Posts Tagged ‘Confusion’

How Is God Revealed 5-26-19

In this sermon, based on John 14:23-39, I explore a bit of Jesus’ farewell to the disciples at the Last Supper. This is, perhaps, odd here in the Easter Season, but is still fitting.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/how-is-god-revealed-5-26-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord and Savior be yours, now and forever. Amen

Every once in a while, we need to toot our own horns…we need to recognize something important, or even special about ourselves. This is good to do for our own mental health and wellness…and so I’m gonna toot my own horn for a sec.

I pride myself in being pretty sharp in most situations.  I’ve got a quick enough mind that I can usually make connections and figure things out pretty rapidly…and I’m proud of that fact. (pause) But…there are exceptions to every rule…and I wonder if anyone else can relate.

Have you ever had a situation where you were utterly slow on the uptake?  A time where you just couldn’t put the pieces together? Where something that should be obvious…for whatever reason, just wouldn’t click?  If so, you are in good company.

I’m thinking back to summer of 1998…my second summer on staff up at Ingham Lake Bible Camp…and a bit of relationship dynamics.  There was a good friend that I knew from the previous summer…and I knew that she had a new boyfriend…and I also knew that this mysterious new boyfriend was on staff for the summer over at the Okoboji site…but what I didn’t know was who he was.

Now, we cycled through the first few weeks of camp, along with the subsequent weekends of free time…and I had noticed this guy from Okoboji who had spent the weekends there at Ingham a couple of times…but I had no idea who this guy was…until finally…after WAY to long I realized…OH…that’s the new boyfriend…which caused pretty else on staff to reply “DUH!!!!”  Admittedly, not my smartest moment.

But you know what, I can’t help but think that I’m in good company…and this same sense of not quite being able to realize, or to recognize the truth of what’s right in front us…it seems like the disciples share it too…in fact, I can’t help but think that just about everyone who was walking around Israel in the time of Jesus was facing this exact same issue. (pause)
Now the passage that we have shared today is a small portion of Jesus’ final words to the disciples at the Last Supper.  Following this time, he’ll be arrested…and then killed…and then he’ll rise again and appear to his followers off and on for about 40 days until he’s taken back into Heaven on Ascension Day.

And this whole batch of teaching…this back and forth exchange with the disciples…it features a few questions.  You’d think that after 3 years together and all they had seen and heard and witnessed and experienced…that the disciples would be able to connect the dots…but instead…we find evidence of ongoing confusion.

It starts off with Peter…who’s listening to Jesus talk about the new commandment to love one another…by this everyone will know you are my disciples. (Slowly raise hand) Uh…Jesus…where are you going?
(facepalm) Ok Peter…let me explain…and Jesus goes on.

A minute later Jesus tells them “you know way to where I am going.”  And now its Thomas (slowly raise hand) Uh…Jesus…we don’t know where you’re going…how can we know the way? (facepalm)  Jesus goes on…talking about how they already know the Father, because they know him…and this time its Philip (slowly raise hand) Uh…Jesus…if you show us the Father, we’ll be satisfied. (facepalm)

Suppose Jesus is getting irritated yet?  This time he carries on for a little longer, before one more question from Judas…not that Judas…the other Judas…because Jesus has been reminding them of the connection that they share through him…and through him with the divine…and that as he departs, he will not leave them alone but will send the Holy Spirit…and that through the power of the Spirit, God will abide with them…and then he reminds them of the importance of love for one another…and that in the expression of love, that’s how God will be revealed…and with that, Judas (slowly raise hand) Uh…Jesus…why do you reveal yourself to us and not the world? (facepalm and pause).

I’ll be honest…I half expect Jesus to just blow up on these guys…throw his hands up and head out to find a new batch of followers who might figure things out before his arrest a few minutes later….but that’s not what happens…and instead, we have the subtle reminder from Jesus that we are to love God and love one another…and that this will be possible because of the presence of the Holy Spirit among us and within us…that is the promise.

Now, it probably makes sense that Jesus would remind them of this…that he would continue to share it at this point…just before his death…but it also important for us to be reminded of these same words here at the end of the Easter season.  This Thursday is Ascension Day…the time when Jesus’ bodily form leaves earth, before the arrival of the Spirit 10 days later at Pentecost.

We can call this a lot of things…a goodbye…a parting shot…acknowledgement of the way things are going to change…but at the same time…while many things are changing…some things are staying the same…and one of those universal things…both in this back and forth between Jesus and the disciples, as well as the countless interactions that we’ve heard in recent weeks from different people who just want a straight answer about Jesus and his identity…not to mention 2000 years of history where the church has continued to wrestle with many of these same questions.

