Archive for August, 2018

The Crazy Cycle 8-26-18

In this sermon, based on John 6:56-71, I explore the “hard teaching” of the gospel, and the amazing revelation that God chooses us, knowing that we will ultimately fail to chose God.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-crazy-cycle-8-26-18

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

Last Tuesday evening was back to school night at the elementary and junior high building here in Underwood…as countless families all brought their kids, and more importantly their kid’s bundles of school supplies, in order to drop things off and explore the important spots in the school for another year…class rooms, lockers, all that stuff.

And I was there too, bringing along stuff for my daughter who’s still matriculating there in the Jr High…and as we walked around the school…I overheard 2 different phrases that caught my attention.  The first one was “So 8:30 at my place for mimosas on Thursday.” (pause), No idea what that one was about…but the second phrase was one that I overheard MANY times over…and I’m pretty sure that I said it a time or two as well.  “Here we go again.”

Tuesday night was the beginning of another year…another cycle of school…and I’m guessing there were a few other things that happened on Thursday that come up in that cycle every year as well…things like rolling a sleeping kid out of bed at 6:30…and the groan that emerges from that bed when you turn the light on.  Or things like the annual posting of the first day pictures on Facebook…how many of you did that, or in the very least saw them?  And maybe, just maybe, a few of out there waited for that moment when your kiddo got out of the car and starting walking up towards the front door and in the sanctity of your car you cried out “FREEEEEDOOOOOM!!!!!”  (pause)

That first day of school is funny isn’t it…those little things that become routine….those things that happen every year at this time…those things that are just a little cog in the midst of that cycle that continues to repeat itself year after year…time after time. (Pause)

Now in light of things being cyclic…let’s pull our attention over to the scriptures…but not just the assigned texts for today…rather let’s think for a moment about the overarching narrative of the Bible.  Admittedly, I know everyone’s level of familiarity is different and that’s okay…but as I think back to a study that we worked through here in the congregation a few years back that really centered in on the overarching Biblical narrative, I remember a conversation that we kept on having…itself a bit of a cycle that repeated almost every time our study group got together…and that’s the crazy cycle that seems like it just keeps on repeating.

God is revealed to the people in one way or another…typically through some miraculous or divine event…and the people pledge themselves to following God…and things go pretty well…for a while…but people have short memories…and after a few years or a generation or two goes by…the people turn away from God…and things start going lousy…and then after a while…they remember God and turn back…and this story, in one form or another…repeats itself over and over again…often times with very similar details.

Now we actually catch just a glimpse of this from the Old Testament reading of Joshua that we heard a moment ago…when Joshua is addressing the people, who by this point are pretty strongly established in the Promised Land…and he tells them in the midst of an address to the entire assembled nation “Choose this day who you will serve….the gods of the people in whose land you are living…or if you will serve the Lord.”

What’s really interesting about this is that Joshua is pretty much mirroring his mentor from a generation earlier…maybe you remember the story when Moses stood before the people…and said something pretty similar “Choose life.”

I always chuckle when I read these different passages…and there are plenty more like them…and I picture the people standing there listening…and then they nod their heads….Oh yes…we will serve the Lord…for about 5 minutes…and then the crazy cycle kicks in again.  We see it over and over again…and let’s be honest with ourselves…we still see it today as we look around don’t we…especially when we are looking in the mirror.

If there’s one constant throughout the scriptures, I suspect it might be this.  God…the Lord, Yahweh, the great I Am, whatever name we want to assign…continues to stand before us in one form or another saying “Choose me.”

And it seems SO simple doesn’t it?  The SIMPLE choice to choose God…to walk the righteous path…to follow the rules and do what’s right? But how’s that working for us?  I can’t speak for any of you…but I know me, and I know just how often that doesn’t seem to be the way it plays out. (pause)

The crazy cycle of this life…this existence…its flawed in so many ways…the brokenness of our reality…the brokenness that lies within people as a whole…cultures or communities or groups…and the brokenness that lies within each of us as individuals…you might call systemic…you might call it a lot of things…but I don’t think any of us can honestly deny that its real…and every single time…that brokenness that lies within us will win out…as we place ourselves in the driver’s seat…as we place our own needs or desires above something else…as we essentially turn ourselves into an idol.

God continues to say “Choose me” knowing full well if it’s left up to us and our own devices…then God might as well be saying “You will always fail to chose me.” (pause) Now that’s sorta dark right…bit of a downer…but I think it’s a pretty accurate description of the human condition…because each and every one of us has within our very nature the incredibly strong ability to destroy…the capability for selfishness…the capability to inflict pain both on others as well as ourselves…and God knows this.

But God knows something else…because God takes a look at every single member of the human race, lovingly and joyfully made bearing the divine image of God, and that divine image bears an equally strong ability for love and joy and peace….and God calls this good. God sees you and takes delight in you, knowing that if its left up to you, you will somehow turn away…and so God takes on flesh…that very flesh that is broken within us…that sinful selfish nature…God takes it on and becomes human…abiding among us…dwelling in our midst…not just with us…but as one of us.

