Posts Tagged ‘Apostles’

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.

Knower of Hearts 5-13-18

In this sermon, based on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 I explore the appointment of Matthias as the 12th Apostle. This odd situation occurs in the significant pause between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/knower-of-hearts-5-13-18

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to realize that in any given situation or interaction, there are different perspectives that lie on opposite sides…something I never considered in my younger days…and its only as my own life experience has begun to place me on the opposite side of these various interactions that I’ve started learning this crazy truth. A truth that is only revealed when you find yourself “sitting on the other side of the table.”

For instance…When I was a kid, especially being the third kid in my family, I thought my folks had things pretty well figured out…but now I’ve learned that parenting does not come with a manual, and that about 99% of all parenting is simply making it up as you go along, regardless of which kid in the order you’re dealing with. (pause) I’ve discovered that while being interviewed can certainly be a little tedious…being the one that is conducting the interview is one of the most un-natural feelings ever. (pause) And finally, one that I learned about the time I was starting seminary and began helping out in my old congregation as one of the Confirmation teachers…when you are standing up in front of a class…you can see EVERYONE…including the ones who think they are being sneaky by looking at their phone under the table. (pause)
Now, on the flip side of the teaching thing…that does remind me of my various days as a student, particularly in college and later on, seminary…when we would all embody being creatures of habit, and sit in the same place time after time. I can only think it’s a common human trait to do this…and because of that common tendency, another perspective that I’ve gained since taking on the role of teacher is how easy it is to see when someone is gone because they aren’t sitting in their normal spot.  And it’s this idea of absence, or the lack of a person’s normal presence that shoots us over into the scripture for today.

Now we find ourselves in the midst of a brief portion of time in the church year…in the 10-day gap that lies between Ascension Day, when Jesus is taken up into heaven…which just occurred this past Thursday…and the day of Pentecost, when we celebrate the empowerment of the Church by the Holy Spirit with the great wind and tongues of fire resting on the believers, which is coming right up next Sunday.

Now I’ve heard this 10-day period called a significant pause in the life of the church…and I think that’s fitting. For we find ourselves…or perhaps its better to say that the earliest church found themselves in an unknown spot…taking a breath perhaps as they find themselves in the reality of a pretty major absence. The absence of Christ himself.

Now as the book of Acts picks up, we begin with Jesus taking the Apostles just outside Jerusalem. He gives them the task of being his witnesses radiating out from the city…and he tells them that they will be empowered from on high soon…and until then, they should just stay there and wait….with this, Jesus leaves their sight…ascending into Heaven.

And now, for the first time, these witnesses to the Christ event…those who seemingly have been around since John baptized Jesus in the Jordan…those who have traveled around with him…they’ve seen the miracles…they’ve heard the teaching…and now they’ve witnessed the mind-blowing reality of the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus…and now…having seen all this…and having been utterly reliant on Jesus for direction…they find themselves on their own…this small rag-tag batch of believers…numbering about 120…about the size of our Sunday morning gatherings.  That was the entire church.

And I can only imagine…Jesus has disappeared, they’ve walked back into the city…and now they’re just sorta sitting there staring at each other…and it would seem that after a day or two, they starting asking the question. “What do we do now?”

Now keep in mind that Pentecost hasn’t happened yet…so no Holy Spirit yet…but it would seem that the church is getting impatient…and so they decide that its time that they take action…Jesus is gone, so I guess its up to us.

And as they look around…considering all that has happened…it would seem that a council election is in order…because there’s a hole left in the ranks of the apostles. Jesus said there was supposed to be 12…but look, Judas is gone. And so Peter hops up with an idea…GUYS…I totally think we need to pick someone to take his spot…and so they do…now they lay out some criteria…and it would seem that there are 2 guys that fit the bill…one guy with 3 names, Joseph or Barsabbas or Justus, whatever you want to call him…and Matthias.  And then in one of the strangest election situations I’ve ever heard of…they decide who God has chosen by essentially throwing dice…Matthias is chosen…he is now “numbered” with the other apostles…seemingly placed into a position of leadership among the 120, poor Justus gets shunted to the side…and then, (long pause) we literally never hear about either one of them again.