Who is this God? Who is this Jesus…What is the Holy Spirit?  What does it mean to love our neighbors? What does the peace of Jesus look like?  Seriously…how many questions can we raise just from this short little passage today?  Tons?  And when we consider all of scripture in its entirety…the list would probably be unending.

But you know what…that’s not a bad thing…Jesus doesn’t get upset with the disciples when they fail to connect the dots…he doesn’t get irritated when they come up short, lacking understanding…because I think Jesus knows that when it comes to faith…or the divine…or the action of God in the world…we’re just not capable of making all those connections…its bigger than we are…its beyond us…but…Jesus also welcomes the questions.

And I think that’s the take away today…that faith doesn’t mean everything is cut and dry…following Christ doesn’t mean that every question is answered and can be recited in some meme-worthy sound-bite.  Faith is hard…and making sense of Jesus’ words and the scriptures and the ongoing action of God in continually inviting our reality forward…its confusing.

But can this be a place where those questions are okay…where we can ask them confidently…and together we can explore where those questions might take us?  Is that what Jesus is talking about when he says that the Holy Spirit will teach us…and will remind us of his words? Is that the sense of peace that he’s going to leave us with? A peace in knowing that its okay to not know?  Maybe…I hope so. (pause)

Its funny…because this brief little passage is one that reveals the Holy Trinity to us. Jesus is speaking of the Father…and he is speaking of the Holy Spirit…all three…but we know how confusing that three in one God is don’t we?

That was a question that kept coming up in Confirmation this past year…because Jesus is God…we learn that in the opening verses of John’s Gospel…but if Jesus is God…who’s he praying to? And does that somehow mean that Jesus is his own dad?  And how’s the Spirit of God connect into this whole thing?  We went round and round with that question…and we never came up with a satisfactory answer…even if the truth was staring right in the face…but maybe we don’t have to.

Maybe the peace of Christ is the assurance that we don’t have to get all that stuff figured out in order for it to still be true…maybe all we have to do is remember the command that Jesus gives us over and over again…to love one another.

Because that’s how he answers Judas’ question. How will you be revealed to the world?  Jesus says, love one another…that’s how you keep my word…and in doing so my father and I will dwell among you. (pause)

You know love is hard…especially in those moments when our selfishness ramps up…and the love that Jesus keeps talking about…its Agape love…which is perfect, all in, sacrificial love…and we all know how hard that is…but maybe, just maybe, when we see or feel or experience those tiny little glimmers of that agape love in the midst of our brokenness…well then we get a tiny little glimmer of the presence of the divine dwelling among us.  (pause)
How is God revealed?  That my friends…is a good…question. Amen

All Y’All 2-11-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:2-29, I explore the confusing situation of the Transfiguration. We don’t fully grasp just what went on, but that’s okay. We just need to remember to listen to what Jesus has to say to us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/all-yall-2-11-18

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

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

In recent years, I’ve gotten a lot of experience in dealing with young people, particularly junior high and high schoolers…not to mention the fact that I’m raising a couple of kids in that range…and in that time, I’ve observed something that has now become a bit of a motto.  Every 15 year old is a moron…just try not to be much of a moron.

Namely, yes you will make mistakes, but try to not be stupid.  (pause) Now in recent history, there has been news of this “15 year old syndrome” spreading around…apparently the hip thing was to record yourself eating a Tidepod…one of those little packets of laundry soap…and then posting the video online.

I really hope that this trend has already played itself out…but if not…and you are considering the Tidepod challenge…don’t. Its stupid. And because of this I can’t help but think that Tide has been concerned about their image and that the marketing department felt the need to do some scrambling…and what better way to go viral in the positive sense…than to take advantage of the huge viewership of the Super Bowl…and with that, we saw commercial after commercial…situation after situation, all the way through the game when a working actor named David Harbour pops up out of nowhere to tell…Tide Commercial. No stains…bright colors…Tide Commercial.

And I couldn’t help but think that if Jesus was walking around these days and not 2000 years ago…this is what the scripture would say…And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white…such as no one on earth could bleach them…No Stains…Tide Commercial. (pause)

Super Bowl marketing aside, we find ourselves here at the end of Epiphany…and one last story of how Jesus is revealed to the world…the Transfiguration. We hear story at this time every year, just before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent…and it’s a familiar one.

Jesus grabs the big 3 disciples…Peter, James, and John, and they walk up a mountain, just the 4 of them…and up on that mountain…something unexpected and amazing happens…the transfiguration. Jesus is somehow changed…even his clothes take on dazzling appearance…Old Testament big wigs pop up…Moses the giver the of the Law and Elijah the greatest of the prophets…and they’re standing there talking with the Jesus.

