Posts Tagged ‘Celebration’

Celebrate 3-31-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, I explore the parable commonly known as the Prodigal Son, along with the two short parables partnered with it, that reveal a call to celebration over the lost being found.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/celebrate-3-31-19

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

Many of you have heard me share that Spring is my favorite season of the year…after the slog of winter, the warm fresh air, the beautiful sunshine…the birds singing and the signs of all the plant life perking up…all of that is just wonderful…and I always get a little charge out of the first time that these wonderful spring conditions allow me to walk over to the post office to get the mail.

Its an odd thing to notice and appreciate…but admittedly I do it…and I had that joy for the first time about a week and a half ago…and in the days since, I’ve had several more opportunities to repeat the process…including a couple of absolutely gorgeous days earlier this past week… and each time I made that brief excursion across town, it was wonderful and all was right and good in the world.

But then…as you may recall…the weather took a bit of a dip…getting cloudy and cooler, not to mention a little windy and drizzly here and there…and while it was still typical spring weather…it wasn’t QUITE as nice.  That, as you may recall…was the case on Friday…and yet…about 11 o’clock, I threw on my jacket and set out for the post office anyway.

Now when I stepped outside, I noticed it was cool and there a breeze…and while it was slightly uncomfortable, I didn’t think too much of it…until I left the post office and turned myself back towards the church…and it was only then that I realized that our gorgeous spring weather from earlier in the week, had in fact given way to 40 degrees, cloudy and nice blustery north wind slamming in the face. In that uncomfortable instant I said to myself…maybe this wasn’t too well thought out…You might say that I woke up…or that I came to myself….about the truth of my current situation.

Now granted…this wasn’t the end world…5 minutes later I was back in the church office none the worse for wear…but that moment of sudden realization of reality put me in mind of our gospel story today…and this parable that Jesus shares.

Now its worth noting that the setting of this whole deal is part of a bigger moment from Jesus, through the parable itself is long enough.  But Jesus, in a moment of interaction with the religious authorities of the time, is catching some flack…he’s being criticized for the company he keeps…for the fact that he is often found sharing a meal, or simply spending time in the company of “sinful folk.”

When Jesus hears their remarks…he responds with a series of parables…three to be exact…all of which fall under a pretty similar theme…We’ve got the parable of the lost sheep, in which the shepherd leaves behind the flock of 99 in order to search out and find 1 lost sheep…and once the lost sheep is found, he calls together his community so they can celebrate together…because the lost has been found.

Following that, Jesus tells a story of women with 10 coins, who suddenly realizes that one is missing and she searches HIGH and LOW, until finally finding it…and likewise, she calls together her neighbors, probably spending one if not more of her coins in order to celebrate that the lost has been found.

And then, in the story that we heard, Jesus shares a rather extensive narrative about a father and two sons…a parable that is pretty well-known…arguably one of the two most familiar parables in the gospels…and one that’s even become synonymous with individuals who wander off in one way or another before finding their way back home…the prodigal son.

This oddball idea that a younger son would demand his inheritance so he can traipse off and live out a crazy lifestyle, only to run out of money and face the consequences…then coming to his senses…and realizing the prosperity and even generosity of his father to the entire household…and with that, its time to go home…but he’s not without shame, and he plans to reveal himself, not as a wayward son, but simply as an individual willing to become a servant in order to be taken care of.

But that’s not what happens…and this amazing father, who has stood there day after day, looking for his son, when he finally sees him approaching…he runs to him in joy, for what was lost to him has now been found…and the son is restored…the fattened calf is slaughtered and prepared so that the entire community can celebrate, for what was lost and was as good as dead, has been found and is alive again. (pause)
But the story doesn’t stop there does it? And that’s why I’ve often thought that calling this the parable of the prodigal son does a disservice…because we’ve got the older brother too don’t we? The dutiful one…the one who stayed home, and to hear him talk, he has slaved away for all this time…doing what was expected of him…all without fanfare or recognition.

And when big brother learns about the celebration going on in the house…and discovers the reason…he’s angry…he’s upset…and he refuses to go in and participate…and so that same loving father, who looked every day for his wayward son, goes out in search of the other, because now, this older son, too…is missing.

