Archive for June, 2018

Do You Not Care 6-24-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 4:35-41, I explore Jesus’ action in the calming of the storm, as well as the terrified question posed by the disciples “Do you not care?”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/do-you-not-care-6-24-18

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

How many people out there remember Happy Days? (pause) For those of you out there who are not fortunate enough to remember Happy Days, let me set the stage for you. It was a great sit-com, aired back in the 70’s and featured life in Milwaukee Wisconsin in the 50’s. There were a lot of different characters featured on the show…but in my opinion, Happy Days features the character who is, arguably, the coolest character to ever grace the tv screen.

Arther Fonzarelli, better known to the world as Fonzi.  He was…the greatest…so cool…so suave…He never had a hair out of place, even though he carried a comb in his back pocket just in case. He was tough loner, but he cared about people. And he had this mystique about him…an aura of cool…he was so cool that no one questioned him when referred to the Men’s room in the local burger joint as “his office.”  He could snap his fingers and girls would flock to him.

And not only that…but it seemed like he had some sort of power. Want to hear a specific song on the Jukebox…Fonzi would smack it and that song would start playing.  If the street light was out…he could kick the wall…and the light would come on.  If you’re thirsty…he knew just how to bump the pop machine to make one drop out.  (pause)

Now I don’t think we want to say that Fonzi was Jesus by any means…but maybe just maybe we can say that he had some Jesus-like abilities to make things happen that seem impossible. Something we see Jesus do in today’s story. (pause)

Now I love this story…still early on in Mark’s gospel. Jesus has been teaching, telling parables and revealing truth of the kingdom of heaven. He’s been displaying the power of God through various healings…he’s even exerted authority over unclean spirits, ordering them to be silent…and to come out of people. And all the while he’s attracting great big crowds…surely he’s got no trouble getting an audience.

But right here in the midst of it…after a long day of doing all of that stuff…Jesus decides its time for a break…and he takes the disciples, hops in a boat and they take off across the Sea of Galilee, departing in the evening in order to go across to the other side.

Now here’s the thing about the Sea of Galilee…it’s a great big lake, so big that you can’t really see the whole thing, especially when its dark or when its misty out…and its sits down kinda low…in fact the whole thing is pretty much surrounded by mountains…granted they aren’t great big towering peaks, but if you’re down there on the water, it sorta feels like your inside a bowl, completely surrounded by high ground.

Now most of the time, being down in that bowl, its pretty calm…its actually a very beautiful place to be with crisp blue water and rolling green hills shooting up the fronts of those surrounding mountains…and the water itself is USUALLY really calm…like flat calm, with no waves whatsoever.

But the thing about that ring of mountains…they block out the weather that can boil up unexpectedly…and if you’ve ever seen a storm come boiling up over a mountain peak and then come rolling down at you…you know how sudden it can happen and how scary it is when you are out there in the open with no protection.

And this is exactly what happens as the boat carrying Jesus and the disciples is moving across the middle of the sea.  Now remember, it was evening when they left and Jesus has been actively ministering to countless people the entire time…so maybe its not surprising that he’s konked out in the back end of the boat. Its probably the middle of the night by this point and the dudes tired.

And yet as he sleeps, in roars a great storm…and I can only imagine how strong it must have been. Think about it…at least 4 of the disciples were fishermen…individuals who make a living by taking a boat out on the sea of Galilee night after night. Rest assured these guys have been out here during a storm or two before…and yet, we hear that they are all freaking out…even the fishermen…because the wind is howling and the waves are breaking over the boat…if you’ve ever watched Deadliest Catch you can probably imagine just what its like out there.

We hear that the boat is already filling up…and the storm just keep going…and the disciples are pretty well convinced that their number’s up…and this is it…our lives are over…we are done…there’s nothing that we can do to stop it.

Have you ever been in a situation like that…one where you feel utterly powerless…and you don’t know if you’re getting out of it or not? I can tell you, its terrifying. (pause)

Now…what if you had someone in the boat with you who has displayed some mind-blowing things…someone who can cure a disease just by talking about it…someone who can silence a demon with an order…someone who even seems to claim the authority of God. Maybe he could do something about this mess…but where is he?

He’s over there…sleepin…Jesus…DUDE!!!!! Do you not care that we are perishing? This madness is going on…and you’re asleep? Don’t…you…care? (pause)

I want to jump off and talk about that for just a moment…because this particular statement or question in this case, doesn’t show up very often in the scriptures. Its here in Mark’s account of this story, but the other gospels don’t use it when they tell the story.  In addition, it only shows up 3 other times.

