Archive for March, 2019

Celebrate 3-31-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, I explore the parable commonly known as the Prodigal Son, along with the two short parables partnered with it, that reveal a call to celebration over the lost being found.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/celebrate-3-31-19

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

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

Many of you have heard me share that Spring is my favorite season of the year…after the slog of winter, the warm fresh air, the beautiful sunshine…the birds singing and the signs of all the plant life perking up…all of that is just wonderful…and I always get a little charge out of the first time that these wonderful spring conditions allow me to walk over to the post office to get the mail.

Its an odd thing to notice and appreciate…but admittedly I do it…and I had that joy for the first time about a week and a half ago…and in the days since, I’ve had several more opportunities to repeat the process…including a couple of absolutely gorgeous days earlier this past week… and each time I made that brief excursion across town, it was wonderful and all was right and good in the world.

But then…as you may recall…the weather took a bit of a dip…getting cloudy and cooler, not to mention a little windy and drizzly here and there…and while it was still typical spring weather…it wasn’t QUITE as nice.  That, as you may recall…was the case on Friday…and yet…about 11 o’clock, I threw on my jacket and set out for the post office anyway.

Now when I stepped outside, I noticed it was cool and there a breeze…and while it was slightly uncomfortable, I didn’t think too much of it…until I left the post office and turned myself back towards the church…and it was only then that I realized that our gorgeous spring weather from earlier in the week, had in fact given way to 40 degrees, cloudy and nice blustery north wind slamming in the face. In that uncomfortable instant I said to myself…maybe this wasn’t too well thought out…You might say that I woke up…or that I came to myself….about the truth of my current situation.

Now granted…this wasn’t the end world…5 minutes later I was back in the church office none the worse for wear…but that moment of sudden realization of reality put me in mind of our gospel story today…and this parable that Jesus shares.

Now its worth noting that the setting of this whole deal is part of a bigger moment from Jesus, through the parable itself is long enough.  But Jesus, in a moment of interaction with the religious authorities of the time, is catching some flack…he’s being criticized for the company he keeps…for the fact that he is often found sharing a meal, or simply spending time in the company of “sinful folk.”

When Jesus hears their remarks…he responds with a series of parables…three to be exact…all of which fall under a pretty similar theme…We’ve got the parable of the lost sheep, in which the shepherd leaves behind the flock of 99 in order to search out and find 1 lost sheep…and once the lost sheep is found, he calls together his community so they can celebrate together…because the lost has been found.

Following that, Jesus tells a story of women with 10 coins, who suddenly realizes that one is missing and she searches HIGH and LOW, until finally finding it…and likewise, she calls together her neighbors, probably spending one if not more of her coins in order to celebrate that the lost has been found.

And then, in the story that we heard, Jesus shares a rather extensive narrative about a father and two sons…a parable that is pretty well-known…arguably one of the two most familiar parables in the gospels…and one that’s even become synonymous with individuals who wander off in one way or another before finding their way back home…the prodigal son.

This oddball idea that a younger son would demand his inheritance so he can traipse off and live out a crazy lifestyle, only to run out of money and face the consequences…then coming to his senses…and realizing the prosperity and even generosity of his father to the entire household…and with that, its time to go home…but he’s not without shame, and he plans to reveal himself, not as a wayward son, but simply as an individual willing to become a servant in order to be taken care of.

But that’s not what happens…and this amazing father, who has stood there day after day, looking for his son, when he finally sees him approaching…he runs to him in joy, for what was lost to him has now been found…and the son is restored…the fattened calf is slaughtered and prepared so that the entire community can celebrate, for what was lost and was as good as dead, has been found and is alive again. (pause)
But the story doesn’t stop there does it? And that’s why I’ve often thought that calling this the parable of the prodigal son does a disservice…because we’ve got the older brother too don’t we? The dutiful one…the one who stayed home, and to hear him talk, he has slaved away for all this time…doing what was expected of him…all without fanfare or recognition.

And when big brother learns about the celebration going on in the house…and discovers the reason…he’s angry…he’s upset…and he refuses to go in and participate…and so that same loving father, who looked every day for his wayward son, goes out in search of the other, because now, this older son, too…is missing.

We know how it ends…they go back and forth…the entitlement and perhaps victim complex of the older brother comes out in his complaint against the younger and against the father…and yet the assurance is there…you are always with me…all I have is yours…but we MUST CELEBRATE…for he who was lost is now found.

That’s how the parable ends…and in fact that’s how the whole passage ends…we don’t know if the older son comes in to join in the celebration…to join in the festivities…the party which is ongoing throughout this entire exchange over what’s right or wrong…over who’s deserving or not. (pause)

One long parable, part of a larger batch of three which all reveal the same thing…when someone or something of value is lost and then found…its worth celebrating…and not just by the one who found them…but with the whole community…everyone is invited.

