Posts Tagged ‘Body of Christ’

Acclimation 10-13-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is This 6-23-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Plus One Equals One 6-2-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He Sees Me 3-19-17

This week’s sermon is based on John 4:3-42. Here Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well and they have a rather lengthy conversation. Her perception of Jesus changes, while his perception of her never wavers. He sees her from the get-go.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/he-sees-me-3-19-17

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

Most of you are probably aware that I fall under the category of second career pastor. I lived some life after college before I started seminary. Likewise, many of you know that when I started seminary, I was living up in the Okoboji area…juggling a full time job and my family…and I completed the first half of my seminary education through a distance program.  This first portion of my education took me about 2.5 years, and during that time I grew quite close with a group of fellow students that were all doing the same thing. Most of our work was done online, but a couple times a year we would gather on campus for intensive classes.  In the realm of seminary education, those people were my community.

But then, right about the halfway point, opportunity took my family to the Twin Cities, and I switched from the distance program to completing my work on-campus…and with this switch, I found myself outside of the community that I had developed. Most of the on-campus people had been in classes together, and so when I started off the spring semester that year, I felt amazingly isolated.

But it wasn’t long before one of the other guys recognized this sense of isolation that I was feeling…and he made a very solid effort to get to know me. He asked me a lot of questions. He was always intentional about asking me how my day was going when we’d bump into one another. In short…he made the effort, which meant a lot to me.

Now after that first semester, we all went off for our year of internship, but when we got back for our final year of on campus work, he picked right back up again…and pretty quickly invited me into a group of other guys…they became my community during that last year…3 or 4 of us…each of us unique in our own ways…each with a different approach towards ministry…but bonded together over one thing we all had in common…a love of having a couple beers on a Friday afternoon while playing random video games for a couple hours.

I’ve always appreciated this particular guy, not only because of his invitation into this community…but also because of our mutual respect for one another. Because while we had a lot in common, we had some very real differences as well…especially in terms of ministry. I’m very laid back in many ways, including worship…you’d call me very low-church as I don’t put a lot of stock into ritual and tradition…He’s on the opposite end of the spectrum…he loves all the pomp and circumstance of the traditional liturgy.  You’ll find him all decked out in the clergy gear…the collar, and the robe, and the decorative vestments. Me, I’d stand up here in a t-shirt and jeans if I thought I could really get away with it. (pause) Now those are just a couple differences…but they were never a problem…and I loved how our branch of the body of Christ…our denomination had room for both of us. And we were able to see past our differences to see one another as people of worth. (Pause)

Now I bring all this up, because the idea of being seen is on full display today. That was a long story…but a familiar one…as Jesus has an encounter that illustrates the truth of what he told Nicodemus a week ago…that God so loves…ALL…the world that he gave his only son.

Jesus goes hiking through Samaria…and long story short, Jews and Samaritans do not get along. Relations between the two ethnic groups are tense at best…and more often than not they just avoided each other. And yet, as Jesus is traveling back from Jerusalem in the south to Galilee in the north…he is compelled to go right straight through enemy territory…and now at noon…tuckered out from travel, Jesus has sacked out by a well in the heat of the day, while the disciples headed off to town to find lunch.

Now we could go back and forth about the intentionality of Jesus being here at this particular moment…but regardless of all that…he’s there, and the woman shows up with her bucket to grab some water. Jesus asks for a drink…and their dialogue is off and running.

Admittedly, I wish we knew a little bit more about this woman.  There’s been a lot of speculation about her over the years…most of it really bad assumptions…but all of them aimed at the question of just why she’s there alone in the midst of the day…the norm would have been to come with the other women of the nearby city when its cool, in either the morning or the evening…but never alone in the midst of the day…when we partner up this odd situation along with the realization that she’s had 5 husbands and is now living with someone who isn’t her husband…we have the tendency to think that she’s got a “past,” that she’s…sinful. But you know what we need to throw that out the window…because there’s no mention of sin or the need for repentance in this story. What’s likely going on is that the woman has been either widowed or abandoned 5 times over…which at the time…happened…they even had laws that dictated that it needed to happen in certain situations.  So whatever assumptions we want to make about her…we are probably wrong…but then we all know what happens when we assume don’t we?

