Archive for October, 2019

Reformation off the Cuff 10-27-19

This sermon, based on both John 8:31-36 and Luke 18:9-14, is a bit of an oddball.  As I talk about in the beginning of the sermon, normally I preach from a manuscript. Today I didn’t, opting to preach extemporaneously.

But you can still listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/reformation-off-the-cuff-10-27-19

Note, you should turn up your volume. I recorded this without a mic, so the audio is pretty weak.

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble 10-20-19

In this sermon, based on Genesis 32:22-31, I explore the story of Jacob. Specifically we look at the brief story of his all-night divine wrestling match that results in a change in his identity to Israel.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lets-get-ready-to-rumble-10-20-19

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 always wanted to develop my own catch-phrase…I have yet to accomplish this feat…but I still want to…because a great catch phrase is amazing.  I’ve heard a lot of them over the years…those simple phrases that immediately key you into something specific…and if the phrase is good enough, it always works.

Think about it…I’m gonna lay down a phrase, and see if you can name the product its associated with. (Tony the Tiger) “They’re GREAAAAT!” (pause)…Frosted Flakes. See how well that works? It just sticks in our minds doesn’t it?

Now there’s another catch phrase…it’s a little bit longer…but I’ve heard it SO many times…it is utterly engrained…and the second it begins I both picture the specific person…and I know exactly what coming next.  Now if I say the name Michael Buffer…a lot of you know what’s coming next don’t you?  But don’t worry if you don’t know the name, because you’ll probably recognize the phrase.

He walks out to the middle of the venue…and begins “Are You Ready?” And the crowd cheers…then after a pause, he repeats himself, a little stronger this time “ARE YOU READY?” And the crowd goes nuts…and then he really goes for the gusto… “To the thousands in attendance…and the MILLIONS watching…around the world…Ladies and Gentlemen…LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!!!!” (pause)

Don’t you just love that? Its exciting…and it’s the perfect opening to what comes next.  This phrase has been everywhere…its in movies and tv shows…but most commonly it happens at the beginning of sporting events…events like boxing, or MMA…and the one where it happens most frequently…and the one place where I actually heard it in person once…at the beginning of wrestling matches.

I don’t know quite why…but its perfect for this type of event…because it implies that the people involved…the opponents…they are gonna throw down…they’re going to battle…they are going to contend with each other for dominance.

And that my friends…is the perfect segue into today’s scripture lesson, the Old Testament reading of course…and the story of Jacob’s divine wrestling match…that’s our focus…but before we get into this oddball hours long, overnight main event…let’s get a little history about Jacob.

He’s one of the individuals that we tend call the Patriarchs…and that distinction starts 2 generations before Jacob with Abraham…you remember him…random dude, hanging out in Genesis…God tells him “hey, go somewhere, I’ll tell you when you get there…also, you’re gonna have tons of offspring.”  Abraham nods…years pass…he has a kid with his wife’s slave…weird I know…and then more years pass and he finally has a child of the promise in Isaac…but what’s weird is the way inheritance works in those days. The oldest son is the heir and gets everything…So Isaac should be out of luck…but God chooses him anyway.

The story sorta repeats, or at least has a lot of similarities. Isaac eventually gets married…he and his wife ALSO wait a long time for kids, but then finally have twin boys.  The first one is born all red and hairy…so they name him Esau, which is Hebrew for…anyone know? Red and hairy…keep in mind Hebrew names are usually pretty on the nose.

But when Esau is born, his twin brother is holding his heel…so when HE’s born a moment later…they name him Jacob…anyone know what it means? Yah, it literally means “He grabs the heel.” I know, Hebrew is weird but we’ll go with it.

Now Jacob…from the get-go, he’s crafty.  He cheats his brother out of his birthright…and later, when Isaac is about to die and he’s too blind to see the difference, Jacob tricks him into thinking he’s Esau, and so he gets the blessing of the heir.  Once again…God has shined a light on the younger brother…the one we wouldn’t expect…especially not this trickster.

