Archive for November, 2017

We Are Looking At Now Now 11-19-17

now

This sermon is based on Matthew 25:14-30. This is the parable of the talents, as Jesus reminds us with one lesson (that’s part of a larger teaching) to live our lives today in a way that reflects the coming of the kingdom of heaven.

Note that the overarching theme of this sermon is based on a scene from Spaceballs.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-are-looking-at-now-now-11-19-17

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

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

As a person who tries pretty hard to avoid taking things too seriously, I appreciate a good joke…especially when the target is good natured enough to take it. On that note, it probably is no shock to hear that I’m a fan of movies that do this. In my younger years there was a popular movie genre known as spoofs…whole movies that were made to poke fun…to make jokes about existing…and typically quite popular movies.

Now in my opinion, there is no greater example of the spoof movie than Spaceballs…a Mel Brooks classic that pokes fun at the first few Star Wars movies. The whole movie is great, but there is one scene that never fails to make me laugh.

About half through, the bad guys are trying to track down the good guys…but they can’t find them on radar…and so they try searching the home video of the movie itself. Apparently a new technology allows the release of films before they’re even done making them…that’s the first joke.

So they pop in the VHS copy of the movie and pull it up on the monitor and one of the characters is surprised to see themselves projected. They are looking at themselves in that exact instant…and in his surprise we hear this back and forth banter…

What am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie? Now…you’re looking at now sir. Everything that happens now is happening now.  What happened to then? We passed it. When? Just now. We’re at now now. Go back to then. I can’t. Why? We missed it. When? Just now. When will then be now? …Soon.   (pause)

Maybe its silly…but as I think about the overarching setting of today’s gospel lesson, I’m reminded of this scene. If you were here last week, we talked about this…about how Jesus’ words today are part of a larger teaching through 2 chapters of Matthew’s gospel…a long batch of teaching that is a response to the disciples asking the question of when they can expect the end times….what will be the sign of your coming? They might as well be asking that same question…when will then…be now?

Jesus response could have been limited to the very simple statement…no one knows the day or the hour…but instead Jesus gives us A LOT to go on…several separate and yet connected teachings about the unexpected time of his Glorious Reappearing…that the End Times…the Last Days…whatever we want to call it…that’s its going to happen…but it will occur unexpectedly.

This long teaching includes today’s gospel…the parable of the talents. The master is going off on a journey…but before he leaves he calls in three slaves and hands off to each of them something of enormous worth. The parable calls them talents in various amounts…one gets 5…one gets 2…the last gets 1…each according to their ability. Keep in mind that a talent as Jesus is using it, refers to 15 years’ worth of wages for a regular worker. And so all three of these slaves are being handed something incredibly valuable. Interestingly enough the master gives no indication of what to do with it…no instruction…no warning that he’ll be back looking for anything…he simply hands them off and goes on his merry way.

Now you know the story…the first two slaves put their talents to work…we don’t know exactly how…but somehow, they both manage to double the money…the one with 5 makes 5 more, the one with 2, 2 more. Call it what you will…good business…wise investing, whatever…but it seems that they thought it was worth the risk of their master’s property…and through whatever events transpired through the unknown amount of time that the master was away, they each end up with more.

Funny enough…that part of the story, while seemingly positive…is really boring and repetitious…did you notice that? The only thing that changes in the language of that part of the story is the number of talents. Likewise with the master’s response to them in his return. Then the one with 5 talents came forward, bringing 5 more talents saying “master you handed over to me five talents, see I have made five more talents.” His master said to him “Well done good and faithful slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things I will put you in charge of many things; enter in the joy of your master.” And then we hear the EXACT same thing from 2-talent man. Its almost laughable…and its almost boring.

I can’t help but think that we’re really supposed to zero on in 1-talent man…you know 1-talent man. He’s the one who’s scared…the one who’s so paralyzed out of fear…he’s caught up in how he perceives the master…and so he goes out and digs a hole…he hides the talent so that when the master comes around again, he can present it back to him…nothing ventured…nothing gained…but nothing lost.