And as I thought about all that…I went back to the setting in the first place…Jesus, like the father, has been criticized for how he responds to certain people…and then, there are those who seem to put their stock in appearances…in following the rules…have been blinded to the invitation into fellowship and celebration.

Is that’s what going on here in the big picture…that whatever it is that God is accomplishing through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…that it is worth celebrating…and that the invitation is universal…that somehow we are all part of the party whether we chose to act like it or not?

Is that’s what’s happening? Like the community that surrounded the father and the younger son and all the rest of the household who joined in the celebration…they lived that moment accepting that they are a part…or like the older brother, who is always with the father…and therefore is a part of the celebration as well…but chooses to act as if the opposite is true…is that what’s happening…as Jesus breaks bread and shares a meal and joyful fellowship with so-called “sinners?” Are they the ones accepting in the invitation and living out this moment as part of the celebration…and are the ones being so critical missing out on the fact that they are included too…and living out this moment in a way that reflects it? (pause)

I often wonder if that’s what’s going on with this whole Kingdom of Heaven thing that Jesus has assured us has come near.  We often talk about how the kingdom is both now and not yet…and that we catch little glimpses of it in this life…and how we are invited to live our lives as if the kingdom DOES exist now…and that maybe, just maybe that’s how God is at work to bring it into existence in the life to come…that Heavenly banquet…that heavenly celebration that God has promised us.

That’s the good news of this passage…that the invitation to join in the party has already been extended to all of us…for we are ALL a part of the community…and what joy to celebrate together all that has been lost, which is now found…to celebrate all that was dead and is now alive. (pause)
Now that being said…something had to happen in order for the celebration to begin within this parable…anyone catch it?  Before the party could start…the calf had to be killed…something had to die in order for this particular celebration to occur…and maybe, just maybe, that is a sober reminder of where we look for Jesus…because it was in the death and then subsequent resurrection of Jesus that the kingdom celebration became possible…that’s a sobering thought…but a timely one as we inch ever closer to Good Friday and the cross.

But thanks be to God that the cross isn’t the last word in this story…and that on Easter Christ rose from the grave…and somehow, someway, we have also been promised the same…that we have been made heirs of the same promise…and that we have each been claimed as beloved children…and that is what we are celebrating today…as Cameran and Dilyn will be brought to this font…where they will be washed in the waters of baptism…and the claim of God upon their lives…the invitation into the celebration, which has already been offered through Christ…will be made manifest in a physical way for them.

And what a joy it is for us…the community who surrounds them…to be here today, to join in THIS particular celebration…a celebration which has already begun…and a celebration which God has promised us will carry on in the life to come. Amen.

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Wrong Place Wrong Time 3-24-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 13:1-9, I explore Jesus brief but important teaching on the question of tragic deaths being the result of judgment on sin.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/wrong-place-wrong-time-3-24-19

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

Out of curiosity…how many of you have had the unfortunate experience of hitting a deer with your car? (pause) Anyone out there had it happen more than once? (pause) In my immediate family, my older brother holds the record…you won’t believe this but its true…he’s made contact with not one…not two…not five…but…12…12 different deer.  Honestly makes my number of 4 seem almost quaint. But that’s my number. In the roughly 25 years that I’ve been driving, 4 times I’ve smacked a deer.

But in addition to the 4 deer that I have hit…I know there have been quite a few close calls…times when one ran across the road in front of me…or it was in the ditch and it stayed put…and in addition to that…I sometimes wonder how many close calls I had that I wasn’t even aware of…like the ones I don’t see, but unwittingly drive right past…or the ones that crossed the road a minute before I got there…and if I’d left a minute earlier, I’d have hit it. It’s probably a weird thing to consider, but sometimes I think like that…the what-ifs. The disasters that were averted or avoided out of dumb luck.

Lord knows I’ve had my share of close calls…you might have heard the story of the wreck I experienced with three of my friends the summer after I graduated high school…how we rolled a car down the middle of the highway, but beyond a few pretty superficial cuts and scrapes, we were all ok…but if something had gone even slightly different any of us or all four of us could have died…but we didn’t.

When I think about moments like that…I can’t help but think of the flip side…those times when it didn’t go okay…and I know many of you have seen this type of thing before. We can call it a lot of things…bad luck…being in the wrong place at the wrong time…tragedies of one kind or another…and when they happen we begin to ask the question of why? Or how…what does it mean…or what are we supposed to think?

I’ve had that conversation with many of you over the past few years when tragic events have happened…like the death of a high school student in a car wreck last fall.  Or countless others in surrounding communities in the last few years.

I’ve heard the questions around the diagnosis of cancer…and in the death of those we lost to it…I’ve heard it in conversation about the mental decline of loved ones…when we see their personality disappear and the person we knew isn’t there anymore.