And that God made flesh…that divine word dwelling among us…makes us a promise, that even though the gospel is hard to grasp…even though the love of God, which is freely offered to every single member of the human race, just doesn’t seem to add up or make sense…and that this good news of our God that willingly claims us is a hard teaching…that same God choses us over and over again…and we hear this straight from the mouth of Jesus as he asks the 12 “Have I not chosen you.” (pause)
Now admittedly, there’s some tension here…because that wonderful phrase from Jesus follows a whole slug of other followers deciding that they just couldn’t follow him anymore…and who knows why…I’m sure there were a variety of reasons that those individuals turned away, just as there are a variety of reasons that people turn away today.

I’ve found myself in this tension quite a bit lately…and I’ve been a part of several different discussions on just how all this works. Can people turn away from the good news of Jesus?  Well it seems like it.  And all we have to do is look around in the midst of our day to day lives and we can see people who have separated themselves from the peace and joy that comes from living THIS life RIGHT here, secure in the claim that God has laid upon them.  We see it don’t we…maybe we even feel it ourselves.

But…I wonder…does our choice supersede the ultimate eternal promise that God has spoken over the life of an individual when we hear Christ say “I have chosen you.”  This is a big question…one that countless people across the centuries have wrestled with. Denominations have risen up or have split apart based on different understandings on this very question…and I’m not going to propose an answer.

But what I will say is this…the promise is offered freely…and maybe just maybe the grace of God which is made manifest in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ…maybe that grace of God is big enough to lay that claim upon us even when we have turned our backs on it.

Because if the grace of God is big enough to overcome any sin…then maybe, just maybe it can overcome that promise which we attempt to break on God’s behalf. That’s the crazy…almost offensive nature of God’s grace…that if its big enough for me…then I have to let it be big enough for you too…even if I don’t want to. And that grace is the basis of the claim that God places upon each of us as a beloved child who is ultimately invited into the heavenly banquet…and that grace is just crazy enough that I might find myself sitting at that table alongside the ones that I think are unworthy of it.

Now, lets be honest.  That doesn’t compute does it? If that’s the case…it doesn’t seem fair…and here is where we experience the tension that lies between the knowledge that we will ultimately fail to choose God and the proclamation that he has chosen us anyway…do you feel that tension? Do you like it? Because I don’t. Its something that I can’t reconcile…that we seem to be given the ability to turn away from the loving arms of God, and that same God will still stand there with open arms. Sometimes it makes me wonder what the point of all this is…and I know that many of you sitting out there wrestle with this same tension…this same question…and I don’t have a good answer for you.

But what I’ll say is this…there is freedom…there is joy and there is hope found in our faith…in believing that the promises which God has spoken over you are in fact for you…and that they are true.  Words cannot adequately express this freedom…and this joy, but they are real and we find them as we abide with the one who claims us…right here right now…and not just for the sake of some cosmic get out of jail free card that we’ll cash in when our time in this life is done…but because the same God who took on flesh…the man who is also divine has come to give us life and to give it abundantly…right here…right now

And so as we live in the tension of the unknown…and we experience that crazy cycle, both in those who surround us as well as within ourselves…may we find hope in hearing those words from Jesus…have I not chosen you?  You…are…mine. Amen.

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Jump In and Eat Up 8-19-18

In this sermon, based on John 6:51-58, I explore the portion of the Bread of Life discourse where Jesus tells us that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink…and that in him is life and wisdom.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/jump-in-and-eat-up-8-19-18

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

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

After the past couple weeks away, its great to be back here again, and to work back into the normal swing of things…which actually takes a bit of work for me, as the week of family camp that my crew and I share every year is anything but ordinary…something that becomes apparent from pretty much the first moment you set foot on site…and then blatantly obvious once the program itself starts…as staff members come up with wacky and crazy ways to illustrate general rules as well as some of the various safety measures that are taken while at the camp.

Now there are quite a few, but one of these rules is you only drink water out of one of the water fountains or out of the bathroom faucets. The reason for this rule is keep people from drinking water out of the creek. There is a parasite in the creek water that will cause some pretty major digestive complications, and the people that run the camp want to make sure that everyone avoids that.

Now admittedly, after a dozen years of going to camp, I tend to think all of these different rules as somewhat second nature…but then I heard a quote this week, and in light of the camp rule, it struck me as funny. In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria. 

Now, at first, I just had to laugh, because I took it as a joke especially in light of the whole parasite in the water thing…but then I really got to thinking about what it was saying as a whole, and especially the first part of the quote…in wine there is wisdom. I found myself wondering why that seemed to be so significant and then I made a connection…it sounds just like our scripture lessons for this week.

We hear about wine in our Gospel lesson from John and we hear about Wisdom in the rest of our lessons from Proverbs and Ephesians as well as our Psalm for today. It’s not uncommon for the different readings in the lectionary to have common themes, but I was really surprised at how closely they all seem to fit together this week.