When Jesus visits Mary and Martha’s house and Mary’s sitting at Jesus feet while Martha hustles and bustles around, she asks Jesus “Do you not care that she’s left me the work?”  (pause) Jesus uses it in the parable of the Good Shepherd when he reminds us that Shepherd loves the sheep, but the hired hand runs away…because he does not care…about them. (pause) And finally when Judas starts squawking about costly perfume being wasted when the funds could be given to the poor, we’re reminded that he’s a thief who only wants the funds for himself, because he doesn’t care about the poor. (pause)
Jesus, do you not care? (pause) Now we don’t have to look very far to see that of course Jesus cares…because he takes one look at this devastating storm…and he rebukes it…he silences it…he literally puts a muzzle on the wind and the waves with the words that he says…the very same thing he has said when casting out demons as a matter of fact…and instantly…just like Fonzi smacking the jukebox to cue up the right song…the wind and waves go flat and the sea returns to the flat calm that it is known for.

At this point, it does seem like Jesus gets a little short with the disciples…who knows, maybe he’s just annoyed that they woke him up. But he asks them where is your faith? Do you not trust me? Do you not believe that I’ve got this…that’s I’ve got you and your best interest in mind?

Their response, well, its kinda telling…because to say that they were filled with awe isn’t quite right…in fact their terrified…literally fearing a great fear even AFTER Jesus has calmed the storm…maybe they’re even more terrified now that he’s done it…because who is it that can do something like this?

How would you respond if someone stood up in the middle of a tornado…told the storm Shut Up…and it listened? I can imagine that would be a little freaky…especially on top of the literal fear for their lives they’d been experiencing right up to that point.

Now maybe we’re thinking, it’s the disciples, they’re the ones that should expect Jesus to do this…but remember, they haven’t seen a death and resurrection yet…these are the same guys who need Jesus to explain every parable, and still don’t seem to understand…the same guys who follow him around for 3 years and still seem to fail at every turn.

So what do we make of it? This fear that they experience…the doubt…the questions in their mind at this terrifying moment that lead them to ask “Do you not care?” (pause)

Maybe we chalk it up to human nature…and the fear that we all feel when we encounter the unknown…the things that bigger than us…the powers that overshadow us…those events or catastrophes…those injuries or illnesses…those instances when we witness human beings committed utter atrocities to other human beings…and we wonder…are you out there God…how can this happen? Do you care? (pause)

Well I propose this…Yes…God cares…Yes…Jesus…cares. Because the disciples are forgetting something here.  Not long before this happened…once Jesus had begun his public ministry and started attracting those great big crowds, he stepped off to the side and called these 12 people to him…he chose them…calling the ones that he wanted.

And in this instance…Jesus intentionally left the huge crowds behind and took with him, only these guys.  “Do you not care?”  To which Jesus can say “Of course I care…I have chosen you…you are mine.” (pause)

The glory of the gospel is that God choses us. As we are…no pretest…no ritual…no bar to reach…we are chosen out of God’s amazing love for each of us…and this is what we celebrate in Holy Baptism…the promise that has ALREADY been made on our behalf that God has claimed us…and in just a few moments…that’s what we’ll celebrate with Wesley…that he has been chosen by God…just as we all are.

Let me be clear…in the waters of baptism, we celebrate the promise which has already been made…God’s the one doing the work…not the pastor…not the parents or God-parents…and not the individual. This is God’s action within our lives.  Action that serves as an ongoing promise that WHATEVER may occur…God’s got you and the last word will belong to God.  A promise which allows us to respond in any situation, scary though it might be…with hope.  Let us be encouraged and cling to the same promise which Wesley receives today, which has also been spoken to us.

Do you not care?  (pause) Of course I do…for you…are…mine. Amen.

This Isn’t Up To You 6-17-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 4:26-34, I explore two brief but connected parables of Jesus aimed at the growth of seeds. Its a funny thing, how seeds grow isn’t it?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-isnt-up-to-you-6-17-18

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

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

If we were to turn back the clock by about 8 years to 2010, my family was in a period of flux. I was about half way through my seminary work by that time, but still working on it remotely. My wife was coming up on 10 years in youth ministry at our old congregation up in Okoboji, and I was beginning to transition away from the job that I held at that time in the trucking industry.  We both felt like there was a change coming…and sure enough…early that fall she was offered a position in Faith Formation at a church in the Twin Cities, which itself gave me the opportunity to transition into full time school and shave some time off my expected seminary work…and so we made the decision that we would relocate to the Cities.