But you know, it doesn’t stop there.  Esau is so mad at Jacob that Jacob hightails it off to his uncle Laban…promptly falls in love with Laban’s younger daughter…promises to work for him for 7 years so he can marry her…then Karma catches him ever so slightly as Laban tricks HIM into marrying his other daughter…then Jacob works another 7 years to marry the daughter he loved in the first place.

Once that’s done, he uses some sort of divine inspiration to start earning great numbers of livestock from his father in law…and even though Laban keeps changing his wages, it still works out pretty good for Jacob…but after a batch of years…he’s grown rich…he’s got 2 wives…he’s also got 2 concubines, weird but he did…he’s got a dozen sons and bunch of daughters…he’s got tons of servants…dude is doing well…

But always the fickle one, he decides to go home…pretty much running away from Laban in the process…Now Jacob remembers that Esau, his big brother…was REALLY mad at him and wanted him dead…and as they approach Esua’s land, Jacob finds out he’s on his way, along with 400 of His men…and Jacob gets scared…and he starts taking steps to outsmart his brother.

He divides his whole household into two camps…he then sends tons of bribes to his brother ahead of him…then he sends his wives and children out in front of him…all the while thinking that if Esau is out for blood, Jacob will be able to figure it out and get away.  Nice guy huh?

And yet, this is the one that God has chosen to carry on the ultimate blessing that originated with Abraham. This crafty trickster who has taken every advantage he could finagle his way into to bring him right up to this particular moment.  A moment in which he’s tried to utterly separate himself as much as possible in order to ensure his own personal safety…right down to sending his family and property across a river towards his brother…and he’s gonna the spend the night on the far side.

But as soon as night falls…Michael Buffer shows up with the divine announcement “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE” and Jacob finds himself in an overnight test of wills…in what the scripture describes as wrestling match.

Now all thoughts of Professional Wrestling with its light shows and pyro technics, not to mention high flying aerial acrobatics between contenders aside…this wrestling match seems to be a little different. They aren’t try to pin each other…they aren’t going for the coveted 3 count or a tap out due to a submission hold.

It actually seems like they are scrounging around, trying to maintain a grip on one another…and it lasts all night.  To be honest, I can kinda relate…my son is every bit as big as me now…and in the rare moments when we get into a wrestling match, I’m to the point of simply trying to hold him off as long as possible because eventually I’ll get tired, he’ll get me in some sort of a choke hold and its over…I just try to last as long as possible.

Jacob and this divine being…seems to be the same thing…and somehow, they appear to be evenly matched.  It must be a pretty violent struggle, as we hear Jacob’s hip gets wrenched out of place…but as it goes on, neither can get away from the other…and as day begins to break…its time to be done and this divine being begs him to be let go.

Jacob refuses…because he wants another blessing…apparently every other blessing that he’s finagled his way into, all the tricks that he’s pulled off, or the mental battles he’s won and benefited from…those weren’t enough…and he wants this one to.

But before he gets the blessing, this divine being asks his name.  Jacob…the one who grasps the heel…the trickster…And now here’s the thing…he gets a new name…before he is blessed…there’s a change in identity…and Jacob becomes Israel. (pause)

Now, what have we already established about Hebrew names?  They mean something right?  Israel is no exception…this name means “he who contends” or “he who wrestles” And specifically…he who wrestles with God. (pause)

Now of course, Israel is also the name of the culture and the eventual kingdom that his descendants will ultimately become…and just like the man Israel who has contended with everyone including the divine…we later hear that the entire culture continues to wrestle with God in one way or another…and so this name is fitting.

But…what do we take from this whole deal?  Is it just some story? Some oddball little moment that the author decided to stick in there?  Or is there something for us to learn?  And I think there is.

Nowhere in Jacob’s story, do we hear him condemned by God because of his behavior…as we’ve already mentioned, he’s just one of the line of recipients of God’s ultimate blessing…even if he’s the unlikely choice.  And so maybe, just maybe as we hear that God GIVES him this identity as one who contends with God, maybe God is actually in favor of this type of thing.  Not the cheating…not the swindling…not the craftiness…but the actually wrestling…the contending.