There’s a funny thing about the different passages that get lumped in together each week. Sometimes they don’t seem to fit together at all, and I wonder just what the lectionary committee was thinking as they assigned them…but then sometimes…like this week…they really seem to mesh.

And I didn’t realize quite how well they fit together until I listened to a broadcast from some of my old seminary professors this week. Now typically, they recommend preaching a single lesson…which you’ve probably noticed is my normal style…

But this week during the broadcast one of the professors said “You know that whole single lesson thing…this week…forget about it. Preach on the whole set.” So I’ll give it a try…although I don’t plan on dwelling very heavily on the other readings, I will highlight them just a touch.

We start off in Proverbs, and it could be safe to say that Wisdom is the feature of that entire book. After all, it was written by Solomon, who was best known for his God-given wisdom. However, this reading seems to look at Wisdom as a person…a person that is willing to share their knowledge with others. “You that are simple, turn in here…Lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of insight.” We even catch a glimpse of the gospel lesson here. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine that I have mixed.” That sounds a lot like what Jesus is telling us today doesn’t it?

Now our psalm that we shared earlier today seems to be imparting Wisdom. I can almost picture a grandfather giving advice to his young grandson…and there is certainly divine wisdom in this advice. “Those who fear the Lord lack nothing…and Those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.” The lesson from Ephesians follows this same model. Paul is passing along wisdom for how to live. One verse in particular stands out to me. “So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
(Pause)

Each one of these readings are strong in their own right. Wisdom is truly something of value. But hearing these readings raises a question. Where does this wisdom come from? Perhaps we can deduce that it must come from the Lord…which then raises another question…HOW ARE WE TO GET IT? (pause) I think we begin to see the answer to this very important question in John’s gospel lesson for today.

As we read this lesson…hearing Jesus speak of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, I’m guessing this leads us to a common idea…communion. Interestingly enough, John’s 6th chapter is the only reference to communion. The words of institution that we are so used to hearing don’t appear in John’s account of the last supper. Many scholars agree that if you want John’s take on the matter, you better tune in right here.

Jesus tells us “I AM…the living bread that came down from heaven.” Here he compares himself to another bread from heaven. Manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness. The divinely given bread which sustained the people during their day to day activities, but as we hear Jesus say… “your ancestors ate, and they died.” But Jesus says “whoever eats of THIS bread will live forever…actually he says it twice…and in that culture…to repeat yourself meant that it was…REALLY important. (pause)

So if Jesus is the living bread…how do we eat it? He tells us that too. “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Eternal life is only possible by eating the flesh of Jesus. What exactly is Jesus telling us here? That we are only saved through communion? That we need to physically hack him up and chow down? Maybe…but…I don’t think so.

Rather, it seems that Jesus is referencing something very important here…the source, of his flesh. Think of the beginning of John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” From here we jump ahead a few verses. “And the Word…became flesh.”

Now the Word as John calls it, is an important and significant thing. Some call it the Will of God…or the Wisdom of God. We see in John 1 that He was in the beginning with God and all things were made through him.

So if the Word became flesh…then the flesh of Jesus is the Will, or the Voice, or the Wisdom of God himself. And Jesus tells us that his flesh is the bread that grants us eternal life…and I think that makes sense…after all, in receiving his flesh, we are receiving the living Word of God….the same word which spoke creation into being.

Now I gotta go into the Greek for just a second…because there’s a distinction. Within his teaching, Jesus makes a sharp contrast between the Israelites eating the manna with our eating of His own flesh. Now, in the example of the Israelites, the Greek word for eat is esthio…which is best translated as to eat or to dine. However, here, when Jesus speaks of eating his flesh, he uses the word trogo…which is better translated to devour. In short…to trogo is to munch or gnaw. It implies an animalistic sense to eating…certainly more raw than to dine.

At one point or another, most of you sitting out there today have seen me eat. If you haven’t you might be surprised. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’m an eater. Anyone who has ever watched me take down a hamburger will attest to it.

But I do have different eating styles, depending on how much I am enjoying the food set in front of me. My wife has come to recognize how well I like a new creation that she’s come up with based on my enthusiasm for eating. If I’m not a fan, I’ll pick at it…taking small bites…taking my time…I’m dining. Esthio.

However, if you put something really good in front of me…fresh hot pizza for instance…I’m leaning over the table…stuffing and swallowing as fast as I can so that I can start in on the next piece…I’m ravenous. A dog gnawing on a bone has nothing on me…I can tell you that much. This my friends…is trogo eating.

And this…is how Jesus describes the way that we should eat of his flesh. He encourages us to dive right in…to be ravenous in the consumption of his flesh. Jesus is telling us to eat as if our life depends on it…and do you know what…It…does.

The next time you take communion, think of that…the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is Life-Giving. And in His Body…his flesh…is the Wisdom of God…the knowledge that through Christ’s saving power, we have eternal life.  Not by anything we have done…not by any measure that we ourselves possess…but because Jesus Christ freely gives it. Just as He freely offers us forgiveness of our sins, he offers us his flesh…the living Word of God…He has offered himself in EVERY way…so that we may have life eternal….Amen