has made in his life…there was a time when watching him play golf was the most exciting thing in the world. From the time he came onto the PGA tour in the mid 90’s he had one goal in mind…total domination…to be the greatest golfer of all time. And it didn’t take long for the rest of the golfing world to take notice.

He won his first major in 1997, crushing the competition to take home the Green Jacket of the Masters…and from there on out, there was no stopping him. Now it was right about that time that I really developed my love for the game…and you can bet that when Tiger started knocking off major after major with his eyes set on the prize of passing Jack Nicolaus and his record setting 18 majors…that Tiger quickly earned the distinction of hero in my book…and not just mine either.

I think pretty much everyone agreed that it was only a matter of time before he took the record…getting his major victories up to 13 by the end of 2007…and then he managed to knock off number 14 by winning the US Open in 2008, all while nursing a major fracture in his leg.

Admittedly that was the first time I saw a crack in the armor…and he had to sit out the rest of the 2008 season following surgery on his leg…but midway through 2009 he was back on form and going into the final major of the year, Tiger held the lead going into the final round. I was elated, because he had a record…Tiger had never been beaten in a major when he held the lead going into the final day. And I was confident my hero was going to walk away with major number 15.  But then a little known South Korean golfer with only 1 other win on the PGA tour caught Tiger…and beat him on the final day of a major…and Tiger hasn’t won another one since.

Looking back, that was the beginning of an important lesson for me. Inevitably, without question nor exception…our heroes will fall. Sometimes it’s the result of time taking its toll…sometimes its something more extreme like a severe illness or even death. History has shown us this time after time…whether it’s a sports hero…or the leader of some political movement…or a religious situation…every single one has fallen. (Pause)

Now maybe this is a bit of a downer today…but we are seeing evidence of this within this story of the back and forth between Peter and Jesus.  If you were here last week, you caught the gist of what’s going on here. Jesus has asked the disciples who they say he is and Peter makes the divinely-inspired public proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah…and as we discussed last week…there’s a pretty big misconception on Peter’s part of just what that means. He’s got history working against him here…so maybe it’s understandable.

But regardless…Jesus begins to reveal the truth of what it means that he is the messiah…and that this movement that he’s begun…this ministry that he’s been leading…its going to lead them all to Jerusalem where he’ll be betrayed and tortured and killed by the powers that be…Just like every other hero in history…Jesus’ time is going to come to a pretty dramatic close. (pause)
Now for us…as we consider this through the lens of hindsight, its not that shocking…but imagine what it would have been like for Peter…Jesus is the hero…but not only that…he’s their friend…their mentor…the one who has healed diseases…he’s the one who has performed miracles…he’s the one who has stood up against the hypocrisy of the religious elite and even challenged the political power of the Roman occupation…and at this point…all of that is still going really well.

Now if you’d have told me back in about 2005 that Tiger was going to stop winning majors…that he was going to destroy his back to the point of not being able to swing a club…and only that but that he was going to turn out to be a a-1 sleazeball within his personal life…I wouldn’t have believed it either…because in the midst he was my hero…and he untouchable. (Pause) Maybe my response would have sounded a lot like Peter…God forbid it…this must not be. And yet, in both cases…Tiger Woods and Jesus of Nazareth…that’s exactly what happened.

Now Tiger aside…I can’t help but feel bad for Peter in this instance…he’s just been called the Rock on which Jesus will build his church…something so strong and powerful that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. But now, when he expresses his utter shock at the prediction that Jesus has made his status is immediately knocked down to a stumbling block…and even worse…Get behind me Satan…and Jesus points out that Peter’s focused on human thoughts.

But you know what…I can’t help but think that Peter’s human thoughts…are just a reflection of the way that the rest of the world works isn’t it? Peter’s shocked at the news…because if Jesus dies, its over…we all know that…if someone dies there’s no coming back…and whatever mojo they were bringing into their particular sphere of influence, its over…and so if Jesus dies, this movement…this new way of thinking and acting and being in the world its over too.

