Posts Tagged ‘Discipleship’

How Much You Got 9-8-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 14:25-33, I explore a troublesome teaching from Jesus about the cost of discipleship. He asks for all that we have, implying that even that isn’t enough…and yet…there’s some good news in this difficult passage.

You can listen along to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/how-much-you-got-9-8-19

You can also follow along with the text here:

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

There is a character from a series of movies that, in my opinion, fits the bill for the quintessential title of dad who JUST wants to do the best he can for his family…and give them a great experience. And that character is Clark W Griswold Jr…played by Chevy Chase in about 4 or 5 different National Lampoons Vacation movies made through the 80’s and 90’s.

Now this guy, bless his heart…he tries hard…but in movie after movie…situation after situation…things never seem to go quite right…and that trend is established pretty quickly in the very first Vacation…in the midst of a cross country road trip…somewhere out in the middle of a desert…he misses a detour sign and promptly ramps his car right off the dead end of a construction site, messing up the car and blowing all four tires.

Following a few more hijinks…they finally get the car hauled off to a shop in a tiny isolated town…and when Clark goes to pay the bill…the shady shop owner asks him “How much you got?” (pause) They never actually say exactly how much the guy fleeces him for….but something tells me it costs him every dollar in his wallet…everything he has to give. (pause)

Now today’s gospel story doesn’t have any shady mechanics shaking someone down for cash…but in one similarity with the movie…Jesus is back on the road again.  We know he’s been slowly making his way towards Jerusalem…and at this point, we’re only about halfway through the whole travel narrative…and we continue to see Jesus moving around…sometimes hanging out in a community for a while…sometimes out in the wilderness…sometimes on the road.

And that’s where we find him today…on the move…and as per usual, he’s got a following.  I often wonder just what these scenes would have looked like…as the large crowds are following him around…listening to him teach…hoping for a healing…wondering what he’s going to do next. It stands to reason that the individuals in these crowds came from a wide variety of backgrounds…each with different expectations of what they think the Messiah is up to…

But in the simple act of following along… there’s an expectation being implied…to follow a teacher…or a rabbi…or a messiah, whatever term we want to use for Jesus…the person who takes this action also has a name…a disciple…and to be following along means that they are engaging in discipleship.

Now discipleship’s not easy…it might seem easy at face value…but there’s way more to it than just walking down the road behind someone.  To be a disciple means you carry an openness to what they can teach you…and with that comes the expectation of change…and change isn’t always easy is it? Because the things that need to change aren’t always something that we want to let go of.

In short…the idea of discipleship seems to indicate cost…it will cost us something…but if that’s true…and I think it is…then the next logical question is…what’s it gonna cost me?

And that’s the topic that Jesus is talking about today. Now admittedly…Jesus’ statements make me kind of uncomfortable today…maybe you as well…because he’s not really painting an overly pretty picture is he? (pause)

Anyone who do does not hate father or mother…spouse and children…siblings…even your very life…cannot be my disciple. (pause) What? You mean we have to be willing to sacrifice our family?  The people that love and care about us…that support us? That connect us into our communities and into our culture…and Jesus seems to say…yes. (pause)

Anyone who does not carry the cross and follow me…cannot be my disciple. (pause) What? You mean we might risk civil disobedience? We might have to stand up to the government, risking our freedom…maybe even death…and Jesus seems to say…yes. (pause)

Anyone who does not give up all your possession…cannot be my disciple. (Pause) What, we have to be willing to give up everything we have?  You don’t mean everything do you Jesus? Everything?  And Jesus seems to say…yes. (Pause)

I don’t know…this is pretty heavy Jesus…I’m not quite sure I really understand what you’re saying here…but HEY!!!! He tells a couple brief parables right? I bet those will shed some more light on just what he’s REALLY trying to teach us.

A man plans to build himself a tower…but before he does so he sits down to calculate the cost…making sure he has enough resources…enough to spare…enough to give or trade so that this project will come to completion and fulfillment…because on the flip side…holy cow…if he lays his foundation and then runs out of resources…well then there’s physical evidence of this guy’s inability to do it on his own…and everyone will mock him….hmmmm.

