Posts Tagged ‘Brokenness’

I’m Glad That’s Over 8-18-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 12:49-56, I explore a difficult teaching of Jesus. He reminds us that his presence brings division not peace. While this is a tough pill to swallow, there is great truth there.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/august-18-2019

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

Cultural heritage is an interesting thing…and I know a lot of people take a great deal of interest in their cultural background. We talk about our ancestors and where they came from. Some of us wear that previous nationality as a badge of honor.

Now on my mom’s side, we’re something of a mix of Irish, German, and Norwegian…but on Dad’s side…we’re almost completed Norske’s…and let me tell you…my grandparents…Dad’s mom and dad…they LOVED it…and for me as a youngster…I think this became ultra apparent when I first started hearing a Norwegian comedy album playing at their house.

This particular entertainer revealed in all things Norwegian and though I don’t remember much of the content featured, there was one story he told that has always stuck with me…a right of passage for every young individual of Norwegian stock…the first time he was old enough to eat Lutefisk. (pause)

The story goes on and on…how he enters into the house, knowing what’s coming…counting down the minutes till the meal…smelling the tell-tale odor come wafting down the hallway from the kitchen…how his terror continued to build as he found himself sitting at the table next to one of his uncles…coming face to face with it…and looking around as each of his older families members dutifully dug in without hesitation…how he slowly built up his courage until in a mad rush he was able to gobble it down…and as he sat back…a bit proud of himself for accomplishing this right of passage…that stoic uncle leaned over with a grin and said…uff-da…I’m glad that’s over. (pause)

I’ve always chucked at the memory of hearing that song playing off the LP at my grandparents farm…and I can’t help but think that there’s a lesson to be learned there…one that the young man discovers…that we all have those things we dread…the things we know we need to do…that we need to muscle our way through…even though we don’t want to…and perhaps even more on the nose for the that youngster…his uncle’s comment reveals the truth…that we never grow out of that same sense of dread do we? (Pause)

This same sense…pending doom…looming dread…a longing for something to just be over and done with…we hear this in the opening portion of Jesus’ troublesome teaching for today…and it’s a doozy isn’t it?  We don’t get any warning…we don’t ease into it through narration…Jesus just drops the hammer.

I came to bring fire to the earth…and how I wish it were already kindled…I have a baptism with which to be baptized…and now here’s that sense…what stress I am under until it is completed…I just want it over with…I know what’s coming…we can even word “I’m stuck until whenever it all gets done.” (pause)
I kinda wonder if Jesus might need a Snicker’s bar or something…because he seems a touch on the hangry side here doesn’t he?  I want that fire burning…I didn’t bring peace…I brought division.  One generation against the next…Hypocrites!!!!  Why can’t you understand what’s happening?

Probably goes without saying that this passage is a little on the odd side right? Kinda blunt?  Kinda harsh…not overly reminiscent of the kind and peaceful Jesus that we’re used to…one that, perhaps, left you scratching your head wondering if there’s any good news in this good news?  I’ll be honest…as I sat down to work with this text I was struggling with those same questions…and my first thought was that I was just out of practice after being away for a couple of weeks.

But as I kept on reading it…it didn’t seem to get any better…and finally I just threw up my hands and lamented “Jesus what are you talking about here?” (pause)
Bringing fire…baptism to be baptized with…that seems to be the action that he’s pointing at…and I couldn’t help but think it sounds a little familiar…like we’ve heard it before…and then I realized we have…because John the Baptist rants about this very thing clear back at the beginning of Luke.

I baptize with water…but one is coming after me that is more powerful…he will baptize you with the holy spirit…and…with…fire. (pause) He goes on too…even now his winnowing fork is in his hand…and he will separate the grain from the chaff…the grain will be gathered…but the chaff will be burned in unquenchable fire.

That’s a touch on the daunting side isn’t it? A little unnerving?  And now we hear Jesus starting saying a whole bunch of stuff that sounds pretty similar…talking about a pending baptism…one that he wishes were already over…any idea what he’s talking about there?

Remember where he’s en route to?  We’ve been talking about that over the past couple months…Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem…and he’s got an intentionality about him…a sense aimed at what will accomplished there…and do you know what that is?   Death and resurrection. (pause) That’s what Jesus is sweating at this point…wishing it were already over…and that the fire that will be started by his death and resurrection was already burning…that the baptism of his crucifixion was already over.

And that right there…is strange…because we don’t often think of Jesus’ passion…his betrayal and arrest…his torture…his horrendous execution…followed up by 3 days of confused silence…only to be shattered by his glorious resurrection…we don’t often think of that in terms of baptism do we?

But maybe we should…because in the end…that’s what baptism is for us.  It’s a death and resurrection…it is the physical act that embodies the promise that God has made upon us…the claim that God places upon each of us…but in its very nature…baptism IS DEATH and resurrection…

For in the water of baptism…the sinful self is put to death…it drowns in the water and we emerge to new life…to the gift of justification by faith in the promise of God’s mercy made real for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. A gift of grace that we CANNOT earn…it can only be given to us…and it is only made possible through this baptism that Jesus was so concerned about as he moved towards its completion in Jerusalem.

And he did just that…willingly…but make no mistake…we are catching a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity on display…because he knew what was coming…he’d shared that truth with his disciples more than once…and I believe that he dreaded it…and yet…he also knew that it must happen…because this new life…this new reality…this kingdom of God that he was bringing into existence could not be until his death was accomplished on the cross.

And that was the goal…to bring about this new way of life…this new way of being…this way that overcomes every shortcoming…every aspect of brokenness…every sin…this way that reveals a new story to the world…one that no longer says might makes right….one that no longer says pull yourself up by your bootstraps…one that no longer relies on the idea that this way is the best…and you can join us or we’ll kill you.