I can’t help but think of the possibility that the earliest church jumped the gun here. Jesus told them to wait until they were empowered…and that hadn’t happened yet. And maybe, just maybe, the fact that we never hear Matthias named again, or beforehand for that matter, maybe this serves a reminder that God wasn’t quite ready for them to start moving yet.

But that being said, I don’t mean to minimalize Matthias or Justus or any of the other members of the earliest church. In fact, I’m jealous of them…we hear that these are the people who followed Jesus. This group of 120 odd people were literally Jesus’ disciples…they were followers, even if only 12 of them were considered to be “THE” disciples.

It probably goes without saying that both of these two guys made important contributions in the life of the body of Christ here in the first days….and honestly the rest of the people probably did to. Its possible, probable even, that all 120 were included on Pentecost when the Spirit empowered them, not just the 12.  They were all present through the earliest days, meeting together…breaking bread together…being devoted to the apostles teachings, and encountering every new believer that was added to their ranks…they were all important.

But here’s the question I want to pose.  Of that 120 people…how many do we know? How many can we identify…maybe 20 or so? The original 12…a handful of women who are named at various points…and now Matthias and Justus…and everyone else, is completely unknown to us.

And yet…they are the body…and as we mentioned these earliest believers…these members of the earliest church were vital…because without this entire group and the witness that each of them provided through their own gifts and stories…through their own encounters with others…the church as it exists today would be different.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the 100 that we don’t know…those individuals who now, 2000 years later, are nameless and faceless…its almost like they never existed. And there are COUNTLESS more brothers and sisters from across the centuries that fall in the same boat. Those individuals who each did their part for the body…which is one body with many members…and then once their small part of time was up, they faded from memory.

I think about how quickly this can happen…how fast our memory can fade from those we are known by…and I realize the truth of this when I think about how I can see everyone when I’m teaching.  Guess what…the same thing applies when I’m standing in this pulpit as well.

I look out at you all, week after week, and since we’re all creatures of habit, I know pretty much who I’m going to see depending on which direction I’m looking.  I know I’m going to see Phil if I look right here.  I know if I look back that direction I’m going to see Joyce…I know I’m going to see Arlon leaning against the wall right over there, and either Nancy or Judy sitting here in the front row next to the organ. And I pretty much know where the rest of you are sitting as well.

But today as I look around this sanctuary…I can also see the spots where someone’s missing. I look over there, where Jane Christiansen should be sitting.  Or I look up here where Bob and Marcia Hastings should be…or over there where Tom Emmi used to sit…and I note their absence…and I note quite a few others who are absent today as well.

But perhaps for some of you that are newer, I say those names and you don’t know who I’m talking about…because they’ve been gone longer than you’ve been a part of this particular community…and this is precisely the point I’m getting at.

Our time in this life is a blip in the cosmic sense…and while we are known and loved by those that we encounter as we live this life together, there will come a day when each of us fades from living memory.

But there is something in today’s passage, almost a throw away comment, that we need to recognize. When Peter proposes this lottery for a new Apostle, they pray…and our translation is just a little bit off…because they actually call on the Lord, who they describe as “the knower of every heart.”  God is the one that knows us far better than anyone else will ever know us.

God is the one who sees every aspect, who knows us better than we know ourselves…and who loves us unconditionally from the first moment of our existence…through every single breath of our life…God is the one who holds us through death…and brings us to new life in Christ, whatever that will look like in the promise of the resurrection.

God is the knower of hearts…God is the knower of souls…God is the knower of you…and long after your time in this life is done, and your memory has faded away from those still living…your place as a beloved member of the body of Christ will not be forgotten by the one who made you in the first place. Amen

A Locked Door 4-8-18

In this sermon, based on John 20:19-31, I explore the first few post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and what they mean for the disciples who were present.

You can listen the the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-locked-door-4-8-18

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Anyone ever found themselves on the wrong side of a locked door? It’s the worst isn’t it? As I think back, I can remember encountering this situation twice. Now the first time was during my first year at Iowa State. I got up one morning, like any other morning, and headed down the hallway to the bathroom for a shower. Now…during the time that I was in the shower, my roommate headed out for the day…and he did not realize that I was still on the floor…and so as he left, he locked the door.

