Archive for the ‘Sermon’ Category

Can These Bones Live 3-29-20

Today’s sermon is taken from Ezekiel 37:1-14. This is Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones.  Through this passage we are reminded of God’s promises that we will not be left in the place of separation and death and hopelessness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-019-can-these-bones-live-3-29-20

Who To Blame? 3-22-20

Here’s the sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent, based on John 9:1-41. Jesus encounters and heals a man born blind, then promptly disappears while the man endures ongoing controversy.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-018-who-to-blame-3-22-20

4 or 5 Moments 3-8-20

Today’s sermon is based on Genesis 12:1-4a. God calls Abram (later known as Abraham) out of the familiar and safe into the unknown of God’s ultimate promise. Likewise, we are called to believe in God’s promises made real for us in Christ, as the action has already been accomplished on our behalf by God.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-016-4-or-5-moments-3-8-20

Prove It 3-1-20

In this sermon, based on Matthew 4:1-11, we explore the temptation of Jesus. This is always the featured story for the first Sunday of Lent. The devil, or Satan, or the Tempter…or more specifically “The Slanderer” attempts to get Jesus to question his identity as Son of God and “prove it.”  We can learn a lot from Jesus’ response to this time of temptation.

The sermon was preached extemporaneously, so there is no text to read, but you can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-015-prove-it-3-1-20

An Unspoken Truth 2-26-20

Tonight’s Ash Wednesday sermon, based on 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, reveals a sense of urgency in our invitation to be reconciled to God. Christ has made it possible, and he has given us tangible signs that we are able to hold on to that give us God’s grace.  This partnered with the ashes we receive on our foreheads speak a truth into confession and forgiveness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-014-an-unspoken-truth-2-26-20

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

May God’s grace bring you comfort and peace on this night. Amen

About a week and a half ago I was able to not only attend, but also to participate in a service of ordination for a fellow pastor down in Council Bluffs.  After many years of serving as a minister and slowly working his way through the educational piece, James Rut was ordained into the office of word and sacrament.

Now James is a native of South Sudan…and the congregation that he serves is made up of members of the South Sudanese community from around the Metro area…and his ordination was a celebration, not only for that individual congregation…but really for the entire South Sudanese population around the upper Midwest…and there were visitors from as far north as St Cloud, MN and as far south as Kansas City for what was…in EVERY way…a celebration.

Now I’ve been to ordinations before…and for the most part, they follow a pretty set liturgical flow…there are personal embellishments of course, but the general flow is pretty common.  But that was not the case for James’ ordination…it was a glorious mix of cultures, with MANY aspects coming out of nowhere in comparison with the very general order of service that had been prepared.

The other aspect that made this interesting for me personally, was the invitation to serve as assisting minister to the Bishop…pretty much right before the service started…in this capacity I ended up leading a fair bit of the service, but I had to be on my toes because we never knew just when one of the Sudanese embellishments was going to pop up.

Now it all went fine, but it really made me aware that I’ve grown comfortable with worship not always going according to plan…but that wasn’t always the case…back in my earliest days of preaching and leading worship, even before I’d begun seminary…I would provide monthly pulpit supply to a small country congregation where 10 people on a Sunday was a good crowd.

They were a fun bunch who graciously put up with my lack of experience…and we also joked around that if I skipped something in the liturgy, they should throw a hymnal at me…a joke that was all well and good…until the day it actually happened. (pause)

On this particular Sunday…we wrapped up the opening hymn and I jumped right into the Kyrie…something we really only do here in Underwood on Maundy Thursday but it’s the part where I chant “In peace let us pray to the Lord” and go back and forth with the congregation.

About midway through the Kyrie…one of the guys raised his hand and interrupted me…Scott…you skipped the brief order…and sure enough I had.  We always started with the Brief order of confession and forgiveness…and I had missed it.

Now this threw me for a loop to be sure…and my mind was racing in that instant…and admittedly, my first thought was “oh well…we do that every week…what’s it going to hurt.” But I could also tell that it was important…that this aspect of worship…of the flow of the service…this was something that was vital to them…and in the years since then…I’ve come to recognize that importance as well…to feel the necessity of coming before God…of confessing our brokenness and sinfulness and need for a savior…to admit these thing to one another and with one another…and then to immediate hear those words of absolution…the announcement of God’s grace and forgiveness for each of us.