All that being said…the woman arrives here…at noon…probably used to whatever stigma has been applied to her because the situation she finds herself in…and it seems that she’s accepted it…and as she walks up on this particular day…there just happens to be a man sitting there at the well…and all it takes is one look at his appearance to know…this is no local…he’s a Jew…so she thinks she’ll just ignore him. (pause)
I can’t help but think that the Samaritan woman…one who has been on the receiving end of assumptions of character…she seems to do the exact thing…and we see it in the way that she addresses Jesus once he asks for a drink.  How is that you…A JEW…asks me for a drink.

The way we address one another is telling isn’t it? The way we refer to one another…and the fascinating thing about this long back and forth encounter…is the way the woman addresses Jesus throughout the course of the narrative.

It starts off…Jew…he wants nothing to do with me and I want to do with him. But when Jesus does…well, whatever it is that Jesus seems to be so good at doing…and he engages with her in the way that only the Son of God seems to be able to do…that perception begins to change.  They start off talking about water…and being thirsty…and somehow that shifts over to something that Jesus calls living water, whatever that might be…and during this part of the conversation she calls him…sir a couple of times…no longer A JEW…but now, sir. (pause)
Now at this point, Jesus makes the random request for her to go get her husband, leading to the truthful revelation from Jesus that he knows her marital situation…in short that he knows her…and she realizes that God must be with this guy…he must be a prophet…and so, in order to impress the prophet, she starts dropping some religious knowledge as they banter about places of worship…and she starts talking about the Messiah…and what’s really interesting, is that she uses the Hebrew word. I’ll impress the prophet by speaking the old language…and its not until she finally goes into town, utterly changed by the encounter…when she’s breaking the cultural boundaries to do the inviting to everyone she encounters…that finally she calls him the Christ. (pause)

I don’t think any of us would argue that this was a long encounter…it was a long conversation with a lot of twist and turns…and amazingly, it took this long for her to begin to see Jesus for just who he really is. He went from a Jew to be ignored….to the Christ…God’s anointed one…and it didn’t happen because he shamed her in anything…it didn’t happen because the clouds opened up with heavenly proclamation.  It happened because they took the time for her to eyes to be opened to the truth about who he is….that this is God standing before her.

But on the flip side…this entire conversation happened because Jesus sees her from the get go. He doesn’t see Samaritan…he doesn’t see woman…he doesn’t see stigma…he sees someone of value…someone of worth…he sees an individual lovely made in the divine image of the Father…and she realizes this when he speaks the truth about her existence…not condemning her, simply SEEING…her.

Now you’ve often heard me speak of how God uses the unexpected person…and this woman is a perfect example…but her story lines up perfectly with the encounters that Jesus has with the first disciples.  Andrew asks where he’s staying…Jesus invites him to come and see…which Andrew does…and then he goes off to find Peter, inviting him to come and experience the Messiah for himself.

The woman does the very same…she spends time with this man…and gradually her eyes are opened to the truth of his identity…and she issues the very same invitation…come and see. This woman…who so many, including us, have labeled according to our assumptions about her…she’s an apostle…she is one sent by Christ with a message.

But perhaps most wonderful of all…whatever stigmas had blocked her from community prior to this encounter…we hear at the end of the story that those stigmas are gone and the gift that Christ has given her is relationship with her community.

Now I think that’s significant for us to recognize…that Christ makes it possible for broken people to look past the things that separate and to join together over what we have in common…we are all broken people…each one of us…and because of that brokenness we are really good about demonizing the same brokenness in others…we are really good at seeing only that which separates us…and hating each other because it…and that is a truth that has dominated our society, and even though I fully recognize my own part in that…I am sick of it….I’m sick of it in our regular day to day lives and I’m sick of it here in the church.

I’m tired of the church only being known for what we hate…when Christ has called to be his body here on earth…He has looked past our brokenness to see each of us…he sees me…he sees you…and he loves you…and that is what we need to focus on.

We come together today…and in just a few moments we will gather around this meal…broken people gathered around the table of Christ to hear a word of forgiveness…a word of love…a word of acceptance…and it is my hope that the church…Christ’s church…not just our congregation or our community or our denomination…but the entirety of CHRIST’S body will realize that there is room at that table for all us…and may we all be united in the knowledge that we are broken people…and yet because of what Christ has done…because God has come among us as one of us…we are no longer separate by that brokenness…we are no longer defined by it…because each and every one of us are a beloved child of God…each of us. Even those that look different, or think different, or talk different…everyone is made good, bearing the divine image of God, whether we want to believe it or not.

