Posts Tagged ‘Being Known’

To Be Remembered 11-24-19

This sermon for Christ the King Sunday is based on Luke 23:33-43. It is perhaps strange to consider a passage in which we hear of Jesus on the cross as the basis for his kingship in the kingdom of heaven, and yet that is precisely what we find.  Christ’s example reminds us that true power and authority is not found in strength or military might, but in weakness.

You can list to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/to-be-remembered-11-24-19

Note that this was another extemporaneous sermon, so there is no text to follow along with.  Likewise, the audio is weak, so you’ll need to turn up your volume about the 1:26 mark.
(As I continue with this experimental style of preaching, I’ll be exploring alternate audio recording options to overcome this current situation.)

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

Being Known 4-22-18

In this sermon, based on John 10:11-18, I explore Jesus’ statement “I am the Good Shepherd.” This passage implies a sense of familiarity within relationship.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/being-known-4-22-18

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

I will be the first one to admit that I do not know much about cars. I know you step on the tall skinny pedal to go faster. I know you step on the shorter rectangular shaped one to slow down. I know you need to put fuel in or you aren’t going anywhere.  I can change a tire…I can check the oil and if push came to shove I could probably accomplish an oil change…but that’s about it.

However, there was one time in my younger years when I did pull something off that made me sorta proud. I must have been about 16 or 17, still living at home, and it was winter. Now my dad had a habit of starting the cars when he went out for morning chores, just to get them running against the chill that sets into an engine after sitting outside on a winter night…but this particular day, Dad wasn’t able to get my car started.

It was an old beater, typical of a high school farm kid. And somehow dad manage to flood it. So when I stepped over the car a moment later, not realizing that Dad had already tried it…I managed to start it without too much trouble. And Dad asked me “How’d you do that? I couldn’t get it to start a minute ago.” And my reply, “Well, I drive it every day. I know all the quirks.” (pause)

Now that sense of familiarity that we have with our old cars…that’s really something isn’t it? The way you just sorta know it. That’s why its always a little nerve-wracking when you start driving a new car, because you don’t have that sense like you do with an old one. You know the quirks…you know the bumps and the rattles that are just “normal” for that car as you buzz down the road. You also know the rattles that AREN’T normal, and prompt you to get into the mechanic. You know the buttons that don’t work. You know how to smack the dash board when the radio cuts out. Its familiar…you just…know…it.

We can develop that same sense of familiarity within our relationships too can’t we? The way we recognize someone’s quirks and their tendencies. The way we can anticipate their reaction to a familiar situation. Like the way you can tell when your spouse walks in the door at the end of the day if it was a good one or not. Or how you know when your child is going to be a little bit touchy by a certain point of the week because they’re worn out. You just know.

As I think about this, I’m reminded of the old days of telephones, back before caller id. When that phone hanging on the wall rang, you didn’t know who was on the other end…but you picked it up…and if it was the right person, you knew it as soon as they said the word “Hey” because you know their voice. Its familiar…its comfortable even.

Now all of these different things indicate a sense of community…of familiarity, we can even use the word intimacy to describe the relationship that exists…and because of this familiar nature…that we develop a sense of comfort with one another…trust…even love. That knowledge that probably goes without saying that this other person has your best interest at heart. (pause)

But what does all this have to do with shepherds and sheep…with gates and pens, and wolves and hired hands? That’s the gospel lesson…and it comes from a larger batch of teaching on the part of Jesus that we feature each year on the 4th Sunday of Easter, which has come to be known as Good Shepherd Sunday.

But this whole big teaching on the part of Jesus…its in response to something specific…as it follows the healing of the man born blind. Jesus happens across this random individual who’s been blind since birth…a condition that brings with it all kinds of hardships…most of which boil down to his lifelong exclusion from the joy of true community and relationship.
Now if you know that story, you know there’s a lot of back and forth for the guy as the religious elite continue to hound him about what happened before finally getting fed up and kicking him out of the synagogue. Its only then that Jesus finds him again and invites him into community…and with this the big wigs start butting heads with Jesus again.