I can’t help but think that this is something that is absolutely central to our Lutheran heritage…to our understanding of faith…and the vital sense that WE bring into worship as well…certainly our liturgy or order of worship is different here at Underwood than in other Lutheran congregations…but we’ve got that same bit don’t we…as we turn to page 56 in our hymnals every Sunday morning to share in this practice together.

But tonight we don’t do that do we? (pause) Tonight’s worship is different…and even though we will share in a time of mutual confession together a little later in the service…we’re not using the brief order…and you might notice…we won’t have the usual announcement of forgiveness that typically comes with confession. (pause)  And this is because of the setting…of the day that we find ourselves in today…Ash Wednesday. (pause)

Today, as we kick off the season of Lent…as we begin moving towards Holy Week…and the culmination of Jesus’ ministry, not to mention the culmination of the Christ event itself…as he is betrayed and tortured and ultimately killed on the cross…but as we start off this season, it is good for us to reflect on our part in it.

And tonight’s focus…tonight’s service…and especially the action which we all join in a few moments from now…all of this serves as a tangible reminder of our brokenness…our sinfulness…the part that we play in whatever it is that God is up to through Jesus.

Tonight we use ashes…and tonight we hear words that remind us of our mortality…that we are made up of dust…that the building blocks of our physical bodies are quite literally the dust of the earth…which is also quite literally star dust…we remember…perhaps with a great deal of humility…that as God made EVERYTHING in our reality…the same materials went into making you…and as amazing as that is…we are also reminded that when this life is over…when the spark that makes you…you. When it runs out, then we will return to the dust that we came from.

And in addition to that, we are reminded of the cause of this cycle…the brokenness that we are a part of…and that is also a part of us. (pause) Now I’ve got a love/hate relationship with this particular worship service every year.  On one hand, I am blessed to look each of you in the eye and for just that brief instance…to be aware of the relationship that we have formed and we share…I think about the history we have in common…the highs and the lows…the good stuff and the hard stuff…and that is wonderful…but at the same time that those thoughts are running through my mind, I’m also hyper aware that I am saying words and taking action that refers to your death.

And as we think about the reality of death…we are also aware of how little control we have over it…which, when we’re honest with ourselves…we know is actually zero…we have no control…and death comes for us all…and as we know…as we have seen time and time again in our community…it can, and often does strike without warning.

And that sense of the unknown…that recognition that tomorrow, while expected…is not guaranteed…THAT keys us into the sense of urgency present within Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we have shared tonight.  This brief portion of the letter reveals a great deal about Paul’s experience in ministry…the hardships and the persecutions that he was familiar with…while at the same time the hope and the joy and the benefits that he regarded in the eternal sense…but even in the midst of all that which we can find in this short passage…there are two phrases that really jump at me as we consider all of this tonight.

Now is the time…now is the day…right now…in this moment…and what are we called to do?  He lines it out in the very first verse…be reconciled to God. (pause) Now before you think I’m going all fire and brimstoney on you…let me clarify.

I do not believe that this call to be reconciled…this call to turn away from our brokenness…this call to repentance…I don’t believe that its fear based…or that we should hear it from the perspective that “you might die tomorrow, and aren’t you afraid you’ll go to hell?” I don’t buy that because I believe with EVERY atom of my being…every bit of dust that somehow forms me…I believe that the spark that makes me me, and that makes you you…I believe that originated from the one who made us in the first place…the one who made us bearing the divine image…the one who calls us very good in the first place…I believe all of that which makes us individuals and yet unites us in our common humanity…I believe that reveals an inherent need for relationship with one another and with the one who made us in the first place.

And yet I also recognize that the brokenness of this reality and of me, hinders that relationship…and yet…despite this…that same God has made it possible through Christ to be reconciled…and that happens as we give voice to the sin that resides right here. As we turn from it and turn back to the one who has promised us to always receive us back.

This is the promise of the gospel…this is the truth revealed in the parable of the prodigal son…that no matter where we are and what is standing in the way, our perfect parent is always seeking us out.  (pause)
And thanks be to God, that this is not just some batch of words that we say…but that Christ has also given us tangible signs of this promise.  Through the waters of baptism…we are claimed by God as beloved children…heirs of the promise of grace and love and forgiveness…and then as we gather around this table, united in our common brokenness…and tonight literally bearing a mark on foreheads…we hear those words, and we receive the body and the blood of Christ which is broken and poured out for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.