We ask it when we hear news of children fighting diseases…knowing they might not beat it.  Or when natural disasters rip through an area leaving devastation…you name it…these tragic events and moments happen all the time and they take many forms.

And that’s nothing new…because the same sort of thing happened during Jesus’ time as well…and we hear about it in today’s gospel lesson.  Two different events that resulted in tragic death. Now we don’t really know the details of either one of these events that Jesus references…those details have been lost to history…but we can make some assumptions.

The tower of Siloam…likely some sort of a watch tower or observation point along the wall that surrounded the city of Jersualem…we don’t know quite what happened beyond the tower collapsing…probably some sort of freak accident…but due to a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, 18 people died…either crushed under the collapse or perhaps inside the tower when it fell. A tragic accident.

The other one…well that one seems a little more devious.  Jesus is told about a batch of Galileans whose blood was mixed with their sacrifice.  Again…we don’t know the details, but we can make assumptions.  There was only one place where they’d be making sacrifices…and that’s in the temple there in Jerusalem…we don’t know why Pilate targets them…perhaps thinking they were involved with a treasonous plot…but for whatever reason…Pilate decides to put his cruelty and absolute authority on display by having them killed…in the midst of their act of worship.

And that’s the thing that makes this one sting even more than the other…this was act of terrorism…designed to instill fear in a group of people…in a culture…done so in a place and time of worship…the one place where no one should feel unsafe.

And that one hits close to home…because how many times have we seen it in recent memory?  More than I can count…acts of terrorism, perpetrated on people because they are different…because they look different or act different…because of a different race or different faith. We saw it cross racial boundaries when 9 people were killed during a Bible Study 4 years ago in Charleston.

We saw it cross faith boundaries when 11 were killed in a synagogue in Pittsburgh last fall…and we saw it when 50 people died in New Zealand, as they gathered to pray in 2 different mosques less than 10 days ago. (pause) I wish I could say these are the only examples…but we all know better…because evil has permeated our world with lies that say different is bad…or lies that say being a non-white non-Christian equals a death sentence…Now in hindsight, these lies are utterly absurd aren’t they? In fact they are stupid…and they are dangerous…and they result in tragedies like this.

But in the moment when these tragedies happen, there seems to be a question that surrounds these things…the question that begins “why?”  But then it seems that human nature tries to find a reason when there is none…and that question will usually find its way around to asking “Did they deserve it?” I believe its true now…and it was true in Jesus’ day…and we find that in his response.

Do you think that these Galileans suffered because they were worse sinners than all others?  Do you think that the 18 killed in the tower collapse were worse sinners than anyone else living there? Jesus offers a resounding No to both of these questions and I believe that he would offer the exact same response if he was here in the conversations that we’ve been having.

Did they deserve it?  Why would they? Because they look different?  Because they worship differently?  Because their understanding of that which is divine is expressed differently?  Or because they’re bad people?   Do we hear how ridiculous that sounds? (pause)

Whenever stuff like this happens…whenever there are questions that have no good answers…or we find ourselves just a little bit off because of the way things are going…what do we do with that?  I wish I had a good answer…some little nugget of wisdom that I could pull out like a magic pill that would just solve everything, or tie it all up in a neat little package.

But the world doesn’t work like that…and sometimes that only thing we can say in face of tragedies that lead to questions with no answers is to acknowledge that the world is a broken place and it is filled with broken people.  Did those people die because they were sinners? Jesus says no…and in doing so Jesus reminds us that if death was the result of a person’s sinfulness then we would all be dead already.

But that’s not what Jesus says…he tells us to repent…and maybe, just maybe what he’s saying is that those people are dead and that is a tragedy….but you are still alive to hear this news…so repent. (pause)

None are righteous, not one…but God loves us anyway…and God gives the opportunity to turn away from the brokenness that has permeated our world and our relationships and even ourselves…and to turn back to the good existence that God desires for all of humanity. That’s what repentance means…to quite literally turn away from…and to turn back to something else.

Now this is not to say that we will be perfect and will in some way earn salvation or righteousness or God’s favor…this is to say that we recognize the brokenness as it is…and we turn to the one who is able to do something about it. Because as much as we shake our heads and ask what’s wrong with this world…we have a God who seems to do the very same thing…but this God is also capable of more…and through whatever it was that God was accomplishing through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…God is bringing this broken and flawed reality towards something new.

We are not there yet…and that is painfully obvious more often than not…but in the act of repentance, which we are called to every day…we are also accepting the invitation of our Lord to join together in the work of reconciling this broken world back to the one who made it Good in the first place.