The back and forth between the slave and the master is telling though isn’t it? I know that you are a harsh man…taking what isn’t yours…helping yourself to that which you did not earn…and low and behold…his judgement of the master is pretty spot on to the judgement that he receives. You wicked and lazy slave.  Take it away from him and give it to the other…and cast him out into suffering. (pause)
That’s the story…and as per usual, we’re faced with the question of interpretation…we’re left trying to make heads or tails of the message that we’re supposed to receive. (pause)

Now admittedly, we could hear a lot things in this passage. Its stewardship time here in the church…and we hear the word “Talent.” So maybe we think about the gifts and talents that we’ve been given in our lives and how we are called to share them in the church and in the world. Ok.   Maybe we hear talents and think about it from a financial standpoint and think its about giving to the church, about making solid financial moves with what we’ve been given, so that when the master returns we’ve got something to show for it. Ok. I don’t think these are wrong…but I think there’s more going on here than what we might pick up at face value.

And on the flip side I fear that there’s interpretations that can get into trouble as well.  We hear that 5-talent guy and 2-talent guy doubled their money and that’s what got them into the good graces of the master…that they had to earn it…that they had to somehow “buy” their way into whatever he’s talking about when he says “enter in the joy of your master.” And since, on the other hand, 1-talent guy didn’t produce anything, he’s cast out.

Make no mistake…we cannot hear this story and think that Jesus is telling us we’ve got earn God’s favor…there is no checklist…there is no scoreboard…there is no money tally…let me be clear. THAT’S NOT HOW THIS WORKS.  This parable is not about anything that we say or think or do or earn that somehow guarantees us a spot in the kingdom of heaven whenever it comes to fruition. (pause)

But saying that raises an important point…remember that Jesus is still teaching his followers that they SHOULD NOT be concerned with the end times…that they should not get all wrapped up in when it happen. We could even stick this into that Spaceballs scene….Jesus when will the end happen? When will then be now?   Soon. (long pause) BUT…NOT…YET.

We hear over and over again, Jesus tells us to be prepared…live right now in a way that reflects the coming of the kingdom…and remember that we have this sense that the kingdom is both now and not yet. That the promises of God are given to us now, even if they haven’t come to completion yet. That we are called to live out the reality of God’s love right here right now…and not only that but that we are called to share that same love with everyone around us…That we are called to risk it…we are called to do something. Not because we have to earn the master’s favor but because the master has already given it to us and we show our gratitude by sharing it with others.

God’s love and God’s favor and God’s grace are for everyone…period. That’s why Jesus said to love God and love your neighbor…and he tells us to do it now.  This theme is all over Jesus’ teachings here in Matthew’s gospel.

You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth.  So be salty…be light…now…not just when we you think that someone’s watching and it gets you somewhere. Jesus also tells us don’t worry about tomorrow, today has enough cares of its own.  What do you think he’s saying there? Maybe he’s saying that if you’re wondering when is the right time to follow that little nudge in the back of your mind that tells you “I know what I’m supposed to do or say or offer to this other person.” That if you’re wondering when to do that…today…now.

Because God is going to show up unexpectedly…2 chapters of Matthew’s gospel tell us this over and over again…and maybe just maybe we need to stop looking for Jesus shining in the clouds and huge booming trumpets and angels singing all over the place and realize that God shows up in the face of the hungry…of the sick…of the lonely…that the king that we’re all waiting for and that we’ll celebrate next Sunday on Christ the King…he shows up as we face the reality that I was hungry and you gave me some food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was in prison and you visited me…for just as you have done to the least of these you have done to me.