Well maybe the second one…what king…as he plans to go out and meet another king in battle…will he not first sit to determine if its possible with his 10,000 fighters to defeat the other guy…who’s marching up with 20,000?  Well that makes sense right? 2-1 odds?  Pretty sure this first king is gonna end up dead, or in the very least disgraced if he tries that…better to do the alternative…and send out a delegation to ask for peace right?  (pause) Or is it? Because in that scenario…king number 1 is at the mercy of king number 2…and whatever deal they strike to keep #2 from laying waste anyway is probably gonna cost #1 pretty dearly…so maybe neither alternative is really all the great. (pause)

And so…with these two illustrations, we consider Jesus’ teaching…his rather blunt statements about the cost of discipleship and it leads to the obvious conclusion of (Long pause)  WHAT?

It kinda seems that Jesus is telling us that discipleship does come with cost…and in all likelihood…it might be more than we are willing to give…because discipleship…following Jesus might just cost us absolutely EVERYTHING we have…and even that might not be enough…and if his parables are to be believed…it almost seems like Jesus is saying “if you aren’t willing to give what its gonna take…you might as well just stay home and not…even…try.” (pause)

I don’t know about you but that strikes me as a pretty tough pill to swallow.  Isn’t Jesus the one who tells us “come follow me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light?” Isn’t he the one who teaches us over and over again that all are truly welcome and included…even the ones who have pushed so far to the margins that we forget about them?  Isn’t he the one who calls all who are weary and he will give us rest?

Yes…all of those things are true…but in this difficult teaching from Jesus it seems like discipleship is asking more of us than any of us are willing to give…and maybe even more than any of us are even CAPABLE of giving. And if that’s the case…then what do we do with it?  It is a lost cause?  Are we a lost cause?  Should we just throw up our hands and go home and figure “Well we gave a shot, I guess that wasn’t enough?” (pause)

Here’s the thing…when we zero in on single aspects of scripture…single teachings…single verses or ideas or concepts…when we do this…all too often to try and prove point to someone we disagree with…we miss the bigger picture…context matters…overarching teaching matters…and the larger message of Christ matters.

And so…in order to try and make some sense of this oddball teaching from Jesus that sounds like “all is lost.” I looked ahead to the next chapter…anyone know what happens in Luke 15? (Pause) Jesus tells some more parables…about a shepherd with 100 sheep who leaves 99 to go find 1 that’s lost…and then a woman with 10 coins who searches diligently all over her house until she locates the one that went missing…and then a father with 2 sons, both of which go wayward in one way or another…and that Father looks longingly…for them…until they are brought back in. (pause)

The gospel teaches us that we have a God who made ALL of this…and even though we’ve done a REALLY good job of screwing it up in just about every way imaginable…this same God does not see us as a lost cause…and this is why Jesus was here in the first place.

Whatever it was that God was accomplishing in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…it seems that God was paying that cost that is too great for any of us to manage on our own…that somehow…God was offering a way to overcome that brokenness and division that exists in our reality…peace in the face of that which has divided us from one another and even from God. (pause) That’s what those three parables coming up in the next chapter reveal to us…that we have a God who will defy all logic and sense and do what we are incapable of doing on our own…of finding us when we are lost.
That’s what caught me…and knowing that, I circled back around to today’s difficult teaching to find the good news in a passage that seems devoid of it.

When the king realizes that he can’t do it…a delegation for peace is sent…but the gospel tells us that the one who actually sends the delegation is not the weaker king, its the stronger king. (pause)  Jesus was sent into the world to bring about peace on our behalf…knowing that we are unable to achieve it. (pause)
And now here’s the take away…especially today as we kick off another program year…what is it that we are doing here at church if not engaging in opportunities for discipleship? It takes on many forms, but its here…this chance to gather with one another and learn from the one who calls us, and asks for our entire selves.

Its not just a call to bring our kids and drop them at the front door…or to sit and listen to me jabber for 15 minutes once in a while, or to drop a couple bucks in the offering plate on occasion.  This call into discipleship asks for everything…and it might cost everything…we don’t know how all that’s gonna shake out.