And that one is the only one who is righteous enough to say whether or not “they deserved it.” That’s not our place to say…whether we like it or not…but we are honest with ourselves, we place ourselves in that judgement seat don’t we?  Maybe, just maybe, that’s why we’re being called to repentance on this day, and in this time. (pause)

This is pretty heavy stuff…but maybe its exactly what we all need to hear now during this season of Lent…as we continue to look towards the cross…the cost of what Jesus will endure to begin this work of reconciling this broken world back to God. We’re all a part of it…but God has offered the solution to the world…let’s all turn ourselves back to that…remembering that in the face of death, whether it is our own…or someone that we care about…or some faceless stranger on the other side of the world…that death has not come to spite us because of our sin…sometimes we’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time…but the promise of the gospel…the promise that we cling to, is that God is bigger than death…and that no matter the circumstances, God will always get the last word. Amen.

Will I Survive This 3-10-19

In this sermon, taken from Luke 4:1-13, I explore the 40 days of temptation that Jesus endured in the wilderness.
(note that due to a cancellation of speaker, I filled in with preaching this morning. I’ve used this sermon before, though have made changes this time around. As such, this may seem familiar).

You can listen to the audio of this sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/will-i-survive-this-3-10-19

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

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

I’m going to share a fact with you…now this fact should not be shocking to anyone…and yet, I think it might shocking when we stop and consider that the millennium…Y2K, the beginning of the 21st century…whatever ever we want to call it…it was almost 20 years ago. (Pause) Think about that…and think about how vastly different things are now than they were back then.

One of the things that has changed so dramatically is the state of television…the bulk of tv shows, especially primetime shows were scripted back then…but in the year 2000, a new show came on that helped usher in the age of reality tv that we are so familiar with today…that show was Survivor…and the premise of this show, still running and in its 38th season by the way…the premise, was quite simple…strand a bunch of people out in the middle of nowhere with hardly anything in terms of food and supplies…and see who can last the longest…and over the course of 40 days, let them gradually vote each other out of the game until there’s only one left and they are the sole survivor.

I was obsessed with this show for a while…I came into it a few years in and stuck with it up until a few years back when I finally realized that every season is pretty much the same thing over and over again…but as obsessed as I was with it, I never tried out for it…I knew better…but I always wondered just what I would look like if I managed to go the full 40 days…and so for a long time, each every year when Lent kicked in…and different people would talk about giving something up…I always said I was giving up shaving just so I could see what 40 days of beard would look like…side note, I’ve never made it…16 days was longest I’ve ever managed…so I think its safe to say that if I can’t even make it 40 days without shaving…I certainly would fail to survive the actual experience…and some else would win the title of sole survivor.

That being said…if there’s anyone who might just be able to endure the various hardships of 40 days in the middle of nowhere…with no supplies…no food…I guess today’s story shows us that Jesus might just make a pretty decent Survivor contestant.

Today, as we do on the first Sunday of Lent every year, we feature the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness…40 days…and Luke tells us that this wasn’t simply 40 days of fasting followed by 3 quick temptations…rather Luke tells us that the entire 40 days was filled with temptations…Jesus is out there alone for whatever reason…and Satan puts him through the ringer…and I’ve often wondered if there were moments during that time when Jesus asked the question “Will I survive this?”

(pause) If you’re the son of God…turn these stones to bread. (pause) All the kingdoms of the world…I can give them to you…and all the glory that comes with it…if you’ll worship me. (pause) If you’re the son of God, throw yourself down from the temple…and he’ll send his angels to protect you. (pause)

We’re familiar with the 3 temptations aren’t we… we know how they go…and we know how Jesus resists…by quoting scripture… though interestingly enough…Satan uses the same tactic on him. (pause)

But what interests me a little more is the way that things keep ramping up. With every passing temptation, Satan turns the screws a little bit more…taking up the intensity…and perhaps…the cost…Turn these stones into bread…You’re hungry…I can see that…in this first temptation…Satan uses physical need…something that we’ll all fall to…and as human Jesus was prone to this physical need as well…but the temptation is not in the hunger…the temptation is to use the power of God that lies with him…to twist God’s creation…that’s the cost here…it may seem minimal…it’ll only cost a couple of stones…and yet, to do so…that would mean that God’s creation isn’t good enough for him. (pause)

Well what about temptation number two?  Satan shows off the kingdoms of the world…and reveals that, for the time being anyway, he holds dominion in this world…and he can give the power to anyone he chooses…and all Jesus has to do is ask. (Pause) So what’s the temptation here? Seems to be the desire for power…or advancement or glory here on earth…and we can probably relate to that can’t we?  But then what’s the cost here? Well once again, it seems to be the idea that what God intended us to be, isn’t good enough…that we want more than what we already have…that our pride craves the power that this world can offer…instead of being content with what we are given. (pause)

Well now what about number 3? When Satan hauls Jesus off to Jerusalem and sets him on the top of the temple…Hey son of God…jump off…because if you are REALLY who you say you are…then God’s not let anything happen to you…If he REALLY loves you like you say, then he’ll protect you…go ahead…prove it.