This new kingdom in which we are invited to live in harmony with the one who made us and with on another…no longer needing to justify ourselves in the face of a world that doesn’t care…or in the face of others who are in the same boat as we are even if they can’t admit it.

But the crazy thing about this new way…this new kingdom…this new life made possible in Christ…is that it is a threat to the status quo…it’s a threat to those that hold a position with the illusion of power and authority…and this world…it will push back…it will do ANYTHING in its power to hold on to that illusion.

You think Christ came to bring peace?  Well then you’ve never challenged those privileged with authority have you?  (pause) The gospel…its divisive, Jesus flat out tells us that.  The gospel is offensive…its laughable…it makes no sense…but when it touches our lives…and changes the way we see this world…that we start to understand that we aren’t subject to those same old rules…well this world and those still stuck in that sensibility…they just can’t get passed that…and as we see, time after time…those stuck in the old patterns tend to lash out don’t they.

This manifests itself in SO many ways.  The ways we hoard resources instead of sharing them with those who lack.  The way a child is cast out of their family when they find the strength to be authentic about who they really are and their family can’t handle it.  The ways that those who’s cultural identity gives them a false sense of superiority, and so they go shoot up a church or a mall or nightclub…using terror in order to “keep them in their place.”

And what kills me…is the way I hear time after time…that this is done in the name of Christ…well let me say it…if you’re using Jesus to justify causing pain and exclusion to another…you’re doing it wrong and you best get the name Jesus out of your mouth.

White Nationalism…Racism…Homophobia…Isalmaphobia…Anti-semitism…Xenophobia…just to name a few…I for one am sick of hearing the name of Christ hijacked to justify these things that are demonic and sinful…whenever one person or group seeks to diminish or deny the basic humanity and dignity of another, they are acting contrary to the will of God…and I say this as an ordained minister of God’s church.

The gospel tells us that we have a God who sees us in suffering and comes along side us…a God who promises that this will not be the end…a God who desires ALL of humanity…ALL of creation…ALL THAT which is called Good within creation…God desires that all would flourish and find life abundant…and when the world pushes back against that we find this same God made flesh with his arms spread out wide and nailed to piece of wood in order to show us that there is NO length God will not go in order to overcome that which hinders…even death.

And the promise is that not even death can separate us from the love of the one who made us desires that we would flourish as well…both in this life and in the life to come.

In today’s story…that act which will accomplish this still lies before Jesus…and he knows what’s coming…but thanks be to God that when Jesus was hanging on that cross, he was able to say it is finished…and now…with the Resurrection of Jesus ALSO finished…we can join with Christ in saying “Uff-da…I’m glad that’s over.” And knowing that it is…we can follow the invitation to join in the work of proclaiming it to this world that hasn’t…realized it…yet. Amen

Amen

Wrong Place Wrong Time 3-24-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 13:1-9, I explore Jesus brief but important teaching on the question of tragic deaths being the result of judgment on sin.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/wrong-place-wrong-time-3-24-19

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

Out of curiosity…how many of you have had the unfortunate experience of hitting a deer with your car? (pause) Anyone out there had it happen more than once? (pause) In my immediate family, my older brother holds the record…you won’t believe this but its true…he’s made contact with not one…not two…not five…but…12…12 different deer.  Honestly makes my number of 4 seem almost quaint. But that’s my number. In the roughly 25 years that I’ve been driving, 4 times I’ve smacked a deer.

But in addition to the 4 deer that I have hit…I know there have been quite a few close calls…times when one ran across the road in front of me…or it was in the ditch and it stayed put…and in addition to that…I sometimes wonder how many close calls I had that I wasn’t even aware of…like the ones I don’t see, but unwittingly drive right past…or the ones that crossed the road a minute before I got there…and if I’d left a minute earlier, I’d have hit it. It’s probably a weird thing to consider, but sometimes I think like that…the what-ifs. The disasters that were averted or avoided out of dumb luck.

Lord knows I’ve had my share of close calls…you might have heard the story of the wreck I experienced with three of my friends the summer after I graduated high school…how we rolled a car down the middle of the highway, but beyond a few pretty superficial cuts and scrapes, we were all ok…but if something had gone even slightly different any of us or all four of us could have died…but we didn’t.

When I think about moments like that…I can’t help but think of the flip side…those times when it didn’t go okay…and I know many of you have seen this type of thing before. We can call it a lot of things…bad luck…being in the wrong place at the wrong time…tragedies of one kind or another…and when they happen we begin to ask the question of why? Or how…what does it mean…or what are we supposed to think?

I’ve had that conversation with many of you over the past few years when tragic events have happened…like the death of a high school student in a car wreck last fall.  Or countless others in surrounding communities in the last few years.

I’ve heard the questions around the diagnosis of cancer…and in the death of those we lost to it…I’ve heard it in conversation about the mental decline of loved ones…when we see their personality disappear and the person we knew isn’t there anymore.

We ask it when we hear news of children fighting diseases…knowing they might not beat it.  Or when natural disasters rip through an area leaving devastation…you name it…these tragic events and moments happen all the time and they take many forms.

And that’s nothing new…because the same sort of thing happened during Jesus’ time as well…and we hear about it in today’s gospel lesson.  Two different events that resulted in tragic death. Now we don’t really know the details of either one of these events that Jesus references…those details have been lost to history…but we can make some assumptions.

The tower of Siloam…likely some sort of a watch tower or observation point along the wall that surrounded the city of Jersualem…we don’t know quite what happened beyond the tower collapsing…probably some sort of freak accident…but due to a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, 18 people died…either crushed under the collapse or perhaps inside the tower when it fell. A tragic accident.