Now while Peter sees this with shock and fear…the powers that be look at it as a more satisfying conclusion. Think about it…Jesus has been subverting the status quo…he’s been undermining the influence and power of the religious elite as well as the Roman Oppressors…and if you’ve got power…and you don’t want to lose it…you’ll go to any extreme to silence the source of the opposition won’t you…maybe even to the point of killing him? And as we know…that’s exactly what ends up happening in the long run isn’t it?

Eventually Peter’s fears…Jesus’ prediction…and the scheming of the worldly powers comes true and Jesus dies…and everything we have ever heard points to one truth…that this should be the end. (pause)

But…its…not. (pause) Because, through Jesus…through the event of God entering into our reality through Jesus…God’s doing something more.  Because God’s not just pushing back against the human made powers of the world…but God’s pushing back against another power that exists in this world…the power of death.

We’ve already been talking about it today…how death is so permanent…that it is so final…and because of that it can be…and often is quite scary…both for those who face it…and for those who find themselves left behind because of it…and I saw both this week.  I sat down with an individual this week who shared the words “brain tumor” and together we talked about the scary nature of what that could entail. And then, later on the very same day I got the news that one of my seminary classmates suddenly lost her husband…a young guy only a year older than me. Bloodclots formed and just that quick he’s gone, leaving behind his wife and son, who incidentally turned 4 two days later.  Death doesn’t care…and it doesn’t discriminate…and we can’t beat it can we?

But here’s the thing about death…as much as we hate it…as much as we fear it…we also know that God is well aware of it…and through Jesus…amazingly enough through the brutal death of Jesus on the cross…God is doing something about it.

I discovered something new this week as I worked with this text…particularly the crazy back and forth that Peter experiences…because I can’t hear one part without thinking of the other part…but in the midst of this I realized something. When Peter makes his confession, Jesus calls him the rock on which he will build the church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Now, I always thought of that phrase as Hades…which by the way is the realm of the dead…the place where dead people are…I thought that meant that Hades was attacking the church…but Jesus said the gate…and what’s a gate do?

Well, it either keeps something in…or it keeps something out…it’s the barrier…so what if we are being reminded that the church of Jesus…which includes not only his followers…but him…and the Holy Spirit…and the Gospel…and not only that but the divine power of God which goes WAY beyond our ability to comprehend…all of this…is invading Hades. Death’s not coming after us…through Jesus God’s going after death…and he’s bringing us along for the ride.

Now death’s funny…it’s the result of sin in the world…whatever the heck that means…but we’re reminded that the wages of sin is death…and we’re also confident enough to be able to recognize and call out the sinful brokenness that resides within each of us…and God sees it too…but amazingly, because of the perfectly love for each of us made manifest IN Jesus Christ…God’s grace for the world is revealed.

And God’s grace is invading enemy territory. God’s grace is invading the realm of death…and the gates of Hades will not prevail.

Now I say all that and yet I know that death is still a reality for us. We see it in those around us and we will experience it…but we have God that makes new life out of death. I don’t know how…but its true…and it is the promise that is made to us by Jesus that we have joined with him as heirs to eternal life, whatever that’s gonna look like. (pause)

Heroes fall…because our heroes are human…and given enough time even the strongest will falter…which if you think about it…should help us cut ourselves some slack every once in a while…I mean, even Jesus died…and he was God.

But the amazing thing about these powers that flair up in the world…whether human or otherwise…is that ultimately they too will fail.  In the life of Jesus, God tried to show the world that his love was bigger than anything we could throw at it…and the world got so offended that they killed him…the cross is the world’s way of saying no to God…but remember that we have the gift of hindsight…and we know that three days later that tomb was empty…the cross might be a no…but it wasn’t the end of the story…because God looked at the world and said “Oh you think I was finished?” And God looked at an angel and said “Here, hold my beer.” Because in the resurrection of Jesus, God takes the world’s “no” and God says “yes” anyway. How’s that for a hero? Amen