Archive for February, 2019

We Are Even 2-24-19

In this sermon, taken from Luke 6:27-38 (along with earlier verses from the story), I continue to explore Jesus’ important words and inherent invitation for us to respond to the free gift of grace and salvation by acting in a way that reflects the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. As we do so, we are joining with God in bringing that reality into being.

This sermon is a pretty direct continuation of last week’s sermon…with many similar themes and ideas.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-are-even-2-24-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, today and forever. Amen

Mother Nature played a mean trick on us a week ago didn’t she? No worship thanks to winter weather.  And due to the fact that we didn’t have worship…I didn’t preach the sermon that I prepared…though admittedly I did still post it online, so perhaps a few of you did check it out…and if so…this opening bit is gonna sound a little familiar…if, on the other hand, you did not find it online…then disregard my disclaimer.

My older brother, while pretty decent to me as a younger brother…did often take advantage of the size difference inherent with a 4.5 year age difference…especially considering that I was a pretty small kid as I was growing up.  But then…one day when I was about 15 or 16…things changed. My brother came up behind and put me in a headlock…and without even thinking about it…I grabbed his arm and pitched him over my shoulder on the couch…and it was in this moment that my brother realized…we’re on the same level.

Rest assured, I viewed this as a moment of victory…but life has a funny way of turning the tables on you…and now 25 years later…my 15 year old son can pretty much look me straight in the eye…and in the instances when we get started wrestling…sooner or later I run out of steam and he gets me in a headlock…forcing me to admit defeat and tap out.  And let me tell you something…that moment of realization that now I’m not the top dog…and that my son is on the same level…that’s humbling.

Now in both of these cases…the level that we’re talking about…its physical…but as we all know there are a lot of different categories that we could name where people tend to fall in different places on the respective ladder.  Physical size. Economic status…age…social standing…just to name a few…but this idea of a ladder…of someone ranking higher or lower than another…that’s what catches my attention as I consider the scripture lesson for today.

Now again…a lot of what I’m talking about today builds off the message and lesson from last week…I even including the opening portion of last week’s because its all the same setting. Jesus has come down off the mountain…been surrounded by great crowds from all over the region…a mixed bag of cultural background, Jews and Gentiles…all seeking something from him.

He heals diseases…he casts out demons…he frees everyone from whatever it is that has them hindered…and it would seem that within this particular crowd…that same sense is pretty universal…it doesn’t matter who you are…Jesus frees you…and only then does he begin teaching.

I like this teaching…or sermon…its one that is probably familiar…though we tend to hear Matthew’s version up on the mountain a little more often…but Luke reverses things…literally bringing Jesus down off the mountain…to a level place…and I don’t think that Luke does this to metaphorical…I think he wanted us to see that Jesus…God in the flesh…was willing to come down on the same level as all these people…people from all walks and backgrounds…effectively placing everyone on the same level…making everyone even. (pause)

His sermon…well it does more of the same.  In the portion that we skipped over…commonly known as the Beatitudes…Jesus speaks about those who are blessed, even if their situation seems to be the polar opposite of the world would expect given that label…blessed…and then…having done that, Jesus turns the coin over telling us woe to you have it good…who are comfortable…because things will change.

Seems to me that Jesus is reminding us that the world and our reality is a fickle thing…and that our circumstances can get turned on their ear in the blink of an eye…and it begs the question…what do we put our faith it? (pause)  But that said…the awesome thing is that Jesus doesn’t stop there…he carries on quite a bit longer…and he really start to flush out this whole idea of an even playing field…despite the reality of social standings in his day and age.

Make no mistake…in Jesus’ time…there was a very rigid social ladder…and there was zero question where you fell on that ladder…everyone knew their place…and honestly…if you encountered someone higher up that particular food chain from you…you were pretty much at their mercy…and they could treat you any way they wanted…now we can call this a lot of things…some might call it persecution…especially in the first century where persecution on religious grounds was a very present reality.

