Archive for June, 2019

Jesus What Are You Talking About 6-30-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 9:51-62, I explore several odd encounters between Jesus and potential followers.  Comparing these exchanges with other similar situations in the gospels creates a tension, as we see that the calling of God in our lives will manifest in many different ways.

You cal listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/jesus-what-are-you-talking-about-6-30-19

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

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

How many of you have heard the expression “Man plans and God laughs?” (Pause) How many of you have lived it? (Pause) I can’t help but think I’ve been through several periods in my life that fit this bill…but perhaps none more on the nose than an expectation I had early in my college years.

Many of you know by now that I worked at camp for a couple of summers…Ingham Lake Bible Camp…first the summer of 97, right out of high school, as I worked half time running the lawn mower around the camp, but also jumping in and forming relationships outside work hours.  Then, fast-forward a year, and in 98 I worked full-time as the maintenance director through the summer…and as that was wrapping up, and I was heading back for my second and final year of community college…I thought I had it all planned out.

I’d graduate with my associates degree, come back on staff for another summer, this time as a counselor working directly with the kids…and then I would get hired by the camp in a year round role that they support…a role that is split half time between the camp itself and the wintertime retreat season, and a local congregation in a half-time youth director role.

It was perfect right? I’m going to do God’s work…CERTAINLY God will agree with me and help that happen right? (Nod yes, moving into no). Nope…that was not what God had in mind for me…and that door slammed closed rather abruptly through the following school year…and my plans had to change pretty dramatically.

And I remember really struggling with that…wondering why it didn’t work out the way I thought it should…why God would deny this idea and this track of ministry that I wanted to follow…it made me ask a lot of questions…questions of why? Questions like “what are you doing here?” Or “Now what does this mean?” There was a sense of loss…a sense of confusion…and the complete lack of knowing where to turn…Ever experienced that in your lives?  Those questions? Those insecurities…they take a lot of forms…sometimes in the midst of the day to day that we lead…sometimes in the matters of faith that we encounter…and I can’t help but think…maybe, even in some of our encounters with the scriptures. (pause)
And that is where we are wading into today’s oddball little passage…full disclosure…earlier this week, I was messaging back and forth with a group of fellow pastors…sharing insights into the passage…and my first entry into the conversation…I really hate this text…and I do…its probably horrible for me to say it, but I find this mashup of exchanges from Jesus troublesome to say the least…I would probably even call it downright infuriating.

Because the words of Jesus are just so unexpectedly out there…and honestly almost seem contradictory to what we see and hear from him in other encounters…it’s a head scratcher…its confusing…and it makes me ask the question…repeatedly…Jesus, what are you talking about? (Pause)

First off…this whole little exchange with James and John over the Samaritan Village. Its weird from the get-go.  We hear, right away, that Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem. Now this is unique in Luke’s gospel…an intentionality of Jesus’ goal and ultimate destination…and even though its going to take him 10 more chapters of the gospel before he finally gets there…we do see that, even now, at this point…the ultimate thrust of Jesus’ work and ministry…we could even say his very life’s purpose…is aimed at his death and resurrection in Jerusalem.

And…it begins here…as he departs from Galilee in the north heading towards Jerusalem in the south…and in order to get there…he’s either gotta go around Samaria, or he’s gotta go right through it.  And…its probably clear that relations between the Jewish people and the Samaritans was strained at best…who knows why other than general rivalry that goes back about 700 odd years or so…but they aren’t big fans of one another…and so, as Jesus prepares to enter into the village…the messengers are pretty much told off…leading James and John…two of the original disciples…2 of Jesus’ own inner circle…ask to call down fire to consume the village.