Now one of the steps that we needed to cover in this transition was selling the house that we owned there in Okoboji…and if you’ve ever tried to sell a house in the upper Midwest, you probably know that fall moving into winter is a really bad time to list it…and yet that’s what we did…hoping against hope that the house would sell and that everything would work out for our planned relocation at the very end of the year.

So when the house went on the market, which was roughly mid-October, I found myself trying to make it sell. Willing it to happen…thinking that if I just thought about it hard enough…or focused my attention deeply enough…or worried about it long enough…that I could make it happen…and this dominated my attention as October turned into November and then December.

I was stressing about it so much that it began to effect my normal mood, until one day when a co-worker who knew me pretty well at that point, came in my office and shut the door…he looked me straight in the eye and said “You aren’t you lately…talk.” So I told him what was dominating so much of my mental energy…and then he said “Scott…can you physically make this happen…do you really think that someone else making the decision to buy your house has ANYTHING AT ALL to do with you?” And as he presented me with these incredibly grounded questions I had to answer “No.”  And then he said “No…This isn’t up to you.” (pause)

Now I’d like to say that was the only time I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to control something that I can’t…but it wasn’t the first time it happened…and it wasn’t the last time either. But it serves as an important reminder of the ways that we try, at times SO HARD, to control things that we simply have zero influence over…and that’s where I’m connecting into the gospel for today.

2 brief parables, both aimed at seeds growing, perhaps expectantly in one case and unexpectantly in the other. Parables that, perhaps, make us wonder just what it is that Jesus wants us to understand…or perhaps that make us wonder what truth he was hoping to reveal to his audience on that particular day.

2 parables…One of them about a man who tossed out a bunch of seed in a wheat field…no lined up corn or bean rows, but thrown out all willy nilly, and then he goes about his business while the seeds get to work…and another about a mustard seed that starts off so tiny and ends up a giant bush big enough to provide shade for the birds.

Now full disclosure…every single time I bump into the parable of the mustard seed I grimace…because what Jesus describes does not line up with my experience with mustard. I know it as a weed…a prickly thorn that will spread like crazy and take over a field if you let it…but it doesn’t make a bush…it sure doesn’t grow into a tree like the other gospels describe it…and no one in their right mind would willingly plant it. I hear this parable and it just seems wrong.

So I thought to myself this week…maybe I’m hearing it wrong…maybe there was a different type of mustard plant back in 1st Century Palestine that a farmer would plant in his fields that grows up into some sort of great big bush…so big its almost tree-like…and pretty soon I found myself falling down the rabbit hole of just what Jesus…MIGHT…be talking about…and it dominated my attention so much that I realized I might be missing the point of the parable…

Now let’s shift gears and talk about parables for a moment. Many of you have heard me talk about parables before…about how they aren’t my favorite type of scripture to try to base a sermon on…and I’ve wrestled round and round with myself and have had several conversations with trusted individuals in order to try and figure out just why this is.

Maybe its because parables seem to be aimed pretty directly at us as individuals…posing the question “who am I in this story?” or “where do I connect?” or “what about this makes me uncomfortable” or maybe on the flipside “what gives me hope?” (Pause) These are all valid questions to ask when we encounter a parable…when we encounter a story, whether very brief or sometimes quite extensive, in which Jesus tells us that the kingdom of Heaven or the kingdom of God, or sometimes the age to come is like this…or its like that.  When he takes a concept or an idea or even a promise that represents something WAY too big or wide or complex or deep for us to grasp…and he compares it to something familiar…something that we recognize.

That’s what a parable is…in fact it literally means to “place alongside,” literally lining up two things that really have nothing to do with each other, and yet the comparison serves to reveal something to us. (pause)

Now its possible that I’ve struggled with parables because it can get tricky to try and tell others how they should interpret the stories that Jesus shares…and perhaps the safest thing to do is propose possibilities…that a particular parable might be pointing you this way, or maybe its pointing that way, depending on your own perspective and experience and even your current point in life…as these things can change from person to person or moment to moment. (pause)
I found myself pondering at great length this week on this tension that I feel regarding parables…and then I happened to read the last portion of this text at just the right time…With many such parables he spoke the word to them…as they were able to hear it. (pause) As they were able to hear it.