The other one…well that one seems a little more devious.  Jesus is told about a batch of Galileans whose blood was mixed with their sacrifice.  Again…we don’t know the details, but we can make assumptions.  There was only one place where they’d be making sacrifices…and that’s in the temple there in Jerusalem…we don’t know why Pilate targets them…perhaps thinking they were involved with a treasonous plot…but for whatever reason…Pilate decides to put his cruelty and absolute authority on display by having them killed…in the midst of their act of worship.

And that’s the thing that makes this one sting even more than the other…this was act of terrorism…designed to instill fear in a group of people…in a culture…done so in a place and time of worship…the one place where no one should feel unsafe.

And that one hits close to home…because how many times have we seen it in recent memory?  More than I can count…acts of terrorism, perpetrated on people because they are different…because they look different or act different…because of a different race or different faith. We saw it cross racial boundaries when 9 people were killed during a Bible Study 4 years ago in Charleston.

We saw it cross faith boundaries when 11 were killed in a synagogue in Pittsburgh last fall…and we saw it when 50 people died in New Zealand, as they gathered to pray in 2 different mosques less than 10 days ago. (pause) I wish I could say these are the only examples…but we all know better…because evil has permeated our world with lies that say different is bad…or lies that say being a non-white non-Christian equals a death sentence…Now in hindsight, these lies are utterly absurd aren’t they? In fact they are stupid…and they are dangerous…and they result in tragedies like this.

But in the moment when these tragedies happen, there seems to be a question that surrounds these things…the question that begins “why?”  But then it seems that human nature tries to find a reason when there is none…and that question will usually find its way around to asking “Did they deserve it?” I believe its true now…and it was true in Jesus’ day…and we find that in his response.

Do you think that these Galileans suffered because they were worse sinners than all others?  Do you think that the 18 killed in the tower collapse were worse sinners than anyone else living there? Jesus offers a resounding No to both of these questions and I believe that he would offer the exact same response if he was here in the conversations that we’ve been having.

Did they deserve it?  Why would they? Because they look different?  Because they worship differently?  Because their understanding of that which is divine is expressed differently?  Or because they’re bad people?   Do we hear how ridiculous that sounds? (pause)

Whenever stuff like this happens…whenever there are questions that have no good answers…or we find ourselves just a little bit off because of the way things are going…what do we do with that?  I wish I had a good answer…some little nugget of wisdom that I could pull out like a magic pill that would just solve everything, or tie it all up in a neat little package.

But the world doesn’t work like that…and sometimes that only thing we can say in face of tragedies that lead to questions with no answers is to acknowledge that the world is a broken place and it is filled with broken people.  Did those people die because they were sinners? Jesus says no…and in doing so Jesus reminds us that if death was the result of a person’s sinfulness then we would all be dead already.

But that’s not what Jesus says…he tells us to repent…and maybe, just maybe what he’s saying is that those people are dead and that is a tragedy….but you are still alive to hear this news…so repent. (pause)

None are righteous, not one…but God loves us anyway…and God gives the opportunity to turn away from the brokenness that has permeated our world and our relationships and even ourselves…and to turn back to the good existence that God desires for all of humanity. That’s what repentance means…to quite literally turn away from…and to turn back to something else.

Now this is not to say that we will be perfect and will in some way earn salvation or righteousness or God’s favor…this is to say that we recognize the brokenness as it is…and we turn to the one who is able to do something about it. Because as much as we shake our heads and ask what’s wrong with this world…we have a God who seems to do the very same thing…but this God is also capable of more…and through whatever it was that God was accomplishing through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…God is bringing this broken and flawed reality towards something new.

We are not there yet…and that is painfully obvious more often than not…but in the act of repentance, which we are called to every day…we are also accepting the invitation of our Lord to join together in the work of reconciling this broken world back to the one who made it Good in the first place.

And that one is the only one who is righteous enough to say whether or not “they deserved it.” That’s not our place to say…whether we like it or not…but we are honest with ourselves, we place ourselves in that judgement seat don’t we?  Maybe, just maybe, that’s why we’re being called to repentance on this day, and in this time. (pause)

This is pretty heavy stuff…but maybe its exactly what we all need to hear now during this season of Lent…as we continue to look towards the cross…the cost of what Jesus will endure to begin this work of reconciling this broken world back to God. We’re all a part of it…but God has offered the solution to the world…let’s all turn ourselves back to that…remembering that in the face of death, whether it is our own…or someone that we care about…or some faceless stranger on the other side of the world…that death has not come to spite us because of our sin…sometimes we’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time…but the promise of the gospel…the promise that we cling to, is that God is bigger than death…and that no matter the circumstances, God will always get the last word. Amen.

Will I Survive This 3-10-19

In this sermon, taken from Luke 4:1-13, I explore the 40 days of temptation that Jesus endured in the wilderness.
(note that due to a cancellation of speaker, I filled in with preaching this morning. I’ve used this sermon before, though have made changes this time around. As such, this may seem familiar).

You can listen to the audio of this sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/will-i-survive-this-3-10-19

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’m going to share a fact with you…now this fact should not be shocking to anyone…and yet, I think it might shocking when we stop and consider that the millennium…Y2K, the beginning of the 21st century…whatever ever we want to call it…it was almost 20 years ago. (Pause) Think about that…and think about how vastly different things are now than they were back then.

One of the things that has changed so dramatically is the state of television…the bulk of tv shows, especially primetime shows were scripted back then…but in the year 2000, a new show came on that helped usher in the age of reality tv that we are so familiar with today…that show was Survivor…and the premise of this show, still running and in its 38th season by the way…the premise, was quite simple…strand a bunch of people out in the middle of nowhere with hardly anything in terms of food and supplies…and see who can last the longest…and over the course of 40 days, let them gradually vote each other out of the game until there’s only one left and they are the sole survivor.

