Archive for September, 2018

That Was Stupid 9-30-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:38-50, I explore the human tendency to do or say foolish hurtful things. And yet, we are still claimed and loved by God. This manifests in our Baptism.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/that-was-stupid-9-30-18

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Holy Trinity. Amen

How many of you have ever said something…and the instant it came out of your mouth you just knew…that was stupid. (pause) It happens doesn’t it? Even without meaning to. Maybe we crack a joke. Maybe we say something that seems perfectly on point in our minds…but the second it comes out of our mouths the reaction of the other person clues us into the reality of our folly.

Would it surprise you to hear that…even I…have been guilty of this? (pause) Shocking though that might be? I, too, have fallen victim to what can best be called “open mouth, insert foot” syndrome.  To be honest…it has probably happened way more often that I should admit. I’ve said stupid stuff to my wife.  I’ve said stupid stuff to my kids.  I’ve said stuff to my friends and colleagues…and I’ve said stuff to some of you out there.

It’s a bad feeling isn’t it? When you say something stupid…but when it happens, perhaps the only thing we can do, once we recognize our stupidity…is to own it and ask for forgiveness. (pause)

Now based on the number of you that were brave enough to raise your hands or nod when I asked that initial question…maybe we can take a bit of comfort in knowing that we aren’t alone in this regard…and if the scriptures are to be believed…we are in good company. (pause)
We actually hear two different examples of this very thing…as people who should really know better start squawking about stuff.  The first one happens in the first lesson from Numbers…Moses, having grown tired of the excessive complaints aimed in his direction from the people, is given a bit of a reprieve when God appoints 70 elders and sends down the Holy Spirit upon them to prophesy…but apparently 2 guys, Eldad and Medad…coolest names in the Old Testament if you ask me…don’t quite follow the correct procedure…leading Joshua to start tattling…My Lord Moses stop them….Joshua…as in Moses’ second in command…as in the guy who takes over as leader when Moses dies…as in the guy who actually leads the people into the Promised Land…he tattles about these two prophets who are doing it wrong…and Moses pretty much says “So what?  I wish the Lord would send the Spirit upon all the people.”  Cue the thought for Joshua “Well, that was stupid.”

(pause) Now the second time happens in the gospel lesson…and for once, its not Peter who spouts off…this time around, its John…the beloved disciple of Jesus…one of the big 3…one of his inner circle…Lord…we saw someone casting out demons in your name…but he wasn’t following us so we tried to stop him.”  I bet John was feeling all high and mighty…having established dominance over this would be do-gooder…What a let down it must have been to hear Jesus say “So what? He’s doing good…leave him alone.” Funny enough John, along with his brother James, the other member of the big 3, are gonna say something stupid again not long after this.  2 times we hear John speak…and both times Jesus calls him on the carpet…I can only imagine that both times he thought “Man…that was stupid.”

But what are we to make of these moments? That even these important individuals would say something stupid…something foolish…something they thought was on point, only to be reminded that when God acts…its rarely in ways that we expect or anticipate.  And yet…in these moments of God’s action…it pretty much always seems to center around flawed people who can, and often do…make mistakes…people who make foolish decisions…people who are broken.

This is a theme that is emerging within the confirmation class as we make our way through the Biblical narrative…a theme that we’ve talked about here in worship before…that we have a God who takes action within our reality…and uses broken people to do it.

Name anyone from the scriptures…minus Jesus…and we find flaws. Adam and Eve…no brainer.  Noah, a drunk. Abraham, a lying trickster. Moses, a murderer. David, an adulterer, Solomon, an idolater. Peter, James, and John…Paul…the list goes on and on…and yet…these are the people that God chooses to continue moving this crazy thing called reality forward.  Its both incredible humbling…as well as reassuring to see what God can accomplish through imperfect people.

Reassuring perhaps…because in these ongoing stories we are reminded that God has made the choice to continually seek out and bless flawed, imperfect, broken people…and that includes us.

You’ve probably heard me talk about this before…maybe I even sound like a broken record…but if there is one truth that we can take from the scriptures and the way that they interact with our experience in our own lives…its that we each hold the capacity for good and bad…we all have the capability to love and create…or to hate and destroy…something that was certainly on display throughout the course of our news cycle in this past week.

It never ceases to amaze me to witness the ugliness that comes around when our partisanship is on display…and I’m not just talking about Washington and Supreme Court Nomination Hearings…I’m also talking about the way that we respond to it…the way we tear into the other side…that we demonize those who disagree with us…the way that our minds are made up and our biases confirmed within our personal reaction to what happens…

And here’s the things…people are watching us…our kids are watching us…our neighbors are watching us…and I wonder what they see. (pause) Jesus makes an interesting statement in today’s gospel…and keep in mind that this is a direct continuation of what we heard last week…when Jesus places a little child in the midst of the disciples, and then gathers that child into a bear hug…our lesson today starts off with John’s bonehead statement…but Jesus is still holding onto that child. That hasn’t changed.