I don’t know if you want to call this a “eureka moment” for me…but in that instance, I found a freedom within the parables that I’d never experienced before. Maybe just maybe…the way that Jesus’ audience would have heard the parables on that day…namely if they would have thought about a great big bushy plant that grows from a teeny tiny seed…maybe that doesn’t matter for us today…and that my experience with mustard being compared with the kingdom of heaven…calling the kingdom of God something prickly and invasive that will take over once it gets a hold is equally valid.  And so is your experience…so what do you hear? What comes to mind when Jesus describes a person planting a mustard seed, which starts off so small you can barely see it, but that it grows up into the greatest of the plants in the garden? (pause)

Or what do you hear when he speaks of casting out a bunch of seed on the ground and letting it simply do what its supposed to do?  That first parable…it caught my attention more than the mustard seed to be perfectly honest…because having grown up on a farm….and having been around farmers for most of my life, I can’t help but think that the way Jesus describes the work of the man, or the lack there of in this case, doesn’t quite add up.

I can’t help but think that the title farmer indicates some of the hardest workers in the world…but not only that…I also think that farmers might just be the best example of hope that we can point to.  Because despite all the work…all the planning…all the effort of prepping the fields and spraying and fertilizing and everything else…once they put those seeds in the ground…how much control do any of us have?  And yet, year after year…in field after field…we see the farmers faithfully put the seed in the ground, hoping…TRUSTING…that its going do what its supposed to do…maybe thats what Jesus is talking about when he says the man sleeps at night and rises during the day…going about the activity of life while the growth happens on its own….the growth of that plant…it isn’t up to you is it? All we can do is plant the seed and trust it…and hope for it. (pause)

And maybe just maybe…this is a message for us here in the church today.  Things are not the same as they were a year ago…or 10 years ago, or 50…because things change…and God continues to invite the church, and all of reality for that matter, forward into new realities…time after time…and no matter how much we might worry…or think its completely dependent on our actions…its not. We plant the seed…whatever that looks like…

And yes…planting seeds takes on many different forms…and I’m not saying that we can all simply sit back on our laurels and watch the church grow grow grow…and so it is important that we ask ourselves the question here…what does it look like for me to plant a seed? Even if its something that I’ll never get to see bear fruit? That something to ponder on.

And yet as you ponder…I don’t want you to hear this message today as some sort of moral imperative to live up to…because that’s not the case.  The truth of the gospel is that through Christ, whatever it is that God is up to has already been accomplished for you. You have already been claimed…and that seed, if we want to call it that…its already been planted and somehow God has grown that seed up into a beautiful life of faith…and perhaps that’s that the take away today…that when it comes to matters of faith or the church or the activity of God here in the world…its not up to us…and yet we are here today, a living breathing example of how the seed which is planted by another can and does grow within you. Isn’t it refreshing to hear that you aren’t responsible for spiritual growth…but that God will make that work in God’s own time…Does it give you a sense of peace to know…it isn’t up to you? But its been done for you out of God’s amazing love and God’s amazing grace for all people. Amen.

Jesus Is Storming That Castle 6-10-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 3:20-35, I explore the difficult issue of Mental Illness and Suicide. Jesus makes a small comment, almost throw-away. And yet it reveals a promise on our behalf.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/jesus-is-storming-that-castle-6-10-18

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

Friday morning I found myself looking through Facebook, as I often do, and I came across a captioned picture, or meme we call it that caught my attention. It was a picture of a fish, specifically a tilapia, which is of course a very commonly consumed species…and it made a lot of pretty odd claims.
Now these claims included calling tilapia a mutant fish, which cannot be found in the wild…it is skinless and boneless…and it is killing our families…clearly the person who produced this picture is not a fan of tilapia.

Now…as I was reading these claims, I was skeptical…I won’t tell the word that came out of my mouth, but I’m sure you can guess…because in my own experience, I have eaten tilapia that was caught in the wild…fresh out of the Sea of Galilee in Israel as a matter of fact…and I CAN confirm, from the way that it was prepared…that tilapia does in fact have both skin and bones, as I had to remove both before I could eat it…and I can also attest that it is not deadly to consume, because I ate it, and I’m still alive.

My own personal experience serves as testimony to what I believe is true…now jokes and humor aside, I need to shift gears into something more serious…something that I believe falls within the personal experience of many who are here today, if not all of you. And because of that you KNOW…it to be true. Mental illness and suicide.