What’s the cost? Seems to be forcing God’s hand…demanding divine intervention to prove something…and ironically, it would simply be proving something that not only Jesus already knows…but that Satan already knows as well…and so what good would that do? (pause)

These are the temptations that Jesus faces while he’s in the wilderness, just trying to physically survive…and its funny how Satan targets us when we’re weak just as Jesus was weak with hunger…but then he hits us when we’re strong…like when Jesus resisted the previous temptation… he’s a crafty one…he doesn’t just tempt us when we seem susceptible…he’s tempting us all the time…and if we look at the rest of Jesus’ ministry…the rest of the story right up until his death…the temptation continues…its even in the same form…it just comes from a slightly different source.

Turn these stones into bread…meet the physical need that humanity shares…temptation number 1…now think of what happened after Jesus fed a crowd of 5000 people with a few loaves and fish…they kept hounding him…so much so that he scolded them saying “you’re not following because of the sign…but because you ate your fill and now you’re hungry again…Jesus…meet our need. (pause)

All the kingdoms of the world I will give to you…take the power of the world…temptation number 2…and now think of the Jewish notion of the Messiah…the great earthly ruler who would reestablish the throne of Israel…who would cast out the Romans and place Judah at the head of all nations…Jesus…take power…and elevate us with you. (pause)

If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…use your divine influence to save yourself…temptation number 3…which if you recall, happens in Jerusalem…the same place where Jesus hangs from a cross and hears people taunting “If you are the Messiah save yourself…come down from there…if you are able.” (pause)

Its been suggested that these three temptations were only foreshadowing to the temptations that Jesus would constantly face during his ministry…right up to the moment when he dies on the cross…and there might just be some merit to that if we consider it…what’s a little odd about this suggestion, is that it seems to turn the temptation of Christ into a parable of sorts…and while I don’t think that the 40 days in the wilderness was a made up story to prove a point, the notion does give us something to think about.

Because if it was a parable…then we need to ask ourselves the normal parable question of who are we?  Initially, we might think that we fit in with Jesus…because in our day to day lives we face temptation…but then as we see Jesus overcome temptation after temptation…and we know that we would never survive it…I think that rules us out of the Jesus connection pretty quickly…

And so…who’s left? Who’s the only other character there during the 40 days? (pause) The temptor…So just what is that telling us? Well, maybe on one hand it reminds us that we can be the source of temptation, both for others as well as for ourselves…and maybe in anther manner of thinking we’re just like those who tempted Jesus during his ministry…feed us…take the earthly power and share it with us…or prove to us that you are God. Prove to us that you are who you say you are. (pause)
Maybe there’s a little bit of truth here…maybe we see that the one that Jesus had to overcome is us…and while that might give us just a bit of pause to consider…isn’t it true that God became human and entered into our flawed reality to overcome that which we are powerless to overcome on our own?

Didn’t Jesus live and die and rise again to overcome the power of sin and death that resides within each and every one of us? Didn’t Jesus come to overpower that which we are unable to survive on our own? That darkness that resides right here…that darkness that we love and cling to…and yet hate it and hide it at the same time…we tuck it away, down deep inside us where no one can see it.

That is what Jesus came to overcome…that darkness that will continue to gather through this season of Lent…centering around Jesus until the moment that our darkness kills him.

We walk through this dark season right up to the cross, recognizing that Jesus could have saved himself…he could have let this cup pass…that he could have ended it…but that he loves us so much that he did it anyway…even though our temptations and our brokenness is too much for him to survive…because sin…brings…death.

But God…goes…farther…When Good Friday rolls around we’ll remember, once again…that Jesus died…because that work of God…that work of Christ…it is already finished…and Easter has already happened…and Christ has already walked out that tomb…it has already happened…and the good news that we find on this dark day, here at the beginning of this dark season…is that the temptations that Satan throws our direction now…have already been overcome. Yes we still feel it…and yes we need to acknowledge it…that’s what this season is about…about recognizing that temptation is not something that I will survive…but thanks to the love of God, shown for each us through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that temptation, has already been overcome.

I may be the problem…but God, has already given the solution. Amen.

Motivation 3-6-19

In this Ash Wednesday sermon, based on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, I explore an ironic passage in which Jesus warns us against public displays of piety on the one day in the Lutheran world when we publicly display our piety.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/motivation-3-6-19

You can also follow along with the text of there sermon here.

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

When I got into the office this morning, the very first thing I did was move around the church to bump up the heat for this evening…so I went down stairs to the two different thermostats in the basement, and then I came into the sanctuary to bump up the temperature in here.

And as I walked up the aisle towards the thermostat located right over there…I noticed something…with our maroon colored carpet here in the sanctuary…any salt left behind by people’s shoes is blatantly visible…and considering the weather and the amount of salt that each of one us is walking over every day…you can imagine the MULTITUDE of salt that was left behind last Sunday…and since the cleaning ladies aren’t here until Thursday, that salt wasn’t going anywhere.