And so as we walk out of these doors today, having heard the proclamation that the body and blood of Christ has been broken and poured out not only for us as individuals but for all people…will we hold to the truth that we have a God who sees past all the junk that we get stuck on to see the person…and will we recognize that this table that we gather around is big enough for everyone? Because if we truly believe that, then maybe we’ll walk outside these 4 walls and invite those that we encounter to come and see that they have a place here as well…and if we can that, then maybe, just maybe all people will begin to see the truth, that when it comes to God…HE…SEES…ME. Amen.

A Significant Pause 5-17-15

This morning’s sermon came from Acts 1:15-17, 21-26. This is the single bit of scripture that sheds light on the pause between Jesus’ Ascension and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The disciples appoint a replacement for Judas who had betrayed Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-significant-pause-5-17-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Before I dive in today…we need to do just a touch of housekeeping…I’m actually going to be gone on vacation over the course of the next week…and therefore I won’t be here next Sunday to lead worship and preach. (pause) Now I worked really hard trying to find a guest to come in and pick up the reigns for the week…leading and preaching…but unfortunately I wasn’t able to find anyone.
Admittedly I was feeling horrible about all this…until first thing this morning as I was looking over the text out of Acts…and I realized that God was providing the perfect answer to this mystery…the perfect example of how to proceed…by chance and casting lots. And so I grabbed a random bulletin…and drew a big star on the inside…right next to where it says Underwood Lutheran Church…so everyone grab your bulletin and open it up and take a look…
Who’s got the one with the star? (pause and wait for them to id themselves) Okay great…God has appoint you…you will be our worship leader and preacher next Sunday…so get prepared…clearly God thinks you’re capable. (pause)
Okay…clearly I’m kidding here…we would never leave something like that up to chance would we? (pause) What a crazy way to fill a position of leadership…and yet…isn’t that exactly what happens in the midst of today’s lesson? (pause) Now admittedly, I went out of the ordinary today…as it is certainly normal for me to base the sermon off of the gospel lesson assigned each week…but as today marks a transition in several different respects…I thought I’d switch things up just a bit.
Today is of course our final Sunday of regular programming and education…and in addition, today is also the final Sunday of the season of Easter. Next week marks Pentecost and the beginning of the longest stretch of a single church season for the year…and since we are looking towards the season where we will focus on the continued growth of the church…it seemed fitting today to focus on this transitional text out of Acts.
Now Acts itself is part of a two volume book, the first being the Gospel of Luke…both of which are written to the same individual as a way of telling the truth of Christ…first off his life and ministry, then his death and resurrection within the Gospel…and now here in Acts the transition of leadership over to the Apostles and then the steady growth of the early church.
And that being said, this first chapter of Acts really sets up the transition…as it opens with Jesus still present, but taking the remaining 11 disciples out a stones throw from Jerusalem where he flat out tells them that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And literally as he’s saying this, he is taken up into Heaven…commonly known as the Ascension…and we know from the scriptures that this occurred 40 days after the resurrection…actually just this past week…just a couple days ago, we celebrated this day…and then we hear that the 11 disciples headed back into the city where Jesus had told them to stay until the Holy Spirit came upon them.
Now we know that happens at Pentecost…which we’ll celebrate next Sunday…but right now…in this moment…we find ourselves in the lull…in the break between the Ascension and Pentecost…between the presence of Jesus in the world…and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world…something that can best be described as a Significant Pause in the work of God here within our reality…a brief moment…a tiny blip on the cosmic radar…10 days when the disciples are on their own…just waiting…and not really knowing what to do.
And today’s passage offers us the single bit of scripture that sheds any sort of light what so ever on the activity of the disciples during this time…during this significant pause in God’s work…and as we see…the main thing on their minds is the Judas situation…but if we think about it…can’t we boil that down to the issue of an open ministry position? (pause)
Isn’t it funny that even back then…administrative type issues were the first thing on the minds of church leadership…some things never change do they? (pause) And so…baring any other direction from the Lord in the mean time…they take matters in their own hands in order to keep moving forward…and they pretty much hold the single strangest election for a leadership role that I have ever seen….Let us cast lots to see who God has chosen.