And he says “if any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones, you might as well tie a giant millstone around your neck and throw yourself in the ocean.” (pause) Now that stumbling block…that comes from the Greek word Scandalezio…which sounds an awful lot like scandal…and Jesus goes on from there with some rather startling words about our hands or feet or eyes causing scandals and if they do we should cut them off.

Think about that…if you cause a scandal to one of these little ones who’s watching you…learning from you…learning from your example…and they leave or fall away from the faith because of what you say or do…throw yourself in the ocean…or worse yet you might find yourself cast into a burning trash-heap that never stops smoldering. (pause)

These are sobering words…difficult words…teachings that should really give us pause as we hear them from the one we call the Christ…because I can’t help but think how universal they are. We’ve all done or said or thought something that we instantly knew was stupid or hurtful or false…something that in one way or another destroys a relationship…either between us and another person, or us and ourselves…or even between us and our maker. Its universal…and if you don’t think so, you’re lying to yourself.

This is why our liturgy includes the same opening portion every single time…and why we introduce it in the very same way…as we gather for worship on this day we know that there are things in our lives that stand in the way of our relationship with our maker…and then we confess it.

But the glorious part of the liturgy is what comes next…because we invoke the name of Jesus…the very same thing that mysterious exorcist John was talking about was doing…and in Jesus’ authority, we declare to one another the entire forgiveness of all of our sins…and in this we are assured that the one who has made us has come near to us once again.

And there’s another thing that we do that embodies this same promise…that the one who made us has claimed us and that the brokenness that is a part of each and every one of us will NOT stand in the way…and that is the waters of baptism…when we are named and claimed as God’s beloved children…something that we remember and cling to each and every day of our existence…daily dying to sin and rising a new creation though the confession and repentance of sin…an embodiment of the promise and the action made on our behalf by God…which in just a few moments Callan Teten will also experience. And that is worth celebrating…and its worth remembering…because in the waters of his baptism, Callan, like every other individual who has come before him, will join as a part of this assembly…one part of the greater body of Christ…made of up of broken and flawed…and yet loved and accepted people…and like each of them, he’ll be watching you…learning from you…witnessing how we, as followers of Christ can be different in this broken world.  May we each take that seriously…clinging to the promises made on our behalf by the one who was willing to take on flesh to show us all…that despite our ability to be stupid…we are loved anyway. Amen.

Who Is Called Greatest 9-23-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:30-37, I explore Jesus’ second passion prediction, and the way that it leads to expectations of personal greatness and prestige. Jesus is up to something different.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-is-called-greatest-9-23-18

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

Over the course of the past couple of years, I have gotten into the habit of watching tv shows that focus in on life in the political spectrum. I’ve made our way through several different series, the most notable being The West Wing.

It was a great show that zeroed in on the lives of several of the prominent senior staff that surrounded the President of the United States in the hectic day to day activity of the White House. The show ran for 7 seasons, and a pretty major feature of the final season was the presidential race that would culminate in the final episode with the inauguration of the new president and the subsequent change over in staff from the old faces to the new ones.

In one of the final scenes, the new senior staff walks into the West Wing and they all pause for just a moment, before pealing off in different directions to find their new offices…and in one instance, we see the overlap as the outgoing character picks up his belongings…shakes the hand of the new guy…and then stands there for a brief moment watching as the new guy sets down his stuff…and excitedly begins arranging his new office.

It makes me think of the expectations that this character must be feeling…the ideas of what things will be like in this new role…of the work that he’ll be doing…whether he’s accurate in his assumptions or not. (pause)

Now the theme of expectations is one that we keep bumping into here over the course of several chapters of Mark’s gospel, including today’s lesson.  There’s a stretch of Mark that features several different teachings from Jesus that appear difficult…unexpected…maybe even a little harsh…teachings that maybe, just maybe make it difficult to even want to be a follower of Christ…some of these teachings or themes are unique…and others pop up more than once.

We’ve mentioned before that when something repeats itself within the scriptures…its usually worth paying attention to…and if you happened to be here last week, you might have noticed something that sounds familiar.  For the second time…Jesus predicts his upcoming betrayal and arrest…he predicts his suffering and death…and he predicts that three days later he’ll rise again…its nearly identical to what we heard back in chapter 8…and funny enough…it would seem that 2 times isn’t sufficient…because a chapter later…in a passage that we’ll encounter a couple more week’s from now…Jesus is going to do it a third time.

3 times he shares this prediction with the disciples…this honest and open revelation of his eventual fate…of how things are going to culminate at the end of his ministry. (pause) Now, the disciples’ reaction today is interesting…we hear that they lack understanding of just what Jesus is talking about…and even though they want to ask him questions…they remain silent.