And so what does that mean? (Pause) I think it means that in our encounters with the divine…wrestling…contending…questioning, seeking, wondering…battling…these are not bad things…but rather, we are encouraged to do just that.  These are not signs of weak faith. These are not indicators of issues in your spirituality…doubt, fear, questions…they are indications that you are paying attention to the reality you are a part of…and that you care enough to go to the source with it.

And you know what, you’re not alone in this…and we find this in the biggest batch of prayers that we have in our faith tradition…the psalms. The psalms are prayers and they cover the gambit. Joy, celebration, praise, questions, concerns…laments…and the laments…are the biggest batch of them. So if we find the psalms pointing out the legitimate nature of questioning God…and we find Jacob rewarded with an identity that LITERALLY means he battles with God…maybe we see that its okay when we need to do it to…and those moments happen in our lives and for some of you, I know these moments are happening right now.

But there’s one more thing we need to take note of…this encounter with the divine…this moment that results in a new identity…it leaves a mark on Jacob. And he limped for the rest of his days.

Likewise, we cannot expect to wrestle with God, in the good stuff and the hard stuff…and not be changed by it.  These divine encounters do leave their marks upon us in one way or another…but thanks be to God that they also result in a new identity…one given by the divine.

Jacob ceased to be the one who grabs the heel, and he became the one who contends with God.  And in our encounter with the divine, we are claimed as God’s beloved child…and this is made possible through the ULTIMATE divine wrestling match…when God became flesh…and took on death itself…

That encounter left its marks too…which we know because Jesus himself told his followers to put their fingers in the nail marks and their hands in his side.  Not even God can escape being marked by divine encounters…but thanks be to God…that this has all been done for us.

And so, today and every day…don’t be afraid to contend with God…God’s got broad shoulders…God’ll take it…but don’t be surprised…if you ultimately…end up changed by it.

What do you think everyone?   Let’s get ready to rumble. Amen.

Acclimation 10-13-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 17:11-19, I explore the way that the church has grown acclimated to a sense of complacency instead of feeling empowered to be the body of Christ carrying the gospel into places of exclusion.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/acclimation-10-13-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
(Note that the text will differ in some small ways from the audio due to changes that happened in the moment of preaching. I went off script in several different spots)

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

Friday morning was one of those utterly blustery days.  And at one point, mid-morning, I watched the sky go from utterly cloud covered…to sunny…and back to cloudy again…all inside of about 5 minutes.

And in that moment, I remembered the time-honored phrase which we love here in Iowa…Don’t like the weather?  Wait 5 minutes…it’ll change. (pause) And wow…that’s been true the past couple of weeks hasn’t it?  We have reached the time of year when the weather is UTTERLY unpredictable.  We’ve had sun, we’ve had rain. We’ve had hot, we’ve had cold. We’ve had really nice moments…and we’ve had really cruddy ones…not to mention we’re in that part of the season when its not uncommon to turn on the heat in the morning, switch it to ac in the afternoon, and then back to heat again in the evening.

But if there’s one thing that I’ve come to expect around this time of year…and to be sure I’m guilty of it myself…is the observation that turns into a question…Why does 35-40 degrees feel SO cold in October…when it feels so warm in February? (pause)

In a word…Acclimation…its all about what our bodies are used to isn’t it?  Now that idea of acclimation is one that I think a lot about…I run into it every summer when I trek out to Colorado and spend the first few days heaving as my 1000 ft-lung capacity struggles with 8500 foot atmosphere…and of course…we see it here in the acclimation to temperature trends…since we’ve had a lot of 70s and 80s and even 90s not too long ago…these 35 degree temps feel pretty cold…but in about 4 months when we’ve been enduring sub-zero temperatures and get the rare warm day…40 will pretty nice won’t it. (pause)

Its funny what we acclimate to isn’t it? Because its not just weather…we can get used to a lot of different things…even a state of mind…or a condition…like exclusion or isolation…and that’s where we’re gonna jump into the gospel for today.

Because today, we’ve got Jesus on the move…encountering 10 people who have done just that…they’ve gotten used to something…they’ve acclimated to the sense of exclusion…As Jesus picks up his travels towards Jerusalem once more…we hear that he’s moving in between two territories…Galilee in the north, and Samaria…smack dab between Galilee and Judea…the region where Jerusalem is located.