I was obsessed with this show for a while…I came into it a few years in and stuck with it up until a few years back when I finally realized that every season is pretty much the same thing over and over again…but as obsessed as I was with it, I never tried out for it…I knew better…but I always wondered just what I would look like if I managed to go the full 40 days…and so for a long time, each every year when Lent kicked in…and different people would talk about giving something up…I always said I was giving up shaving just so I could see what 40 days of beard would look like…side note, I’ve never made it…16 days was longest I’ve ever managed…so I think its safe to say that if I can’t even make it 40 days without shaving…I certainly would fail to survive the actual experience…and some else would win the title of sole survivor.

That being said…if there’s anyone who might just be able to endure the various hardships of 40 days in the middle of nowhere…with no supplies…no food…I guess today’s story shows us that Jesus might just make a pretty decent Survivor contestant.

Today, as we do on the first Sunday of Lent every year, we feature the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness…40 days…and Luke tells us that this wasn’t simply 40 days of fasting followed by 3 quick temptations…rather Luke tells us that the entire 40 days was filled with temptations…Jesus is out there alone for whatever reason…and Satan puts him through the ringer…and I’ve often wondered if there were moments during that time when Jesus asked the question “Will I survive this?”

(pause) If you’re the son of God…turn these stones to bread. (pause) All the kingdoms of the world…I can give them to you…and all the glory that comes with it…if you’ll worship me. (pause) If you’re the son of God, throw yourself down from the temple…and he’ll send his angels to protect you. (pause)

We’re familiar with the 3 temptations aren’t we… we know how they go…and we know how Jesus resists…by quoting scripture… though interestingly enough…Satan uses the same tactic on him. (pause)

But what interests me a little more is the way that things keep ramping up. With every passing temptation, Satan turns the screws a little bit more…taking up the intensity…and perhaps…the cost…Turn these stones into bread…You’re hungry…I can see that…in this first temptation…Satan uses physical need…something that we’ll all fall to…and as human Jesus was prone to this physical need as well…but the temptation is not in the hunger…the temptation is to use the power of God that lies with him…to twist God’s creation…that’s the cost here…it may seem minimal…it’ll only cost a couple of stones…and yet, to do so…that would mean that God’s creation isn’t good enough for him. (pause)

Well what about temptation number two?  Satan shows off the kingdoms of the world…and reveals that, for the time being anyway, he holds dominion in this world…and he can give the power to anyone he chooses…and all Jesus has to do is ask. (Pause) So what’s the temptation here? Seems to be the desire for power…or advancement or glory here on earth…and we can probably relate to that can’t we?  But then what’s the cost here? Well once again, it seems to be the idea that what God intended us to be, isn’t good enough…that we want more than what we already have…that our pride craves the power that this world can offer…instead of being content with what we are given. (pause)

Well now what about number 3? When Satan hauls Jesus off to Jerusalem and sets him on the top of the temple…Hey son of God…jump off…because if you are REALLY who you say you are…then God’s not let anything happen to you…If he REALLY loves you like you say, then he’ll protect you…go ahead…prove it.

What’s the cost? Seems to be forcing God’s hand…demanding divine intervention to prove something…and ironically, it would simply be proving something that not only Jesus already knows…but that Satan already knows as well…and so what good would that do? (pause)

These are the temptations that Jesus faces while he’s in the wilderness, just trying to physically survive…and its funny how Satan targets us when we’re weak just as Jesus was weak with hunger…but then he hits us when we’re strong…like when Jesus resisted the previous temptation… he’s a crafty one…he doesn’t just tempt us when we seem susceptible…he’s tempting us all the time…and if we look at the rest of Jesus’ ministry…the rest of the story right up until his death…the temptation continues…its even in the same form…it just comes from a slightly different source.

Turn these stones into bread…meet the physical need that humanity shares…temptation number 1…now think of what happened after Jesus fed a crowd of 5000 people with a few loaves and fish…they kept hounding him…so much so that he scolded them saying “you’re not following because of the sign…but because you ate your fill and now you’re hungry again…Jesus…meet our need. (pause)

All the kingdoms of the world I will give to you…take the power of the world…temptation number 2…and now think of the Jewish notion of the Messiah…the great earthly ruler who would reestablish the throne of Israel…who would cast out the Romans and place Judah at the head of all nations…Jesus…take power…and elevate us with you. (pause)

If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…use your divine influence to save yourself…temptation number 3…which if you recall, happens in Jerusalem…the same place where Jesus hangs from a cross and hears people taunting “If you are the Messiah save yourself…come down from there…if you are able.” (pause)

Its been suggested that these three temptations were only foreshadowing to the temptations that Jesus would constantly face during his ministry…right up to the moment when he dies on the cross…and there might just be some merit to that if we consider it…what’s a little odd about this suggestion, is that it seems to turn the temptation of Christ into a parable of sorts…and while I don’t think that the 40 days in the wilderness was a made up story to prove a point, the notion does give us something to think about.

Because if it was a parable…then we need to ask ourselves the normal parable question of who are we?  Initially, we might think that we fit in with Jesus…because in our day to day lives we face temptation…but then as we see Jesus overcome temptation after temptation…and we know that we would never survive it…I think that rules us out of the Jesus connection pretty quickly…

And so…who’s left? Who’s the only other character there during the 40 days? (pause) The temptor…So just what is that telling us? Well, maybe on one hand it reminds us that we can be the source of temptation, both for others as well as for ourselves…and maybe in anther manner of thinking we’re just like those who tempted Jesus during his ministry…feed us…take the earthly power and share it with us…or prove to us that you are God. Prove to us that you are who you say you are. (pause)
Maybe there’s a little bit of truth here…maybe we see that the one that Jesus had to overcome is us…and while that might give us just a bit of pause to consider…isn’t it true that God became human and entered into our flawed reality to overcome that which we are powerless to overcome on our own?