Now, at first glance, maybe Jesus’ response that puts the brothers in their place isn’t surprising…evidence of Jesus mercy…of forgiveness…but at the same time…Jesus is also the one who’ll crack a whip at people and throw tables around in an epic righteous hissy fit in the cleansing of the temple, with a claim of religious zeal for the house of God.  Sometimes we like to call this sort of thing righteous anger.  But it would seem that in THIS case…Jesus is having none of that…so Jesus…what are you talking about? (pause)

Following this…seemingly in various encounters along the road with some potential followers…we get some more craziness.  The first guy wants to follow along…we don’t know if there’s been an invitation or not…but he flat says “Jesus, I’ll follow wherever you go.” Now, while Jesus ministry took him all over the place, and was fully reliant on the hospitality of others…his response is still odd. “Fox have holes…birds have nests…the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  I can only image the guy just sorta standing there scratching his head…wondering the same thing we are.  Jesus…what are you talking about?

And the second one…this time we know that Jesus extends the invitation…same one he offered to several different disciples…one that he often says. Follow me…and guy pretty much say “Okay…I’ll follow along, but I’ve gotta go bury my father first.” And Jesus seems to squawk…apparently telling him to blow off that responsibility.  And that’s just odd.

In that culture…this was an expectation…we might even call it an extension of the law…because to honor your father and mother…which you might recall is one the commandments…that includes proper burial.  Jesus knows this…and he’s no stranger to caring for his parents either…even as he hangs on the cross he makes sure that his mother is taken care of…so…what’s up with this dead burying their own dead thing? Jesus…what are you talking about? (pause)

And then the last guy…I’ll follow you, but let me go say goodbye first…and now we have this crazy thing about plowing and not looking backwards…which…as a farm kid who’s struggled with the technique of cultivating as a teenager…I get it…but its still weird…Yes Jesus called people to follow him…and many did…but they didn’t always leave everything behind…Peter still had a house…which they frequented whenever they were in the area…so Jesus…what are you talking about? (pause)

That’s the tension that I see in this passage.  Jesus seems to be implying a sense of urgency…that his ultimate mission…his ultimate goal for the kingdom of God that he mentions a couple different times…that’s the priority…that’s number one on the list…and it sorta seems, at face value anyway…that he expects the same urgency out of those who be his followers.

And yet…as we know…when it gets right down to it…he’s alone…none of these would be followers…none of the disciples…no one else…shares his fate…except maybe a couple of insurrectionists who are hung up beside him…and yet in the midst of even that…Jesus is offering forgiveness. (pause)
So what do we do with this text today? What do we do with the tension that we find in considering Jesus’ response in these particular moments and comparing it with the polar opposite response in other situations?  And maybe, just maybe, the only thing we can do is realize that this tension reveals a truth that Jesus was fully aware of…that this life is messy…and that what applies in one situation, might not cut it in the next…or what God is calling one person into might be completely different than what God desires for the next person…even when the situations seem remarkably similar.

That’s the truth that I continue to find in scripture…I see it in my own study…I find it in honest conversation with others…its visible as we open our eyes to see that which is happening around us.  Life is messy…and its unexpected and there’s no manual…and I can’t help but think that the Bible in all its crazy back and forth glory…the Bible is honest about that.

And yet, in the midst of all this craziness…maybe we find just a touch of reassurance in the ultimate dedication that Jesus shows, even in this little passage.  He has turned his face towards Jerusalem and all that will happen there…and we hear that, not just once but twice…in fact, that’s the only explanation we have for why the Samaritans rejected him in the first place…because his face was set towards Jerusalem.

Whatever it is that God’s up to…whatever it is that Christ was accomplishing…whatever it is that the Spirit continues to empower…its moving in a specific direction and that is forward.  Maybe not at the speed that we would hope for…maybe not in the individual moments that we expect…but it is going somewhere…and whenever creation reaches that glorious day…whether it happens in our lifetime or if we have joined the ranks of the blessed saints who have gone on before us…but when we finally join with Christ in the resurrection…whatever and whenever and however that’s gonna be…when God makes good on that promise for you and for me…that promise to make everything new…I don’t think we’re gonna be disappointed.

Today we are left asking the question Jesus, what are you talking about? I don’t quite know what he’s talking about…but something tells me its good news anyway. Amen.