This happens tonight and I love how they are paired up together. We hear the words of our mortality and limitations, and then we receive the elements of forgiveness.  Keep that in mind tonight, as our liturgy lacks the announcement of forgiveness…because tonight…God is literally handing it to you for you to receive.  Amen

Be Salty 2-9-20

In this sermon, based on Matthew 5:13-20, I explore Jesus’ statements that we are both salt and light…things which can be both a benefit as well as destructive. We explore what that means for us as the body of Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven which is here now in the midst of the brokenness of the world.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-011-be-salty-2-9-20

(As this sermon was preached non-scripted, there is no available text to read)

The Sun Will Come Out 2-2-20

After a period of not posting my sermons due to travel as well as a non-scripted approach, today I’m sharing one again.

Today’s sermon is based on the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12. We explore what it means to be blessed now, even when the world makes it feel like we aren’t.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-101-the-sun-will-come-out-eventually-2-2-20

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

The weather this time of year is pretty fickle…with all the back and forth in temperature…it snows one day and melts the next. We get fog, we get ice…but if there’s one thing I noticed through most of last week…there isn’t a whole lot of sun is there?  Sure, we get clear days here and there…but for the most part we are living the truth of that age-old hymn (sing) In…the bleak…mid…win…ter. (Pause) Admittedly, that’s the only line I know…but there’s some truth in it isn’t there?

It reminds of another song that I find myself singing sometimes…usually at this time of year when we don’t see very much of the sun…a little adaptation on a familiar song.  (sing) The sun’ll come out…eventually…least I hope so cuz if not its really bad…REAL…LY Bad… (pause)

Now I’m guessing that most of you recognize that tune and know the actual song that it references…the signature song from the musical Annie…come on everyone…sing it with me… “The sun’ll come out…tomorrow…bet your bottom dollar that…tomorrow…there’ll be sun…” (pause)

Isn’t that song just amazing?  It oozes optimism…like a recognition that today is hard…things just aren’t going my way today…but…regardless of how lousy it is…the sun WILL come up tomorrow…tomorrow’s a new day…and we can take all this hard stuff…and put it behind us. No matter how hard this moment is…we’re still okay because this is not the end…and all this junk that is going on…whatever it is…it does not define who I am (pause)

And that right there…that sense…that recognition that our lives…that our very identity is not defined by the haze that sometimes surrounds us…its not dictated by the gloom that sometimes dominates our attention…that sense RIGHT THERE…that’s where we’re gonna jump into the lesson for today. (pause)

Matthew 5…the Beatitudes…arguably one of the better-known pieces of Jesus’ teachings…the beginning of a much larger ministry moment known as the Sermon on the Mount…as Jesus sits down to teach these giant crowds who have already started to gather around him.

We’re still early in his ministry…last week, we heard about the opening portion…as he settled around the region of Galilee and started calling a few disciples to come along behind him…and since then not a whole lot has happened…honestly, its been more of the same…but his fame is spreading around Galilee and even over the borders…and we hear that people are bringing the sick to be healed…and that they’re coming from all directions…Galilee, Syria to the north…the cities of the Decapolis on the far side of the sea…up from the city of Jerusalem and the southern region of Judah…and even from the area to the east of the Jordan river. (pause)

Its worth noting the geography spelled out in this bit of narration…because these giant crowds aren’t all the same type of people…while we often think of Jesus’ earliest moments in ministry being centered around fellow Jewish folk…we find here that’s not the case…and he would have a giant mixture…Jews and Gentiles…people from a WIDE variety of cultures and nationalities…all matters of different faith and deities…you name it.

And so…as Jesus sits down and kicks off 3 chapters worth of teachings…a lot of his audience would probably be scratching their head…and even the phrasing that he uses in this earliest portion that we’re focusing on today…even that would have been foreign to many in the crowd.

Blessed…now that’s a loaded word isn’t it?  What does it really mean? Its probably safe to say that we would all define it a little differently wouldn’t we…and maybe its hard to articulate…maybe its hard to put into words…but…I think we all know it when feel it don’t we? The sense of blessing…the peace that comes with it…maybe the joy or happiness…I think those can all be associated with it. But still…its hard to define isn’t it?  Because “blessed” isn’t just something that happens when you sneeze in public and someone rattles off “bless you.” Its more than that isn’t it?