I bring this up because it was a topic in the news more than once this past week, as two different celebrities, one a fashion designer and one a traveling chef, fell to the powers of darkness and took their own lives. It almost seems like a trend in recent history…and as I thought about it Friday morning, I realized just how much it has touched our community in recent years.

We’ve had two here within our congregation and community in the years that I’ve been here. There are more several more who have made attempts.  Earlier this spring, during our Lenten services several of our speakers shared their stories and how suicide has touched them. I myself, in addition the 2 in which I conducted the funeral, have been connected with 3 others, one of which was my cousin.

It is an unfortunate reality, but we live in a society where pretty much everyone will be touched by suicide at some point in their life, whether in their own actions or in the actions of someone they are connected to…I can’t speak to the cause, but what I do believe is this…there are powers at work in this world. Powers of darkness and pain…powers that manifest themselves in many different ways, but in one that I don’t think any of us are really comfortable talking about…and one that the church has really come up short on…and that’s the issue of mental health.

In the situations that I’ve encountered in which the individual either committed or attempted suicide, I can only think that there was something at work…something that was so strong that it overcame their ability to think straight. I do not believe for a second that it was ever intentional or even selfish, though we can and do think that when we encounter these situations.  Rather I believe that there are forces at work that literally manage to mess up an individual’s brain chemistry.  Now mental illness takes on many forms…but it is a disease…and it is a disease that can and does kill.

I wish I knew what caused it…and I wish I was better at reading the signs of it because if I was, I know of 5 different people who might still be alive today…and if we look around this room and apply the same wish, who knows how big that number might be.

Mental illness is something that unfortunately tends to exist in the shadows…and many suffer in silence…caught up in the stigma that our society has placed upon it…considering it a weakness…one that goes against the idea of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. Perhaps some of you sitting out there right now are in this hell right now…afraid to reach out…silenced by fear or anxiety or shame…silenced by the lies that are whispered in your ear or in the back of your head by this terrible situation that you aren’t good enough to get help, or you’re not worthy of it…those same lies that can and all too often do culminate in another person…another beloved child of God lost to suicide.

I don’t know where it comes from…and perhaps the only way that we can think about it today is to recognize that there are forces in this reality that seek to hinder…to break…to destroy…to hold us back from the good existence that God has intended for each and every one of us.

We call these forces many different things…and so do the scriptures. Pain, death, sickness, disease…demons…powers, principalities…even Satan…a name that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel. Now I can’t say if Jesus thought there is some sort of physical being or entity that he calls Satan or the Adversary…or if its just some force at work that is in opposition to whatever it is that God is up to in the world. But I do believe that Jesus knows that power is out there…and it is precisely because of this power…these forces of darkness that seek to break us down…that actively work to hurt and kill and destroy, that God has sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world, empowered through the Holy Spirit to do something about it.

Jesus makes a tiny, almost throw away comment right in the midst of things today…one that it might be easy to overlook, but I think we need to zero in on it today. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. (pause)

I can’t help but think that whatever those dark forces are…whether we want to call them Satan or something else…that’s the strong man…and the house…we can call it hell…or we can say that it’s the realm where Satan has dominion…we could probably call it a lot of things…but Jesus is the one who’s coming in. Jesus is storming that castle…and he is the one who holds the power to bind the force that is actively seeking to kill and destroy…the force that seeks to hold us captive in ANY WAY it can…to hold us back from the good life…the good existence that God intends for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US upon the creation of humanity which has been called VERY GOOD.

The basis for this battle that Jesus is raging is God’s amazing love for all of us…a love which has manifest itself in the life and death and resurrection of a man who is also God…a man who willing took on the power of death and overcame it because there is nothing that separates us from that love, even in times when it doesn’t feel like it…even in those times when we are suffering silently…thinking and feeling like we’re alone…In those times when we are listening to the lies that say we are worthless…the lies that say we lack value…Jesus lived and died and rose again in order to show us that those lies are utter bullshit…my apologies for using strong language, but I think its true.

You are seen…you are claimed you are loved…and Jesus has stormed Satan’s house, tied him up, and plundered his goods…and those goods are the lives and the souls that Satan has fought tooth and nail to tie up…to hold onto…to lay claim to…those goods are God’s children…they are you…for in one way or another we are all bound up by the powers that act out against us.