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Who Is This 6-23-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 8:26-39 (as well as the larger chapter), I explore the depths and the barriers that Jesus is willing to overcome to free us from what hinders us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-is-this-6-23-19

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 can’t help but think that the advent of caller ID is a wonderful thing…but I’ve also noticed the tendency that when that number pops up on our cell phone…if it doesn’t match up with someone on our contact list…we tend to let it go to voice mail don’t we?

This whole idea has aggregated in a different way as well…when someone loses their contact list for whatever reason…but then someone else shoots them a text only to get a sort of token response…New phone, who is this? (pause) Ever gotten that text? A response from someone that you know, that should know you…but because of our reliance on technology and apparent inability to remember phone numbers…we have a disconnect?

I’ve often wondered what the mentality might be for the person on the other end of that text…to receive a message that implies familiarity…but there is still confusion over the identity of this person who is trying to communicate…to connect…to somehow be in relationship in a remote fashion…and all we can do is pose the confused question, perhaps somewhat sheepishly…Who is this? (pause)

Now I share this idea…and this question of identity…because that very question brackets not only this smaller episode in the life and ministry of Jesus…but also the larger section of the gospel that we find ourselves in today.

Directly before today’s passage…Jesus has been hanging out in Galilee…doing his thing…and decides…seemingly out of no-where…that he and the disciples need to cross the sea…and as they cross in the boat…Jesus promptly falls asleep. If you’re familiar with that little moment…a great big storm comes up…the disciples freak out and wake Jesus up in the midst of their terror…thinking that he doesn’t care that they’re dying…

Jesus probably takes a big old deep breath and then promptly calms the storm, leading the disciples to ask that same question.  Who is this? (Pause)  Who is this, that he commands the wind and the water and they obey him? (pause)

Now Jesus doesn’t offer them a long-worded answer to their question…in fact there’s no answer at all, beyond the actions that we continue to see throughout the course of this entire chapter of Luke.  Jesus has just shown that he has authority over nature by calming the storm.  In today’s lesson, we see that he’s got authority over the supernatural…commanding demons and being obeyed.

Once he and the disciples head back across the sea, he’s immediately approached by an important guy who’s daughter is sick and dying…and on the way Jesus unwittingly heals the woman who’s been bleeding for 12 years, displaying authority over disease…until finally making it to the guys house, finding the daughter dead, and in one of the rare instances from the gospels…Jesus raises her from death displaying authority even over that.

4 different actions…4 different situations that show his followers…and not only them but us as well…the depths that Jesus continues to enter into to display the authority of the divine…to show the depths that our God who took on flesh is willing to enter into in order to free us from what hinders us.  That’s the larger picture on display here…and so now tuck that into the back of your minds as we dive into deeper into this story of the demoniac. (pause)

Now there’s a lot going on here…a lot action, a lot of side notes, a lot of little details that might initially muddy the water for us just a little bit…but everything that we hear about is important…and all of it helps shed a little bit more light on the nature of this God who became human, and willingly entered deeper and deeper into this particular man’s existence, even in this one moment…in order to bring him to new life.

First off…remember where they are…Jesus has crossed the sea, and as we hear, has arrived in this area known as Gerasenes.  Its Gentile territory, which as you might recall is kind of a faux-pau for Jewish people…they avoid Gentile territory if they can possibly help it.

Now while this might seem arrogant, even a touch on the racist side…they do so in order to maintain ritual cleanliness…a state of being able to approach God…and simply being in the presence of Gentiles can risk that status…but Jesus goes deeper.

Apparently they’re on some sort of mountain, which is common pretty much all the way around the Sea of Galilee…but this particular mountain houses something of a graveyard…tombs…probably natural caves in the mountainside where the dead are buried…and if you’re thinking that dead bodies…the literal presence of death, is risk to being clean…you’re right.  Another notch deeper…but let’s keep going.

Immediately, this man possessed of demons comes out…raving mad…trailing along broken chains and shackles from previous attempts to subdue him…and not only…but he’s buck naked…and in Jesus time…to view the nakedness of another person who is not your spouse brings shame upon you…not the one who’s naked…but the one who views it…big cultural no-no…and yet Jesus steps into that too…and the final nail in this cultural cleanliness coffin…the presence of that giant herd of swine…because pigs are considered unclean.