And so what do we do with that? Are we gonna be lukewarm about it? Because if that’s the case Jesus seems to be saying you might as well stay home. And that’s blunt…but sometimes we need to hear a blunt word to remind us that the creator of the entire universe looked at everything…and decided the universe needed one of you.  And not only that…but that same creator of everything has offered you the life changing news that you have been claimed as a beloved child, not through anything that you have done…you have not earned it…but it has been given to you freely…So let that truth permeate everything aspect of your being…and together let’s be willing to give all of ourselves…and see where God is going to lead us. Amen.

Jesus What Are You Talking About 6-30-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 9:51-62, I explore several odd encounters between Jesus and potential followers.  Comparing these exchanges with other similar situations in the gospels creates a tension, as we see that the calling of God in our lives will manifest in many different ways.

You cal listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/jesus-what-are-you-talking-about-6-30-19

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

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

How many of you have heard the expression “Man plans and God laughs?” (Pause) How many of you have lived it? (Pause) I can’t help but think I’ve been through several periods in my life that fit this bill…but perhaps none more on the nose than an expectation I had early in my college years.

Many of you know by now that I worked at camp for a couple of summers…Ingham Lake Bible Camp…first the summer of 97, right out of high school, as I worked half time running the lawn mower around the camp, but also jumping in and forming relationships outside work hours.  Then, fast-forward a year, and in 98 I worked full-time as the maintenance director through the summer…and as that was wrapping up, and I was heading back for my second and final year of community college…I thought I had it all planned out.

I’d graduate with my associates degree, come back on staff for another summer, this time as a counselor working directly with the kids…and then I would get hired by the camp in a year round role that they support…a role that is split half time between the camp itself and the wintertime retreat season, and a local congregation in a half-time youth director role.

It was perfect right? I’m going to do God’s work…CERTAINLY God will agree with me and help that happen right? (Nod yes, moving into no). Nope…that was not what God had in mind for me…and that door slammed closed rather abruptly through the following school year…and my plans had to change pretty dramatically.

And I remember really struggling with that…wondering why it didn’t work out the way I thought it should…why God would deny this idea and this track of ministry that I wanted to follow…it made me ask a lot of questions…questions of why? Questions like “what are you doing here?” Or “Now what does this mean?” There was a sense of loss…a sense of confusion…and the complete lack of knowing where to turn…Ever experienced that in your lives?  Those questions? Those insecurities…they take a lot of forms…sometimes in the midst of the day to day that we lead…sometimes in the matters of faith that we encounter…and I can’t help but think…maybe, even in some of our encounters with the scriptures. (pause)
And that is where we are wading into today’s oddball little passage…full disclosure…earlier this week, I was messaging back and forth with a group of fellow pastors…sharing insights into the passage…and my first entry into the conversation…I really hate this text…and I do…its probably horrible for me to say it, but I find this mashup of exchanges from Jesus troublesome to say the least…I would probably even call it downright infuriating.

Because the words of Jesus are just so unexpectedly out there…and honestly almost seem contradictory to what we see and hear from him in other encounters…it’s a head scratcher…its confusing…and it makes me ask the question…repeatedly…Jesus, what are you talking about? (Pause)

First off…this whole little exchange with James and John over the Samaritan Village. Its weird from the get-go.  We hear, right away, that Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem. Now this is unique in Luke’s gospel…an intentionality of Jesus’ goal and ultimate destination…and even though its going to take him 10 more chapters of the gospel before he finally gets there…we do see that, even now, at this point…the ultimate thrust of Jesus’ work and ministry…we could even say his very life’s purpose…is aimed at his death and resurrection in Jerusalem.

And…it begins here…as he departs from Galilee in the north heading towards Jerusalem in the south…and in order to get there…he’s either gotta go around Samaria, or he’s gotta go right through it.  And…its probably clear that relations between the Jewish people and the Samaritans was strained at best…who knows why other than general rivalry that goes back about 700 odd years or so…but they aren’t big fans of one another…and so, as Jesus prepares to enter into the village…the messengers are pretty much told off…leading James and John…two of the original disciples…2 of Jesus’ own inner circle…ask to call down fire to consume the village.