Now maybe it goes without saying by this point…but if you’re not familiar, just know this. Galilee is Jewish territory…itself considered a little on the backwater side…but Jewish none the less…but Samaria…not so much.  The residents of that region have long been at odds with Jewish folk by Jesus’ day.  There was history of the divided kingdom about 900 years prior, not to mention the intermingling with foreigners during the period of the Assyrian rule a couple years after that.

And so these people have a lot of similarities…but there’s also a lot of differences…imagine cousins who live in neighboring towns and find themselves on opposite sides of a football game…and then multiply that by about a million…and that’s the sense of angst between these two cultures.

And in the gray area that lies between the two…that’s where we find Jesus today…so he’s really out in the middle of nowhere…and as he moves about…he encounters these 10 lepers…a batch of people who yell at him from a distance…something they were required to do…and they ask for mercy. (Pause)

Now, what’s going on here? Leprosy was terrifying in those days…its bad enough now with modern medicine but in Jesus’ time calling something leprosy covered the gambit of unknown skin ailments.  And if someone said you had it…you got kicked out of town…and you had to stay out of town until it cleared up…or you died.

Scary to be sure…but leprosy was scary…and really contagious, so they kicked people out of their communities in order to save the community…but, if the ailment cleared up…which it often did because sometimes it just a random infection…then you traipsed off to the local priest…he announced you clean…and you could join your community again…no harm, no foul.

But until that time, you were out…and the only people you could interact with…was another leper…and so seeing them grouped up like this…not that uncommon…they were unified by mutual exclusion…mutual isolation…except for maybe 1 of the 10…who ALSO happened to be Samaritan. (pause)

Think about this…we don’t know for sure…but Jesus instruction to go show themselves to the priests indicates that the other 9 are probably Jewish…so at least they’ve got that in common…but then there’s this 10th guy that isn’t…and you can bet, that even among this group of the marginalized…this guy gets shoved even farther to the outskirts…an outcast among outcasts.

This is the group that encounters Jesus…and to their credit…they go right to source…Jesus…Master…have mercy on us…and he does…just not quite in the way we might expect.  He tells them…Go show yourselves to the priests…which if you recall…is exactly what they are supposed to do…Jesus its telling them “hey guys, follow the rules.”  And they do…and its in the going that they are healed…on the way…its not instant.

Now the 9 guys…we don’t know what happens to them…but it stands to reason that they went to the priest like Jesus said…were announced to be clean…and then they all went off to their respective homes…rejoining their communities…which is great…but the one extra guy…the Samaritan…the one who couldn’t actually go to a priest in the first place due to his religious affiliation…he returns…he goes back out into the wilderness…back out into isolation and the place of exclusion…in short he goes right back to the place where Jesus found him in order to show gratitude…Jesus comments on his faith…throws a bit of shade on the 9 who didn’t think to show gratitude…perhaps indicating a group of people that thought they deserved the healing because of who they are…and then Jesus tells him to get up and go, because his faith has saved him.  (pause)

Now there’s a lot going on here…but its worth noting what Jesus has done…he’s intentionally gone into a place of exclusion…and he’s freed a bunch of people, including the one that the rules dictate shouldn’t be eligible…and Jesus brings the kingdom of heaven with him….offering freedom from exclusion…freedom from marginalization…freedom from isolation…and its given to everyone.

The only difference here…9 go on to the priests because they need someone else to announce…to tell them what God has done for them…and the other 1 is able to see for himself and give praise where praise is due. (pause) But all 10 were healed weren’t they? All 10 were freed and were invited back into community…and maybe, just maybe…that’s what the kingdom of heaven is all about…freedom from isolation…freedom from exclusion…and what else can we call that besides acceptance and community? (pause)

Now what’s this got to do with us today?  Maybe a lot more than we realize…because despite the fact that almost all of us have a device in our pocket that gives us access to the vast majority of all human knowledge…and not only that but connects with other people in every corner of the globe…not to mention, you can phone calls on it…but despite the fact that this is the single most CONNECTED time in human history…all studies indicate that we as individuals are feeling more isolated…more excluded…more lonely than ever…so much so that the British government has recently established a Minister for Loneliness in order to combat this problem.

