Posts Tagged ‘Disciples’

Urgency 7-7-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, I explore Jesus empowerment and instructions for his follower as he sends them out 2 by 2 with the message that the kingdom of God has come near.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/urgency-7-7-19

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

While there have probably been a multitude of times in my life where a sense of urgency was present…I can think of two specific moments…and as I consider them in hindsight…one was legitimate…and the other one…not so much.

The first…late summer 2004. Approximately 30 hours after a little debacle known as Hurricane Charlie came blasting through the city of Orlando…I stepped up to the gate of a plane that had just started boarding for Minneapolis, accompanied by my wife and then 8-month old son…only to be told “Oh you transferred from another airline…no problem but you need to get us paper tickets from the check in agent.”

This required me to return to the ticket counter…which was on the other end of a tram between terminals, and on the other side of the security line…all while the plane itself…was already in the process of boarding.  I skipped the ticket line and apparently had a look on my face that said “You will help me now or I will go full Godzilla destruction mode on what’s left of this airport post-hurricane.” (pause)

Now the second situation actually happened when I was quite a bit younger…in the midst of third grade…I impressed myself one day by very intentionally staring at the clock on the wall of the classroom for a period of 15 minutes…a feat that, in my mind anyway…was SO impressive…that I was compelled to share it…and with a sense of urgency…I raised my hand, interrupting the lesson currently being taught…to share with everyone this amazing feat that I had just accomplished. (pause)

Now for the record…yes we did get back to the plane in time…but just barely…but my third grade teacher was less than impressed with my feat of staring at a clock instead of paying attention to what she was teaching us. (Pause)

True urgency in one case…not so much in the other right? (pause)  I can’t help but think that this is human nature though…that there are moments or situations that we end up in where we might feel that sense of urgency…or importance for something…and we set our sights on it as the thing that needs to happen before anything else can be attended to.

And, I also can’t help but think that we’ve been in this sort of theme within our gospel lessons, both last week if you happened to be here, as well as today.  Now if you weren’t here last week, we heard how Jesus intentionally turned his face and his attention towards Jerusalem and all that would be accomplished there…we talked about how his mission…his ultimate life’s goal would culminate in his death and subsequent resurrection…and then…as he encountered potential followers…that this same urgency seemed to overshadow the immediate goals that each of them placed in front of the act of following along after Jesus.

It was odd to be sure…and yet, not unique…and this same sort of sense is also on display in today’s passage…which incidentally picks up right on the heels of that story from last week.

As Jesus moves towards Jerusalem…there are cities and villages where he plans to go…but apparently the way must be prepared for him…and so Jesus sends this random group of 70 followers out in pairs with some very specific instructions.

Travel light…take no purse, no bag…only the shoes on your feet…and here’s where we catch this sense of urgency…greet no one along the road. (pause)  Admittedly, that last one kinda catches me off guard…greet no one on the road? Why not Jesus? Can the message not even be delayed long enough to catch a bit of news from our fellow travelers as we move along?

Apparently the answer is no…and this same urgency that Jesus is now operating with…it is applied to this 2 by 2 mission. (pause) Now it seems that Jesus knows full well that the reaction of those in the various communities that the disciples are going to visit is going to be mixed…and we find that in his instructions as well.

As you enter…first offer peace to the house.  It may be accepted or it may not…if it is…GREAT!!!! Stay put…eat what they give you…and don’t go hopping from house to house. While you’re there…heal the sick…here’s (grand gesture) the ability to do that…and be sure to tell them the kingdom of God has come near. (pause)

Now…on the other hand, if you come into a village and they refuse your offer of peace…well step out in to the street…wipe off the dust, give a little wave, and as you go be sure to remind them…the kingdom of God has come near. (pause)

Now maybe…that’s the key the right there…because the message doesn’t change…regardless of the response…regardless of the apparent susceptibility of the people to the message…its always the same…the kingdom has come near. (pause)

It might seem odd…after all…Jesus has given these individuals power and authority over demons…over diseases…apparently over sinister powers like serpents and scorpions even…and in their apparent surprise that this power works for them…Jesus reminds them again that this power is secondary to the good news that their names are written in heaven. (pause)

So what does this all mean? What do we make of this message and the apparent urgency that Jesus places upon it? (pause)  That seems to be the big question…and perhaps a good one for us to consider here in the midst of summer…when things are definitely pretty low key here at the church…schools out…people are traveling…and maybe faith-stuff gets pushed to the back burner…and a sense of complacency settles in.