Didn’t Jesus live and die and rise again to overcome the power of sin and death that resides within each and every one of us? Didn’t Jesus come to overpower that which we are unable to survive on our own? That darkness that resides right here…that darkness that we love and cling to…and yet hate it and hide it at the same time…we tuck it away, down deep inside us where no one can see it.

That is what Jesus came to overcome…that darkness that will continue to gather through this season of Lent…centering around Jesus until the moment that our darkness kills him.

We walk through this dark season right up to the cross, recognizing that Jesus could have saved himself…he could have let this cup pass…that he could have ended it…but that he loves us so much that he did it anyway…even though our temptations and our brokenness is too much for him to survive…because sin…brings…death.

But God…goes…farther…When Good Friday rolls around we’ll remember, once again…that Jesus died…because that work of God…that work of Christ…it is already finished…and Easter has already happened…and Christ has already walked out that tomb…it has already happened…and the good news that we find on this dark day, here at the beginning of this dark season…is that the temptations that Satan throws our direction now…have already been overcome. Yes we still feel it…and yes we need to acknowledge it…that’s what this season is about…about recognizing that temptation is not something that I will survive…but thanks to the love of God, shown for each us through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that temptation, has already been overcome.

I may be the problem…but God, has already given the solution. Amen.

Divorce Take 2 10-7-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:2-16, I talk about the painful reality of broken relationships, which has manifested in the reality of divorce. It is, however, not limited to this, and permeates all of our relationships.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/divorce-take-2-10-7-18

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

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

Today is a little strange…because my sermon prep process has gone a bit off the rails. I sat down on Friday to write the sermon for today, as I usually do…and after a lot of back and forth I wrote one.  Admittedly, there have been plenty of past weeks when I walked out the office on Friday not quite sure about the sermon that came out…but then went a head with it anyway.

Not this time.  This time I wrote about 3 different sermons all crammed into one…a batch of ideas that felt all over the map…and didn’t actually focus in on the truth that needs to be said.  So I scrapped it and started over, because I fear that my first pass would do a disservice to quite a few of you sitting out there today.

There are several different passages that come up in the Lectionary that rub me the wrong way, and I grimace when I open up the Bible on Sunday following worship to see what next week’s text is going to be…but then I get to work.  This one is different.  Today’s passage stinks.  I knew it was coming up, but when I saw it this week, knowing that I’ve tackled it a couple different times already…my first instinct was “nope…not this year.” And I planned on preaching out of Hebrews instead.

But then I went to text study on Tuesday…and I listened to the comments and conversation, particularly from one colleague who is currently in the process of divorcing…and I know this individual well enough to be able to read him…and to also be able to hear some of the things that he “wasn’t saying” if you know what I mean.

That conversation stayed in the back of my head throughout the week…likewise I also thought about conversations I’ve had with several of you over the years that have centered around this particular text.  And as I did, I kept thinking to myself…nope, skip it…don’t even reference it…just use the first two readings and skip the gospel.

But I knew in my gut that wasn’t right…and in further reflection I knew that if I skipped the gospel reading altogether, you would wonder why, and you would probably turn your bulletin over, and since Mark 10 is already printed…you’d read it…even if I didn’t.

And here’s the thing…when this passage comes up, you can’t not talk about it. Because the reality of divorce is too real.  Its not metaphorical…its not debatable…it’s a reality within our society, one that apparently has been around for at least 3500 years…and regardless of the differences that various societies and cultures have placed upon it, I’m guessing that its been equally painful for the people involved for as long as its been around.

And even if I can’t speak from personal experience, I know it’s a painful one for some of you out there…and I’m guessing that almost every single person sitting in this room today has been touched by it…and I don’t think any of us would deny that divorce carries stigma…particularly here in the church.

It might be viewed in a lot of different ways…but it seems that the sense of failure is pretty universal within it. Divorce marks a legal distinction to a failed relationship…and while I fully believe that there are marriages that should end…and that in many cases it is the best thing for everyone involved…I think we can all agree that its not a good thing…and that it hurts those involved in it.

This is a blunt reality…and these are blunt statements that I’m making…statements that seem to be mirrored in the extremely blunt statements made by Jesus today…statements around the legality of divorce…and statements that dredge up feelings of guilt when he brings the idea of adultery into the conversation.

Now we have the tendency to categorize bad stuff don’t we? Categories that, perhaps we use to justify ourselves…or make ourselves feel a little better.  Divorce is bad…and adultery is worse…but at least I didn’t kill anyone…I may have done this, but at least I didn’t do that. (pause)

This is evidence of the human condition…it is evidence of our brokenness…that we recognize our shortcomings and the things in our lives that just don’t feel right…and we want to try and feel better…and yet we don’t…and we see over and over again that this brokenness results in fractured relationships…and we also know that no relationship, no matter what form it takes, no relationship is safe from this truth of our broken reality. (pause)

Worse yet…it seems, at face value…that Jesus himself is condemning it here…and as a result, this passage, as well as the one from Genesis that we heard today, have been used to condemn and bully countless individuals…and maybe just maybe that in that pesky voice of doubt and fear that lives in the back of our minds, we say the exact same things to ourselves. (pause)

Here’s the thing…this situation is not limited to individuals who have either experienced divorce or those who look at their present circumstance and wonder if its an inevitability.  This tendency to see our own shortcomings and failures…as well as the ability to see the brokenness and failures of those around us…this is simply evidence of the greater underlying reality of sin that has permeated this life that we live.