God shows up unexpectedly…every…single…day. So are you going to live your lives stuck in the future expectation, wondering how you can be ready…essentially living in the fear that you’ll be turned away? Or are you going to live in the reality that its now….live in the now…and live your life in a way that reflects the glory of the gospel…that God has already claimed you…that the promise is already yours…and that you are a beloved child of God? (pause)
That’s the gospel…and its WAY too good to sit on…or to throw in a hole.  If we learn nothing else let it be this…1-talent guy sat on it…this thing of immeasurable value…because he was too scared to run any risk. (pause)
What are you willing to risk? You’ve been given the best news in the world…that you are loved by the one who made you…are you willing to share that same love with another…are you willing to risk loving the one that’s different…the one who thinks different, or talks different, or looks different…or even the one who we might think isn’t deserving of that same love of God? Are you going to sit on it, or are you going to do something with it? (pause) We don’t act to earn ourselves anything, because we’ve already been given everything by the one who made us and loves us…and not only that, but the one who has invited us to share this same gift with the world…that is why we act…that is why we risk…because at some point the end times are coming…When will then be now? Soon…but not yet. Not until we all do our part to make it happen…not until we live out this moment in a way that reflects the realty of the kingdom…and maybe just maybe when we do that, then ALL the world will experience the joy of our master who loves and adores and treasures every single one of us. Amen.

Be Prepared 11-12-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 25:1-13, I explore an odd parable of 10 Bridesmaids, and the instruction to be prepared.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/be-prepared-11-12-17

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

Any fellow movie buffs out there will likely agree that there are very few new ideas making it to the big screen anymore. Sequels and reboots seem to make up the vast majority of the box office any more…and this has even started to effect one of the most creative movie studios out there…Disney.

Most recently, we’ve started to see the rash of Disney live-action remakes…taking their popular animated films from years past and through the magic of cgi, bringing them to life. We’ve seen it with Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast…we’ve seen it with Jungle Book. I hear that Dumbo in the works…and so is The Lion King.

Now admittedly, I’m kind of excited about the Lion King…it’s a great movie and they’ve got James Earl Jones to lend his voice to Mufasa again…so you can’t go wrong. But thinking about the Lion King reminds me of just how well Disney has perfected their storytelling. There’s always the hero going on the hero’s journey…there’s always a love interest…and there’s always the villain.

Some might argue that the villain is the best part…or at least the most entertaining…especially when they take the time to explain their grand plan to their lackey’s…who are always portrayed as bumbling or foolish for the purpose of comic relief…and more often than not in a Disney film…this scene is going to involve a dastardly song…and in the Lion King…we hear Scar…awesome name by the way…explain things to his silly hyena sidekicks…with the grand song and exclamation to (sing) “BE PREPARED…” and then one of the hyenas pipes “Yah be prepared…we’ll be prepared…(pause) For what?” (pause)

Scar

Now I can only think that this is a perfect example of where we find ourselves today, here in the final couple of weeks of the church year…and the turn in our texts to all things…apocalyptic…to the theme of the end times. This is the natural theme that emerges every year at this time, as the season of Pentecost winds down…and since Pentecost is aimed at the life cycle of the church following the Ascension of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, it makes sense that we think about what will happen…what will occur…what its all gonna look like. (pause)

Honestly…these are pretty common questions…questions that I bump into pretty regularly as I talk with people…curiosity about what to look for. Or when we think its coming…or is it already here. And you know what, if you have those questions…you’re in good company…because people have been asking those same questions since Biblical Times…wondering about the Day of the Lord…or the Glorious Reappearing…

We hear this theme in the reading today from Amos…and I don’t know about you but it didn’t sound so pleasant there did it? It came up a lot in the years following Jesus’ walking around.  The Apostle Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians about it 20 odd years after Jesus…knowing that Jesus had promised that he was coming back…but now some believers are starting to die off and Jesus isn’t back yet? What’s that mean?

The gospels addressed it…and while the stories date back to Jesus’ time, the gospels themselves were recorded quite a few decades after the fact…so those audiences had been waiting and wondering. (pause) And not only that…but as we hear…Jesus himself talked about it…and his closest followers…the 12 disciples…the ones who you’d think would be able to understand…well they come up short too. That’s the reason that Jesus tells this story…this parable today…its part of long teaching…one that covers 2 whole chapters of Matthew’s gospel…and it is in response to the disciples asking the very same questions that we are still asking today.