If that is the case…do we hear a plea from the Lord to wake up…to put on that sense of urgency…and to carry this message forward? What might that look like? How do we start to see this in real life terms…we might even ask, how does this mission outlined by Jesus in the days before his death and resurrection, how is fleshed out for us now in this day and age?

And you know there’s a word for that type of thing? Questions around faith and spirituality entering into our day to day reality in a way that puts flesh on…and that word is Incarnation…when the divine puts on flesh among us…and its not just limited to Jesus…but it takes shape in others ways as well.

Just think about the ones who carried this message…granted, we don’t know a ton about them…but we know that Jesus’ followers included men and women…they included lowly fishermen and tax collectors…we know some had means and others had nothing…there were individuals who served the Romans and there were religious zealots who violently opposed the empire…and yet this ragtag mixed bag of followers were chosen to carry the message…to literally embody the message of Christ…we could even say that they were bearers of Christ into the places that he desired to go…and as they went it was always the same…the kingdom of God has come near.

Now I don’t know about you…but as I consider this sense of urgency on the part of Christ for everyone to hear that the kingdom has come near I wonder who still needs to hear that?  Who are those that we encounter that need to know that the creator of the entire universe loves them so much that he became one of us…that which is divine has entered into that which is broken and flawed…we might even say profane and has made it holy.

This is good news for all the world…but sometimes the world isn’t ready for it…and those who find themselves in positions of power and authority by worldly standards will oppose this message…which is why, so often…we truly find the presence of God shared among the common experience of those in pain and suffering…because they are fully awake to the truth that this world is not as God has intended it to be. (pause)

Who are those in the world around us that need to hear this message? Perhaps it is us…and if so, once we have heard it…well then we too are empowered to carry this same message forward…because the gospel offers freedom…even if its not freedom in the way that our political system would have us believe.

The gospel tells us that the love of the one who made us in the first place frees us to be authentically and uniquely honest about ourselves…knowing that when that Good News strikes the heart of a person…that’s how Satan falls from heaven as Jesus says today.

And if that is, in fact, the mission empowered by Christ…then maybe we can begin to understand that urgency…because he has come to release all of humanity from that which hinders them…from whatever it is that holds them back…that keeps them down. Friends in Christ, we have a God who desires a life of ultimate fullness…of ultimate love for ourselves and who we are made to be…a love that we are then called to share with one another…and if we see one another caught in the lies that hinder that fullness…well then we too should feel that same sense of urgency to share a message of freedom and wholeness to all.

The disciples were sent out 2 by 2 into the places where Jesus intended to go…we could say in this way that they were bearers of Christ’s presence…and we too have been empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling among us and within us…to bear the presence of Christ into this same world…so that this world might know that the Kingdom of God has come near to them…and it is for them…and they are a part of it.  Amen

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Who Is This 6-23-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Plus One Equals One 6-2-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Have Seen the Lord 4-28-19

In this sermon, based on John 20:19-31, I explore two of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Thomas’ honest response to the proclamation of the Risen Lord reveals a desire to have the same experience for himself.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-have-seen-the-lord-4-28-19

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, today and forever. Amen

Ever found yourself in the midst of situation where one person utterly surprises another? Now I don’t mean in the “SURPRISE!!” way, but like the “utterly mind blowing because you’re in a place where this person has no business being” kinda way?