And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…this breaks relationship…it rips apart the harmony that exists in true relationship…and that’s at the center of this entire thing.  Genesis tells us that all of humanity is created bearing the divine image of God…God who exists in divine relationship among the Creator God, the living Word of God, and the Spirit of God.

And when God placed humanity in the garden, whether that was an actual event or just a story that a culture told themselves thousands of years later…the story of the garden reveals that pretty much as long as humanity has been around, that harmony intended by God has been broken…and as a result our relationships suffer with God and they suffer with one another.

And I think that this is the point Jesus is trying to make when he starts talking about “in the beginning it was not so.” The intention of God, as we consider the creation stories…was for harmony between individuals…and I think that maybe, just maybe, what Jesus is trying to tell us is that in the kingdom of God, whenever that will be and whatever it is going to look like…that harmony will be restored and the brokenness that manifest in the death of a relationship in any form will no longer be a reality.

Jesus keys us into the fact that Moses allowed for divorce…just as our laws today allow for divorce, because broken human relationships are a reality…and if the scriptures tell us anything…its honest about this fact. (pause) And so, if you hear this text today and it stings? If it pulls up memories and thoughts of failure or judgement…or maybe it brings up that same old thought of “I should have been able to do more” or “what if I had tried harder,” and you aren’t hearing much else that I’m saying today…then please hear this…

The truth that the gospel reveals to us is that when it comes to the way our broken sinful selves manifests itself in ways that break the harmony that God intends for creation…you can’t do it…no one can…whether its divorce or something else.

None are righteous…not one…and yet God has come near to us anyway. That’s the gospel…that in whatever it was that God was up to in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…in whatever it was that he meant when he said it is finished…the promise remains that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…and that even our brokenness will not hinder God from coming near to us and claiming us beloved children. (pause)

This passage stinks…period…but you know what…scripture often does…but let us remember that this same scripture reveals a God who can, who does, who already has created new life out of death…and that we are not only invited…but we are gifted this same resurrection…this new life…over and over again…and that even when harmony is broken, our God will always gather us up into a loving embrace and bless us, with unwavering love and grace and favor…just as Jesus did with the children at the end of today’s passage…made possible through the body and blood of Christ, which was broken and shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins…body and blood that we will share in just a few moments…a physical embodiment of God’s grace and love for every single one of us. Amen.

That Was Stupid 9-30-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:38-50, I explore the human tendency to do or say foolish hurtful things. And yet, we are still claimed and loved by God. This manifests in our Baptism.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/that-was-stupid-9-30-18

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Holy Trinity. Amen

How many of you have ever said something…and the instant it came out of your mouth you just knew…that was stupid. (pause) It happens doesn’t it? Even without meaning to. Maybe we crack a joke. Maybe we say something that seems perfectly on point in our minds…but the second it comes out of our mouths the reaction of the other person clues us into the reality of our folly.

Would it surprise you to hear that…even I…have been guilty of this? (pause) Shocking though that might be? I, too, have fallen victim to what can best be called “open mouth, insert foot” syndrome.  To be honest…it has probably happened way more often that I should admit. I’ve said stupid stuff to my wife.  I’ve said stupid stuff to my kids.  I’ve said stuff to my friends and colleagues…and I’ve said stuff to some of you out there.

It’s a bad feeling isn’t it? When you say something stupid…but when it happens, perhaps the only thing we can do, once we recognize our stupidity…is to own it and ask for forgiveness. (pause)

Now based on the number of you that were brave enough to raise your hands or nod when I asked that initial question…maybe we can take a bit of comfort in knowing that we aren’t alone in this regard…and if the scriptures are to be believed…we are in good company. (pause)
We actually hear two different examples of this very thing…as people who should really know better start squawking about stuff.  The first one happens in the first lesson from Numbers…Moses, having grown tired of the excessive complaints aimed in his direction from the people, is given a bit of a reprieve when God appoints 70 elders and sends down the Holy Spirit upon them to prophesy…but apparently 2 guys, Eldad and Medad…coolest names in the Old Testament if you ask me…don’t quite follow the correct procedure…leading Joshua to start tattling…My Lord Moses stop them….Joshua…as in Moses’ second in command…as in the guy who takes over as leader when Moses dies…as in the guy who actually leads the people into the Promised Land…he tattles about these two prophets who are doing it wrong…and Moses pretty much says “So what?  I wish the Lord would send the Spirit upon all the people.”  Cue the thought for Joshua “Well, that was stupid.”

(pause) Now the second time happens in the gospel lesson…and for once, its not Peter who spouts off…this time around, its John…the beloved disciple of Jesus…one of the big 3…one of his inner circle…Lord…we saw someone casting out demons in your name…but he wasn’t following us so we tried to stop him.”  I bet John was feeling all high and mighty…having established dominance over this would be do-gooder…What a let down it must have been to hear Jesus say “So what? He’s doing good…leave him alone.” Funny enough John, along with his brother James, the other member of the big 3, are gonna say something stupid again not long after this.  2 times we hear John speak…and both times Jesus calls him on the carpet…I can only imagine that both times he thought “Man…that was stupid.”

But what are we to make of these moments? That even these important individuals would say something stupid…something foolish…something they thought was on point, only to be reminded that when God acts…its rarely in ways that we expect or anticipate.  And yet…in these moments of God’s action…it pretty much always seems to center around flawed people who can, and often do…make mistakes…people who make foolish decisions…people who are broken.

This is a theme that is emerging within the confirmation class as we make our way through the Biblical narrative…a theme that we’ve talked about here in worship before…that we have a God who takes action within our reality…and uses broken people to do it.