We know how it ends…they go back and forth…the entitlement and perhaps victim complex of the older brother comes out in his complaint against the younger and against the father…and yet the assurance is there…you are always with me…all I have is yours…but we MUST CELEBRATE…for he who was lost is now found.

That’s how the parable ends…and in fact that’s how the whole passage ends…we don’t know if the older son comes in to join in the celebration…to join in the festivities…the party which is ongoing throughout this entire exchange over what’s right or wrong…over who’s deserving or not. (pause)

One long parable, part of a larger batch of three which all reveal the same thing…when someone or something of value is lost and then found…its worth celebrating…and not just by the one who found them…but with the whole community…everyone is invited.

And as I thought about all that…I went back to the setting in the first place…Jesus, like the father, has been criticized for how he responds to certain people…and then, there are those who seem to put their stock in appearances…in following the rules…have been blinded to the invitation into fellowship and celebration.

Is that’s what going on here in the big picture…that whatever it is that God is accomplishing through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…that it is worth celebrating…and that the invitation is universal…that somehow we are all part of the party whether we chose to act like it or not?

Is that’s what’s happening? Like the community that surrounded the father and the younger son and all the rest of the household who joined in the celebration…they lived that moment accepting that they are a part…or like the older brother, who is always with the father…and therefore is a part of the celebration as well…but chooses to act as if the opposite is true…is that what’s happening…as Jesus breaks bread and shares a meal and joyful fellowship with so-called “sinners?” Are they the ones accepting in the invitation and living out this moment as part of the celebration…and are the ones being so critical missing out on the fact that they are included too…and living out this moment in a way that reflects it? (pause)

I often wonder if that’s what’s going on with this whole Kingdom of Heaven thing that Jesus has assured us has come near.  We often talk about how the kingdom is both now and not yet…and that we catch little glimpses of it in this life…and how we are invited to live our lives as if the kingdom DOES exist now…and that maybe, just maybe that’s how God is at work to bring it into existence in the life to come…that Heavenly banquet…that heavenly celebration that God has promised us.

That’s the good news of this passage…that the invitation to join in the party has already been extended to all of us…for we are ALL a part of the community…and what joy to celebrate together all that has been lost, which is now found…to celebrate all that was dead and is now alive. (pause)
Now that being said…something had to happen in order for the celebration to begin within this parable…anyone catch it?  Before the party could start…the calf had to be killed…something had to die in order for this particular celebration to occur…and maybe, just maybe, that is a sober reminder of where we look for Jesus…because it was in the death and then subsequent resurrection of Jesus that the kingdom celebration became possible…that’s a sobering thought…but a timely one as we inch ever closer to Good Friday and the cross.

But thanks be to God that the cross isn’t the last word in this story…and that on Easter Christ rose from the grave…and somehow, someway, we have also been promised the same…that we have been made heirs of the same promise…and that we have each been claimed as beloved children…and that is what we are celebrating today…as Cameran and Dilyn will be brought to this font…where they will be washed in the waters of baptism…and the claim of God upon their lives…the invitation into the celebration, which has already been offered through Christ…will be made manifest in a physical way for them.

And what a joy it is for us…the community who surrounds them…to be here today, to join in THIS particular celebration…a celebration which has already begun…and a celebration which God has promised us will carry on in the life to come. Amen.

On The Verg 3-29-15

This morning’s sermon comes from Mark 11:1-11 and features the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem which kicks off the final week of his life. In the sermon I explore the stark lack of conflict and tension that’s present in the story.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/on-the-verge-3-29-15