But we have a God who is more powerful…who is able to bind up Satan’s power…and who has already done so because you are God’s beloved child, as you are…right here right now and nothing changes that…now matter how much the forces of darkness might try to…nothing overcomes God’s perfect love for each one us, not even death. God knows your name. God knows your pain…and God loves you through it all…even through death…and yes this might sound familiar but I think we need to hear it over and over again so that we might cling to it as a promise in the midst of the darkness that we feel.

I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing separates you from God’s love…no barrier that we try to set up…no lies or powers that the enemy puts in front of us…nothing…that’s the glory of the Gospel…that no matter what the barrier…no matter how strong of a defense the powers of darkness…Jesus Christ has already stormed that castle and called you by name.

We can’t do it alone…and its folly to think that we can…so if this hits close to home…please please please reach out…because you are loved and you are worthy and you are known. And not just to us, but to the one who will never forsake you. There is no shame in admitting that we need help…and even the gospel tells us this…that none of us are able to do it alone…but it also promises us, that we don’t have to. Amen.

One Day At A Time 6-3-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 2:23-3:6, I explore Jesus actions/intentions on the Sabbath. They reveal the desire of God that every individual experience a life of fullness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/one-day-at-a-time-6-3-18

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 had the opportunity to visit with an individual who holds the distinction of being our oldest living member here at Underwood…Elsie Ehrens who just reached the milestone of 100 a couple of weeks ago.

Now as we were visiting, Elsie gave me a gift…a small decorative pillow with a simple phrase…One Day At A Time. (pause) This phrase points at a connection that Elsie and I have shared since shortly after I became the pastor here 5 years ago. At that point, Elsie was still able to get to worship pretty regularly, and as we got to know one another we found a phrase that we exchanged in the receiving line following worship. One more day…an idea that builds off that other phrase “one day at a time,” because Elsie knew at her age, even 5 years back, that every day was a gift, and all we can do is live out the one that we’ve been given.

Now thinking about this makes me consider the different connections I’ve established with different people…those little traditions that form over time. Maybe it’s a joke…or a shared story, or a routine…we all have them…those little things that simply become the norm…the excepted way that things happen…but perhaps none are more fitting today than that phrase that Elsie clings to. One day at a time.

I can’t help but think that it reveals a sense of longevity when we consider the sentiment behind it…and this is quite fitting as we think about the grand scope of time.  Now, I mentioned that we’re at the 5 year mark since I joined our community here at Underwood…and sometimes 5 years feels like a long time.

But in reality, that’s a pretty short period, especially if we consider the 91 year history of our congregation…or if we go one step farther and think about the 500 year history of Lutherans dating back to the start of the Reformation…or to go clear back to the beginning of the church itself at the death and resurrection of Jesus almost 2000 years ago…or even one step beyond that as we remember that Christianity itself is an off shoot of Judaism and has connections all the way back to the Exodus from Egypt roughly 3300 years ago.

Just think of the multitude of traditions, of rituals, or connections or rules, or regulations that have come about throughout this vast history, throughout countless cultures and groups, of churches and denominations…certain ways that things are done or not done…guidelines for what’s acceptable or not…for what’s right and wrong.

Now these different traditions or rules have taken on many forms over the centuries…and perhaps none more deeply than the 10 Commandments, a gift handed down by God to the Israelites so early on in their cultural history…a listing of ways to live in harmony with God and with one another….dating all the way back to Moses and the story of God delivering the people out of slavery in Egypt….Commandments which include honoring the Sabbath day…and keeping it holy…and you know what, the idea of the Sabbath actually goes back even farther …in fact its present right there in the story of creation as we hear that God rested from the work on the 7th day and made it holy…Genesis 1.  We could argue that resting on the Sabbath might just be the first ritual that we are given in the scriptures.

And throughout all that history…just think of the various ways that have developed to help direct individuals or communities or cultures on how to do that…ways that, quite likely, are not intended to be a “how-to” list…or a regulation…but in fact could considered a gift.

I can’t help but think that’s what the establishment of the Commandment about the Sabbath was really all about when God handed it down to Moses for the people. Keep in mind that they had just endured 400 years of slavery…they were a culture that began their very existence in bondage…as slaves…as people who had no choice but to labor day in and day out…and now as God has freed them…we see that God is demonstrating that domination and bondage and slavery is not okay…and God gives the gift of the Sabbath so that they might be reminded of what they’ve been freed from…the Sabbath, while dating back to the beginning…was certainly something new for this culture who had not known the freedom to rest within their own lifetimes.