Now, at first glance, maybe Jesus’ response that puts the brothers in their place isn’t surprising…evidence of Jesus mercy…of forgiveness…but at the same time…Jesus is also the one who’ll crack a whip at people and throw tables around in an epic righteous hissy fit in the cleansing of the temple, with a claim of religious zeal for the house of God.  Sometimes we like to call this sort of thing righteous anger.  But it would seem that in THIS case…Jesus is having none of that…so Jesus…what are you talking about? (pause)

Following this…seemingly in various encounters along the road with some potential followers…we get some more craziness.  The first guy wants to follow along…we don’t know if there’s been an invitation or not…but he flat says “Jesus, I’ll follow wherever you go.” Now, while Jesus ministry took him all over the place, and was fully reliant on the hospitality of others…his response is still odd. “Fox have holes…birds have nests…the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  I can only image the guy just sorta standing there scratching his head…wondering the same thing we are.  Jesus…what are you talking about?

And the second one…this time we know that Jesus extends the invitation…same one he offered to several different disciples…one that he often says. Follow me…and guy pretty much say “Okay…I’ll follow along, but I’ve gotta go bury my father first.” And Jesus seems to squawk…apparently telling him to blow off that responsibility.  And that’s just odd.

In that culture…this was an expectation…we might even call it an extension of the law…because to honor your father and mother…which you might recall is one the commandments…that includes proper burial.  Jesus knows this…and he’s no stranger to caring for his parents either…even as he hangs on the cross he makes sure that his mother is taken care of…so…what’s up with this dead burying their own dead thing? Jesus…what are you talking about? (pause)

And then the last guy…I’ll follow you, but let me go say goodbye first…and now we have this crazy thing about plowing and not looking backwards…which…as a farm kid who’s struggled with the technique of cultivating as a teenager…I get it…but its still weird…Yes Jesus called people to follow him…and many did…but they didn’t always leave everything behind…Peter still had a house…which they frequented whenever they were in the area…so Jesus…what are you talking about? (pause)

That’s the tension that I see in this passage.  Jesus seems to be implying a sense of urgency…that his ultimate mission…his ultimate goal for the kingdom of God that he mentions a couple different times…that’s the priority…that’s number one on the list…and it sorta seems, at face value anyway…that he expects the same urgency out of those who be his followers.

And yet…as we know…when it gets right down to it…he’s alone…none of these would be followers…none of the disciples…no one else…shares his fate…except maybe a couple of insurrectionists who are hung up beside him…and yet in the midst of even that…Jesus is offering forgiveness. (pause)
So what do we do with this text today? What do we do with the tension that we find in considering Jesus’ response in these particular moments and comparing it with the polar opposite response in other situations?  And maybe, just maybe, the only thing we can do is realize that this tension reveals a truth that Jesus was fully aware of…that this life is messy…and that what applies in one situation, might not cut it in the next…or what God is calling one person into might be completely different than what God desires for the next person…even when the situations seem remarkably similar.

That’s the truth that I continue to find in scripture…I see it in my own study…I find it in honest conversation with others…its visible as we open our eyes to see that which is happening around us.  Life is messy…and its unexpected and there’s no manual…and I can’t help but think that the Bible in all its crazy back and forth glory…the Bible is honest about that.

And yet, in the midst of all this craziness…maybe we find just a touch of reassurance in the ultimate dedication that Jesus shows, even in this little passage.  He has turned his face towards Jerusalem and all that will happen there…and we hear that, not just once but twice…in fact, that’s the only explanation we have for why the Samaritans rejected him in the first place…because his face was set towards Jerusalem.

Whatever it is that God’s up to…whatever it is that Christ was accomplishing…whatever it is that the Spirit continues to empower…its moving in a specific direction and that is forward.  Maybe not at the speed that we would hope for…maybe not in the individual moments that we expect…but it is going somewhere…and whenever creation reaches that glorious day…whether it happens in our lifetime or if we have joined the ranks of the blessed saints who have gone on before us…but when we finally join with Christ in the resurrection…whatever and whenever and however that’s gonna be…when God makes good on that promise for you and for me…that promise to make everything new…I don’t think we’re gonna be disappointed.