Jesus and the disciples are leaving the temple…and the disciples are impressed at the structure…but Jesus says there will be day when not one stone is left upon another…and after a few minutes of scratching their heads, the disciples ask him “Lord when will this be? What will be a sign of your coming?” They might as well be asking how can we be ready….how can we…be prepared? (pause)

Now as I mentioned…Jesus gives them A LOT to go on here…including this parable about the bridesmaids that we’ve shared today…and what’s interesting about this parable is the switch that we find right at the beginning. We’ve hit a lot of parables in the past few months…and all of them start with Jesus telling us “The kingdom of heaven IS like…” Well today, that’s different…and we hear “the kingdom of heaven WILL BE like…” We switch our focus from present tense to future tense…but in doing so, Jesus lays a doosy on us doesn’t he?

There’s a wedding…and 10 bridesmaids go out into the street to wait for the groom…so that they can join in the wedding procession. Now admittedly, we don’t know a ton about 1st century Jewish wedding customs…but we do know that they were a big deal…and that every in the community was involved in the celebration…and all we can say is that the groom is coming to get his bride and he, along with the rest of the wedding procession, will escort her to his father’s house where they will celebrate. (pause)
And so we’ve got these 10 bridesmaids with lamps. I don’t know why…but they’ve got them…and as we hear we’ve got 5 foolish ones who bring no supplies…and we’ve got 5 “wise” ones who bring extra oil. Now, take note…that these two descriptions aren’t exactly polar opposites…because the original language could call the second set wise, or it could mean shrewd or crafty…so when you hear wise, take that with a grain of salt.

But that being said, we hear of the delay…the groom is late to arrive…so late in fact that all 10 fall asleep, wise and foolish alike…EVERYONE was sleeping when finally…at midnight…when EVERYONE is in the midst of the deepest slumber…this guy that is SO Late, finally shows up…Behold here is the bridegroom.

And in their freshly awoken stupor, the bridesmaids all kinda freak out and try to light their lamps. The 5 foolish ones quickly realize that without oil their not getting much fire are they…and they ask…maybe even demand that the others share their oil…but the wise ones…well as we hear, they aren’t having it. “No, for there will not be enough for you and for us. Go get your own.” And as we hear, the 5 foolish ones run off to do just that. (pause)

Now typically, when I’ve talked about this story with others…I’ve heard the same response…we need to be like the wise ones…we need to be ready…we need to be prepared…and when I hear that my response is just like the hyena in Lion King. Yah we’ll be prepared…wait…for what?

Now some will say that the wise ones were “prepared” because they were ready to wait…but here’s the thing…what if the groom had waited till morning? What if he’d waited longer? It would be light out and they wouldn’t need their lamps would they? What if he’d come earlier before it got dark…same deal right?

And so what are to take from this? That their “preparation” of extra oil was beneficial because of dumb luck? I don’t think so. Maybe all we can really take from this is the sense that the bridegroom is coming, but we have no idea when its going to occur.

In this story we hear that he shows up late…but right before this, Jesus uses an example where the master shows up early…unexpected both times…but zero sense of when or how…and that’s the tricky part about trying to “prepare ourselves” for the end times…for the glorious moment when Jesus will come again.

Because I fear when we start down that road…we all fall into the trap of creating the checklist…what do I have to do? What do I have achieve…or what do I have to avoid in order to KNOW, that I’m okay…that I’m good to go. We all do it don’t we…and we can call it whatever we want…though self-justification is a pretty good lable…as we get stuck in the trap of thinking I’ve got it together…because as long as I follow “the rules” I know I’m safe…or maybe we compare ourselves to someone else when we think well I’m not perfect, but at least I’m not that bad.

That’s the trap…and its based on fear isn’t it? I’m afraid that I’ll be left out…and I want to be assured that I won’t be…Did you notice that all 10 bridesmaids got stuck in the same trap?  The 5 foolish ones were afraid that without a lit lamp…without oil to burn, the groom would turn them away…and so they literally ran away from him as he was arriving in order to complete the checklist.  And the 5 wise ones…did you notice that they had same fear. “If we give oil to you there won’t be enough for you and us.” They might as well have been saying that if we help you, we’re afraid that we won’t have our checklist done, and we’ll be left out too. (pause)

Its funny…Jesus tells us “Keep awake” but all 10 of them were sleeping weren’t they? (pause) Here’s the thing…and I know I’ve said it before…and I’m sure I’ll say it again. There is no checklist…there is no cosmic scoreboard…there is no indication that you’ve done enough or said enough or completed enough…that’s not how this works.