Name anyone from the scriptures…minus Jesus…and we find flaws. Adam and Eve…no brainer.  Noah, a drunk. Abraham, a lying trickster. Moses, a murderer. David, an adulterer, Solomon, an idolater. Peter, James, and John…Paul…the list goes on and on…and yet…these are the people that God chooses to continue moving this crazy thing called reality forward.  Its both incredible humbling…as well as reassuring to see what God can accomplish through imperfect people.

Reassuring perhaps…because in these ongoing stories we are reminded that God has made the choice to continually seek out and bless flawed, imperfect, broken people…and that includes us.

You’ve probably heard me talk about this before…maybe I even sound like a broken record…but if there is one truth that we can take from the scriptures and the way that they interact with our experience in our own lives…its that we each hold the capacity for good and bad…we all have the capability to love and create…or to hate and destroy…something that was certainly on display throughout the course of our news cycle in this past week.

It never ceases to amaze me to witness the ugliness that comes around when our partisanship is on display…and I’m not just talking about Washington and Supreme Court Nomination Hearings…I’m also talking about the way that we respond to it…the way we tear into the other side…that we demonize those who disagree with us…the way that our minds are made up and our biases confirmed within our personal reaction to what happens…

And here’s the things…people are watching us…our kids are watching us…our neighbors are watching us…and I wonder what they see. (pause) Jesus makes an interesting statement in today’s gospel…and keep in mind that this is a direct continuation of what we heard last week…when Jesus places a little child in the midst of the disciples, and then gathers that child into a bear hug…our lesson today starts off with John’s bonehead statement…but Jesus is still holding onto that child. That hasn’t changed.

And he says “if any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones, you might as well tie a giant millstone around your neck and throw yourself in the ocean.” (pause) Now that stumbling block…that comes from the Greek word Scandalezio…which sounds an awful lot like scandal…and Jesus goes on from there with some rather startling words about our hands or feet or eyes causing scandals and if they do we should cut them off.

Think about that…if you cause a scandal to one of these little ones who’s watching you…learning from you…learning from your example…and they leave or fall away from the faith because of what you say or do…throw yourself in the ocean…or worse yet you might find yourself cast into a burning trash-heap that never stops smoldering. (pause)

These are sobering words…difficult words…teachings that should really give us pause as we hear them from the one we call the Christ…because I can’t help but think how universal they are. We’ve all done or said or thought something that we instantly knew was stupid or hurtful or false…something that in one way or another destroys a relationship…either between us and another person, or us and ourselves…or even between us and our maker. Its universal…and if you don’t think so, you’re lying to yourself.

This is why our liturgy includes the same opening portion every single time…and why we introduce it in the very same way…as we gather for worship on this day we know that there are things in our lives that stand in the way of our relationship with our maker…and then we confess it.

But the glorious part of the liturgy is what comes next…because we invoke the name of Jesus…the very same thing that mysterious exorcist John was talking about was doing…and in Jesus’ authority, we declare to one another the entire forgiveness of all of our sins…and in this we are assured that the one who has made us has come near to us once again.

And there’s another thing that we do that embodies this same promise…that the one who made us has claimed us and that the brokenness that is a part of each and every one of us will NOT stand in the way…and that is the waters of baptism…when we are named and claimed as God’s beloved children…something that we remember and cling to each and every day of our existence…daily dying to sin and rising a new creation though the confession and repentance of sin…an embodiment of the promise and the action made on our behalf by God…which in just a few moments Callan Teten will also experience. And that is worth celebrating…and its worth remembering…because in the waters of his baptism, Callan, like every other individual who has come before him, will join as a part of this assembly…one part of the greater body of Christ…made of up of broken and flawed…and yet loved and accepted people…and like each of them, he’ll be watching you…learning from you…witnessing how we, as followers of Christ can be different in this broken world.  May we each take that seriously…clinging to the promises made on our behalf by the one who was willing to take on flesh to show us all…that despite our ability to be stupid…we are loved anyway. Amen.

Thought Word and Deed 10-1-17

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In this sermon, taken from Mathew 21:23-32, I explore a strange little parable in which 2 sons defy their father in different ways. We are reminded that our brokenness will manifest itself in different ways. Yet through the Cross, God has somehow overcome this brokenness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/thought-word-and-deed-10-1-17

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

Today is, of course, the first of October, 2017. We have now reached an important month…as 30 days from now…October 31st, will mark 500 years since the event which sparked off the period of church history known as the Reformation.

Now when I say the word Reformation…there are many names that could come to mind as important…depending on your particular view of history…Names like Tynsdale…or Melanchthon…or Wesley or Zwingli…and of course…considering our denominational heritage…Martin Luther.

He started it all didn’t he? And in 30 days, we’ll remember his defiant act of nailing the famous 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg Castle in Germany…and how his desire to reform the Catholic Church shaped the course of the past 500 years of history.

As Lutherans, we’ve been thinking about this for a long time…and collectively the various branches of the Lutheran Church have given a lot of emphasis on Luther and his teaching…on his writing and his theology. We’ve been doing it for the past year…and perhaps rightly so…500 years is a big anniversary.

But that being said…I’m going to share something with you that might be considered…unpopular…given our current setting. (Pause) I, Scott Dalen…ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America…am kind of over Martin Luther. (pause)
Don’t get me wrong…his theology is wonderful…his courageous action of standing up against the political and religious powers of the day were beyond commendable…and his views on the importance of simple faith in Christ where utterly life changing for me.