And this essentially means that they stick two rocks in a jar…one with the name of Matthias…and one with the name of Justus…and they shake the jar until one of the rocks falls out…MATTHIAS!!!! We see that God has chosen you to take the place of Judas…and Justus…well sorry…we’ll give you the title of honorary patron saint for the silver medalist. (pause)
All jokes aside…isn’t that sort of telling of the human condition…even here in the church…that in the moments when God takes a break…in the moments of a significant pause, we feel the need to keep moving…to jump right away…to do what seems important to us at the time…rather than simply waiting for what God will reveal.
Admittedly, I often find myself chuckling at things like this…particularly here in the early chapters of the book of Acts…as this small ragtag batch of followers…people who have been traipsing along after Jesus for a few years take the reigns…and try their best…but some of these early stories are almost laughable…they throw dice to appoint a new apostle…then in a week the Holy Spirit shows up and they are accused of public intox…and people on both sides of the coin…followers of Jesus as well as his most ardent opponents…including this random guy named Saul who starts off by rounding up believers…it seems like every single thing that they do…crazy as it might seem…ends up getting used by God to move the kingdom forward. (pause)
But it doesn’t always happen in ways that we would expect does it? Take this whole appointment of Matthias thing…they put a whole bunch of stock in the need to fill the hole in the ministry left by Judas…a ministry that he had participated in…that he had shared…this ministry that Jesus told us included serving one another and serving the world…but now Judas is gone, so a game of rock paper scissors raises up a new guy…a different guy…someone with completely different skills and gifts and experiences…
And then…quite literally…we never hear about him again. Never once…Matthias is never named in the scriptures after this moment…sure he did important work for the kingdom…serving as a fellow witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ…but just what this work was? Well, we don’t know…because he has joined in the countless number of individuals to share the name Christian…as one of the fellow workers as members of the body of Christ.
Matthias was appointed…he stepped into a vacant role…and did his best…but then he died…and eventually someone else stepped into that role…a new individual with different talents and gifts and experiences…and so on…and so forth.
And when we think about it…isn’t that the exact same thing we have continued to do, down through more than 2000 years of Church history and right up to today…we have continued this same tradition of asking God to help us appoint someone new to fill the vacancies…and despite all of our failings…and all of our mistakes…God has continued to grow the church…to spread the good news of Jesus Christ…and half the time, if scripture is to be believed…the spread occurs in the midst of our best efforts to hinder it…intended or not.
And not even the odd examples of our limited human attempts to keep things moving in the midst of God’s significant pauses…the church has continued. (pause) And as we consider this truth…isn’t it a joy to realize that we have a God who not only cares enough about our reality…and about this crazy batch of lifeforms known as the human race to continue to work in and through us…but we have a God who cares enough to stop…to pause…and notice us as individuals…even though our lifetimes are simply a blip on that cosmic radar screen. (pause)
Others have come before us…and others will come along behind…and we have our moments here…in this life. For example…there have been 15 pastors of Underwood Lutheran church starting back in the 1920’s and leading up to me as number 16…and other than a couple of brief interactions with my immediate predecessor…I have no idea about those who have come before…whether they are alive or dead…what their interests are or were…I don’t know anything about them…and I’m guessing that at least for the first few…none of you know anything about them either…
It could almost be like they never existed…yet they did…and the church…not just Underwood Lutheran…but the church as a whole is different…is changed because of the work that God did through them…and likewise it is the same with each and every one us…We have a God who stops…who pauses and notices us…and not only that…but we have a God who delights in us…and choses to work through us each and every day…whether we realize it or not…
And as the years…and the decades…and even the centuries go by until that glorious day when Jesus returns from Heaven…the church will march on…and as one individual falls out of a role for whatever reason…another individual will step into it with new ideas and gifts and talents…and God will bless that…just as God has blessed all of those who have come before.
And while one day our names may be forgotten to those who come after us…we can rest assured that through the saving work of Jesus Christ…we will not be forgotten by our God…for to God…we are significant…each and every one of us. Amen.