And maybe for those 10 bridesmaids, instead of operating out of fear that the groom would reject them because they weren’t ready, and instead they had taken the time to look the groom who had already arrived…maybe they would have found that groom was gracious…that the groom simply wanted them all to come along…and that the light of 5 lamps was more than enough to light the way for 10 people. Maybe, just maybe “being prepared” simply meant that they were there to greet him when he showed up.

So what’s that mean for us, here in the 21st century…as we are still waiting? How are we prepared? If there’s no checklist…then how do we respond to this? And maybe, just maybe the only thing we can take from this is to know that whenever it happens…whenever the bridegroom arrives looking for you as an individual, all you can do is rely on the promise that the groom wants you to come along into the banquet.

We wait for the second coming when the entire world will know that he’s come back.  We wait with anticipation and we trust in the promise that through Christ God has claimed us…that invitation has already been extended. And we live each day secure in this promise…whether we see Jesus in the cloud today, or tomorrow, or next week or next year…or if something else happens to us in the meantime.

I can only imagine 1 week ago…those 26 people who had gathered together for worship in Sutherland Springs Texas…those 26 people who gathered to offer up their praise and thanksgiving…the last thing they expected was death…and yet I believe that in that moment, tragic and horrific as it was…the groom showed up for them…just as he has promised to show up for each us as our life ends.

Maybe being prepared simply means believing that no matter what happens, that promise is true…and in the meantime, living out today in a way that reflect that promise to everyone else.  Jesus reminds us to love God and love our neighbor…and he also reminds us that whatever you have done for the least of these, you have also done for me.

We don’t earn our invitation into the banquet…its given to us…and that’s news worth sharing with the world through our words and our actions, so that we might mirror God’s perfect love for all the world. Amen.

2 Sides to the Same Coin 11-5-17

In this sermon for All Saints Sunday, taken from 1 John 3:1-3, I explore the promise made by God, through Christ, that have been claimed as God’s children now. One day we will see what this means for us in the eternal sense, but we cling to the hope now.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/2-sides-to-the-same-coin-11-5-17

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’ve often found that scientific concepts can be explained in one of 2 ways…the really technical way that is difficult to understand…also known as the hard way…and then…the easy way.  An example…Newton’s third law of motion states “all forces between two objects exist in equal magnitude and opposite direction.” The hard way…now the easy way…every action has an opposite reaction…I think I like the easy way better.

As I think about this…it points me in the direction of thinking about how there are a lot of opposites in the world…a lot of things that seem to have a counter-part on the other side of the line…almost like saying that there are two sides to every coin.

I think this is the case, not only in the world…but in life too…that there are events or situations that happen in life that that seem to have an opposite counterpart…some of which are celebrated here in the church…and perhaps the most fitting pair of opposites that comes to mind is how we celebrate both new life, particularly in terms of the baptism of an infant here in the font, and we also recognize the end of life through funerals.

Now this idea certainly ties in with the theme of the day…All Saints Sunday…when we take the time to stop and remember the individuals who have died over the course of the past year…as we consider those who have come before us in life, and gone on ahead of us into whatever it is that lies on the other side of death.

Now death is an odd aspect of our existence…one that we acknowledge…but that admittedly we don’t give a whole lot of focus within the church year.  Out of the countless worships services that we share every year, week in and week out, not to mention the special services on certain holidays…there are only 3 that really zero in on death.  Ash Wednesday when we are reminded of our own mortality. Good Friday when we remember the death of our Lord Jesus.  And today…All Saints Sunday. (pause)

Now to consider death is also to consider funerals…the worship services we have to commend the individual into the care of the Lord…and many of you sitting out there today have likely had the opportunity to hear me preach at a funeral before…but if you haven’t, you should know that there’s a question that I pose each time. Why are we here?