And a moment later I came walking back down the hallway only to discover I was locked out…and wearing nothing but a towel…Panic ensues…Actually it wasn’t too bad…and a quick knock on a neighbors door and a call to the RA on duty got me back into the room within a couple of minutes.

Now the second time actually occurred on my wedding day of all days. 2 of my friends and I had taken my soon to be wife’s car to the carwash to get it all nice and shiny for the big day…and then headed back to my apartment. We got out of the car…out of habit I hit the door lock and slammed the car door…and instantly knew I had just locked the keys inside.

Fortunately, we hopped in one of the other’s guys car and zipped across town to my in-laws house…where we quickly managed to find an extra set of keys for her car…and I also managed to avoid the bad-luck scenario of seeing the bride too early on our wedding day…so all in all it worked out fine. (pause) But being locked out…That is the WORST feeling in the world, especially knowing that you did it to yourself.

Now…this idea of locked doors points us in the direction of today’s gospel lesson…a common one…one that comes up each and every year the week after Easter…that of the disciples locked away out of fear…and the Resurrected Lord appearing among them.

Now the setting is important here…and so’s the narration that we’re given by John…because we see the passage of time within this story…and if we’re paying attention we notice that this includes not 1 but 2 resurrection appearances of Jesus, though not the first one…but before we jump into this story…it’s probably a good idea to glance back at the first one.

Now, it probably goes without saying that the Easter Resurrection story here in John is a little different than what we heard last week out of Mark…a week ago we heard that the women who found the empty tomb ran off and said nothing to anyone out of fear. But John offers slightly different detail. Here in John, there’s only 1 woman at the tomb…Mary Magdalene…and this time we hear that the resurrected Jesus actually appears and encounters Mary.

If you’re familiar with the story…you know that she doesn’t recognize him at first…mistaking him for the gardener until he calls her by name, revealing something intimate in their connection…and with it Mary recognizes the Risen Lord. She runs off to tell the disciples with the mind-blowing testimony That “I HAVE SEEN THE LORD.”

Now here’s the weird thing…her passionate testimony…this story…this proclamation…this message that, maybe we would call “good news.” It doesn’t seem to take root…it doesn’t seem like the disciples, a couple of whom have already seen the empty tomb for themselves…it doesn’t seem like they buy her story…and so we fast forward from that morning…the morning of Resurrection Sunday…to evening of the same day…

And this is where the story picks up today. For us, its been a week…and maybe we’ve all experienced the come down from the celebration that is Easter Sunday…but regardless, here we are…but for the disciples, as we pick up today its just Sunday.  Jesus was betrayed and arrested and tortured and killed all within the past couple of days…and they’re huddled up behind closed doors…locked in out of fear…whatever Mary told them that morning, doesn’t seem like its had much of effect in the joy category does it?

I can only imagine what the mood was like in that house…in that place where they’ve gathered. Doesn’t seem like they’d be laughing and joking…its probably like any house that’s just experienced the death of a loved one…its usually quiet…subdued…as everyone there tries to process the reality that the person they loved is gone…and in this case…not only is the grief present…but so is the fear.

Jesus had been arrested and killed as an enemy of the state…that’s why he was crucified by the Romans…but he was targeted because he posed a threat to the cultural status quo of the powers that be in the Jewish culture…and the disciples were associated with him…this is why we hear of Peter’s denial during Jesus’ trial…this is why they all fled from the garden when Jesus was arrested…and this is why they’re locked away now…out of fear that they are going to suffer the exact same fate.

Perhaps its no coincidence that John tells us that now its evening…darkness is falling…and keep in mind that theme that runs throughout John’s gospel of light and darkness…the light of life shines, and the darkness of sin and brokenness and death within the world fights tooth and nail to squash it out…maybe its not out of line to say that the disciples were experiencing a “dark night of the soul” in this moment.

And yet…here in the midst of their grief…in the midst of their fear…this hopeless sense that they were metaphorically locked up in…not to mention the literal locked door of the house where they were hiding…in the midst of it…suddenly the Resurrected Jesus is there with the words “Peace be with you” and he says it not once but twice as he’s showing them the marks in his hands and side.