And now he launches into a chapter long discourse talking about all these things. Sheep held in the pen…thieves and bandits trying to break in. But I am the gate…the shepherd comes through the gate and calls his sheep by name. He knows them and they follow him because they know him and they know his voice.

Then it goes it on. He stays in the same theme but changes it up a bit as we hear, not once but twice today. I am the good shepherd. And just as I know the Father and the father knows me, I know the sheep and they know me.  He even goes on and repeats the same sort of thing again after today’s portion when we hear “my sheep know my voice. I know them and they follow me.” (pause) Are you sensing a trend? I’m guessing so…of knowing one another…familiarity. Community. Relationship. Acceptance…trust. Its all in there isn’t it?

Now the imagery that Jesus uses here is interesting…and perhaps familiar. Anyone who’s ever seen, or better yet heard…a farmer calling their cows into the barn has witnessed this. I’ve told the story before of Dad sending out to round up the cows in the pasture…only to have them stare at me as I try to push them up to the barn…and then dad stepped outside and with one holler of COMEBOSS…they all go traipsing in….it was maddening for me, but it’s a great illustration here. (pause)

Think about those voices in your life…the ones that you instantly recognize…the ones that carry enough familiarity, or love, or perhaps we can even say authority that your ears perk right up and make you pay attention…who’s voice are they?  Who are those who fall under the category of shepherd in today’s story…the one who calls out and you trust them enough to follow…maybe metaphorically and maybe even literally.

Now as Jesus is talking today…we hear it, not once but twice…that he is the shepherd…he is the one calling…but we need to pay attention to how its worded.  I am…the good shepherd. I am…the one who calls.  I am the one who leads. I am.

Recognize that name?  You can bet the Jewish audience that heard him that day did?  Because I am is the name that God…the Lord…Yahway…that’s the name that God told Moses to use. And Jesus claims it hear along with the distinction of shepherd.  And this isn’t the only time. In fact he does 7 different times here in John.

And when we stop and think about it…that’s a pretty big deal…because I am…is also the one who made all of this in the first place.  God said let there be light.  God said let there be order…Let there be land and sea and sky…let there be night and day….God said let there be plants and fish and birds and animals…and finally God said let there be people…who’s the one who said this? I am…that’s who…and now the one who claims the name I am…the one who claims the identity of the one who made all of this and all of us…offers all of us a place in the flock…he tells us that we are numbered among those whom he knows.

(pause) You know what, I want to stick with the whole livestock imagery for just a moment. I don’t know sheep. I’ve never really worked with them…but I know cows. And in my younger days I could walk past that herd and at glance I could tell you which ones were the good milkers…which ones always went to the right stanchion. Which ones never raised a foot…I could tell you the good ones.  But I could also tell at a glance which ones had kicked me lately…which ones took extra work to get locked into place…I could tell at a glance which ones were frustrating just as easily as which ones were favorable…because I knew them.

Now apply this same sense to the one who calls himself I Am. He is the one who made you and he is the one who loves you…and this is a huge deal, because he loves you…he claims you as his own regardless of what category you fall into in any particular moment.

And this is the crazy, mind blowing thing about the gospel of Jesus Christ…that he claims us period. Now I don’t know about you…but I know me pretty well…and I know full well that there are many times in my day when I do not feel overly loveable…and yet…there is one who calls me by name because he knows me…and there is something about that call that makes my ears perk up and pay attention.

And it is perhaps BECAUSE of the familiarity in this voice that knows me at my worst and loves me anyway.  It is a far greater thing to be loved at our worst than it is to be loved at our best. And yet, while we were still sinners…Christ died for us.  While we were sinners Christ laid down his life for us…and no one has greater love than this, than to lay down their life for their friends.

That is the voice of the one who calls to us…and there is something in that voice that somehow, someway makes us sit up and pay attention. I can only think that it is through the power of God at work…through the presence of the Holy Spirit acting within us that would make us pay attention…because the story of the gospel is so utterly laughable, that reason says we should just ignore it…and yet something within us listens when the voice of the one who is called I Am calls us by name. This same one who calls us has named us and has claimed us out of his earthshattering love for the ones that he knows….and that’s you. You are known and just as you are right now, you are loved…and that’s really something isn’t it? Amen.