This is one of those moments that qualifies in a job description as “any other duties as required.”  And so I busted out the vacuum to give the carpet a quick once over and clean up the majority of the left over salt. Now as I was vacuuming, I just kept thinking about a statement that Jesus makes very pretty early on in the Sermon on the Mount…about a chapter or so before the portion that I shared just a moment ago…one that perhaps sounds familiar to you. (pause)

If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored. It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. (pause) But…evidenced by my work this morning…what Jesus failed to tell us with that pithy little saying…once the salt is trampled underfoot, it sticks to our shoes, and it will be carried back inside again.

And with that realization…along with awareness of what today is, I present to you a new statement…Remember that there is salt…and the salt it will return. (pause) Now its not much of a stretch to go from that statement to our actual statement that applies tonight. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. A phrase which is spoken to each one of us tonight…as a reminder of where we came from…as well as where we will return…a statement that we will hear along with the tradition of smearing ashes on our foreheads…a visual sign of our mortality…a tradition which we do each year to kick off the season of Lent.

This action is a physical statement of our faith…an action that we participate in as a way to physically live out that faith…and there’s a word for this type of thing…piety…a way that we show reverence to God or a way that we act that fulfills a religious requirement…that’s what piety means. And tonight…in one of the rare instances here in our Lutheran tradition…tonight as we hear those words, and receive those ashes on our foreheads, we publically practice and display our piety…

And I don’t know about you…but I can’t help finding a sense of irony tonight…because on this night when we do just that…public displays of piety…our gospel lesson is a warning from Jesus against…public displays of piety. (pause)

And with that…we have a couple of different choices right now.  I can stop now, offer up a prayer of repentance, we could all say amen, and sheepishly sneak out the back…or we could take a closer look at just what Jesus is talking about here…I’m gonna lean towards the latter if that’s ok. (pause)

Now sure enough…Jesus does offer this warning about 3 different types of religious practices…but what’s strange about it…is that none of these things are bad.  Giving alms…offering as we know it…though giving directly to the less fortunate would probably be a better description…that’s a good thing.

Praying…nothing wrong with that one…its something we do here in worship every week and its something that we do individually whenever we talk to God…prayer’s good right? (pause)  And fasting…maybe not the most common practice in our tradition…but fasting as a way to focus our attention back to God isn’t a bad thing either…and many participate in this spiritual discipline.

So I gotta ask…Jesus…what are you talking about in these three warnings? I wonder…why is he warning us against them…or is he?  Does Jesus tell his followers not to give alms…not to pray…not to fast?  Or does he give a warning about the motivation behind these actions? (pause)

If we consider each of the three statements…I think we’re getting closer to his intention.  When you do these things…when you practice your piety…do not be like the hypocrites…they do these things publically…and they act to draw attention to what they are doing…so that they might be seen by others.

The motivation behind our actions…behind our tradition and our practices…that seems to be the key…because who are we doing it for? Who is our audience? Is it other people? Or is it God? That’s the big question that we need to be asking ourselves…especially tonight as we have gathered to do something similar…and maybe, just maybe…the whole thing can boil down to the final statement that Jesus makes for us tonight.  Where your treasure is…there your heart will be also.  Jesus is talking about our ultimate desires…because if we’re simply playing the crowds…or we’re acting in a way to get ourselves something that the world tends to value…we need to remember that all that is fleeting…but treasures in heaven…I think that’s something altogether different. (pause)

I’ve had a lot of conversation over the years about what these heavenly treasures might be…conversations that are often tied to questions about what heaven’s going to be like…what will we experience in the afterlife? What will we see or hear…what will we think or feel?  And when we’re honest in those conversations we have to acknowledge that we don’t know…but when I find myself in these conversations…often times with an individual who is looking at the rapidly approaching end of this life…I tell them that whatever it is that they will experience…they won’t be disappointed.

And that right there probably brings us around to the important aspect of this day…and this worship service…and this public display of our piety that we will all participate in.  In a few more moments, each one of you will come up this aisle…and I will look you in the eye, smear ash on your forehead and tell you “remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”

Those words refer to your mortality…they refer to your death. They are an acknowledgement that this life you are leading…is fleeting.  I’ve shared with you before, that this action that we share tonight is one of the most personal and powerful moments that I have every year…because with each passing year, the depth of the relationship that I hold with you as individuals deepens.  I’m your pastor…I consider many of you friends…I have family sitting out there.

For some of you, I have buried your spouse…or your parents, or your siblings.  Some of you young ones out there…I baptized you…the nature of our relationships differs from person to person…but as I look you in the eye and say words that speak of your death, its hard.