Happened to me a few times…just last December, on our way home from vacation, we were sitting in the Houston airport, when I saw a couple that lives here in town…turns out they’d been in Texas for Iowa States’ bowl game and were on their way home as well. (pause)
I remember another time, we were out in Colorado for camp a few years back, when low and behold I came around a corner and there was an old friend and coworker from my year of Internship in Minnesota…and we were in the same spot at the same time, half way across the country. (pause)

I’ve been on the other end of this type of thing, too.  Clear back in 1999, during my junior year at Iowa State…I remember packing up my stuff to head home for the weekend…and as I was leaving…my roommate was busy playing some online game or another, networked in with the two guys that lived across the hall…I grabbed my stuff…told him to have a good weekend…and out the door I went…and then on Sunday, the weekend being almost over, I walked back into our room, saw him at his desk…the same game on his computer…and I just said “hey man.”

Now his response caught me off guard… “Hey…what you forget?”  “What?”  “What you forget? You must have forgotten something to be back already?”  In my confusion I responded “Dude, what are you talking about…its Sunday.”  And he stopped…turned and looked at me and said “It is?” And then he just kinda sat there blinking while his mind was catching up with reality.  Apparently, the game had been so engrossing that he had sat there all weekend long playing it…losing all sense of time…which is why it was so confusing for him when I walked back in the door 48 hours later.

Now this idea of encounters that defy what our minds tell us should be possible…that’s where we are connecting into the gospel for today. Today’s story is one that we share on this week every year…the second Sunday after Easter and the encounter that we’ve come to know as Doubting Thomas…which, for the record, isn’t an overly great name…and its worth noting that today’s passage includes not one but two different encounters with the resurrected Jesus.

Now I can’t help but think that today’s story includes a little bit of implied time travel.  Because the action picks up the evening of the Resurrection…and so we need to turn our minds backwards 7 days…to last Sunday night…we had all gathered together that morning to celebrate the Risen Jesus…we shared breakfast…everyone departed for their various family celebrations…I’m sure there were naps involved…but then, by late afternoon, early evening…everyone had settled in…back to normal…thinking about work the next day…but that’s our perspective.

For the ones there that day…things are little different.  If we back up ever so slightly in the passage itself…we have the testimony of Mary Magdalene…the first witness to the empty tomb…Mary alone encounters the Risen Jesus…now if you recall that account, she’s confused at who he is until he calls her by name…revealing the personal connection…and she recognizes him…and then reports back to the disciples “I have seen the Lord.”

It seems that none of them really know what to make of this…and they lock themselves away somewhere out of fear…when suddenly out of nowhere…defying all logic…in utterly mind-blowing fashion…Jesus is standing among them…and unlike my surprise appearance that freaked out my roommate after a fast weekend…and despite the fact that Jesus had told them repeatedly that he would be raised…and despite the earlier testimony of Mary…I can only imagine that this just didn’t compute.

JESUS WAS DEAD…AND THE DOOR IS LOCKED…DUDES! HOW IS HE HERE? These must have been the thoughts racing through their minds…and I imagine that Jesus knows it because not just once but twice he greets them with an offer of peace. Peace be with you…as he shows them the marks of the crucifixion that he still bears in his body…assuring them that he is in fact, the Risen Lord…and with that he breathes the Holy Spirit into them…empowering them with a mission. Just as the Father has sent me…so I send you.

And with this, the disciples are somehow changed.  And they are  empowered by the Spirit in order to share their testimony…their personal encounter that has revealed the good news of the Resurrected Jesus…and if you notice…when they bump in to Thomas, who was absent in this amazing moment…their testimony is pretty much identical to Mary’s from earlier that day. She says “I have seen the Lord.” They say “We have seen the Lord.” (pause)

Now here’s where things get little shady for good old Thomas.  We have no idea where he was this first time around…but he seems to know that he missed out on something special.  Unless I see the marks of the nails, put my finger in them, and stick my hand in the wound on his side, I can’t believe it. (pause)

What’s really going on here? Is Thomas just fickle?  Is he a skeptic…denying the possibility that Jesus was dead and now he isn’t? Or, does Thomas just hope to have the same experience as the others…is it simply his hope and desire to encounter the Risen Lord so he can make the same proclamation?  Is this doubt? Or is this revealing a longing that I think we all share…to somehow encounter the Risen Lord.  Don’t we all long to see Jesus?  Can you blame Thomas?