I pause for a moment and then I answer the question with a two-fold answer…an answer that probably seems to come off as 2 sides of the same coin. We gather at funerals to mourn the death while at the same time to celebrate the life of the individual.

Now as we think about that, perhaps we begin to see that those two aspects of a funeral each have their place within the context of those different “death oriented days” in the church year.  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we tend to be pretty focused on the mourning part…while the general idea of All Saints Sunday is to celebrate the life and the witness of those who have come before us, and now have gone on ahead of us past that great unknown barrier known as death. (pause)

This is now the 5th time I’ve celebrated All Saints Sunday with you here at Underwood…and as I think back over the years, I remember the names that have been read as the candles were lit. 19 people over the course of the past 5 years…and as I think about those names, I remember the relationships that center around each of them…and I think about the way things felt around their death…and I imagine that it goes without saying that each one of them is a little different.image1

Take for instance…Gladys Carrigan…she’s the first candle over there today…I think about her death, one year ago today actually…and the circumstances that surrounded that wonderful 104 year old woman. Several people asked me how she died, and I could only respond…well she was 104.  Her funeral was a wonderful celebration of her life, I think any who were there would agree. But hers is not the only candle there today. (pause) There are 5 others. I look at them, I think about the names that will be read when we reach that part of our service in a few more minutes. (pause)

And then I look at the final candle, the one that we will light as we share the name Marcia Hastings…Marcia died just last week…with the news slowly trickling out…news which is painful to consider. News that some of you know, but that I fear will catch many of you by surprise to hear that Marcia took her own life…and it is in this shocking and painful news that we remember the truth about death.  That no matter how it happens…no matter what the circumstances…death just feels…somehow…wrong.  (pause)

If there is one truth that unites every instance of death…a truth that perhaps compounds this sense of wrongness…it is that death somehow creates a barrier…a separation between those of us still in this life, and those who have gone on to whatever it is that lies on the other side. (pause)

We never know how or when this painful truth will strike us…as those of us still in this life feel the sting of absence…even as we cherish the memory of those we have loved and lost…and yet this is our reality…one that goes beyond our ability to comprehend. (pause)

But as we must do…when we come face to face with death, we cling to the promise of new life made possible by God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…a promise which is given to us right here, right now…a promise that grants us hope in the midst of the lives that we live…and a promise which be made new in whatever lies beyond the barrier of death…yet to be revealed to us.

This is the hopeful promise that is given to us repeatedly in the short reading from 1 John today…an assurance of who we are now…or perhaps more importantly, Who’s we are today.  (pause) We are reminded that out of God’s great love for us…out of God’s delight, we are claimed…and we are called children of God…and that is what we are.  And if we didn’t quite catch it the first time, John repeats it for us…Beloved…we ARE God’s children NOW.  This is the promise made real for us in Jesus Christ, that through him we are made heirs of the promise…we are claimed and given this same birthright.

The only question is what that’s going to look like in the life to come…and the author recognizes this ambiguity…we are God’s children now…what we will be…has not…yet…been…revealed…but when it is revealed…we will be like God, for we will see him as he is…We won’t BE God…but we will be like him, for the broken parts of us will be stripped away and we shall see that we are all truly made bearing God’s divine image. (pause)

The promise of the life to come, whatever its going to look like gives us hope to live our lives today, on this side of death…in a way that reflects the joy and the love of God in each one of us. And this is what we must cling to in the face of pain and brokenness and death…because of the assurance that somehow, someway…through Jesus Christ and his perfect love for each us…God has overcome that which is so WRONG about death. (pause)

Today we acknowledge those who have come before us…we remember those who lived their lives in the hope of God’s promise…and we remember those who now have crossed over into whatever it is that we can’t see yet.  We acknowledge the joy of their memory…we acknowledge the pain of their absence…and above all…we cling to the hope given to us now…that through Christ, we will one day experience what they already know to be true. Amen.