But when Jesus starts talking about turning the other cheek…or offering your shirt along with your coat…I don’t think that’s what Jesus is really talking about…I think he was a being a little bit on the subversive and sneaky side.

Think about it this way…if someone got a little cheeky with you and you wanted to put them in their place…you always used your right hand…don’t ask me why but you did…and depending on the social standing of the other person…that determined how you hit them.  If they are your subordinate…you back hand them…but if they happened to be on the same social level as you…well then you balled up your fist and punched them…a slap says I’m better than you…a punch says we’re even…I’m just really ticked at you.

So when Jesus says that if someone strikes you on the cheek…he’s talking about that backhand…so you turn your other cheek to them…and the only way for them to hit you again is with the punch…and you have placed yourself on the same social standing…and if they throw that punch, they’ve just confirmed it.

The whole coat and shirt thing…same type of deal. Because if someone tried to sue you for your cloak…its an insult…basically saying that you are so worthless than your cloak is the only thing of value…but if you give it up, you’ve got another layer before you get to your birthday suit right?  But here’s the thing on this one…in Jesus day…nakedness was not a matter of shame for the individual…it’s the opposite…it’s a matter of shame for the person who view it…and so Jesus is saying that if someone attempts to shame your inferior status by taking your cloak, get naked…because that returns the shame on them… (pause)

Now these are some weird cultural things aren’t they? But they do speak into that idea…that we are all on the same level.  It probably goes without saying that society would disagree on that…both back in Jesus day as well as today right?  But when we are honest with ourselves…I think there’s a lot more truth to that than we want to admit…and the example that makes this blaringly apparent…is found in the two points of life that we have zero control over…and they are found on opposite ends of our life span.

Every single person….ever…comes into this world helpless and naked…and then, no matter how long or how short their life is…no matter how well they did socially or spiritually or economically…it all ends up the same way doesn’t it?

And so…as we begin to see and to realize that we’re all even in this crazy game of life…maybe we begin to see one another as God sees us…equal…on a level playing field…even in every single aspect. Broken…flawed…and yet…utterly and completely loved by the one who made us in the first place.

What would life be like if we all started treating one another like that? If we started acting in a way that reflects the enormous gift of salvation that God has granted each one of us…remember when Jesus came down off the mountain? First he freed everyone of what hinders them…then he started talking about how to respond to things.

Likewise…we have been freed…out God’s loving Grace…and Jesus is telling us how to respond to that.  There’s a little trick in the original language…and our translation that asks “What credit is that to you?” Well, it’s a little off.  Jesus actually says “if you love those who love you…what sort of grace is that to you?”

What sort of grace?  Jesus seems to be talking about the idea of reciprocal generosity…that too often we give to others thinking we’re going to get something in return…or we lend in order to make money of the repayment…or we only care about those who care about us in return…but if everything we do has a catch…then that’s not grace is it?  No more than if we’ve got to do something to repay the free gift of God’s grace for us.

And that…right there…that’s where we find the basis for the golden rule…do to others as you would have them do to you…and that goes way past being nice doesn’t it?  It filters into every aspect of our relationships and interactions…and we do this…we are aware of this in response to the gifts that God has given us.

Now here’s the really exciting thing about all this.  Jesus comes down…God comes down and gets on our level…and shows us that WE ARE ALL ON THAT SAME LEVEL…and then…having freed us from what hinders us…we are invited to live in this new reality…one that reflects the kingdom of Heaven that God is somehow bringing into reality…we like to call it both now and not yet…and that’s true…but I’m pretty sure that when we start treating one another with dignity and respect…not to get anything out of it…but simply because we recognize that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US bears the same divine image of God…when we start living out our lives in that reality…we are living as if the kingdom is already here…and maybe just maybe…that’s how God is bringing that reality into fruition…one person…one interaction…one loving moment after another.