You Can’t Get There From Here 9-25-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 16:19-31, I explore the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and what it means to be known by God.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-cant-get-there-from-here-9-25-16

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

Ever heard the expression “You can’t get there from here?”  When I was younger, admittedly, I could never wrap my head around it. It just didn’t make any sense…but keep in mind that I grew up in the northern part of the state…far enough away from the rivers that border both sides of Iowa that things are pretty open and flat…and for the most part…every road is straight, and there’s an intersection pretty much every mile…so if you are trying to get somewhere…more often than not…there’s a direct route…You can get there from here.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve driven in some different places where this…IS NOT…the case. Having lived in the city…you deal with all sorts of stuff that gets in the way…Vacationing in the mountains of Colorado…its even more prominent as the roads follows the contours…and you can’t drive straight to anything.

And finally, living here now…down close to the river…and the ways that pretty much all of our roads within 50 miles curve and bend all over the place…I’ve certainly learned the truth of the statement…particularly when I’m trying to drive over to Crescent…which is only about 10 or 11 miles as the crow flies…but somehow it still takes almost half an hour to drive there.

You can’t get there from here…we all know what that really means don’t we? Its not just the lack of a straight road between where we are and where we are trying to get to.  Rather, it implies some sort of barrier in the way. It can mean rolling hills or rivers…it could mean bridges out or road construction…it can mean a lot of things…but unlike those physical barriers to travel that the phrase implies…those things that the human race has found ways to overcome…making travel to literally anywhere in the world possible…in today’s gospel story, there’s a barrier that we hear is unbeatable…not just difficult…but impossible.

Now today’s gospel is an interesting parable…the rich man and Lazarus…one unique here in Luke’s gospel…but perhaps if think about the other stories we’ve encountered in recent weeks, one that kinda fits in. There’s a rich guy and a poor guy…and the little details that Jesus shares sheds light on just how opposite these two guys are.  The rich guy wears purple, nearly impossible to get in those days…saved for the ultimate elite in society…and he feasts every day…living every day in celebration of all that he has.

And on the flip side, there’s a poor guy laying at his gate…physically kept out…and he’s stricken with some disease that leaves sores all over his body…which would make him ritually unclean…and not only that but his only companions seem to be dogs who come to lick his sores…which sounds bad enough…but add to it the fact that dogs were unclean animals…and we see that he’s ostracized completely.  (pause)
These two guys in the parable lives their lives as polar opposites…utterly separated both physically and culturally…even though Lazarus literally lays at the gate of the rich man…they exist mere feet from each other…but they might as well be on opposite sides of the planet.

But…as we hear…regardless of their differences…regardless of the separation…the great equalizer shows up, seemingly at the same time…and they both die. (pause) Now this is where the parable often times gets hazy…because we see that the rich guy ends up in Hades…tormented in flame…and Lazarus is hanging out in paradise with Abraham…and though apparently they can see one another…there’s a great chasm placed between them…some sort of separation…and though the rich guy cries out for mercy and help…Abraham says well, you can’t get there from here.

Now there’s the odd little statement made about their respective lot in life…and how that’s been reversed here in the afterlife…and because of this…often times this parable gets lumped into the notion that wealth is bad…and to limit this parable to that understanding is a bit of a mistake.

Rather…I think we need to focus in on attitude of the rich guy…who, upon finding himself in the midst of torture here in Hades…which if you’re wondering is simply “the place where dead people are.” We see that his attitude of self-importance that must have defined his life as he ignored Lazarus languishing just outside his door…this attitude continues.

Father Abraham…Send Lazarus to attend to my needs…send him with water to cool my tongue…Now we already know that this doesn’t happen…and can’t because of the great chasm…so then, he changes his tune.  Well then Father Abraham…send him to my home…for I have brothers and I don’t want them to end up here as well. (pause)

Its almost funny, how this guy seems to think that he can order others around…and how much he’s clinging to his status…even in the way that he addresses Abraham…Father Abraham…By doing this…he is claiming the status as a Jewish person…as a descendent of Abraham…and an heir of the promise God made so many generations before…and ironically, Abraham doesn’t dispute it…going so far as to call him “Child” at one point…confirming that YES…he is a child of Abraham…but where does that get him? (pause) Absolutely nowhere.