And so maybe…in order to REALLY wrap our heads around what this word means…we need to realize HOW Jesus is using it…because there’s a distinction…Jesus is NOT using it as a verb…its not like Peter inhales some mountain dust and blasts off a sneeze and JC goes “Bless you Pete.”

What Jesus is actually doing is using this word as a statement of identity…almost like a name…that these individuals…that these types of people…these folks who are having a specific type of experience…if they were wearing a name-tag it would say “Blessed one.” And that is the case throughout all 9 of the beatitudes that we have heard today.

Now I want your to bear with me…because in a lot of ways, we’re gonna have an English lesson today…because the specific language and tense…and sensibility within the Beatitudes is VITAL to understanding it.

For starters…every one of the statements starts the same doesn’t it…with that identity…that the person embodies…right now…present tense…across the board…BLESSED…ARE…the poor spirit…blessed are those who are mourning…blessed are the meek…and those hungering and thirsting for righteousness…blessed ARE…the merciful and the pure in heart…and the peace makers…and finally BLESSED ARE…those who are persecuted and singled out because of the name of Jesus…blessed ARE…right now.

Now, let’s move on within the very one…blessed are the poor in spirit…WHY? Because theirs IS…the kingdom of heaven.  Present tense…theirs is the kingdom now…because Jesus has already told us that the kingdom has come near hasn’t he?  Its already among us…and those who are blessed now, are blessed because its already here. (Pause)

And now let’s move on…the next batch…we see a now leading into the future don’t we? Blessed are those who mourn…for they WILL BE comforted….the meek…for they WILL inherit the earth. And that same trend continues…blessed now with a future result.

And as I think about it…I can’t help but think that Annie’s song has this whole thing figured out doesn’t it?  That sense that it might be lousy in this moment…that it seems like I can’t catch a break…that the world is ending…or that the world has it in for me…but (sing) the sun’ll come out…tomorrow…” (pause)

Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t just some self-help…buck up because its not that bad…feel good drivel…that’s not what Jesus is about.  He’s not denying that lousy stuff goes on…and that as we grow in our faith and get more outspoken about the brokenness in the world…as we follow the prompting of the Spirit within us to point out injustice and inequality…and ways that the powerful take advantage of the marginalized…and they start to potshots at us because of it. Jesus IS NOT saying all that stuff is going to go away…he’s simply saying that in the midst of all that junk that is a reality within our existence…this does not define you…and you ARE Blessed because we have a God who desires to be with us and who CONTINUALLY is found with those pushed to the margins…and even if its hard to see…I believe that it is possible to see these little glimmers of that kingdom that is already among us when individuals step out of their comfort zones and reach out to those experiencing life at the margins…lives that the world discounts or throws aside…those moments that we’ve talked about over and over again when we reflect the light of the one who took on flesh and dwelled among us.

Now the world might not like that…it might even strike out against those who are willing to live their lives in this way…but just think…Jesus reminds us that when we live out this NEW way of life…this NEW way of love and joy and acceptance…a life lived in the reality that we’re all on the same page…that despite wealth or prestige or power or authority or the car we drive or the clothes we wear or the restaurants we eat in or the number of likes on our latest Instagram picture, or retweets on Twitter…or shares on Facebook…all that stuff masks the truth that each one of us is broken…and flawed…we’re all sinful…we all fall short of the glory of God…and we constantly fail ourselves and each other…but thanks be to God that GOD KNOW IT…and this is why God took on flesh in the first place…to come near to us in a way that we can see.

To be with us as one of us so that we can hear and touch him…so that we can record his words and teachings…and remember the miracles of his healings…and that when the dark powers of this world lashed out and tried SO hard to snuff out that shining perfect light of God…not even death could accomplish it.

And as we consider THAT amazing aspect of the gospel…maybe Annie’s song needs a little tweak…because I imagine it was pretty gloomy on that Friday when Jesus died…but then… (sing) God’s light’ll come back…on Sunday…bet your bottom dollar that on Sunday…we see the SON… (pause)

Maybe Jesus even hinted at that very point today…blessed are the pure in heart…for they will see…God. (pause)

Life’s not perfect…and the gospel…the scripture…the Bible…its honest about that…God knows it…and Jesus professes it…but despite the brokenness of this world and of us…we are claimed by the one who NAMES us…blessed ones.  Amen.