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
I graduated from high school in May of 1997…and one of the highlights for me happened just a week or so after my graduation, when I along with two of my closest friends packed up my parents old pop up camper, and ventured up to a resort in northern Minnesota for a week’s worth of camping…just the guys.
Now…being typical young guys…the notion of roughing it didn’t really sound that appealing to us…and so in addition to having the camper…we also brought along a lot of the comforts of home…we had a small fridge so we could keep things cold…we brought along a stereo because we had to have tunes playing in the background…and we also brought along a tv and vcr…hey it was the 90’s, dvd’s weren’t around yet.
Now we didn’t really use the tv/vcr that much, mainly only after it got dark or during the one day of the week when it was rainy and we had to stay inside the camper…but there was one afternoon when we embraced our science fiction loving nature, and we sat down to watch a long movie…actually it was a mini-series that had aired on tv back in the early 80’s…a mini-series called V.
Now both of my buddies were familiar with this show…as they are both a couple years older than me they were actually old enough to remember it when first aired…but it sounded interesting to me…being about a group of aliens that show up on earth…in what seems to be a peaceful manner, only to reveal that they are lizard people intent on eating us…and so we sat down to watch it.
Going in, I knew that it had aired as a miniseries and so it would last several hours to watch…and it did…but what I didn’t know, was that this mini-series was intended to introduce the following tv series…and so there was no real conclusion. And for three plus hours I sat there, watching a lot of boring exposition…and a little bit of action…but not much…the entire time thinking…Okay, something will happen…there has to be a climax at some point…and as the minutes passed by…nothing happened…until finally in the closing scene, some random guy takes a can of spray paint and puts a big V on the wall…A V that stands for the fact that humanity is going to fight back…and one day we will have victory over the invaders…and then the screen fades to black around that big red V…before the credits rolled.
And I remember being so mad…because nothing happened…there was no climax…nothing…and to this day, if the guys want to get a rise out of me, all they have to do is say “V” and I get a little twitchy. (pause)
Now perhaps you’re wondering just what this all has to do with our gospel lesson for today…and admittedly that’s a fair question…for today is one of those days of celebration…Palm Sunday…the Triumphal Entry…the day that Jesus finally hops on the donkey and rides into Jerusalem…riding in to the joyous shouts of Hosanna in the highest…as the entire city rejoices at the arrival of the King. (pause)
Now granted, Palm Sunday isn’t quite as big of a deal as some of our other “big days.” Easter’s a week away…and Christmas is the other obvious one…but still…Palm Sunday is one that we celebrate…at least on a smaller scale…but the interesting thing about Palm Sunday…joyous though it might be…is that it tends to be just a little more muted because we know what’s coming don’t we? (pause)
Yes, Easter is just a week away…we are almost through this dark season of Lent…we are almost to the amazing moment when the angels roll away the stone and the resurrected Jesus comes walking out of the tomb…but before we get there…we still have some rough stuff to get through…We’ve got opposition…tension…a final meal…anguish in the garden…and a crucifixion to get through before Jesus can rise again. (pause)
And so here’s the thing…knowing what we know…knowing what’s still in store…doesn’t Palm Sunday always seems just a little premature…because we know what’s right around the corner. (pause)
Now here’s something that gives me just a little bit of pause today…I’ve gotten far enough into my years of ministry now that I’ve had the opportunity to preach on Palm Sunday during all three years of the lectionary…I preached out of Luke during my year of Internship…and a year ago for our first Lent and Easter season together, Palm Sunday came out of Matthew…and now this year its Mark.
And even though I often times remind myself that we shouldn’t try to mix up the different gospel accounts of the same story, I’ve found myself doing it all week long with this one…and not only the triumphal entry itself, but really the different accounts of Jesus’ final week of life in and around Jerusalem. (pause)
And there’s a pretty stark difference between Mark and the other Gospels…and that difference is the complete lack of conflict in this story. In Luke, its not even subtle…the Pharisees and Sadducees, you know them…the go-to Biblical Badguys…come right out and argue with Jesus, telling him to instruct everyone waving their palm branches and shouting out joyfully that they need to keep it down…Matthew is a little bit more ambiguous, but the question is raised throughout the entire city of “Who is this man that they cheer for?”
But Mark…well Mark’s got nothing…the only hint of any sort of opposition at all occurs when the two disciples find the colt…and some random person says “Ahh guys…how come you’re taking that colt?” “Well the Lord needs it.” “Umm…okay.” (pause) That’s it…there’s nothing else…there’s no conflict at all…and everyone just seems excited that this guy is riding into the city.