I’m not sharing this to toot my own horn or to make you feel sorry for me…but rather I want to highlight the importance of relationship that lies between us…and not only that but to remind you of the importance of the relationships that you hold with one another…and to go one step beyond that…perhaps most importantly tonight…to remind you of the relationship that you hold with God.

The relationship that you hold with the one who made you in the first place…remember that you are dust…know where that comes from?  Genesis…and God making humanity out of dirt…and God being a little on the nose in naming this mud person Adaam…from the Hebrew Adamah which literally means dirt. And then following the creation of humanity out of dirt or dust, God calls us Very Good…and being there in relationship with this very good creation that in which God finds delight.

God finds so much delight in you…that God will not be separated from you…and so through whatever it was that God was accomplishing through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ…God is making that ongoing relationship with you a reality…one that not even death can stop.

Because despite our brokenness…God has offered us healing…and we will hear that tonight as well…because immediately after you hear the words that speak of your death…you will also hear the body of Christ broken for you….the blood of Christ shed for you…and remember this has been done for the forgiveness of sins…it has been done…for…you.

This is a promise that we cling to…and that is faith…believing the promises that God has made for you and to you…let us each hold on to that faith…let us each hold on to that promise, and be motivated by the love of the one who made us in the first place…and let us act accordingly…whether we are doing it in public or in private…may we each be motivated by gratitude to the one who loves us and made us in the first place. Amen.

Shine 3-3-19

In this sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, I explore this amazing and yet confusing story from Luke 9:28-36. The identity of Jesus is on display, and we are reminded of the promise that we have been made heirs of that same identity.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/shine-3-3-19

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

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

It is good to be back to normal.  After cancellation of all services the past 2 weeks, not to mention education canceling and worship being a bit more on-the-fly than normal the week before that…I think its safe to say that we’ve had our share of winter weather lately haven’t we?

I’ve lost track of the number of storms we’ve had…but we’ve gotten our share of ice and frost and snow haven’t we?  Its pretty crazy out there to take in the piles and the drifts…the build up on the roads and the corners…the depth in people’s yards…after several winters in a row of low key conditions…we’ve been in for this time haven’t we?

And I don’t know about you…but with the enormous amount of snow out there…its unbelievably bright isn’t it?  All that light reflecting around…its hard on the eyes…when the sun’s out its almost unbearable…I’m squinting even when its cloudy…and to be honest…its so stinking bright out there that I’m about the point of wearing my sunglasses when I go to bed at night…ok so that’s a stretch but you get my point…and you probably see where I’m going with this.

Because its not too difficult to make the jump from the blindingly bright conditions due to all of the snow outside to today’s gospel lesson and what is apparently an equally blindingly bright event known as the Transfiguration. (pause)

Its kind of hard to believe that we’ve made it around to Transfiguration Sunday again…here on the last Sunday of Epiphany before we kick off the season of Lent…and yet here we are…and as we do every year, we wrap up this season of Christ being revealed to the world with the story of Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up the mountain…where his face is somehow changed…and his clothes flash like the brightest lightning.

Honestly, this is a pretty amazing story…a moment that is perhaps, confusing to consider…I’m guessing it was pretty confusing for the 3 disciples who were along for the ride when it happened…evidenced by Peter’s impulsive words, not to mention the fact that he’s spouting off without knowing what he’s talking about.

But this is one of those times isn’t it? One of those moments in the story of the gospel when we just can’t quite put our finger on things can we…we can’t quite wrap our heads around the mystery of what’s going on. Imagine it.

Imagine that you’ve spent a pretty good chunk of time trudging up a mountain…and I can tell you it is pretty high…takes about 15-20 minutes to drive up it…now imagine walking up that…no wonder we hear the disciples were tired…they just climbed a mountain for pete’s sake. But once they get up there…and Jesus is engaged in prayer, as he often does. Suddenly things get crazy with a change in his appearance and his clothes flashing like we’ve mentioned.

Two random dudes are suddenly standing there talking to him…and I wonder if they were wearing nametags or something because it seems like the disciples immediately recognize them as Moses and Elijah…2 guys who had lived centuries before this…well apparently they’re all standing around talking about Jesus’ pending departure…ironically the original language calls it an exodus, maybe in a nod to Moses and his piece of Jewish history…

Now I wonder if maybe that particular subject caught Peter’s attention…because he and Jesus have some history on that subject. Shortly before this event happens, we have the exchange between the two men over the identity of Jesus and Peter’s declaration that he is the Messiah…an exchange that is followed up by Jesus’ words about his betrayal and arrest and death…all something that’s gonna happen in Jerusalem.