Now we might think that its commendable that the rich guy changes his tune and hopes to warn his brothers so they will avoid his fate…but Abraham’s response here is telling…for as Children of Abraham…as members of the Jewish culture…they have Moses and the Prophets…they have calls to repentance…invitations to turn away from sin and look back to God…to turn away from selfishness and follow God’s command to care for all people….the invitation is already there…offered to them freely in life…before the great barrier of death places them on the opposite side of the chasm…before the separation occurs.  (pause)

Now perhaps as you hear all this, you are thinking that this is a call to repentance…and that’s all the message that Jesus is making today…you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking this…and yes I think that Jesus is reminding us of the need to repent from our selfishness and to open our hearts to meet the needs of those around us. (pause)
But…its also important to look at the flip side…to look at Lazarus…now as per usual…we lose a little bit of meaning in translation…because the way many of our current translation read…we hear that Lazarus seems to just be standing there next to Abraham…just standing there on the good side of the chasm of death…seemingly in heaven, which admittedly is where we would expect to find Abraham in the afterlife…he was counted as righteous by God after all.

I think we can all agree…that where ever it is that Lazarus is found…it represents paradise…heaven…and Abraham, being the father of the covenant…the original recipient of the promise…the one who seems to be the embodiment of God’s promise…well, it doesn’t seem like much a stretch to think that Abraham is the stand-in for God within this parable…and we also need to recognize that Lazarus isn’t just standing next to him…in the original language…Lazarus is found in his bosom…pressed up against his chest…within the very heart of God…and all we have to do is consider how close a mother is when nursing her child to see that Lazarus is experiencing the ultimate connection with the Lord. (pause)

And we need to remember…that this has not happened simply because Lazarus was some poor guy…but rather because Lazarus is known. (pause) Remember that this is a parable…a story told by Jesus to make a point…and Lazarus is the only character within any parable…the only one ever…to have a name.  Lazarus is identified…he is known by God…known intimately just as God knows each of us intimately…calling us by name, Lazarus is named…and interestingly enough his name is a clue into this as well…for Lazarus means “helped by God.” (pause)

If this parable teaches us anything…it is that to enter into paradise, whatever that’s going to look like in the age to come…to be on the “good” side of that great chasm caused by death…we must be helped by God…we must be known by God…its not about our status here in this life.

And how wonderful is it to receive the promise that truly God does know us…that he knows our names…he knows our every thought…he sees every tear that falls from our eyes and hears every laugh that comes from our mouths…for we are claimed by God and we are named by God…through our Baptism, we join with Christ, and through his life death and resurrection it is made possible for us to be known as heirs to the promise…and we are claimed as beloved children of God. (pause)

This is good news for all people…but as recipients of that good news…as heirs of the promise…we are given a task…and so we must also look back to the rich man in the parable…for once he recognizes his fate…he hopes to save his brothers from the same and asks that Lazarus return from the dead to testify…but as we hear, it is not enough for someone to return from the dead…and as we know, that’s already happened…Jesus has already returned…but there are those in this life who have not come to believe…and so we pray for those people…that in this life they would come to faith…that the holy spirit would work within them.

But before the Spirit can work in them…before they can believe the gospel…they need to hear it…and so in this life…before we cross that great barrier of death…we are called to share the good news…Lazarus doesn’t come back from death…but we who are still in this life are invited into the important work of God…who is bringing reconciliation between himself and the world…and we who have been claimed as God’s children are sent out to share this good news with all that we encounter so that one day…one glorious day…every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord…and on that glorious day, when God brings about the new heaven and the new earth…whatever that’s going to look like…then may we all be held in the bosom of the Lord…to be held by the one who knows our name.

We know that we cannot get there from here by our own power…but thanks be to God, that through Jesus Christ…through his death and resurrection, God has helped each of us…and we are all known as Lazarus…as the one that God helps. Amen