We know isolation and exclusion don’t we?  It happens in so many ways…sometimes at our expense…and often times at the expense of others…just think about the various gates that we’ve built to keep people out.  We exclude based on race, economic status, gender, identity, sexual orientation, different faith tradition, even denominational differences…we exclude because of past criminal backgrounds or even odd behavior. These are just a few…

Now there are times when we’re the ones who get excluded…but I gotta say it…here in the church we’ve been so busy building the gates…putting up those fences or walls to keep people out because we say they are unworthy…we’ve been so busy doing that over the course of centuries…and we cite long standing tradition, rather than owning up and blaming our biases…for far too long the church has been so busy guarding the gates that we’ve missed the work that Christ has been doing…we’ve missed the ways that Christ has called us to carry the message of the kingdom out into those place of exclusion…to offer freedom to those who have grown acclimated to living in isolation…and in fact we’ve gotten so good at that, that the church has long become known for what we hate rather than the message of all in-sacrificial…UTTERLY grace-filled love and acceptance that Christ made possible on the cross.

We love to claim God’s grace for ourselves…and we should…because we broken too…but in hording it for ourselves we forget that it is freely offered to all people…because ALL people bear the divine image…and ALL people are loved right now…as they are…fully themselves, whether we like it or not. (pause)

Yes…God’s grace is for you…and we gather every week to hear that word of love and acceptance and grace…and often we partner that with the action of gathering around a table and receiving the body and blood of Christ which is given for you and for all people freely…but what do we do first? Before we do either of those things…we confess to our brokenness…we confess to the ways that we have failed our God and our neighbors.

And I think that’s something we need take note of…not just today when a story about a grateful foreigner smacks us upside the head and reminds us that all too often we’re among the 9 who needed someone else to point out what God has done among us…but we need to take note of this every day…

Because we are the church…and that means we are the body of Christ here on earth…and that means that WE are the ones called to carry the good news of the kingdom out into those places of isolation and exclusion…all of us…not just the ones wearing collars…not just the ones elected to a council or committee…all of us. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve done a really lousy job of that.

Is their forgiveness for our complacency? You bet…but we need to repent of it first…and then we need to take action, because that’s repentance means…to turn away…and the only way to turn away from complacency is to get off our butts and to go BE the church…instead of sitting around wringing our hands and wondering why it can’t be 1952 again. (pause)

Now is this a little harsh…yah probably…but look around…we need to hear it…because we need to be better…not to earn anything from God…but because we’ve already received it…and since we have, we’ve been entrusted with the most amazing…most wonderful…the flat-out best news in the world…this news that God has claimed everyone as children…and we are tasked with proclaiming it…but not just paying lip service to this good news…we are also called to be changed by it.
Because the mind blowing grace of God is way more life-altering that we give it credit for.  And if we start living THAT reality…well who knows what might happen…but I’d like to find out…because I’ve seen what the grace of God can do when its unleashed among those who have been excluded for one reason or another…and not only that but I’ve experienced it for myself.

Now some might say that living and proclaiming this type of radical inclusion that we are talking about is giving in to the pressures of the world…but I disagree…I believe that it expresses an openness to come alongside the work that the Holy Spirit…that GOD…is already up to out there in the world.

Now we can do that…Or we can just sit here on our laurels…show up on Sundays, hear a word of forgiveness…get our little Jesus snack and call it good.  But if we stay here I guarantee that’s not gonna change the world…because that’s a church that is either dying or its already dead and just doesn’t know it yet. Unfortunately here in the US that’s what the church has been doing for WAY too long now. We’ve done it for so long we’ve just gotten used to it…we don’t seem to know any other way…you could even say we’ve acclimated to it. (pause)

But if the scriptures show us anything…its that God is full of surprises…God’s even been known to raise the dead…and maybe, just maybe, God can lift us up too. Amen.