Maybe, just maybe they are remembering the last time Jesus brought this whole deal up…and Peter getting a little testy with Jesus before getting a verbal smack-down. Maybe that’s why they dummy up and don’t ask the questions that are clearly on their minds…not even Peter in this instance.

But instead…as they continue walking along towards Capernaum…their conversation takes a turn…and they start bickering. Now maybe their debate has something to do with Jesus’ prediction…but maybe it has something to do with this location as well. It seems a little specific to name that they are in Capernaum…unless we know a little something about this community on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee.

Capernaum was an important city in those days. It was located right along a major trade route…it was also a boundary between two different territories and as such it was a taxation point.  The Roman government and military both had a presence there…and the residents, Jews and Romans alike, benefitted from all this with wealth and affluence.  It was a place of prestige…of authority and influence…in short…this was a place a power…and I’m guessing, as this merry band of Christ followers approached the city with words about this Messiah walking in their midst, the topic of authority and power seemed pretty important. (pause)

Now once they get into town and settle into one of the homes there, Jesus starts asking some questions…namely what they’d been bickering about…because it seems that their conversation escalated into an argument over which one of them would be called the greatest…who would hold the most authority…who’s the most important among them. (pause)
I can’t help but think that this starts to reveal a little bit of similarity in the expectations the disciples hold with what we heard out of Peter a week ago.  Jesus, you are the Messiah…and Jesus says yes, now let me tell you what that means…and Peter says No lord…the Messiah cannot be killed…you’ve got important political work to accomplish…take back the throne…free us from oppression, bring about this kingdom of heaven that you keep talking about…obviously you can’t do that if you’re dead. (pause)

It’ll be the same sort of thing when we encounter the last Passion prediction too…Jesus shares what will happen…and two of the disciples hit him up with a request to sit at his right hand and his left when he comes into power.

And today…same deal…Hey guys…Jesus is talking all that Messiah stuff again…I don’t know why he’s so set on the idea that he’s gonna die…I don’t know what that’s all about…who knows…maybe he’s being metaphorical…but you know what…when he takes control…its gonna be awesome…and we’ve been following him around…I wonder what spot we’ll each get.

That’s the debate…Jesus is here to bring about something UTTERLY new…a new way to live…a new way to be in this world…claimed and loved by God…and freed from the power of the brokenness that is still so prevalent…and in the midst of all this…the disciples are bickering over what cabinet position they are going to hold “in the kingdom.” Of who’s gonna be second in command…of who will hold more authority or prestige or status.

3 times Jesus tells them plainly. (slowly) I am going to die and rise again. It will be brutal, it will be painful, and you will all abandon me…and in three different ways, they reveal the same thing. What can we get out it? (pause)

I wonder…do we fall in the same trap? Do we get caught up in human expectations over what Jesus is going to do for us…of how we’re going to benefit from this identity as a follower of Christ? (pause) Is that how we look at our association with the congregation…or our identity and position within the greater community because of our membership here in the local faith institution? Do we wonder…or even seek out…the self-image of being called great? (pause)

That’s the rub in the disciples debate…they are arguing over who will be the one to be called…or named great.  Funny enough, they know better…because when Jesus calls them on it…they don’t say a word…its almost like they’ve already figured out that this isn’t what Jesus is all about…and yet it’s the issue most important to them.

Maybe its because the world works that way…their society was not that different from ours in that regard.  Power and influence and prestige and authority and fame and glory and riches were the currency of the day…just as they are now.

But Jesus proposes something different doesn’t he? It is not these things that will make your name great…you will not be called great because of these things…you want to be called great…welcome the least of these.  And he places a child in their midst.

Now in Jesus’ day, children were the lowest of the low on the status ladder…lower even than slaves…but Jesus could have also grabbed a begger…or a lepper…or a foreigner or a tax collector.  Anyone who their society dictates was unacceptable…Jesus says put them before yourself…serve them…and then you’ll be called great. (pause)

I’m drawn to that idea of being called great…maybe its subjective, because depending on the moment we might call a lot of things or people great…but Mark’s gospel really doesn’t. In fact…there are only two times when this exact phrase is used…to be called great…this is one…and the other is when Jesus answers the question of what commandment can be called the greatest.

Anyone remember how he answers?  Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.  Place others ahead of you…that’s what Jesus calls great. (pause) But maybe, just maybe that doesn’t compute. Because this is an idea that is so utterly foreign in a dog eat dog world…a world where we have to look out for number 1…a world where we bite and claw our way to the top…but I always wonder…where does that get us?