There can be no doubt…this is Jesus…somehow alive again…somehow here standing among them…and it is in this moment of recognition that the truth of Mary’s testimony…of HER good news begins to sink in…as they, in turn, are encountered by the Risen Lord, just like she did in the garden.

With this…we hear that Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them…certainly reminiscent of the story that we’ll hear from Luke at Pentecost in a few more weeks…and now, empowered by the Holy Spirit within them…strengthened by their own personal encounter with the Risen, Resurrected Jesus Christ…we hear “Just as the father has sent me, so I send you.”

And with this…these 10 individuals, experience a change in identity…For up to this point, they’ve been disciples…followers of Christ…for that’s what disciples are…individuals who follow along after another…learning from them…being shaped by them…and up to this point, that is what they have done…that is what they have been.

But now, with Jesus literally sending them…they take on a new name…Apostle.  Because that’s what apostle means…one who is sent by God with a message. Sure we tend to use disciple and apostle interchangeably…but they do mean two different things. (pause)

Now here’s the thing…a second ago I said there were 10 disciples here…but when we think disciples we think 12 right? Well Judas is gone…he’s committed suicide by this point…and as we hear…Good ole Thomas the doubter is somewhere else. But these 10 Apostles, empowered the Spirit, they fill their new role by finding their friend Thomas and sharing the good news, just as Mary had shared with them. We have seen the Lord. (pause) And how does that go?

Yah…ummm unless I see his hands and stick my finger in the nail holes…I don’t buy it…WAY TO GO THOMAS…what do you think guys…let’s give him a nickname that will stick for the next 2000 years. (singsong) DOUBTING THOMAS…DOUBTING THOMAS.

But wait a sec…didn’t they JUST do the exact same thing?  Didn’t they just hear the good news of the resurrected Jesus and ignore it? (singsong) DOUBTING DISCIPLES…DOUBTING DISCIPLES. (pause) Now we know what happens next don’t we…a week goes by…and apparently, they’ve got a pretty short memory, because once again, they’re all locked up…and the same thing happens…once again, Jesus passes through the walls…through the locked door…and is standing among them…and this time there’s Thomas…and he has his encounter with the Risen Lord…and unlike the rest of the disciples turned Apostles…he makes the proclamation My Lord and my God…he’s the only one who ever does that. (pause)

Here’s the thing…long has Thomas gotten a bad rap…but I can’t help but think that its misplaced…Thomas needed to experience a personal encounter with the Risen Lord before this mind-blowing reality of a risen Lord could sink into his heart. And I find myself wondering…are we any different?

I often think about my own experience…and how many times I had to hear the gospel…the good news…before it actually touched my heart…before I experienced that spiritual 2×4 that I often talk about…and I think about the “locked doors” that prevented it… “Locked doors” some of which were self-inflicted, whether I realized it or not…and I wonder about the “locked doors” that existed, or perhaps still exist…in your lives.

The doubts…the fears…the concerns…pride…whatever it is that stands in the way…somehow Jesus has overcome it…maybe this is why we hear, not once but twice…in two different occurrences that Jesus is able to somehow pass through the barriers that stand in the way in order to be revealed to those that he loves and claims as his own.

And so when we stop and think about that…what does it reveal about our God?  That we have a God who willingly wades into every single place of death and despair in order to bring new life out of it. This is what the resurrection shows us…that there is no length that our God will not go to for you…that no matter what the barrier…no matter what the closed door…no matter what the lock…not even death is enough to keep our God away from you…this is what the resurrection is about…about our God bringing new life out of every single place of death and brokenness…even the ones that we create for ourselves.

We’re all Thomas…every single one of us…at one time or another…and maybe even a lot times over the course of our lives…but you know what…that’s not a bad thing…that’s just the way it is…and that’s not a reality to mourn…it’s a reality that reveals over and over again, a God who cares SO much about every single individual that no amount of locked doors, whether literal or metaphorical, will ever be able to get in the way…and it is my hope and my prayer that we can be a people who will continue to share this good news…because I believe that we have been sent…just like the disciples…we are apostles, called to carry the good news of this God who won’t stay dead…whether it makes sense or not. Amen.