Entered At the Wrong Time 10-6-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 17:5-10 (and also referencing 1-4), I explore an odd little teaching of Jesus about faith the size of a mustard seed.  Its a strange one, but speaks to us about the idea of faith as something which is quantifiable…which is isn’t.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/entered-at-the-wrong-time-10-6-19

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

How many people are familiar with the expression “that was the wrong time to enter into that conversation.” I have this thought a lot…because it seems like I can’t go more than a day or two without walking into a room, or simply finding myself in the proximity of a conversation that is already in process, and for whatever reason, it catches my attention just as someone is saying something…odd.

It manifests in a lot of different ways…but the lack of context is usually the contributing factor…and without it…we just hear something utterly out of place.  Take for instance…if you heard me spout off something like “I’m just a little tea pot” you’d probably give me a weird look and wonder what the heck I’m talking about…

But you know this sense right? You’ve had moments like this? Good, because it seems to me that the lectionary is giving us one of those moments with the rather abrupt beginning of our reading. (pause)

The Apostles said to the Lord…increase our faith. (long pause) On one hand…of course…Lord increase our faith. No brainer…but on the other hand, its like…what? Why? (pause)  It’s a weird place to start the reading isn’t it?  But maybe if we keep reading we’ll get some insight.

Jesus responds…If you had faith like a mustard seed you could say to this tree, uproot…be planted in the ocean.” (nod) That explains everything right?  Hmmm, maybe not…and honestly the oddball little parable about a slave working in the field and then coming in to cook dinner and wait on the master doesn’t really help either…and all I can think…we came into this conversation at the wrong time didn’t we?

Something is missing right? Why did the apostles make this request? What prompted it? What’s going on that puts them in the perspective of insufficient levels of faith? (pause)

We can’t just start right there…We’ve gotta back up don’t we? Jesus starts off this chapter warning us that moments of stumbling will happen…it’s a part of life…but we should be careful to avoid making someone else stumble.  And then he goes on to talk about forgiveness…and that seems to be the issue at hand for his followers.  Be on your guard…if another disciples sins, you must rebuke the offender…and if there is repentance, you must forgive….and maybe at this point we can picture the disciples all nodding…yah…that makes sense Jesus…I think I’m with you….

But then he goes on…and if the same person sins against you 7 times a day, and they turn back you every time in repentance, you…must….forgive. (pause) Wait a sec Jesus…let me see if I got this.  We’re called to forgive, I get that…we even pray it…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…I’m tracking there…but 7 times? Really?  Is that even possible?

Like for real? If a person actually repents, they probably aren’t going to turn right around and harm you again right? Much less 7 times in one day…I don’t buy it Jesus…I think you’re pulling my leg…this whole deal seems impossible…right?   RIGHT? (pause)

But that’s the teaching…and that reveals something I can relate to…Jesus has made this statement…not even a request…we might call it a command…an expectation…an implication of being a Christ follower that we will forgive…over and over again…even if it seems impossible.

And maybe that resonates…maybe that’s relatable to you…because you’ve experienced something SO major…So completely unforgivable that you can’t even begin to wrap you head around the idea of forgiving the person who harmed you…not even once, much less 7 times in a row.

That seems to be the quandary that the disciples are dealing with…and yet they realize that this command given by Jesus is something they need to take seriously…but it also seems that they recognize their own inability to do so…and even though we don’t hear it in the narrative…we can probably imagine what they are thinking, maybe even saying as we read between the lines.

I can’t do that. I’m not good enough for that. That makes no sense…I need help…I need to be better…and so they turn back to Jesus with the request that kicks this whole deal off today.  Lord…increase our faith…we don’t have enough…we can’t do that. (pause)

I wonder if that sounds familiar…ever found yourself in that same boat…feeling like what’s being asked of us by God…or by our church, or from our family or friends…any of that…its too much and we don’t feel like we’re adequate to accomplish it? I know that sense…and I’ve heard many of you express that same sentiment.

I can’t do that pastor.  I don’t know enough…I don’t have anything to say.  I don’t know how to do it. (pause) Now I don’t bring this up to shame anyone…we all do it…all of us…and we think Maybe if I’d studied just a little bit more…or if I believed just a little bit harder.  Or the one that seems to be on the nose today…if my faith was a little bit bigger.