He’d spent the same amount of time following Jesus as the rest of them.  He abandoned Jesus just like the others…and they still got to see him…stands to reason that Thomas should too…and the whole “put my finger in the nail holes thing,” well Jesus had shown the others his hands and side…Thomas just wants to experience that too.  This isn’t doubt…this is a desire to experience it for himself. (pause)

As I think about that…I think of the wide variety of ways that the Resurrected Jesus is revealed throughout the scriptures.  He shows up on a mountaintop…to joyful and yet confused disciples and gives them the great commission.  He travels along with 2 followers on the road to Emmaus and is only revealed through the breaking of the bread.  He is revealed to Mary as he calls her by name.  He’s revealed to the disciples in an offer of peace…Thomas included, although a week later. He shows up on the road in a blinding light to the Apostle Paul.

In a different sense, John’s gospel itself testifies that Jesus is revealed through the written account of his many signs…and that begins to point us to something different…the importance of proclamation…that the Holy Spirit…mysterious as it might be, acts within us through the proclamation of the good news of the resurrection…and this has been ongoing over the course of the past 2000 years…this is vital for those of us who were not there to see the Resurrected Jesus for ourselves…for those of us who might wish to hear a word of peace from his mouth…who might wish to hear him call us by name…or to see with our own eyes the holes in his hands and feet…but for us and for countless individuals who have come before us…that’s not possible.

And yet…here we are today…gathered together to worship our Risen Lord and to give thanks for all that God has accomplished through his life death and resurrection…we are gathered because we have heard the proclamation and through the hearing of this good news the Spirit has created the gift of faith within us…the ability to believe that which is unbelievable…to trust in the truth of that which we have not seen for ourselves.

And that faith…that promise which is spoken over us in the waters of our baptism…this is what these three young people are affirming for themselves today. (pause) Now as many of you know…one of the last things I have our Confirmation Students do is write a statement, which I call their “I believe” Statements…no fluff…not telling me what they think I want to hear…but an honest reflection of what they believe at this point in their lives. And its never disappointing.

This year, there was a theme of the importance of others…of those who are part of this church, this community of believers, who have set examples and have built into the lives of these three young people…a theme of the way their faith has been shaped to this point…and in one of the statements, was something that seems very applicable as we consider the desire to see the resurrected Lord.

“Even though Jesus isn’t here physically I always know he is with me and watching over me.”  That’s the promise right there…and we profess that in the physical absence of Christ here in the world, we who are gathered and empowered and most importantly, connected by the Holy Spirit…we are the body of Christ on earth…and as we gather…and live out this life of faith in the midst of the crazy up and downs of the world…may we continue to reveal the presence of God to one another and this world that we share.

That is my prayer for the three of you today…that you will continue to experience this for yourselves…that you would continue to feel that urge…that desire to seek out the presence of the divine in your own lives…and that no matter what you will experience in the years to come…that your testimony will somehow be able to echo the testimony of those who have come before…that somehow, you can say, I have seen the Lord. Amen.

Shine 3-3-19

In this sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, I explore this amazing and yet confusing story from Luke 9:28-36. The identity of Jesus is on display, and we are reminded of the promise that we have been made heirs of that same identity.

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

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

It is good to be back to normal.  After cancellation of all services the past 2 weeks, not to mention education canceling and worship being a bit more on-the-fly than normal the week before that…I think its safe to say that we’ve had our share of winter weather lately haven’t we?

I’ve lost track of the number of storms we’ve had…but we’ve gotten our share of ice and frost and snow haven’t we?  Its pretty crazy out there to take in the piles and the drifts…the build up on the roads and the corners…the depth in people’s yards…after several winters in a row of low key conditions…we’ve been in for this time haven’t we?

And I don’t know about you…but with the enormous amount of snow out there…its unbelievably bright isn’t it?  All that light reflecting around…its hard on the eyes…when the sun’s out its almost unbearable…I’m squinting even when its cloudy…and to be honest…its so stinking bright out there that I’m about the point of wearing my sunglasses when I go to bed at night…ok so that’s a stretch but you get my point…and you probably see where I’m going with this.