All of these different hurdles…these different situations coalescing into a perfect storm of reasons for Jesus to avoid this guy…and yet…he does the polar opposite. Jesus not only takes notice of the guy…but he’s willing to get into the midst of it along side him.

If we read between the lines just a bit, it would seem that almost immediately Jesus orders the demons out of the man…but it also seems like it doesn’t quite work…and all it seems to do is enrage the multitude of unclean spirits within the man…as they beseech Jesus not to torment them…and then Jesus goes one step further…what is your name…and we hear the answer Legion…for many demons had entered him…how many? Well, we don’t exactly know, but a legion of Roman soldiers was between 5-6000 troops…so you know…it was a lot demons.

And these demons…they recognize this supernatural authority of Jesus…and they beg him not to send them into the abyss…essentially asking “Hey Jesus can you not destroy us? How about we jump over into those pigs?” And Jesus says “Yah why don’t you do that.” And once they do the pigs promptly run off a cliff into the sea and drown…and side note…in the Jewish tradition…the sea or the ocean is an image for the abyss…that unseen and unknown…so I guess it didn’t turn out so great for the demons did it? (pause)

So now this man, who’s name we do not know…is returned to his right mind…he is clothed…he is calm…and as residents of the area…fetched by the swineherders…as they come to check it out…this man that they’ve only known as a raving lunatic…is sitting at the feet of Jesus…and they are terrified…asking Jesus to leave.

Now the man, he wants to stay with Jesus…which doesn’t really surprise me…Jesus had freed him of this torment that had been going on for who knows how long…but Jesus has other ideas…and he send the man home…returning him to the society that had driven him out…and Jesus gives instructions to share all that God has done for him.

Isn’t that funny…this guy doesn’t need any training…he doesn’t have to follow along like an apprentice for a few years…all Jesus calls him to do is share his experience and how it has changed his life…and with that, this man leaves the story, proclaiming the good news, but beyond that, we don’t know his fate. (pause)

But that being said, I want to back up.  Think about what Jesus does for this guy.  We don’t know exactly how this demon possession has manifested…and maybe we all form our own opinions based on our 21st century existence as to what’s going on with the guy…all we really know is that something has a hold of him.

Maybe we think…mental illness and the multitude of forms that takes in different people in this day and age. (pause) Maybe we think…addiction, and the way that various types of dependency, whether chemical or behavioral, take hold of individuals. (Pause)  Maybe you’ve watched as someone you love has suffered in one of these ways…maybe you’ve experienced yourself…maybe you still are. (Pause)

And I wonder…what can we learn from this situation with Jesus?  We see him ask the name of the demon…that he has to do this before being able to cast them out…and maybe this serves as a reminder for us that you have to identity the problem…the issue…sometimes you’ve got to name it before it can be dealt with.  I’ve heard it said that the first step in overcoming a problem is recognizing that we have a problem. (pause)

But perhaps more importantly…the other thing that we learn from Jesus is that we are not alone in the midst of the thing that has us hindered…that we have a God who is willing to step over every boundary…every barrier…even death…in order to be with us in the midst of our darkness and suffering…and that the ultimate goal of this God who created the entirety of existence and yet willingly took on flesh to dwell among us…the ultimate goal seems to be to free us up to live a life of fulfillment and joy…and that in the midst of that good life, we are also called to accompany those in the midst of their own darkness.

Let us never forget that we are the body of Christ…and just as Jesus was willing to enter into a place of pain and torment and even death in order to bring that one man out of it…we too are called to enter into these same moments with one another…not because we have the power to cast out the demon, whatever that demon might be…but because there is power in our shared presence…there is strength that we receive from one another…and there is hope in knowing that we are never alone. (pause)
Who is this? Who is this man? Who is this Jesus? Who is this God…this God is the one who is will never abandon us, no matter what darkness has taken hold. Amen.