Today we are left asking the question Jesus, what are you talking about? I don’t quite know what he’s talking about…but something tells me its good news anyway. Amen.

What Is It Worth To You 10-14-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:17-31, Jesus encounters a man (who we know as the rich young ruler), and offers an invitation to discipleship.  The odd thing is that we don’t know if it works or not.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-is-it-worth-to-you-10-14-18

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

There’s an exchange that goes on at my house with a pretty fair bit of regularity. I’ll be in the living room or sitting at the table, and my wife, who many of you know is a bit…vertically challenged…will say “Hey, can you come in here at help me with something?” Typically she means “There’s something on the top shelf and I don’t want to climb on the counters and you are just sitting there not doing anything anyway, so come get this thing from up there for me.”

More often than not…my response… “Maybe…what’s it worth to you?” Now she quickly puts me in my place, but you get the idea.  That things are often transactional…that if you want something, is there something you can offer for it.

This is an idea that I latched onto during my senior year of high school. As a senior, I had open campus during study halls, and could come and go from the school…and I pretty quickly discovered that many of the underclassmen wanted me to run to the store for them…to pick up a snack while they were languishing at school…it took me about 3 trips to figure something out.  That I was carrying an awful lot of change back to the school after 3 or 4 separate transactions…and so I told them, I’ll make the run for you, and I’ll bring back any paper money as change…but the loose change stays with me.  And let me tell you something…this transaction worked out pretty well. I’d drive the 3 blocks to the store, and I’d usually end up with 3 or 4 bucks worth of loose change by the end of the day.  They got something out of it…and I got something out of it. (pause)

Now I can’t help but think that this is the attitude…or perhaps it would be better to say, the expectation…of the man who approaches Jesus today. (pause)  Now Jesus is just setting out on a journey…he’s just been in a house, bear hugging children and blessing them…reminding his disciples that to receive the kingdom of God…to enter into it…one must be like a child. And with that he steps outside to continue along the way, when this random guy that we know virtually nothing about, kneels before him…calls him teacher…and asks what really seems to be…an honest question about the kingdom of God.

Teacher…what must I do to inherit eternal life? Again, we don’t know anything about this guy. Has he been following…listening…hearing the teachings and seeing the miracles…maybe, we don’t know.  Has he simply heard about Jesus and the general ideas of the gospel which Jesus is proclaiming…maybe, we don’t know.  In truth, as this random guy enters the scene…we literally know NOTHING about him. (pause)

But as we hear…Jesus begins to engage with the guy…now I can only think that there are some cultural expectations at play here. The guy must be Jewish…because Jesus turns the commandments on him. “You know the commandments.” And then he begins to list off the back half of the 10 commandments which are aimed at our relationships with others. Don’t murder, no adultery, don’t steal, honor your parents, and so on.

And the guy seems to indicate that he’s got those bases covered…oh yes Lord, I have kept these since my youth…I know that…I’ve done that…I’m good on that front…so what else must I do? (pause)
Now with a bit more back and forth, Jesus lovingly lays another stipulation on him. Sell your processions, give it to the poor, and come follow me.” And it is only at this point that we learn this guys apparent economic status…that he has great possessions…as he walks away downcast and sad…grieving even.

With this Jesus turns to the disciples, and starts in on a bit more teaching…which at face value seems to be taking a shot at the rich…particularly as we hear him say “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”  And then since the disciples are so confused…likely do to a cultural expectation that those with great wealth are the ones who have blessed by God…he says it again…”Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.”

Did you catch the difference?  There’s no mention of wealth in this second statement…simply an honest statement from Jesus on the difficulty of entering the kingdom…and the disciples pick up on it with their exasperated question “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus responds, for humanity its impossible, but for God, all things are possible. (pause)

Here’s the thing…there’s a subtle thread running underneath this whole story…and it all begins with the question that the man asks in the first place. What must I do to inherit eternal life?  If you know anything about inheritance, you know how it works…and that to inherit anything, you don’t do anything…but someone else has to die.