Because its not too difficult to make the jump from the blindingly bright conditions due to all of the snow outside to today’s gospel lesson and what is apparently an equally blindingly bright event known as the Transfiguration. (pause)

Its kind of hard to believe that we’ve made it around to Transfiguration Sunday again…here on the last Sunday of Epiphany before we kick off the season of Lent…and yet here we are…and as we do every year, we wrap up this season of Christ being revealed to the world with the story of Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up the mountain…where his face is somehow changed…and his clothes flash like the brightest lightning.

Honestly, this is a pretty amazing story…a moment that is perhaps, confusing to consider…I’m guessing it was pretty confusing for the 3 disciples who were along for the ride when it happened…evidenced by Peter’s impulsive words, not to mention the fact that he’s spouting off without knowing what he’s talking about.

But this is one of those times isn’t it? One of those moments in the story of the gospel when we just can’t quite put our finger on things can we…we can’t quite wrap our heads around the mystery of what’s going on. Imagine it.

Imagine that you’ve spent a pretty good chunk of time trudging up a mountain…and I can tell you it is pretty high…takes about 15-20 minutes to drive up it…now imagine walking up that…no wonder we hear the disciples were tired…they just climbed a mountain for pete’s sake. But once they get up there…and Jesus is engaged in prayer, as he often does. Suddenly things get crazy with a change in his appearance and his clothes flashing like we’ve mentioned.

Two random dudes are suddenly standing there talking to him…and I wonder if they were wearing nametags or something because it seems like the disciples immediately recognize them as Moses and Elijah…2 guys who had lived centuries before this…well apparently they’re all standing around talking about Jesus’ pending departure…ironically the original language calls it an exodus, maybe in a nod to Moses and his piece of Jewish history…

Now I wonder if maybe that particular subject caught Peter’s attention…because he and Jesus have some history on that subject. Shortly before this event happens, we have the exchange between the two men over the identity of Jesus and Peter’s declaration that he is the Messiah…an exchange that is followed up by Jesus’ words about his betrayal and arrest and death…all something that’s gonna happen in Jerusalem.

I wonder if Peter’s thinking about that…and in a wonderful and glorious moment that is blowing his mind…he thinks this might be an opportunity to side step Jesus’ earlier prediction….MASTER…it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up 3 tents…one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah…let’s do that and we’ll just stay up here on the mountain. (pause)

Now, maybe Peter had ulterior motives, or maybe he was just utterly confused…but we hear a rebuke…and its not from Elijah…and its not from Moses…its not from Jesus…its certainly not from James and John…this one comes from the top.

Out of nowhere a cloud overshadows them…and from within the cloud comes the voice of God….This is my son…the chosen one…listen to him…and the three disciples hit the floor…utterly terrified. Because not only has God shown up…but it would seem that Peter’s impulsive idea might have God a touch on the irritated side.

But then…just as suddenly as this whole deal began…its over…the extra 2 guys are gone…the cloud has disappeared…the booming voice from heaven is silent…and there’s only Jesus…and then, the moment being done, they start heading back down the mountain…and for whatever reason…the three men remain silent…perhaps feeling the sense of shame that comes with a rebuke. (pause)

That’s the story of the Transfiguration…one that is amazing…and yet is utterly beyond our ability to make heads or tails of.  And considering that point…sometimes I think that the description of a moment when the divine and the finite…the heavenly and the human are both on display in the same instant…that is so utterly beyond our human ability to describe or even comprehend…that this is the best we can do in terms of a description.

Of course, it goes without saying that countless scholars over the centuries have made attempts to explain what’s going on here…but maybe its okay just to sit in the enormity of the mystery.  A mystery that points towards an even bigger mystery…of whatever it is that God is up in constantly inviting our reality forward…and in connection to that…whatever it is that God is up to through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus.  (pause)

The apostle Paul talks about this mystery…saying that now we see as in a mirror dimly…but one day we will see face to face.  I’ll admit it…there are times when we call something a mystery that we can’t explain…or we answer a question with “I don’t know” and it almost seems like a copout…its frustrating…and yet…that’s the truth…that there are things about God and heaven and the kingdom and Jesus and that which is divine being found among that which is not that is simply too much.