Add Faith To Us 10-2-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 17:5-10, I explore an interesting request from the Apostles to “increase our faith.” Yet a translation hiccup reminds us that faith is not something that we can quantify.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/add-faith-to-us-10-2-16

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

When I was in high school, I was very active in a lot of the fine arts. One of the things that I enjoyed was large group speech, and in particular, group improv. It is so much fun to work together with a group of people to come up with a story right there on the fly…unscripted…unplanned.

And because of my love for improv, it will probably come as no great shock to hear that back in the late 90’s, that one of my favorite things was the improve tv show Who’s Line is it Anyway…a half hour long batch of games that were completely improvised…and the catch phrase of the show was always great…the show where everything is made up and the points don’t matter. (pause)

I think that last phrase…the points don’t matter…that was what always caught my attention…because that tends to be how I approach pretty much everything. In all likelihood that’s probably why I’m not the biggest fan of sports…because I don’t really pay much attention to the scoreboard.  One of my favorite things to say when someone asks me about the score of some random game or another, I usually end up saying “It ended up too much to not enough.”

But honestly…that’s not how things really work is it? We love to keep score…we love to quantify things…and not just the outcome of sporting events…but pretty much everything…we, as human beings, have the tendency to attempt to quantify…absolutely everything. (pause)

And we see evidence of this in our story today…as the apostles look for a boost in on the faith score board.  (pause) Here’s the deal…in the midst of traveling around…following Jesus from place to place…the apostles have seen a lot…they’ve heard a lot…they’ve even experienced a lot of amazing things first hand.  They’ve seen Jesus perform miracles.  They’ve seen him cast out demons. They’ve seen him raise people from the dead…they’ve watched the guy walk on water. (pause) And we can’t forget that the apostles have even been empowered by Jesus, and sent out two by two to do some of these very same things themselves.

But now, as they are finally nearing Jerusalem…getting pretty close to the place where Jesus has told them repeatedly that he’s going to be betrayed and tortured and killed…maybe its finally starting to sink in that at some point…they’re going to be on their own…without their master…seemingly left to their own devises. (pause)
But they also know that they’ve got a mission hanging out there too…to proclaim a gospel of repentance…and then to announce the forgiveness of sins…and not only to proclaim this, but to actually do it…to actually put it into practice.

Right before our passage for today, Jesus has told his followers that when someone sins against them and repents of it…they must forgive…even if they have to forgive that person seven times a day, every day…over and over again.  (pause) Now I don’t know about you…but if I was faced with ALL of this stuff…everything that they’ve seen and heard and experienced…along with everything that Jesus has tasked them with…well I think my response would be the very same. (pause) LORD…INCREASE OUR FAITH.

That phrase…that request…the more I think about it…the more monumentous that request actually seems…and there seems to be a lot of fear and a lot of doubt and a lot of uncertainty all wrapped up in that simple request. Lord…I don’t think I can do this…I know you’ve said to simply believe in you…but come on man…I don’t know about this…You’ve got to help me out here. (pause)
There’s a lot wrapped up in our first verse today isn’t there?  There’s a lot behind that request…and I think if we’re honest with ourselves…we probably make that same exact plea more often than we want to admit.

Lord…I’m facing some big stuff…and I don’t think I can handle it…increase my faith. (pause) Lord, work is overwhelming and I don’t feel equipped…increase my faith. (pause) Lord, what you’re asking me to do it impossible, I can’t do that…increase my faith….and so on and so on.

But when we are saying this…just like when the apostles make the same request within the gospel…just what are we really saying? What are we really asking for?  Are we looking at the heavenly faith scoreboard and finding our tally lacking? Or is there something else going on here?

I think this is an important question to ask…or maybe, just maybe we need to flip it around just a bit to ask…can our faith be increased? And to answer that…we need to look to the words of Jesus today. (pause)
Now his words are a little strange…offering up a couple different topics that seems, at first glance anyway…unrelated…but the first statement does seem to apply to this notion of increasing faith.