Now I can only imagine what the three disciples must have been thinking in this moment…I can only think that it must have been incredible to witness…this amazing transformation that Jesus undergoes, even if its momentary…and honestly…I find myself a little jealous of what they witnessed. It must have something to behold…something amazing to see…something that honestly probably goes far beyond the ability to truly describe.

Now the authors of the gospels try to clue us in…this story pops up in 3 of the 4 gospels and they’re all pretty similar so apparently whatever it was that Peter and James and John experienced that day…whatever it was that they saw…this was the best that they could explain it.

But honestly…what happened? We don’t have a whole to go on do we? Jesus is somehow changed…his clothes get super bright…and 2 random dudes who should be dead pop up out of nowhere…That’s the transfiguration…that’s all the detail we’re given before Peter starts acting like Peter and starts blabbing, apparently succeeding in putting his foot in his mouth…because his words seemingly prompt God to show up…or in the very least for a thick cloud to overshadow them and the voice of God to come booming out all around them. “This is my son, the beloved…Listen to him.” (pause)

Now as we hear…whatever it is that’s going on, even before the cloud and the voice of God show up…its terrifying…and I’ve often times found myself wondering just what it is that Peter and the other two guys are experiencing…and honestly it can get a little frustrating that we’re actually given so little to go on.

Just what actually happened up on that mountain? (pause) This is a question that scholars have pondered on for 2 millenia…with many different attempts to explain it…ways to rationalize or to consider the few small details of this epic event that we are given in the narrative.

But admittedly, I’ve never found anything that adequately revealed just what went on…every explanation that I’ve come across…and honestly even some that I’ve tried to offer in the past…they all come up short…and I can only think that our language, and not only that but our ability to understand and comprehend will always be lacking when it comes to the divine…and I can only think that this is what was somehow happening on the mountain…that in this brief instance…in this amazing and yet terrifying situation, somehow the divinity of Jesus was shining through the human.

We don’t know what exactly that means…and apparently beyond referencing a tide commercial and the lack of human ability to produce the effect of what’s going on with Jesus…maybe that’s all we can say…that in this instance we are reminded that this man who was walking around…this man who could perform miracles…this man who possessed amazing authority was…in fact…God the son…The word made flesh…the creator of the universe and everything in it who has come among us as one of us…and for just a brief fleeting moment on top of a mountain…that divine eternal all-encompassing entity came shining through the man… (pause)

To call this moment a revelation of Jesus’ true identity perhaps goes without saying…but then we get divine confirmation when the voice of the Father booms out. This is my son. (pause) Transfiguration aside…that’s a big deal too…Jesus is only called the Son of God 3 times in Mark’s Gospel…and all three occur alongside something pretty incredible.

Jesus is baptized and we hear that the heavens are ripped open and the holy spirit lands upon him…and we hear the voice of God. You are my beloved Son…Here Jesus is transfigured, whatever that means….and we hear again, this is my son the beloved…and the third time occurs during Jesus’ crucifixion…as the sun has gone black for several hours and the curtain in the temple spontaneously rips in two…and the centurion standing there before the cross says Truly this is the son of God.

3 times…3 divinely empowered events…3 proclamations of the true identity of this man named Jesus…the beloved Son…but what makes today special…what makes the Transfiguration stand out among these 3 events…is that God also gives us a command.

Now we hear God say, this is my beloved son, listen to him…but its worth digging just a little bit…we pick up in the original language that God isn’t just talking to Peter in response to his bonehead comment about staying put and building tents to live in…God is talking to everyone…like if we were in Texas God would be talking to All ya’ll.

Like…All ya’ll listen up to what my sons got to say. (pause)
Now funny enough, Jesus doesn’t say a ton here, other than waiting until after he’s raised from the dead to talk about what has happened….but we do get a clue as to what we’re supposed to listen to…and its kicks off today’s reading.  6 days later. (pause) 6 days later than what?

If we back up in the narrative we find the exchange between Jesus and Peter when Peter calls Jesus the Messiah…and Jesus promptly lets him in on just what that means…that the messiah will be betrayed and killed but on the third day raised again…and Peter wigs out, rebuking Jesus before Jesus calls him Satan…that’s what happened 6 days before the Transfiguration.

But that’s not the only time we hear this message from Jesus. Right after this story, as they get down the mountain, Jesus cast a demon out of boy and then repeats the same message. The Messiah will be betrayed and crucified but on the third day he will be raised.