And so maybe, just maybe as we consider this event…all we can say here is that somehow, the event of the Transfiguration is a moment that reveals something about the identity of Jesus…because we have a name that is given to him…the Son of God…the one who is chosen…but as we think about that heavenly proclamation that comes about as Jesus is in a moment of quiet prayer…maybe we’re reminded of another time when that happens.

I can’t help but think that this sounds a lot like Jesus baptism…which we hit back at the beginning of this season of Epiphany…as Jesus is praying, post baptism…the heaven’s are ripped open and that same voice declares an almost identical statement…You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.

Above all else…these two similar events point us towards a vital aspect of Jesus’ identity…the one who has been claimed as the Son of God…but as we dwell on that point…let us remember something else…though we fail to understand how it all works…we have been given a promise through the baptism that we share with Jesus…and that promise is that we have also inherited the same identity…beloved child of God.

That is an identity that trumps….EVERYTHING…it’s a promise that God is with us…that God has claimed us and dwells among us…even within us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  And that’s huge…because if there’s one angle that we can pull from the entirety of scripture…its that God desires to dwell among us…and be with us…and that we are with God.  God is together with humanity in the Garden…God dwells among the Israelites in the desert…God literally comes among us in the person of Christ…and in the end…the promise of Revelation says “Behold, the dwelling of the Lord is with his people.” That’s where this is going…not limited to any single instance…or any super exiting mountain top experience…God shows us over and over again that our existence begins from a place of divine delight…and whether we feel like it or not…whether the world confirms it or not…we are the pinnacle of God’s divine creative joy…both as individuals and as a species.

And the amazing thing about this…is that we are invited into the work of bringing this to fruition…over again Jesus offers this invitation…to live our lives in a way that reflects the Kingdom of Heaven being here now…because it is.

Now I know…life doesn’t always feel like it…and to live our lives this way is scary…its daunting…and that sense of doubt loves to squawk in the back of our minds doesn’t it…that voice that tells us we aren’t good enough…we aren’t smart enough…or savvy enough…or skilled enough…that lie that tells us “You aren’t enough” so that we’ll cower in fear from the work and from the very gifts that God has given us to benefit this world. Maybe that voice of fear is even louder than the voice of doubt…that voice that asks what might happen if follow that call? (pause) The potential that lies within every single one of us…the gifts and the talents that you were born with…maybe they scare you…because who knows what might happen if you turn your God-given potential lose in this world…

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are meant to shine as children do. Its not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” A brilliant author named Marianne Williamson wrote that…and I believe that if Jesus was standing here right now…he’d be nodding and cheering…because he said some of the very same things.

You are the light of the world…a city on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and places it under a basket…so shine.  Shine in this world that loves its darkness…be that light that reflects the perfect light that was shining through Jesus on that mountain. Shine in a way that reveals your identity as a beloved child of God.

We do that…and we’ll see some change in this world…because that’s the work that God has invited us into through the one who was shining in the first place.  Amen.

Only the Beginning 11-18-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 13:1-8, Jesus gets apocalyptic. This is normal at the end of the church year. Unfortunately we’re only given little glimpses but we are given the promise that we will never be left alone in it.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/only-the-beginning-11-18-18

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

The Grace and Peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Just out of curiosity…how many of you out there were raised in the city? Any city…doesn’t matter which one? (Pause) Okay now on the flipside…how many grew up in a small rural town, or even out in the country? (pause) Okay, now I know what I’m working with.

As many of you know…I was a farm kid growing up…living a few miles outside of a town about the same size as Underwood…roughly 800 people. Now one difference was the proximity to urban areas. Around here we’ve got the Omaha/Council Bluffs metro just a few minutes down the road…but we often joked that my hometown was 3 hours from everywhere. The Twin Cities…three hours.  Des Moines…about three hours…Omaha, yep, that’s three hours. Sioux Falls…OH!!! That’s only 90 minutes. (pause)

It probably goes without saying…that in my normal day to day life growing up…I was pretty used to open fields…and the tallest structures out there were usually a silo or the local elevator if you happened to be in town.  And because of this…the rare times when I ended up in the downtown area of a city were eye opening.