There’s an old saying “the one who dies with the most toys wins” (pause) but there’s another saying that refutes it “the one who dies with the most toys still dies.” It’s a sober reminder that this life has an expiration date. (pause)

But…Jesus is doing something different…utterly different. This kingdom of heaven…whatever the heck that means…its different…it doesn’t focus in on power or authority or prestige or status.  None of those things that the world tells us you have to have in order to be complete will actually get you there.  But a promise that there is something more…that you have been claimed by the one who created you…that you are loved and accepted and treasured as you are right now…and that no matter what happens that everlasting love will not be taken away from you and not even death can get in the way of it.  That promise gives us hope to cling to in the midst of all the mess of this world that we are constantly surrounded with and bombarded by.

Trust me…there is plenty of stuff in this world that can drown us in despair…and there are plenty of times when that hope of the promise might just be really hard to see…and this is why we need one another…to reflect that light of life that Christ has brought into this world…to shine that light so those stuck in darkness have something to look to…to be the hands and feet of Christ, even in some tiny way…just to show this world that no matter how hard it rants and raves…and no matter how loudly it screams that might makes right…or that gaining just a little more and a little more at the expense of another will make you satisfied…no matter how hard the powers of darkness in this world rave that light WILL shine brighter…because when light shines darkness loses…that’s the simple fact of the matter…even when it doesn’t feel like it. (pause)

The future is unknown to us…we might have our plans or expectations…we might have our hopes and our dreams…but the reality might turn into something completely different.  May we find hope in the one thing that will remain constant…God’s promises for you have already been made real in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s something that we can call great.  Amen

Who Am I 9-16-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 8:27-38, Jesus poses a question “Who do you say that I am?” Its a big question, and a difficult one to answer. And yet its worth pondering on.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here: (note this looks differently than simply listing the link as in past postings…listen by clicking the orange play button in the top left corner).

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

A few days back I had a conversation with an old friend…and we got to talking about the irony of cell phones.  Pretty much everyone walks around with a phone in their pocket these days…which means that it should be incredibly easy to get a hold of each other.

And yet…no one answers their phone do they? Maybe we can blame it on caller id…when the phone rings…if its not someone’s name, or a number that we recognize…we let it go to voice mail don’t we? This was what my friend and I were discussing…and in the midst of this discussion she said “You know, its probably the telemarketers fault.”

She said it in passing…but that statement stuck with me long after the conversation was over…and it made me think back to my younger years, before everyone had a cell phone…when we’d answer the old landline at the house…and that coupled with remembering countless conversations with telemarketers…calls that would go along these lines…Hello…a long pause while the robo-dialer connected on the other end…and then…Hello…is this Mr DaHlen? (cringe and hang up the phone).

It was in this moment that I recognized a pretty major pet-peeve…I hate it when names get mispronounced…an issue that happens with my last name with a LOT of regularity. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know why this bugs me so much…but it does…it feels like the person calling me by name really doesn’t know me…and vice-versa in the times when I’m the one doing the mispronunciation, it probably feels the same way to them……and I can only think that it points to a sense of unfamiliarity…a lack of understanding…or relationship…whether intentional or not…its just not a good feeling.

And I can’t help but think that this sense is present in our gospel for today…this lack of understanding or familiarity…and Jesus is still making the rounds during his ministry prior to his intentional turn towards Jerusalem and what will ultimately culminate in his death.

We are right about the half-way point of Mark’s gospel with where we pick things up today. And it would seem that Jesus thinks its about time to check in and see what people are saying…and so, as he walks around with his myriad of followers in tow, he asks the simple question.  Who do people say that I am?

The disciples respond with the various chatter that they’ve heard. Some call him John the Baptist…others Elijah or one of the prophets…and none of these are really out of line…his ministry and his message certainly have similarities with these different figures who came before in Israel’s history.

But Jesus apparently isn’t satisfied with this answer…because maybe its not enough to simply explore what people in general are saying…and so he gets a little more personal, particularly with the 12 disciples as he asks Who do YOU…say that I am?

I can’t help but think that this is a good question…an important one…and one that the disciples should really be able to answer by this point. They’ve been following Jesus for a while…clearly they’ve formed a solid connection and relationship…they’ve seen the miracles and listened to his teaching time after time after time…if anyone should have insight into just who Jesus is, its them.

And as we hear…Peter takes his normal role as spokesman with a divinely inspired response…you are the Messiah…the Christ…God’s anointed one. Peter is the first person to give Jesus this name…this identity…and Peters not wrong…but he is still in error.

Because as soon as Jesus starts to reveal to them what it means to be THE Messiah, Peter starts squawking…rebuking Jesus…which leads Jesus to start some pretty major rebuking of his own…Get behind me Satan…you have your mind set not on divine things…but on human things. (pause)

Here’s the rub. Sometimes I sorta feel bad for Peter when I come across this story…of course he’s got his mind on human things…he’s human…just like we are. So come on Jesus…maybe tone it down with calling him Satan…that seems a little on the harsh side. (pause)
And yet…its worth noting that Peter’s expectations of the Messiah, whatever they point to…are off.  It stands to reason that his expectation is more of a political figure.  The kings of old were anointed to be rulers…and prophecy had stated that the Messiah would again sit on David’s throne.  All signs probably pointed him in this direction…and Peter’s own experience with Jesus might have pointed that way too…somehow he’s made this assumption…although it would seem, based on Jesus’ response…that Peter is unfamiliar with just what the truth is of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.