One Plus One Equals One 6-2-19

In this sermon, based on John 17:20-26, I explore Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers, just prior to his betrayal.  This unity is not based on everyone being identical, but rather on our shared humanity.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/one-plus-one-equals-one-6-2-19

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

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I like Math…I just do…because it always works. I’ve heard it said that Math is the universal language…because when it gets right down to it…1 plus 1 equals 2….or Uno y Uno es Does…I could continue in other languages but unfortunately those are the only two I know.  But it always works…if you have something…and you bring in one more thing…then you have two things. Period.

I love math…but…not everyone does…and in my observation, for anyone who isn’t a fan of math, story problems are the bane of their homework existence…I’ve seen it many times as I’ve helped my kids with math homework…and I can remember many of my classmates lamenting them during my school days.

Now personally I’ve never really had a problem with them…because for whatever reason, my brain connects well with the very linear method of thinking required to solve story problems…in order to solve the question, I need to find this, and in order to find that, I need to solve this, and in order to solve that, I need to do this particular process with these available numbers…one thing leads to the next thing, which leads to the next thing.

Now because my mind works pretty well to move through that linear pattern of problem solving, I was geared well to handle geometry during my sophomore year of high school…and in particular, writing geometric proofs…something that the vast majority of my classmates hated…and yet I could sit there and do them all day.

Because this is true, we know that this is also true…and because that is true, we can deduce that this is also true…and if that is true, then we know that this is also true…and so on and so forth…Admittedly, it probably makes me pretty nerdy…but its safe to say that I actually enjoyed the process of moving forward from what was given to end up at the desired result…from start to finish…always pushing forward despite any tricky roadblocks that might get in the way of where we were trying to get to. (pause)

Now today’s gospel lesson offers us something of a similar type of situation. We find ourselves today at the final Sunday of the Easter season…Ascension Day was last Thursday…and so, within our calendar we have passed the point where Jesus returned to Heaven…coming up next Sunday, one week from today, we hit the day of Pentecost when Jesus sends the Holy Spirit upon his followers, just as he promised…and with that, we will begin to see and remember the explosive growth of the early church which has led all the way up, across the last 2000 years to today…and which will continue on until the last days…when Jesus will return ushering in a new era…a new reality with a new heaven and a new earth where God dwells among us.

That’s the direction that this is all going…that’s the end game that God has in mind…and in fact, it seems to me that this has been the plan all along…when God sparked off creation, and somehow, someway made the world and everything in it, not to mention the great cosmos that exists out there…and everything in that too…and ever since that initial moment, whenever it was, when God spoke existence into creation…its all been moving forward…and despite your personal thoughts on creation…despite what you might think about the debates between science and religion…it seems to me, that creation…or reality…or whatever you want to call it, continues to move forward…with something of an energetic spark behind it…I happen to think that energetic spark is God…but that’s just me…

But regardless, as time marches on, this reality is moving forward towards something…and the scriptures give us glimpses into the various moments when God has acted directly here within our reality to continue this forward momentum…and now coming all the way back around to the gospel for today…we see Jesus engage in the same sort of forward movement within the context of a prayer.

The entirety of chapter 17 of John’s gospel is a prayer…Jesus has wrapped up his final time of teaching…and just before they head out to the garden to kick off this whole death and resurrection thing…Jesus takes the time to pray.

Now this is a unique situation…because the majority of the time in the gospels we don’t get to hear just what Jesus is praying for. There are brief moments, but they’re pretty rare…but here we have the entirety…and the amazing thing, as we see in the verses just before this one, and then throughout these verses as well…is the fact that Jesus is praying directly for his followers…and remember that they are sitting there at the table with him…think about that.

What does it feel like when someone takes the time to pray for you…and you are there, privy to what’s on their heart for you…it’s a pretty amazing thing…and in this situation…its Jesus…God in human form…God the son…The word of God made flesh…praying for his followers…and newsflash…YOU are a part of that…You…are included as a recipient of Jesus’ prayer…YOU are on his mind.

Father I ask not only on behalf of these who are sitting here, but also on behalf of those who will believe because of their words. (pause). Without a doubt…we are included in that number…because 2000 years after Jesus lived died and rose again…the life altering gospel has reached our ears, and that has brought us here today.