And the really interesting part of all this is what he is asking for…eternal life…as opposed to what Jesus talks about…the kingdom of God. (pause) Now maybe we tend to think of these as the same thing…and yes there’s overlap…but there’s a distinction…because eternal life points us towards…the eternal…its right there in the name right…and so I think its safe to say that whatever eternal life is…it lies on the other side of death…the age to come, heaven, whatever you want to call it…but the kingdom of God…as we hear from Jesus at the beginning of the gospel…the kingdom has come near.  Its already here…even though its also in the age to come.

Yes I know that’s a little confusing…but the promise that we have received is that the kingdom is both now and not yet…and that’s a point that Jesus makes as he addresses Peter towards the end of today’s passage.  Peter asks, we have left everything to follow you…and Jesus says yes you have…he also called them children if you recall…and then he says that whatever or whoever you have left behind, you will receive again 100 fold…as well as persecutions…here in the kingdom…and then eternal life.

Anyone catch that? Jesus is speaking about this now and not yet reality of the kingdom of God…a realty that takes root in how we live our lives right here, right now…and this…is what Jesus is getting at in his invitation of discipleship offered to the rich man.

What must I do to inherit eternal life…Nothing…that’s up to God…you can’t DO anything…but fortunately through the life death and resurrection of Jesus, that’s already taken care of…its already done.

But in the case of the here and now…as Jesus addresses this man…sell your processions…free yourself of whatever it is that you trust in…and give it away….stop thinking about yourself and let your life benefit someone else for a change…and then…follow me. This invitation has implications in the present life that the man is leading…and since his possessions are so great, he walks away in grief. (pause)

Now I’ll be honest…I always thought about this event as a failed invitation to discipleship…but what if its not. What if the man walked away in grief because he realizes what this will cost him, and he’s already made the choice to do it?

Discipleship has cost…its different for everyone, but its there.  This invitation to follow Jesus might just cost us everything…and we wonder, just what do we get out of it? That’s the transactional nature at work within us.

Well, that’s hard to say…sometimes all we can do is follow along and see where it leads.  Keep in mind, we don’t know what happens this guy…and we usually think this invitation is a failure…but there’s a chance that its not…because there are 2 more times when a random young man shows up in Mark’s gospel with no indication of who he is.  When Jesus is arrested, there’s a follower…a young man wearing only a simple linen garment, who leaves it behind and flees…and then at the tomb…there’s a young man dressed in white that address the women.

Its probably not the same guy…but what if it is? (pause) What if this guy did what Jesus asked…and followed? Might be hard to believe…but remember that for God, all things are possible. (pause)

Jesus has invited all of us into a life of discipleship…of being a Christ follower…and maybe what we take away from today is remember that in this life…in the now of the kingdom of God, that looks like putting our own stuff aside and thinking about someone else as we follow him…we won’t be perfect, and we’ll mess it up…but the invitation is still there…and that whole eternal life thing…that whole aspect of the kingdom that’s not yet…well, maybe we just need to let God handle that end of things…(pause)

And one final thought…regardless of if the encounter with the man was a successful invitation to discipleship or not…even before the invitation to follow is given…Jesus loves him. Did you catch that…Jesus looked at him, Jesus loved him in that perfect, all in, sacrificial love…and then Jesus made the offer to follow.  This guy is the only person in Mark’s gospel that we hear “Jesus loves” and we don’t even know if he followed or not.

But the promise of the gospel, is that we don’t have to do anything to be on the receiving end of that perfect, all in love of God for all of humanity that has manifest itself in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…and yet through him, the kingdom is given to us anyway. Amen.

Remember Whose We Are 6-25-17

This sermon is based on Matthew 10:24-39. Jesus offers the disciples a very candid view of the opposition that they will face in the world, something that applies to us as well.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/remember-whose-we-are-6-25-17

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

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

I’ve been in Underwood 4 years now…this is my 4th full summer here…and I’ve noticed a trend, a rather unfortunately trend for me.  Somehow, I’ve managed to hurt myself through my own unbridled stupidity every…single…summer.