Now, all else aside…I can’t help but think of the magnitude of this question from Jesus in the first place. Who do you say that I am? (pause) I don’t think he’s merely posing this question to 12 dudes who followed him around for 3 years prior to his execution on the cross…but I think this is a question that Jesus poses to each one of us…and it’s a hard question.  Who do you say that I am?

I think this is a hard question because our answer not only reveals something about how we think of God…but it also reveals something about us doesn’t it? Think about that question and how you would answer it.  Is Jesus just some wise 1st century Jewish rabbi?

Is he someone who showed up to tell the religious elite that they were doing it wrong?  Is he just some nice guy in a story that may or may not be true? (pause) Or if we go with the title assigned to him today…what does it mean that he’s the Messiah? What does the anointed one of God mean?

What are some of the other names or titles that we use when we think of Jesus? Lord…the lamb?  Emmanuel. God…the Son…savior, teacher, friend?  These are just a few of the various titles that we can and do apply to the one who our faith is named after. But I wonder, do any of them really do justice…or is Jesus, God in human form…the all-powerful creator of the universe made man…simply too big for any of us to wrap our limited understanding around…even though we try to do just that on a pretty regular basis.

The thing is…every time we try to assign meaning or identity or whatever we want to call it…all we pretty much end up doing is placing God in a box…even if that particular box might be an aspect that’s true…we can not begin to limit God to anything that we can come up with…because our assumptions, no matter how good our intentions…will always…fall…short.

I really doubt that Peter had poor intentions when he pulled Jesus aside to dispute the very notion that the Messiah would suffer and die at the hands of the religious and politically powerful…much less to suffer the utter indignity of the cross…a cursed death intended to be a brutal example of what would happen to you if you opposed the Roman government.

And yet…this is the reality of Jesus…and what does that reveal to us? That maybe, just maybe the Messiah is one who will ALWAYS align himself with those who are marginalized…those who the powerful say are unacceptable or even less than human…and that not only will Jesus be found with them…he will love them…and will show us, time and time again that there is another way to live in this broken and yet wonderful world that we have been given.

Maybe the Messiah is the one to show us that there is a way that we can chose to love one another and treat everyone as a fellow human being, regardless of social standing or status…but that’s a challenge to those whom society deems to be the powerful…and those with the illusion of power will often do anything to hold onto it…and this is why Jesus died.

Because in the life of Jesus, the one called the Messiah, God was showing us that there is another way…and that we can live in harmony with the world around us…and those that we share it with…and even with the one who made it…and the world…said…no. The cross, tame as it has become for us over the course of 2000 years of history and separation…the cross was a BRUTAL answer to the new way of life that God was showing us, something we call the kingdom of heaven…but the cross wasn’t the last word…because 3 days later he rose again to show us that not even death can silence the love of God that is actively breaking through into our reality. (pause)

Now I need to back up just a bit…and come back around to Peter…because I still think its harsh to consider Jesus’ response…Get behind me Satan…but its worth noting that Jesus doesn’t say Get away from me…he simply says get back in line behind me…and Satan is simply a Greek word for an adversary…so he isn’t actually calling Peter the devil here…Jesus is telling Peter that he needs to come back behind Jesus…and keep following him…even if that leads to the torment and torture of the cross.

Peter didn’t have the whole story yet…because he hadn’t seen the resurrected Lord…the living Lord who is a physical example that not even death can beat the good news that God has brought into our realty. Maybe Peter was singing a different tune once Easter rolled around and he saw things first hand.

And here’s the thing that we have in common with Peter…even with the benefit of hindsight…we don’t have the full picture yet either. Yes Jesus is alive…yes the tomb is empty…yes it is finished…and yet, we still view all of this through our limited human understanding.

But there will come a day when we will see these things clearly…a day which has been promised by the very one who lived and died and rose again in the first place…and in the meantime we live in hope and expectation of that day, and not only that…but we live out each day as if it is true…whether we can wrap our heads around it or not.

Jesus asks us…Who do you say that I am? (pause) It’s a big question that we need to continue to ask ourselves…and as we do so, let us each continue to follow the one who makes the promises to us…for that is our place in our identity as followers of Christ…we follow behind him, whether we really get it or not. Amen

I Can Do That 9-9-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 7:24-37, I explore 2 divine healings performed by Jesus, though one of them includes a troubling encounter. Through this, we see an appeal to the one who is able to act in the face of our powerlessness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-can-do-that-9-9-18

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

At one point Friday morning, I left the office and walked over to the post office to pick up the mail. Many of you have seen me do this before…its something I often do during the portions of the year that are warm enough to be outside.