I can remember being in downtown Des Moines during high school for state FFA convention…and thinking how crazy busy it was as we small town boys made our way around the skywalk.  And maybe even more memorable…my freshman year when we traveled to Chicago for a music trip…and I found myself standing on the sidewalk beside the skyscraper known then as the Sears Tower…just staring up at this monstrosity of architectural and construction achievement.

It was just so huge…I couldn’t even begin to understand how anyone would make something like that…and on the flipside…now that its there…I couldn’t imagine anything ever bringing it down. (pause) Anyone know what I’m talking about?  Standing there looking at something, whether man-made or something in nature…that is just so huge…so grand…so massively immovable, that you find yourself in awe? (Pause) Well, as we consider today’s gospel lesson, you are in good company…as Jesus and his disciples go walking out of the temple courtyard in Jerusalem.

As we start to think about this…remember that the 12 disciples were likely pretty young…maybe in their teens or 20’s…and most of them, perhaps not all, but most of them were from small towns or communities…particularly the small communities from the somewhat backwater region of Galilee…communities where the biggest structure they would ever see was the local synagogue.

But now they find themselves in the middle of the city…staring up that enormity of the temple…which by every description we have available…must have been impressive.  Keep in mind this is the 2nd temple…completed by Herod the Great a generation before…and it was comprised of many different structures and courtyards and staircases…all surrounded by a giant wall, all built over the course of decades…it must have been a site to see…and for these small town boys…I can only imagine how overwhelming it must have been…and we hear it from them…Teacher, look at these enormous, magnificent stones and amazing buildings.

I bet it was impressive…I’ve seen first-hand some of those stones that are still standing today in what’s called the Western Wall…or Wailing Wall…the only part of that entire enormous structure that is still standing…and those stones alone are huge…roughly 4 or 5 feet cubed…and solid rock…can you imagine trying to put those into place? We’d need a crane of some sort now, but they did it with basic human labor…and even more amazing…those were the smaller stones…recent work in Jerusalem has uncovered massive foundation stones that were upwards of 20 feet long and 10 feet high. (pause)

Starting to see why these simple farm boys and fishermen were so impressed? (pause) But here’s the thing…no sooner does this one random disciple make his wondrous statement to Jesus…then Jesus makes a prediction that must really rain on his parade.  You see these stones…the day will come when not one will be left on another…and then apparently with no other explanation…he walks away.

With that, we find a scene change, as Jesus and the disciples have gone out of the temple area and crossed the Kidron valley to the east…and then plopped themselves down on the Mount of Olives…a vantage point where they can see the glory of the temple mount from a distance…and the first four disciples that Jesus called…Peter and James and John and Andrew…the epitome of the backwater country bumpkins…they figure its up to them to figure out how this is all gonna happen.

Master…what will be the sign that this is about to take place? (Pause) It seems that they want to know what it is they better be looking for…because anything that is massive enough or strong enough to destroy the utter gloriousness of the temple mount…well that’s probably gonna be a bad thing isn’t it?

But Jesus doesn’t really give them a straight answer does he? He starts off with a warning that they not allow themselves to be led astray…and then he gives warnings about wars that will come and go…and nations rising up against nation…and natural disasters…and all kinds of stuff. Stuff that sounds…REALLY BAD…stuff that if we found ourselves on the receiving end of it…would be something we’d call “the end of the world.” And, to be honest…isn’t that type of thing what we all hope we’ve got a little advanced warning for? (pause)

Now…this first portion of chapter 13 is actually part of a larger account of Jesus teaching the disciples about (air quote this) “the end times.” And the fact that we run into it here in late November is quite normal…as we come to the end of another church year, we always run into these texts…texts often described as “apocalyptic” in nature…texts which we all commonly think of as describing those end times.

And after many different conversations with people based on this type of text over the years…I know its pretty common for all of us to hear them and think “well that doesn’t sound good…but it also doesn’t give us a whole to go on either.” And isn’t that true? I mean, its so true…and fairly universal interest in it is so real…that many people have made attempts to explain it away…even “read the code” to uncover just when it’ll happen…and how all the bad stuff that happens in the world…whether natural disasters or human centered misery…is actually a roadmap that points to just when “the end” often called the rapture…is going to be.