I wonder if Peter’s thinking about that…and in a wonderful and glorious moment that is blowing his mind…he thinks this might be an opportunity to side step Jesus’ earlier prediction….MASTER…it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up 3 tents…one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah…let’s do that and we’ll just stay up here on the mountain. (pause)

Now, maybe Peter had ulterior motives, or maybe he was just utterly confused…but we hear a rebuke…and its not from Elijah…and its not from Moses…its not from Jesus…its certainly not from James and John…this one comes from the top.

Out of nowhere a cloud overshadows them…and from within the cloud comes the voice of God….This is my son…the chosen one…listen to him…and the three disciples hit the floor…utterly terrified. Because not only has God shown up…but it would seem that Peter’s impulsive idea might have God a touch on the irritated side.

But then…just as suddenly as this whole deal began…its over…the extra 2 guys are gone…the cloud has disappeared…the booming voice from heaven is silent…and there’s only Jesus…and then, the moment being done, they start heading back down the mountain…and for whatever reason…the three men remain silent…perhaps feeling the sense of shame that comes with a rebuke. (pause)

That’s the story of the Transfiguration…one that is amazing…and yet is utterly beyond our ability to make heads or tails of.  And considering that point…sometimes I think that the description of a moment when the divine and the finite…the heavenly and the human are both on display in the same instant…that is so utterly beyond our human ability to describe or even comprehend…that this is the best we can do in terms of a description.

Of course, it goes without saying that countless scholars over the centuries have made attempts to explain what’s going on here…but maybe its okay just to sit in the enormity of the mystery.  A mystery that points towards an even bigger mystery…of whatever it is that God is up in constantly inviting our reality forward…and in connection to that…whatever it is that God is up to through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus.  (pause)

The apostle Paul talks about this mystery…saying that now we see as in a mirror dimly…but one day we will see face to face.  I’ll admit it…there are times when we call something a mystery that we can’t explain…or we answer a question with “I don’t know” and it almost seems like a copout…its frustrating…and yet…that’s the truth…that there are things about God and heaven and the kingdom and Jesus and that which is divine being found among that which is not that is simply too much.

And so maybe, just maybe as we consider this event…all we can say here is that somehow, the event of the Transfiguration is a moment that reveals something about the identity of Jesus…because we have a name that is given to him…the Son of God…the one who is chosen…but as we think about that heavenly proclamation that comes about as Jesus is in a moment of quiet prayer…maybe we’re reminded of another time when that happens.

I can’t help but think that this sounds a lot like Jesus baptism…which we hit back at the beginning of this season of Epiphany…as Jesus is praying, post baptism…the heaven’s are ripped open and that same voice declares an almost identical statement…You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.

Above all else…these two similar events point us towards a vital aspect of Jesus’ identity…the one who has been claimed as the Son of God…but as we dwell on that point…let us remember something else…though we fail to understand how it all works…we have been given a promise through the baptism that we share with Jesus…and that promise is that we have also inherited the same identity…beloved child of God.

That is an identity that trumps….EVERYTHING…it’s a promise that God is with us…that God has claimed us and dwells among us…even within us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  And that’s huge…because if there’s one angle that we can pull from the entirety of scripture…its that God desires to dwell among us…and be with us…and that we are with God.  God is together with humanity in the Garden…God dwells among the Israelites in the desert…God literally comes among us in the person of Christ…and in the end…the promise of Revelation says “Behold, the dwelling of the Lord is with his people.” That’s where this is going…not limited to any single instance…or any super exiting mountain top experience…God shows us over and over again that our existence begins from a place of divine delight…and whether we feel like it or not…whether the world confirms it or not…we are the pinnacle of God’s divine creative joy…both as individuals and as a species.

And the amazing thing about this…is that we are invited into the work of bringing this to fruition…over again Jesus offers this invitation…to live our lives in a way that reflects the Kingdom of Heaven being here now…because it is.

Now I know…life doesn’t always feel like it…and to live our lives this way is scary…its daunting…and that sense of doubt loves to squawk in the back of our minds doesn’t it…that voice that tells us we aren’t good enough…we aren’t smart enough…or savvy enough…or skilled enough…that lie that tells us “You aren’t enough” so that we’ll cower in fear from the work and from the very gifts that God has given us to benefit this world. Maybe that voice of fear is even louder than the voice of doubt…that voice that asks what might happen if follow that call? (pause) The potential that lies within every single one of us…the gifts and the talents that you were born with…maybe they scare you…because who knows what might happen if you turn your God-given potential lose in this world…

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are meant to shine as children do. Its not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” A brilliant author named Marianne Williamson wrote that…and I believe that if Jesus was standing here right now…he’d be nodding and cheering…because he said some of the very same things.

You are the light of the world…a city on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and places it under a basket…so shine.  Shine in this world that loves its darkness…be that light that reflects the perfect light that was shining through Jesus on that mountain. Shine in a way that reveals your identity as a beloved child of God.

We do that…and we’ll see some change in this world…because that’s the work that God has invited us into through the one who was shining in the first place.  Amen.