Isn’t it amazing to realize that out of divine love and delight in you, God has offered you grace and mercy…making you a new creation…and in doing so God is inviting you into this amazing work of making all things new…that’s exciting…that’s worth jumping up out of our seats…to know that God wants you to be a part of this work of literally changing the world.

Now we’re even…whether the world tells us that or not…but its true…and we know it because we have a God who’s just sneaky enough…who’s just subversive enough to do what no one would ever think a god would do…to come to our level…and free us all…to show us the depth of mercy and grace…and then to invite us to share that same gift with one another. Amen.

The Same Level 2-17-19

In this sermon, taken from Luke 6:17-26, I explore Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. In this version, Jesus includes the woes, which should give us some pause. And yet, we find a sense that Christ is placing us all on the same level…and it is one in which we are blessed.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-same-level-2-17-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, today and forever. Amen

Many of you know that I have an older brother who is about 4.5 years older than I am…and while I feel pretty fortunate to have grown up with an older brother that was pretty quite tolerant of me as a younger brother…that age difference meant that in any sort of physical altercation or contest, no matter what form it took…he had a clear size advantage.

This was probably most apparent when we would wrestle, as brothers are known to do. Even though I was a wiry little bugger, inevitably he’d get a hold of me and win…and its also worth noting just how long this went on.  I was, to be sure, a small kid…one of the smallest in my class all the way through elementary and jr high…and since I was a bit of a late bloomer…I was still pretty small during my freshman year of high school.

Throughout all this time, my brother was able to throw his weight around…but then…things changed.  I grew 8 inches in one summer…finally put a little bit of weight on…and in a day that will forever be memorable for the two us…I was standing in the living room of my parents house, and he came up behind and tried to put me in a headlock…and without even thinking about it, I grabbed his arm and gave him a little hip-toss over my shoulder…and before he knew what was happening…he was laying on the couch looking up at me as I was looking down at him.

To say he had a shocked look on his face goes without saying…but I’ll never forget how his look changed from shocked to understanding…and his verbal response….SHOOOOOOOT.  Now, at the same time that he was realizing the new dynamic between us, I was realizing the same thing…that we were now on an even playing field…that somehow, the dynamic between us was level.  (pause)

Its that idea right there that connects us into today’s gospel lesson…an account of Jesus sharing a teaching known best as the Beatitudes…the start of a fairly lengthy sermon here in Luke’s gospel…but what’s important for us to notice right here at the beginning…is the logistics.

Now Matthew, if you’re familiar, places this story on a mountain…but Luke tells us something different…in fact Luke tells us that Jesus intentionally comes down…OFF…a mountain for this particular event…and that’s what we hear in the first verse…that he came down and stood on a level place.

Now this points us in a couple different directions…first of all, the logistics of the situation…he was on a plain…flat ground…a place where he could potentially walk around and look every one of the people there that day in the face…and secondly…a bit more metaphorical.  That Jesus…the man who is also God…the divine made flesh…intentionally came to the same level as his audience…a mixture of people from many different places and cultures and backgrounds…people from every point of every single social ladder…divided by every possible aspect…and yet as Jesus stands among them…everyone is on level ground.

Now maybe, just maybe…as the people stood there that day…able to look this God-man in the face…maybe a new realization began to dawn on them as well…that things were no longer the same…that the reality they had known to this point was now different. (pause)

Now that being said…the actions of Jesus are worth noticing…for as he comes down to this level place…fully intending to preach and teach those who have gathered…Jesus does something else first.  He begins to heal…he casts out demons…the people crowd around for the divine power is flowing through him…out of him and into those who need to be freed from that which has hindered them.

That caught my attention…that the very first thing he does…especially considering that he has JUST named the 12 disciples immediately before this moment…the first thing he does is allow his divine power to free all kinds of people from whatever it is that hinders them…and its only then…when that’s done…that he begins to teach.