So let that sink in for just a moment. At the Last Supper…just before Jesus endured the most horrific fate that we can imagine…he prayed…for…you. (pause)

Now the basic theme of this prayer…unity. Father, you and I are one.  So let them be one…and all those who will believe later…yah let them be one too…and why? Well so the world will believe that you sent me…and if they believe it, then we dwell with them…and they with us…and we’re all one…and if we’re unified, then they’ll see my glory, and my glory is your glory, and if they see it, then we’ll glorify them too…so let them be one…because we are one, and we want to be one with them…because we love them. (pause)

But the really interesting thing about all of this, is that Jesus’ prayer is almost structured like one of those geometry proofs that I loved so much in high school…and its because of the presence of a single word that is repeated over and over again.  In the Greek, it’s a word called Hina…and its best translated “in order that.” And in these 7 verses, it happens 9 times.

Just like those proofs…since this is true, then we know this is true…and it happens here too. Father I pray for them, IN ORDER THAT they be one…that they be unified, IN ORDER THAT we may be with them and they with us, IN ORDER THAT the world may come to know that you sent me. And they will believe that you sent me IN ORDER THAT your glory may be in them, and if your glory is in them, then your name is glorified in them IN ORDER THAT your love is in them, IN ORDER THAT the world may know your love. (pause)

Its all moving forward…its all moving towards something…and in the end, it seems like God is working in the world, which has been redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the end result of this work, which we have not yet reached…is unity…that we may be unified as the one body of Christ, and that the one body of Christ may be unified with God…and as Jesus says…so that where we are, they may be also…that’s where this is all going…and Jesus desires it…not only for those guys sitting at the table that night, but for you and me…and everyone that has come before us and everyone that will come after…that in the end, we may all be unified…that we may all be one. (pause)
Now, how does all this work? Well, I have no idea…but I do know that it involves the power of the Holy Spirit…which Jesus is about to send our direction at Pentecost…the Spirit of God which flows through the world…empowering the church…and empowering us as individuals to join with God in this work of unification.

And what I do know is this…it is only possible because of the hand of God at work…because there are way too many different forces at work here in the world that are trying to push back against God’s invitation forward towards unity…the powers of sin and death…the powers of darkness and destruction…powers that we see first-hand on a regular basis…because pretty much every time we open up the obituaries…there’s another one in there…and death is only one of the forces that work against the unity that God desires for us and with us.

All we need to do is turn on the news and we witness more…anytime the world…which unfortunately includes us as well…tries to throw up some sort of barrier…whatever that barrier is…division based on race, or gender, or economic status, or age, or orientation…and even here within the realm of the church…divisions and judgements based on denomination or Biblical interpretation or tradition.

We create barriers to unity all the time…but praise be to God that no matter what we throw at it…the world…this realty…this creation that we live in…God is moving it forward whether we like it or not…whether we come on board or not…whether we take God’s invitation to join in this work of reconciliation or not…its happening. (pause)

You know interestingly enough, I sat down with several of our members throughout this week, talking about this very subject…and right after one of those conversations, I had the radio playing in the background…and one of those really catchy songs came on…you know the type…the ones that even if you don’t like them, you hear it and it catches your attention.

And this song that came on the radio was Taylor Swift… (sing it) We…are never ever ever…getting back together. (pause) And the more I thought about that blasted song the more it seemed fitting.  Because all that dark stuff within our reality…whatever it is…its trying tooth and nail to keep us apart…to keep us separated…and the world and all the divisions that we create might tell us “We’re never getting back together…its too far gone…never gonna happen.” But God says…Oh yah…you just wait and see.

We may not get it now…because God works in ways that go far beyond our ability to see or do or understand…and what God’s up to doesn’t always make sense to us…in fact the work of God often times to be the polar opposite of what logic says should happen.

And as much as I might love math…and the way that it always works…the unity that God is working towards even throws that for a loop…because math may tell us that 1 plus 1 equals 2…but it seems to me that Jesus is saying that 1 plus 1 equals 1…at least it will when its all said and done. Amen