As I was walking along the highway, I was looking around, just taking things in as I often do, when something caught my eye laying on the ground. At first glance, I thought it was just one of those little fake cards that come in the mail…designed to look like a credit card…and thinking that’s all it was I took a couple more steps…but then I realized that I had seen a chip in it…and so I backtracked those couple of steps to look a little closer…and sure enough…it was a real credit card lying there.

And not really knowing what else to do, I picked it up…it crossed my mind that the individual had probably already canceled it…and so I thought I’d just throw it away…but then as I kept on walking I thought of some other possibilities…and the next idea I had was to call the customer service number on the card and report to them that I had found the card…and that they could advise me on either disposing of it, or they could contact the individual to let them know it had been found.

Finally, as I had walked most of the way back to the church, it occurred to me that the individual’s name was on the card…and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of effort on my part would locate them…if I was willing to expel that effort…and that little voice in my head said “Yah, I can do that.” And sure enough…about 2 minutes of mild Facebook stalking, coupled with a quick back and forth on messenger, allowed me to place the lost card back in the hand of the individual who lost it in the first place…problem solved, all within about 10 minutes of the card catching my eye in the first place. A little bit of effort coupled with the willingness to get involved, and the recognition that “I can do that.” (Pause)

Now what’s that got to do with today’s scripture? It is, perhaps, the realization of our limitations. Today we have not just one, but two different stories of times when individuals were stuck in a situation that they were not able to do anything about…and so they seek out the help of another who is able…and as we see, in both instances, healings of the divine nature.

The interesting thing about the various healings that we see Jesus perform…is that there is no rhyme or reason to just how they happen. In every single instance, Jesus goes about performing the miracle in a different way. Sometimes he heals from a distance, just speaking the word and telling the individual who came to him that they’ll find it done when they return. Other times Jesus lays hands upon the individual in need of healing. Sometimes he debates before acting…other times he moves quickly.  There are times when he delays action…and not just momentarily but for extended periods of time…and then sometimes he pokes a guy in the ear and touches his tongue while telling the man to “be opened.” (pause)

Now there are often times when I come across a story of Jesus healing someone in a miraculous fashion…and I tend to think of it as a display of his divine power…of the work that God is up to in the world to overcome the problem of the individual…to free us from that which hinders us from wholeness.

But in today’s lesson, with both of these instances, I find myself really zeroing in on the individuals…and the encounter that they had with Jesus in this moment…and to be perfectly honest, the woman’s encounter catches my attention more than the guy. Many of you have probably heard me preach about this encounter before…it shows up here in Mark as well as in Matthew, and so we’ve come across it a few different times since I’ve been here…and perhaps, like me, you are troubled with the way that it goes down…Jesus is in Gentile territory for some unknown reason. And when news of his presence spreads, this foreign woman debates with him, Jesus seems to respond to her request in a derogatory…maybe even racist fashion, she owns it…and then continues to push until she gets what she’s asking for.

All troubling aspects aside, I found myself trying to find the headspace that the woman was in…because this healing isn’t for her. She’s acting on behalf of her daughter, who is possessed by a demon. We don’t know the specifics. We don’t know how long its been going on or how it effects the young girl…but what we do know is that…momma is on the case…and something tells me she’s tried everything up to this point…but this is beyond her ability to handle…no matter how hard she tries to cure her daughter…she can’t do it.

I wonder…have you ever been there? Have you ever felt that powerless feeling…as you look at someone that you love more than life itself, and you can’t do a thing to help them? (pause) Maybe it sounds almost cliché…but it is utterly devastating to experience.

In a bit of levity…I’ve joked before that both of my kids are lucky to be alive. When my son was about 3, I gave him an underdog, he fell off the swing and hit headfirst…even got a grass stain in his hair. And while that was happening my daughter who was 1 slid down through the stroller and got her head stuck…I thought I killed them both within 5 minutes. A few years later I watched as my son clotheslined himself off his bike by running full speed into a tree branch as he hadn’t learned to slow down and turn yet. And just about a month ago, my daughter tried to jump up on me, thinking I would catch her. I wasn’t paying attention and she fell, and was within a fraction of an inch from cracking her head on a rock. Now in every instance, they’ve been ok…but in that instant, it’s the worst feeling in the world.

How many of you have had that moment of powerlessness.  Of sitting at the bedside of your child in the hospital as they fight some unknown illness…or watching your fully grown son start back down the same old road of addiction…or seeing your spouse or your parent go through mental deterioration?

It happens doesn’t it? And we see it time and time again…and its bad enough when we watch a full grown adult in one of these battles…but when it’s a child…its that much worse…and I think we can all agree on that.