How many times have you heard that expression…I need to grow in my faith…as if faith is some achievement level in a video game, or a muscle that grows larger with exercise…or a reservoir that can be filled up to larger capacity…or since its football season, that faith is some sort of scoreboard, and when time runs out we can look to see if our faith-score is bigger than the sin-score. (pause)

But that’s not how all this works…and I think we see that as we consider this REALLY weird response from Jesus.  “Lord, increase our faith.” And Jesus is like (embellish this) “DUDES…if you had faith the size of a MUSTARD SEED, you could say to this mulberry tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea…and it would happen.” (pause)

First of all…what? That statement is not just mysterious…its flat out stupid. No one would want a mulberry tree to be planted in the ocean…it would die…no one would ever say that…and I think Jesus knows it…I think we have to read sarcasm into this…we have to look Jesus in the face and see him winking at us as he says this.

Because it seems like Jesus is saying…the TINIEST bit possible…it can accomplish utterly impossible things.  Things you would never even consider are possible…and maybe just maybe what Jesus is really telling us here is that with faith, its not about quantity…that’s not how faith works.

Maybe Jesus is telling us that its either/or.  You either have it or you don’t. But if that’s the case, then what is it? Great question…an important question…one that we should probably think about more often because we throw that word around constantly here in the church. Faith this…faith that…saved by faith. The righteous shall live by faith…faith faith faith…and we probably sound exactly like the disciples as we do it. (pause)
So what is it? Well…if we consider the various examples of faithful people that we hear about in the scriptures…it would seem that faith means believing what we hear from God.  And if God says that we’re supposed to forgive…then we forgive. If God says that we are forgiven…then we are.  If God says you are worthy and I love you and I claim you as a beloved child…then you are. Period. (pause)

But…that’s not always easy is it?  Doubt is a real thing. Questions, concerns…they’re real to…because life is messy and even though the gospel is really easy…its also really hard isn’t it? And I think that’s the issue that the disciples are acknowledging today…Lord this is hard…I feel like I am incapable of doing this.

And Jesus looks them in the eye…and says….You’re right. (pause) Wait…what? (pause) I believe with every atom of my being, that what the gospel reveals and what the gospel asks of us…is utterly…100% impossible to achieve (long pause) on our own.

Nothing we can do…nothing we can achieve will ever accomplish it for us…because if we could do it on our own…then we wouldn’t need Jesus…and he died for nothing.  But folks…the one we call Jesus…the living word of God made flesh…lived…died brutally…and then rose again in order to make the impossible…possible.

And he did it on your account…and it is finished.   You need only believe that it is true…and it is true…and not just because you chose to believe it. I don’t buy that either…the idea that we can chose to believe it…that makes salvation through Christ just another work for us to accomplish…and that my friends is the law…the idea that we are enough…that we are capable…and we aren’t.

I’ll say it again…we are not…capable on our own…So God has done it for us…God has done it for everyone here…and God has done it for everyone that you think is outside of it.  Because God loves the world…not just the ones who say the right words.  Its…finished. So believe it. That’s faith…even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense. (pause)

Now…the disciples do have one thing going for them today…they go to the right place. Lord, increase our faith…Lord…Jesus…God. Give us what we cannot.  (pause) They might make the wrong request…but at least they are going to the right source.

Faith is a gift of God…it is not self-generated. And that seems to be the one aspect that the disciples do have figured out today.  Peter didn’t look at Andrew and say “hey man, can you toss me a nickel’s worth of faith for today?”  James didn’t elbow Matthew and say “hey I’m a pint low, can you spot me?”

They went to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith…the one who hears us when we experience hardship…when we experience doubts or fears or questions about the circumstances that we find ourselves in…and these are not bad things. And experiencing them does not make a bad person or a bad Christian or an ineffective Christ-follower. They simply show you that you’re human…and that you are being realistic about the world that surrounds you…because this life is messy…this world good, but its also very hard. And this life we live together is anything but routine.

And so, if you find yourself wrestling with these things, know this…you are not alone…and you can bring these concerns to the one who will never leave you…that is the promise…not because of anything that you have done…but because of everything, he has done for you. Amen.