I always chuckle and shake my head when I hear these predictions on the news…and then I flat out laugh when the day comes and goes and the person who made the prediction in the first place sheepishly reports “We may have misread the signs.”  DUH!

But all sarcasm aside…I think it is human nature to look at the state of the world…to see horrible event after horrible event and think…Well this must be the end.  Oh no…well now this one is it…Oh I guess not, but THIS time is it right? (pause)

Maybe, just maybe, we humans have a really hard time seeing beyond whatever is staring us right in the face…whether its marveling at giant buildings or natural features like mountains or cliffs that we think will never be knocked down…or on the other end of thing to see forces at work which we are powerless to stop…like category 5 hurricanes or tsunamis or even the apparently blind hatred expressed by one group for another group.  And as we witness these different things we can only think “this is it” and nothing I can think or do or say is going to change it.

And that’s daunting isn’t it?  And maybe, just maybe, if we bring things down to a smaller scale we begin to realize that sheer size or magnitude isn’t the sole factor either.  Think about the lost job.  Or the cancer diagnosis.  Or the balance due notice…or the family standing at a graveside to bury their loved one…those moments when it feels like life is over, even as the rest of the world is going on about their business.  Are the dire feelings that come with those moments any less real than the sense the disciples felt when Jesus tells them the temple will be destroyed? (pause)

So are we in “the end times?”   Is Jesus about to come back? Well…I hope so…but honestly I don’t think so…and I don’t think that’s the point of all these different apocalyptic texts in the first place. Something that we especially see if we pay attention to Jesus’ final statement in today’s little section of this larger teaching.  This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. (pause) This is the beginning.

I am, as you may have noticed…a guy…and I will never ever know the pain and agony of childbirth…and honestly, as my two kids were born by c-section I’ve never really been adjacent to it either.  But I do remember a mom being induced at 6am the day after my son was born…and she walked the halls of that OB ward in the hospital for more than 25 hours before finally going to delivery…and then spending 2.5 hours pushing before her baby was born…and I can only imagine that for her…or for any of you moms out there that went through labor…that in the midst of it…it must feel like an eternity and that it will NEVER end.

And yet it does…and at the end…there is new life in that child…and maybe, just maybe…that’s what we need to remember as we consider these troublesome texts that point towards something unknown, but seemingly pretty earth shattering…just as labor pains leads to the joy of new life…it would seem that there’s new life on the other side of this unknown future that’s coming…and the idea of looking for something good and wonderful and joyful on the other side of things…there’s a name for that…Hope.

Now as followers of Christ…we’ve been given a promise…an assurance that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us…that it is here now and that we are invited into it…and at the same time we are also promised that there are aspects of this kingdom that haven’t come around yet…and that whatever they are…they lie out there on the other side of that unknown future…and for many of us, they lie on the other side of the boundary of death…and because of these promises of Christ…we hope…we are united by our common hope in this promised but unrealized future.

And there’s one more little detail from today’s story that points us in this direction. Jesus and the disciples are sitting on top of the Mount of Olives, looking across the valley at the Temple…now the temple pointed them towards God…it was the place where God is…the sign of God’s presence and God’s promises…that’s what they were looking at.

But the valley that lies between them…even back then…was a graveyard…and it still is today…they sat on one mountain…looking across the literal presence of death…and beyond it was the embodiment of hope.

I can’t tell you what that embodiment is for you. Maybe it’s the cross…or maybe it’s a song that’s especially meaningful for you…or maybe it’s the truth that is revealed to you in the scriptures…or maybe it’s the sacraments…the washing in the waters of baptism and the shared meal of holy communion…those physical elements that combine with the promises of God to reveal the reality of God’s grace and love for you…made real through the life death and resurrection of Jesus.

Remember these promises are made for you and TO you…not just once, but always…and we are given these blessings and mercies…new every morning.  No matter what the situation is…remember…this is only the beginning.  Let us live out this day…let us live out every day which will follow…and let us experience whatever it is that lies on the other side of this existence as we know it…secure in the hope given to us through the promises of Jesus Christ. Amen