And this is the situation that the Syrophoenician woman finds herself in. No one can heal her daughter…no one except this random traveling Jewish rabbi who has shown up unannounced in her community…and yet…in her desperation, she appeals to him…thinking maybe, just maybe the stories are true…maybe he can help…that he has the power to act in a situation where everyone else is powerless…and nothing is going to hinder that possibility…not even some strange back and forth that makes zero sense to us as we read it 2000 years later.

And maybe, just maybe, we begin to see some hope as we consider the way the woman addresses Jesus in the first place.  Now in our translation she calls him sir…but in the actual language that she was using, she calls him Lord…she literally addresses Jesus as Lord…and interestingly enough…she is the ONLY person to do this in the entirety of Mark’s gospel. Not even the disciples use this word with Jesus…only her.

She is appealing to the one who is able to act…to the one who can do something…to the one who can say “Yah, I can do that.” For she is appealing to the Lord…regardless of her status as a foreigner…regardless of anything…she get it. Now this is not a new idea. In fact we even heard the same thing in our Psalm that we shared earlier today. Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help, whose HOPE…is in the Lord their God…The Lord opens the eyes of the blind…the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous…the Lord cares for the stranger…the Lord sustains the orphan and the widow. (pause)

In the middle of this back and forth…in an exchange that might almost be called an argument or a fight, and in the very least seems to be a debate…she calls him Lord…the one who acts…funny, the Psalm also says the God of Jacob, who you might recall wrestled with God until he received the Lord’s blessing. (pause) Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

So what does that mean for us today? Especially in light of the suffering that we see…the suffering that happens to those we care about but are powerless to do anything to stop? What do we do when our pleas and our prayers seem like they are falling on deaf ears? (pause)

We hope. And we cling to the promise that we have a God who can act…even if the action doesn’t look like what we think is right…because sometimes that action is simply the promise that the Lord will always have the last word in our story, or in the story of the ones we love.

Happy are those whose hope is in the Lord their God…we hope…because we have a Lord who sees every single one of us with that same love that we feel…for we have been claimed as beloved children…each and every one of us.  We have been claimed by the one who, in one way or another…will ALWAYS say…Yah, I can do that. Amen

You Are Doing It Wrong 9-2-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, I explore a debate that Jesus engages in that focuses in on the practices that are acceptable (or not) to God. From here we move into the idea that encounters with the divine through worship look or sound or seem a whole lot different to different people.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-are-doing-it-wrong-9-2-18

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

Many of you out there know I’m a fan of movies…and that I often make comparisons between them and the scriptures. I suppose you could say that movie acts as a bit of a parable in these instances…and today is no different.

I’m remembering one that came out back in the early 90’s…a movie called Backdraft that focused on 2 brothers who were 2nd generation firefighters in Chicago…the movie opens with a flashback…as the brothers are young…and together they are trying to put on the gear that firefighters utilize for their protection as they battle the blazes…and the younger brother is trying to get the heavy fire-resistant coat buttoned up correctly…his older brother takes one look…and in the condescending way that older brothers often have tells him “You’re doing it wrong” and promptly buttons it up for him.

Now this moment repeats a little later on in the movie, when the brothers, now fully grown and assigned to the same fire station, set off on the first fire for the younger brother, who has just graduated from training…and as they get off the truck, he’s still struggling to button up his coat correctly…and sure enough…once again, big brother, takes over…and buttons him as he says…You’re doing it wrong.

The moment repeats itself one more time at the end of the movie…when the younger brother…who now has lot of experience, is sitting in a truck across from another newbie, experiencing the same problem…and it comes full circle as he leans across to help the new guy after saying…You’re doing it wrong. (Pause)

This repeating moment speaks to a sense of unfamiliarity…of needing to learn the right way of doing things…and it also points us in the direction of certain things that must be done in a certain way…and while firefighting might not have much in common with worship…I had a professor in seminary that reminds me a lot of those two brothers. He was tasked with teaching us the “proper etiquette” for leading worship…and believe me the guy took it seriously…

I remember the way he would correct us in worship lab…yes we had a lab about worship, crazy as that sounds…he was always kind…but he would point out when you did something wrong…like lifting the bread incorrectly during the words of institution…or adding in the phrase “in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit” in a moment when you aren’t supposed to…or the way you hold your arms during the prayers of intercession. If we messed up, we’d hear that same phrase…you’re doing it wrong.

Now…this is evidence of something we call High Church or Low Church…and its essentially talking about the traditions of worship. There are some congregations and pastors who are extremely high church…they wear ALL the vestments…and they follow very distinct rules about things…rules as tedious as which candle you light on the alter first…and whether or not you should lift the offering plates towards heaven before placing them on the altar.