But, he wasn’t a saint by any stretch of the imagination.  Luther was considered arrogant…a bit of elitist. We can argue that in his younger years he utterly wasted the enormous cost of education that his parents had invested in him…and in his older years, he became quite bitter and much of the writings from late in his life were utterly anti-Semitic…long story short…as great as he was, a person could easily make an argument that Luther was kind of an A-1 jerk.

You know what though…Luther has good company…because if you take pretty much any person from the Bible…with the obvious exclusion of Jesus…it’s a fair assumption that you can probably make the same argument. Take any of the big names and they’ve got skeletons in the closet. Abraham tried to pawn off his wife as his sister to save his own skin. Moses was a murderer and whiner, and like to take credit for God’s actions.  Jacob was a schemer. Joseph was an arrogant trickster…David was an adulterer…the prophets all argued with God on a regular basis…and the folks from the New Testament weren’t really any better. But if there’s one lesson that I try to convey, its this…God uses imperfect people…God uses broken people…God uses A-1 jerks, and God does it with a fair bit of regularity.

Now what’s all this got to do with today’s gospel? Well…I can only think that Jesus shares a parable that might just illustrate this same point. A man goes out to his two sons…telling them both to go out and work in the vineyard.

The first son that the man approaches seems…a little snippy…doesn’t he? Son…I want you to go out and work in the vineyard today.  NO WAY DAD…NOTHING DOIN POPS…It ain’t happening…but then given a bit of time to think it over, he does in fact head out and gets to work.

In the meantime, dad has headed off to son #2 with the same instruction…You also, go out and work in the vineyard…and he hears the answer that he’s looking for. I will go sir…but then son #2 either spaces it off…or changes his mind…or more likely was just trying to keep dad happy with no intention of actually doing anything…and he fails to go do any work.

That’s the parable…and once Jesus has shared it…posing it in response the tension he’s experiencing with the religious elite…the big wigs from the temple…he poses them a question…which son did the will of the Father? (pause) Now the chief priests and the elders have an answer don’t they? They make a judgement call…even though they recognize that Jesus is wisely taking a pot-shot at them…they point out which one in the story is “the good son.” (pause)
But here’s the thing that catches my attention…as I think about these two brothers…I can’t help but think they’re both acting like jerks.  The first son disrespects his father in his words, even if his actions ultimately fall in line…and the second son disrespects his father by failing to follow through with his actions, even if his words show a false sense of honor.

And correct me if I’m wrong…but doesn’t the 4th commandment tell us that we’re supposed to honor our parents? In one way or another…in their thoughts or in their words or in their deeds…both sons fall short…now maybe we should keep that in mind when we…like the religious big-wigs that are butting heads with Jesus, start making a judgment call as to which one was good and which one wasn’t…because neither one of them are ultimately good are they?

Maybe that the subtle yet mind blowing point that Jesus is trying to make…it doesn’t really matter how we react…in one way or another, we are going to fail to measure up…our brokenness…the way we act towards one another will ultimately fail.

And I can’t help it…I’ve got to swing around to Brother Martin here…because he wrote about this when he said “Reflect on your place in life in light of the 10 commandments: whether you are father, mother, son, daughter…whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, lazy, whether you have harmed anyone by word or deed.”

And in considering that rather on-the-nose comment written a few centuries back, perhaps we are reminded of the way that our traditions of worship are reflected when we say…each and every week…we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves…we have sinned against you in thought…word…and deed…by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

There are times when I think that the English language lacks the words to properly convey or articulate the depths of our brokenness…brokenness that we feel within ourselves…brokenness that manifests in the way we tear another done when we see them doing something that we could have done or should have done, and in feeling guilty we attempt to make ourselves feel better by making them feel worse.

Brokenness that has manifested in our ability to utterly ignore the needs of our neighbor on the opposite side of the backyard fence or across the street…brokenness that has manifested in our tendency to stare at a screen thinking that it is our connection to the world as we ignore the person sitting in the same room with us.

Brokenness that ultimate leaves us feel utterly devoid even to the point of what people describe as “dead inside,” all while still sitting there breathing.

This is the truth of our existence…and it seems dire…it seems lousy…it almost seems like there is no hope…we can call this a lot of different things…in the past I’ve used the phrase “little deaths.”  These things that keep us down…broken…isolated. And as I’ve pondered on this reality, I’m reminded that as Christians we live our lives in the midst of tension…and we are Saturday people….living in the tension between death on Good Friday and new life on Easter Sunday.

This describes our lives, and the difficulty that we often find in living with the garbage on one side and the new life which God has made possible in the resurrection of Christ. Make no mistake, what God has accomplished in the brutal death of Christ on the cross is not simply limited to the forgiveness of sins…vital though that might be…but what God has accomplished through the death of Christ is showing us that resurrection is possible…and that nothing in all creation will separate us from the love and delight of the one that made us in the first place…not any little death…and not even death itself. (pause)

500 years ago God touched the heart of an arrogant pompous know it all monk…and reminded him that the righteous will live by faith…which might be better said that those who are righteous believe what God will do…and that God has already done what God said he’ll do…and what God has said is the righteousness that can try so hard for and ultimately fail in our thoughts, words, and deeds, is already given to us because God calls us righteous when he claims us as his beloved children.

2000 years ago God took on flesh and dwelled among us…and then died…and then rose again to show us…not just to tell us but to literally show us that resurrection from that which harms…resurrection from that which destroys….resurrection from that which kills…IS POSSIBLE. (pause)

I can’t help but find it a little bit ironic that today I’m talking about this tension that we experience in our life lived between Good Friday and Easter Sunday…between death and new life…because Easter is literally 6 months away…we are far away from it as we can possibly be today…and yet Christ continues to remind us, each and every day…that we are new creation…may we find life…may we find hope…in that promise. Amen.