And not only that…but Jesus shares this message a third time. (pause) You’ve ever thought about the importance of repetition? That if something keeps popping up its probably worth listening to? Seems to the case with this message that Jesus proclaims…this message that he is the Messiah and that he will be betrayed and killed but that through his life and death and then his resurrection God is truly up to something new…something utterly different…something utterly beyond our ability to fully grasp and understand.

But we are given little glimpses aren’t we? Little bits in the scripture about the presence of the kingdom of heaven which has come near to us…and the promise that we have a place in it because of what has Christ has done. This is the message that he has come to proclaim…the message that he has come to embody…the message and the promise that he has come to deliver to each one us.

We are flawed broken people…utterly limited in our existence and our ability to comprehend and grasp things that are divine…utterly inadequate to fully describe moments when we encounter the divine before us…and yet, we are still recipients of God’s divine favor, shown to us simply because of God’s amazing, all encompassing, way bigger than we can fully understand, love for each one of us.

And through the life, and the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, the divine is taking action in our reality to show us that there is no length that God will not go to in order to be with us.

That’s the gospel…that’s his message to all the world…so All Ya’ll…listen to him. Amen

This Makes No Sense 3-27-16

HE HAS RISEN!

In this sermon for Easter Sunday, taken from Luke 24:1-12, I explore the empty tomb and the angelic proclamation, but recognize that we have yet to see the Lord.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-makes-no-sense-3-27-16

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

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

During my first couple of years of college, I worked part time for a local pharmacy. I had a few different duties in that job, but my main one was making deliveries. The store offered the service of deliveries, a service utilized by quite a few shut-ins around the community, not to mention the three different nursing homes in town.

Now I really enjoyed this job, because the majority of my time was spent driving around town in my boss’ brand new, light blue, Chevy pickup, and keep in mind that this was in the late 90’s right about the time that remote car locks came on the scene. That was always my favorite part of deliveries. First stepping out of the truck and clicking that button, hearing the “CHIRP” of the horn…or on the flipside walking back out to the truck, hitting the button in my hand as I stepped up to door, and hearing the click of the door unlocking.

Except one time…I had just made a delivery to one of the nursing homes…and was walking back out through the parking lot…and as I stepped around the front end of a light blue pickup, I clicked that button…and nothing happened…so a second later when I reached out for the door handle…it didn’t open.

I didn’t think too much of it…and so I clicked the button again…nothing…now things are starting to get weird…but I thought, hey, I’ve still got the actual keys in my hand…I guess I’ll just unlock the door manually…kids, you might not realize this, but there was a time when we actually had to pull our keys out of our pockets and stick them in the car door to unlock it…crazy huh?

But when I tried that…it didn’t work either…and I just kinda stood there for a moment in disbelief…my mind could not comprehend the problem…which I’m guessing by now you have figured out (pause). Wrong truck…there happened to be 2 different light blue Chevy pickups sitting in the lot in that moment…and I was standing at the driver’s door of the wrong one…something that I discovered when I finally had the brilliant thought to click the lock button and I heard the “CHIRP”…from two spots away. (pause) Now I wish I could tell you that this is the only time that has ever happened to me…but I can’t. I did the exact same thing just a month or two ago in the parking lot down at Walmart…when I walked right up to a maroon Chrysler 200…and could not figure out why I couldn’t see the light’s flashing when I hit the unlock button…

Sometimes our minds just cannot accept the truth of what we are seeing…we cannot manage to wrap our heads around what are witnessing or experiencing. (pause)

And now…Easter Sunday…the Resurrection…one of the most important instances within the entire Bible…so important…that it is one of those stories featured in all four gospels…now of course, each account has some small differences in terms of details…but the overarching arc of this event holds true.

Jesus is buried on Friday…everyone waits through Saturday…women go to the tomb first thing Sunday morning…the stone is removed…the tomb is empty…and angels show up making proclamations about what has happened. (pause) That about covers it right? And Luke’s account that we have shared today is no exception.

But one thing about it that jumps out at me…is that the women must have had an experience sort of like what I did when I could not wrap my head around the issue with the car doors failing to unlock…now keep in mind, the women had watched everything happen on Friday…including the removal of Jesus body…and the placement of his body in the tomb…that’s why I included those extra couple of verses at the beginning of the gospel today…there can be no doubt…they watched it happen…and they knew…where the body of Jesus was…they knew where they were going.

And so when they show up early Sunday morning…and they find an open tomb…confusion…for they had seen the stone rolled in front of the door…but all that aside…then they step into the tomb…expecting to see a dead body, wrapped in linen, laying there on the stone floor of this small cave, carved out of solid rock.