And then on the flip side there’s the low church mentality…one that doesn’t always put a ton of stock in the “right way” of doing things. You might call it laid back…any guesses on which side I fall? (pause)

Here’s the thing…these different practices…different methods or ways of doing things effect how worship looks and sounds and functions…and yet it raises the question…is there a right way and a wrong way? Or are there simply different ways to worship?

And that seems to be the question being hotly debated by Jesus and some of the religious elite in today’s passage. We hear that the Pharisees and Scribes are criticizing Jesus because his disciples don’t go through a ceremonial handwashing before they eat…thereby risking their unclean hands making the food unclean and therefore making them unclean when they eat it.  That’s the initial controversy…and since they are his disciples…clearly they must have learned this behavior from him…and therefore, he gets targeted.

But maybe you’re wondering why this is a big deal…well in the Jewish culture…there is great importance about being ritually clean or unclean…and it goes all the way back to Moses and the law…and it serves a variety of purposes. These were God’s chosen people…and God willingly dwelled among them…but since God is perfect…since God is utterly clean, God cannot tolerate anything or anyone coming near that is unclean…and there have been countless rules and regulations developed to ensure the proper fashion of things…that the proper worship of the divine is happening.

And this rule is one them…but funny enough, Mark has embellished things just a bit by saying that ALL the Jews follow this law…because in actually, even in Jesus time, this particular rule about ritual washing of hands only applied to the priests.

Now Jesus makes a point of this…actually several times over, and in some of the verses that we skip over today, he makes a heck of a point about food being unable to defile…or to make a person unclean…when he reminds his audience that food goes in the stomach and comes out…into the sewer…think about that for a moment and maybe you’ll make the connection of just what Jesus thinks about this whole contraversy.

But there’s also another statement that Jesus makes…one that really caught my attention, as he quotes from the prophet Isaiah…He says “in vain do they worship me.” (pause) In vain.

I thought about that a lot…because at first glance it sorta seems like this prophetic word of the Lord is a bit troublesome…saying that worship is in vain…I mean, God might as well be saying that worship is pointless…that it serves no purpose…that there’s no reason for it…and if that’s all we hear, that’s troubling.

But we’ve got to stop and consider what Jesus is really talking about here. One thing we need to remember is just how utterly connected the Jewish culture is with their religion, and their worship practices…far more than we are in within our own faith tradition…but for the Jewish people, even the what they ate was tied to worship and could effect it.

And so when the Pharisees accuse Jesus and the disciples of eating with unclean hands…of being defiled…of being unacceptable…they are essentially saying that if you don’t do it this way…then God will not hear you…God will not see you…or on the flip side that if you do not approach God in this way then you do not approach God.

And when I start to hear things like that, I get a little nervous…because it seems to indicate that worshipping God…that experiencing the divine comes with an owner’s manual…and that there’s a checklist to it all…that God can only be found in this specific box…but if the scriptures tell us anything, its that God will not be contained…God will not be found in a box…and if the life death and resurrection of Jesus shows us anything…its that there is no length that God will not go in order to encounter us. (pause)

Now…as I say this…maybe you’re sitting out there thinking about the traditions and the rituals that are important to you…those aspects of worship or prayer or quiet time or reflection…those aspects that have become vital for you…and not only that, but they have become life-giving for you because you experience the divine within them.

I’ll never forget the time, very early on in my experience of leading worship at a tiny country church near where I lived…and I dove right into the liturgy, but skipped over the Brief Order which we also use here every week…and they stopped me…and I had to go back and do that…because for that congregation…for that small gathering of believers…that moment of confession and the announcement of forgiveness is vital. And its not my intention to say that those things are not important.

But what I will is this…that thing that is vital to a divine encounter with God…that looks different for different people or different groups or different denominations.  God shows up in many mysterious ways…some of which might trip your trigger…some of which just seem odd or foreign…and maybe even prompt to think “you’re doing it wrong.”

But thanks be to God that God shows up…because when God shows up…hearts are changed…and that’s the point of this whole deal…and I believe this is what Jesus is talking about as he reminds us that it is not what goes into the body that defiles…but what comes out…because what comes out is a reflection of the heart that lies within us…a heart that can and does reflect the light of life…but can and does reflect the brokenness of the world…brokenness that manifest itself in these different traits that Jesus talks about…attitudes or behaviors that hinder our relationship with God and with our neighbors…these evil things come from within. (pause)

But remember…God shows up…and somehow, someway, we have a God who changes hearts…and our amazing God does this out of a perfect, all in, love for each and every one of us…there is nothing that you can do or say or think that will make God love you any more…and there is nothing that can make God love you any less…and this is the promise which has been made real for us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…when God shows us that there is no box…not even a tomb…that can contain the divine from showing up among God’s people.

We all worship a little different…but the one that we worship is the same…and when you encounter the divine, in whatever way is meaningful for you…in whatever way touches your heart…God will never say You’re doing it wrong. Amen.