And let’s be honest…as great as the celebration seems to be…isn’t it completely anti-climactic? Think about it…Jesus comes riding into town…and everyone seems to come outside to gawk and to cheer…which is maybe understandable…they didn’t have cable or wifi to keep them occupied, so I guess this would grab some attention…for about 5 minutes anyway…because did you notice that the crowd melted away…almost instantly?
YAY!!! HOSSANA!!!! Ummm…okay let’s go back inside….beacuse we hear that HE…entered the city and went into the temple. Not the crowd following him…just him…seemingly by himself now…crazy…and here’s another thing…both Matthew and Luke tell us that he enters the temple and immediately we hear the story of the cleansing…when Jesus goes off on the merchants and money changers….CONFLICT!!!!
But here in Mark…that doesn’t happen till the next day…Seriously…Jesus rides into town…the crowds cheer and then leave…and he walks in the temple…takes one look and leaves again…NOTHING HAPPENS…It raises the question of just why in the heck Jesus even went into the city in the first place…he started off in Bethany…he rides in and then promptly heads back to Bethany again. WHY?!?!
Now here’s the deal about Mark…out of all of the gospels…Mark, even though it’s the shortest one…is the most thorough about details of the final week that Jesus spends in Jerusalem before his passion…and as the days tick by, two things happen…the tension and opposition steadily increases…while at the same time those coming along for the ride with Jesus steadily decrease. (pause)
Think about this for a moment…we begin here…with the triumphal entry and ZERO tension…no one is squawking…no one is scheming…but then we have the cleansing of the temple the next day…and Jesus butts heads with the religious leaders over things over the next couple of days…and then the last Supper and the garden and the arrest and the trial and the eventual crucifixion…that’s all ahead…building steadily.
And on the flip side today, we have the entire city cheering for Jesus, but they’re gone by the end of the ride into town…and Jesus is left with his large gang of followers…but then by Thursday, we’re down to the 12 disciples sitting in the upper room…and then they head out to the garden where Jesus experiences his anguish…and he’s only got 3 men with him at that point…and then pretty soon he’s arrested and everyone’s tucked tail except Peter who follows at a distance…and then the next thing you know Jesus is alone…hanging on that cross. (pause)
The tension mounts and the people fade away…turning their backs on him…betraying him…abandoning him…(pause) And we all come to expect this don’t we? As we sit here today…Palm Sunday, knowing what’s to come…knowing that one by one everyone will turn their backs on the savior of the world…how can we celebrate today? (pause)
But here in Mark…that’s exactly what happens…and admittedly, I’ve found myself irritated by it this week. I want there to be opposition…I want someone to speak out against Jesus…to squawk at him…to do something…don’t just cheer for him…someone be the bad guy…anyone… (pause)
Because…if there’s a bad guy that we can point at today…even in the midst of the celebration…then maybe, just maybe the eventual betrayal of every single person during the course of this week won’t feel quite so bad…because if there’s someone that we can point our finger at today…then it takes the pressure off of us…it makes the betrayal just a little bit easier to swallow.
But that’s not the case…here in Mark’s gospel…the entire city…filled with Jewish people from all over the known world…a crowd of people that we might as well call the entire world loves Jesus…and I guess that includes us too doesn’t it…for about 5 minutes…
But one by one…as this week marches on…EVERYONE leaves him…and I have to say that includes us too because on Friday, as he hangs there, gasping for breath…he…is…alone. (pause)
And perhaps when we think about that we wonder just how it is that we abandoned the Savior of the World…after all, this happened 2000 years ago…we weren’t there…we didn’t do it…but then we remember the power of sin and death in this world…and we realize that our own sinful nature…the darkness that resides right here…turned away from Jesus whether we were standing in that crowd or not…whether we were holding the nails that pierced his hands or not…we all did it.
But the amazing thing about this…is that if Jesus had it to do all over again…and the world consisted of Jesus…God in Human form…and one other person…you…He would still do it…he would still take it…and he would do it willingly in order to beat back those powers of darkness that hinder our relationship with God.
That’s the glory of the gospel…that God willingly does this…even for a world that turns its back on him…even for individuals who in one moment are cheering for him…and in the next are ignoring him…and this all happens in the next 7 days. (pause)
So today we cheer…knowing the back of our minds that today’s joy does not last long…and that things are about to get a whole lot darker…and that one by one we will turn and walk away…leaving our Lord behind…but praise be to God that he takes it…and in the end, we rejoice in knowing that he took it for us…and that if he needed to…he would do it all again.
Today is Palm Sunday…and we’re almost there…because this week it happens…we’re on the verge…so let’s walk this final road to the cross together. Amen.