This gift…this invitation into something new…That’s an idea that we continue to find throughout the course of the scriptures. Story after story…event after event…character after character and culture after culture…God continues to invite them into something new…

And we must remember that these new realities that God extends…they can be, and often were, utterly mind-blowing for the individuals or communities that experienced them in the moment. We have the benefit of hindsight as we look back through history…as we see those things which for us today are the norm…but in the moment they were utterly new.

And sometimes…sometimes, these new realities, these new invitations that God extended, would butt up against the traditions or the expectations…it would butt up against what was expected or thought to be the right way of doing things…and this is precisely what we find Jesus butting up against in these two short stories from today’s gospel. Moments when either he or those he is responsible for go against the “rules” of how to observe the Sabbath.

Now this in itself is open to debate…both in present day Judaism, and even back in the 1st century when this happened.  Are the disciples “working” when they grab the heads of grain as they walk past…essentially just grabbing a snack as they go?  Or is Jesus performing “work” when his power results in healing the man with the withered hand?

I think we would say no today…and some would argue that the various rules and regulations in the Jewish law at the time would have even allowed these things to happen…so what’s really going on here? Especially in the case of Jesus healing the man in the synagogue?

Is he breaking tradition? Is he breaking the law…are his actions and views contrary to what God intended with the commandment to honor the Sabbath? (pause) Is Jesus threatening the establishment, the powers that be…those who seemingly have the authority as he does something contrary to what has been established as “the right way?”

It would seem that this could be the case, especially as we think about the back and forth between Jesus and the Pharisees…Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath…to save life or to kill? This is the question that Jesus poses. (pause) Now the Pharisees have no answer to this question…but Jesus has a reaction…and as we hear, he looks around at them with anger…grieved at their hardness of heart.

Now admittedly, that little snippet really catches my attention…that Jesus looks with anger at those present who seem to take issue with this healing…the ones who take offense with Jesus freeing this man from the deformity that hinders his existence. Jesus is…mad.

That’s not something we hear about very often is it? Jesus being angry…in fact I can only think of 2 instances…one is the cleansing of the temple when he chases out the money changers and the livestock…and the other is oddball little instance when he curses a fig tree for not producing fruit out of season…and interestingly enough, in those other stories, we never actually hear Jesus described as being “angry.” Believe it or not…the only other time that this word shows up in the original language of the gospels is when John the Baptist warns the people to flee from the wrath…the anger…of God.

Think about that…Jesus’ reaction to the old idea that nothing must be done on the Sabbath, even to the detriment of the person, this merits the same reaction that we hear in terms of John’s very fire-and-brimestone address. John calls them to repent…to turn away from flawed path and back to the good that God has intended…and it would seem that Jesus desires the very same thing.

Now remember. John’s story is another example of God’s invitation into something new…away from that which has been “established.” And here Jesus is revealing something similar…that we cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by “the rules” at the expense of giving a fuller life to another.

We see this as we consider who everyone is focused on in this story…While everyone is focused on Jesus and the apparent “law-breaking” he’s doing…Jesus, God in the flesh…he is focused on granting life to the man.  Of freeing him from that which has left him hindered…that which in some way has robbed him of the freedom of life as intended by God. (pause) Why did God give the gift of the Sabbath in the first place? To remind them that bondage…that limitation…that slavery is not what we are intended for, but that we are intended for a life of fullness and freedom. (pause)

Now I don’t think that Jesus is trying to supersede the importance of the Sabbath…but rather through this action I believe that God is inviting us into a new way of considering it…a new way of viewing it…an invitation that is life-giving instead of a batch of rules that dictate what we can or can’t do.

This is the ongoing work of God in our reality…always inviting us forward…but if today’s lesson teaches us anything, it’s the realization that this invitation is not always easy. That what the Holy Spirit is empowering in our midst might just go against the grain…it might just seem to butt heads with “the way we’ve always done it.” But this is the action of God…always inviting us forward into something new…and I believe that this will continue to be the case until that day when Jesus comes again…but until that day, may we all, as individuals and as a community, seek out the will of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit within us…the Spirit which continues to reveal the love of God for each of us that was made real through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And may we remember that throughout history…God has continued to invite all of humanity forward as we each live out our lives according to the advice that Elsie has embodied over the course of 100 years.  One day at a time. Amen.