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell this tree to yank itself up by the roots and plant itself in the ocean…and it…would…happen. (pause)  My first response to that is…what? Why on earth would I want to send a tree to into the ocean…wouldn’t make a lot of sense…and maybe, just maybe, Jesus isn’t trying to make sense here…because if all it takes to make this ludicrous thing true is the tiniest amount of faith…well then it seems like faith can truly accomplish amazing things…things that seem foolish…things that seem stupid even…things that humanity would laugh at…like even the notion that God would become human…and that God would die. (Pause)

Scripture reminds us that the cross…the very place where we put our hope…is folly…a stumbling block…foolish even…but hey, if faith can do something as foolish as sending a tree into the ocean, well then maybe faith can do this too. (pause)
But all that being said…just what is this whole faith thing anyway? It’s a word that we love to throw around in the church don’t we…especially here in the Lutheran Church…but just what is it anyway? (pause) The answer to that question…put very simply…faith is believing that something will happen…and it can look like a lot of things.  Like believing that the sun is going to come up in the morning…or that if I plug in my wife’s number into my phone that she’s gonna answer…or if I put my key in the ignition of my car and turn it…its gonna start. Believing that what is expected to happen, will happen…but none of that is really earth shattering or life altering…but what about being saved from our sins…what about God loving us so much that He claims us as heirs of the promise…and that not only did he talk about dying for each of us…that he actually did it…and believing him when he says that he has gone on beyond death to prepare a place for us and that he will come back for us…simply because he said he would…can we believe that?

Because that’s what faith is…believing what God says about you…believing that God sees you with great worth…worth dying for….that’s the beauty of the gospel…that’s its not about what we do or what we say or what we think…but its about believing what God says about you. (pause)

Now here’s where things get a little hazy…because we’re not good at simply things are we?  Especially not something as big as this…because its in our nature to think that we have to do something for it…that somehow we have to earn it….or that we have to say it, or we have to believe it…big enough….because we like to keep score don’t we.

Call it whatever you want…self justification…or giving ourselves assurance…but when it comes to the here after…I think we all want to look at the checklist to make sure we’ve actually gotten our get out of jail free card.

But that’s not how the gospel works…and we see this within Jesus’ rather cryptic second statement today…what master, having slaves that have been out working all day invites them in to sit down?  No…they’ll do what’s expected of them…which is to feed the master first. (pause)
I went round and round with this part…trying to figure out what it was that Jesus was saying…but I think we find it in the final statement. So you, when you have done all that you were order to do will say “we are worthless, having done only what we ought to have done.” (pause)

Now this is odd…but I think what Jesus is reminded us here is that as followers of Christ…as people who put our belief in him…our faith in him…there isn’t any sort of “minimum activity” that we have to pull off in order to check our cosmic scoreboard to see if we’re winning or not…now matter how much we might want to keep score…no matter how much we might hope for an increased level of faith…that’s not how any of this goes.

The righteous shall live by faith…period.  We don’t need MORE of it…we simply need it…and we don’t earn it…any more than we work to pay it off…and the one thing that the apostles actually do correctly here, is looking to the source of faith…Lord increase our faith….its not from us…its not self generated…it comes from the Lord…the ability to believe this utter nonsense about a God who loves us enough to die for us…can only come through the power of the spirit working within us.

And as per usual…we’ve got a lost in translation moment…and the request from the apostles is skewed because of it…our modern translations pretty much all say the same thing. Increase our faith…as if it could be quantified…but it can’t…and the better way to look at this request is “Add…faith…to us.”  Its not a question of asking for more…it’s simply a question of asking God for it. (pause)

Our Lord is the source of faith…the source of that which justifies us…and God grants it to us because he choses to, not because we have earned it…our salvation is not God’s way of thanking us for anything…but our response…what we do with it…that is our way of saying thank you back to God…and make no mistake, we are called to do something with this faith…with this amazing news that sets us free…and that calling is to share it…to share the message of repentance and forgiveness…made possible because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. (pause)
Now hearing that charge…perhaps it’s a little intimidating…because it falls under that really scary word of Evangelism that none of us really like very much…but the amazing thing about God’s invitation to us to join in the work of reconciling the world is simply realizing that through Christ’s work, our story becomes part of God’s story…and all we are called to do is extend the invitation to come and see.

Some will accept and some won’t…but you know what…that’s not up to you…that’s up to the spirit…so take the pressure off yourself…and look to the source of faith…our father in heaven, who has already made you this promise…and because of what Christ has already done…it is already given to you freely.  Amen