Now his message…its eye opening…We are, perhaps, more familiar with Matthew’s take on this teaching…the Beatitudes…we’re used to hearing more of them listed…and a more spiritualized version of each statement. We listen for the poor in spirit…or those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…

But Luke presents it a little differently…and Jesus is, perhaps…a little more on the nose in terms of the actual/physical reality that many face.  Blessed are the poor…blessed are those who hunger…Blessed are those who weep…blessed are you when people hate you, or exclude you, or revile you or defame you. (pause)

And Luke takes it further…because Jesus has some things to say on the flip side too…Woe…woe to you who are rich…woe to you who are laughing…woe to you who are full or to you spoken well of. (pause)

I can’t help but think that Jesus is covering the bases here…because these various aspects of life…all of them are fleeting…and we don’t have to try very hard to realize just how easy it is to slip from one extreme to the other…and maybe as we think about this we begin to understand that Jesus is giving us a pretty accurate view of life…and the fickle nature of the things that we tend to put stock in…those things where we place our hope and our trust and even our faith. (pause)

Now I don’t know about you…but as I consider this list of “blessed are’s” and “woe to’s” I hear just a touch of rebuke…and I think that we should…and its only by dumb luck that we happened to be born here in this time…don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everything is perfect in our lives…far from and we all know that…but from a worldly standpoint…we would certainly fall under the category of “blessed” wouldn’t we. (pause)

But remember…Jesus…God in the flesh, has come down to place us all at the same level…and maybe, just maybe that’s what the blessing and the woes are really pointing at…that in the things that ultimately matter…we’re all on the same level…and that maybe just maybe, Jesus is trying to wake us all up to the invitation to start living our lives like we ARE at the same level. (pause)

And if that’s the case, then maybe we need to start looking at things from the same level that Jesus sees them…and to do so we need to pay attention to the order in which he speaks.  (pause) What comes first? The blessing or the woe? (Pause) The blessings right?

Maybe, just maybe Jesus is inviting us into a bit of reversal for how we see things…because its all too common for us to see the negative…to view the things that we feel ought to be condemned or cursed…but Jesus starts from a place that seems to be positive…that seems to be good…which might just point us all the way back to the beginning and the fact that when God made all this stuff…it started from a place that’s good…and we see now that God still begins by focusing in on that which is good.

And to continue to flesh this out…its worth noting that when Jesus calls a particular type of person blessed…he’s naming them…that’s the form that this word takes in Greek. Makarioi…sorta fun…but its literally an identity…a way to identify the individual…just like a name.  Who are you? Blessed one…that’s who you are…and it is in this sense of identity…called out by Jesus…named by God…that we begin to connect back into our Baptismal identity that is, perhaps, so vital to our Lutheran understanding of faith.

In the waters of baptism, God speaks a promise…a claim upon the individual…naming them beloved Child…and this identity is one that nothing overcomes…and I believe that the same thing is going on today….when Jesus calls us blessed…it is an identity that nothing changes…even in the moments when it doesn’t feel like it…or when the world tries to tell us the opposite.

Because to be a blessed one…is to be one that God is found with…God is found with the poor…God is found with the hungry…God is found with the one who is mourning…and God is found with the one that is excluded and marginalized simply because the world says so.

This is the truth of the gospel…one that we come back to time after time after time…that God knows we are unable to ever be good enough to reach God’s level…and so God becomes human and meets us in ours…broken and humbled as we are…this is where God meets us. (pause)

There’s something significant that happens when we discover the truth of being found on the same level as another…the ability to look them square in the eye…or to know that things are somehow equal…and isn’t it amazing that the almighty…all powerful creator of the entire universe…the one who made the expanse of the ocean…the one who created the majesty of the mountains…the one who created the beauty of a sunset…this same one looked at the world and thought this amazing world needed one of you too…and then that same all powerful God gets right down to your level…looking you in the eye…and this God calls you Good…this God calls you blessed.

May we all be changed by this truth…may we be encouraged, both in those times when the odds seems stacked against us…as well as those times when our circumstances allow us the opportunity to share those blessings with another….bringing us all to that same even ground…that same level where God meets us all. Amen