But when they step into that tomb…there’s no body…and we hear that they were perplexed…which is really just a nice way of saying that they lost their minds over this. HOW CAN THIS BE? WHERE IS HIS BODY? WHERE IS THE LORD? (pause)
All logic says that his body should be laying there in the tomb…it was there a couple days ago…it should be there now…but…it…isn’t. And all the women see…all they experience in this moment…is an empty tomb…an empty grave…his body was here…and now it isn’t. (pause)

And as they stood there…perplexed…confused…out of nowhere…a couple of angels show up with a pretty question. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  Imagine being the women in that moment…faced with this question…Why are you looking for him here? “Well duh…he’s dead…this is his grave…where else would he be?”

But then the angels give them the rest of the story…Yes…he was dead…but no longer…and look he is not here for he has risen…Remember his words that he told you…he predicted that this would happen…he told you he would die but then…that he would be raised.

And with that…the divine light bulb goes off for the women…and they remember that Yes…JESUS DID TELL US THIS…and it has come true…and that confusion…that state of being perplexed…that lifts…and their minds and their hearts are filled with faith…with belief…and not just belief in what the angels were telling them…but belief in the promise that Jesus had made…that he would rise again…and filled with this faithful joy, they run off to the disciples and share their experience.

I can only imagine the excitement that the women were feeling and showing as they shared the news…that the tomb is empty and angels appeared saying he is risen…can you imagine it?  (pause) Well something tells me that they must have been pretty worked up, because as we hear…the disciples…the very individuals who you would fully expect to get it…to understand it…to believe it…don’t. Luke tells us that the disciples thought the women were feeding them an idle tail…which is just a really nice politically correct way of saying the disciples thought this was a giant load of B.S…and they don’t believe a word of it.

The only one to even give it a second thought is Peter…and we hear that he runs off to see the empty tomb…only to head off from there in amazement…aka…just as confused as the women initially found themselves. (pause)
So just what the heck is going on here? We’ve got an empty tomb…and we’ve got an announcement of the Risen Lord…but what we don’t have…is a Risen Lord…granted…he shows up later…Later on that day he pops up on the road walking with two random disciples who cover 7 miles without recognizing him, until he breaks bread for them.

We hear somewhere during the day he shows up to Peter…and then later that night…he shows up out of nowhere with the entire group of disciples…who freak out, thinking he’s a ghost…and its not until he grabs a hunk of fish and eats it in front of them that they start to believe that its really him…

But that’s all later…here today…in our joyous celebration of Easter Sunday…there is no Jesus present…and when I realized that…it really made me stop and pay attention…and I began to ask the question…what is it that we are celebrating today? (pause
And the answer…the tomb is empty…and there has been an announcement that he is risen…and at this point…that’s it…HALLELUJAH!!!!! AN EMPTY CAVE! (pause)

But you know what…we all know that’s the not the end of the story…and even though we cut it off there today…it goes on…and we do hear about those instances when Jesus shows himself to his followers…and the interactions they have with the Resurrected Lord before he eventually ascends to Heaven and sends the Holy Spirit among us…and gradually, as those different individuals encountered the Risen Lord, they believed…but Jesus had a message for them…You have believed because you have seen me…blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.

And guess what my friends…that includes us…because look around…Have we seen the Lord? (pause) As much as I would love to say yes…I can’t…can you? (Pause) And yet you are here…and why? Well, because somewhere there is an empty tomb…missing a body…and because someone proclaimed to you that He Has Risen…

Now the funny thing about this…is that there are two possible reactions to this…two ways to respond to an empty grave and a proclamation of Resurrection…we can believe it as the women did…or we can blow it off as a big load of B.S. like the disciples did at first. (pause)
And think about it…doesn’t that pretty much cover the bases of responses? It does for me…because for a long time…I thought it was…and IDLE TAIL…but I kept hearing the proclamation…the words that Jesus himself had said…that he would be killed and then he would rise…and somehow…someway…the Holy Spirit managed to get in my brain…and I believed it. (pause) And since you are here…I’m guessing that you believed it too…maybe even just a little tiny bit…enough to bring you hear today to see if maybe, just maybe that tomb really is empty.

But others don’t…that’s just a reality of the world we live in…some believe this news that we claim as the best news in the world…but some laugh it off…because its utterly ludicrous to think that IF there’s a God out there…that God would become human…and that God would die…or that someone who had died…would come back. It defies all logic…and our minds cannot make sense of it. (pause) Mine couldn’t.

But maybe that’s okay…and maybe we don’t have to make sense of it…maybe we don’t have to understand it…maybe, the tomb just has to be empty…and someone needs to tell us He is Risen…Amen.