2014, I’ve been here almost a year…and we had our first block party…and I was in the midst of a game of basketball out in the street…while wearing sandals…and I landed wrong. Many of you were here that day when my ankle decided to roll over on itself…and you likely remember the way that I hobbled around following that injury.

2015, late April…a gorgeous morning and I decide I’ll go out for my first outdoor run of the season…and after just a few minutes…somehow, someway I manage to put my left foot through the loop of the shoelace on my root foot…and I faceplant…hard. My wrist takes the brunt of the force, thankfully saving my face…but I tweaked my wrist pretty badly…and broke the screen on my cell phone in the process.

2016…late May. My daughter is trying to figure out how to ride a bike…and after several laps of running beside her up and down our street during my lunch break, I say “Let’s go one more time.” And this time I want to teach her how to use the brakes…which she wasn’t read for yet…and as I keep telling her to stop, we get tangled up together and wipe out…resulting in my bad ankle blowing itself out yet again…and for the next month I was hobbling around again.

2017…last Thursday evening…we’re on a bike ride…and as we cruise along, I get careless and cocky…and I let go of the handlebars…and a moment later, I was on the pavement…once more I took the brunt of the fall on my hands…and so my wrists and one shoulder are still feeling pretty sore…and I scrapped the dickens out of my shin and ankle and sliced open 2 toes…because I was dumb enough to be wearing sandals. (pause)

I swear…it’s a trend…and its getting to the point where I can just about plan on the fact that somehow, right about this time of year…physical activity combined with my own stupidity, which I can only call evidence of my own brokenness…together this is going to result in injury and hardship on my behalf. (pause)

Now keep that in mind…and let’s jump into the gospel. We find ourselves with a continuation of the gospel from last week. If you were here, we heard how Jesus recognizes the need to expand the ministry that he’s been up to…the proclamation that the kingdom has come near to us…the healing of diseases…the casting out of demons…even the raising of the dead…all of this amazing stuff that he’s been up to, and Jesus sees the need to spread out the work so that it will begin to reach more people.

And so he calls his 12 disciples…these guys who have been following him around…learning from him…watching him in action…you could say that he was in the process of mentoring them…and as he calls them, he empowers them to go out into the world and do the exact same work that he’s been doing…his followers are called by name and empowered to be Christ in the world…something that extends out to us as well, as we too, profess to be followers of Christ, called by God in the waters of our baptism…joined together as the body of Christ here on earth.

Well that was last week…but as the story continues…as we continue to move through this portion of Matthew’s gospel…we hear Jesus offering some pretty startling…pretty eye opening…pretty darn depressing views into just what discipleship of Jesus…views into what being a follower of Christ, really means.

We hear all kinds of stuff through this back half of chapter 10. If they insult the master, calling him a demon, what will they do to his followers? There will be condemnation…some will be killed…we hear that they’ll be dragged in front of kings and officials…we hear that there will be division and scoffing…households turning against one another…we hear the need to pick up the cross, like those condemned by the powers of the world…we hear all things and more…and let’s be honest…Jesus isn’t painting a real pretty picture of discipleship is he?

But maybe that’s exactly what we should expect to see when we take on this mantle of Christian…Christ follower…disciple of Jesus. Isn’t that what he faced? Surely, if we are reading the gospels, and particularly the gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus always at odds with the powers that be…he butts up against he religious elite…he butts up against the government…and in the end…these powers of the world…these forces that seem so hell-bent on silencing this invitation into a new way of living…that they trump up charges of insurrection and nail him to a cross.  (pause)
And if Jesus’ words to his followers, both the 12 disciples sitting there that day as well as everyone else who has come along behind in the 2000 years since then…if his words tell us anything, its that we can expect…we can pretty much plan on having the exact same experience that he did…for the servant is not above the master…the student not above the teacher.

Now there are times when I sit and I wonder why this is? Why would the world and those in it have such a reaction against what we have come to understand as good news? The gospel offers freedom and healing…it offers acceptance and love…it offers a new way to simply be in this world that we know…but make no mistake…the powers that benefit in this world…those dark powers that find strength in the exploitation of the weak…that wield their authority over the lowly and the marginalized…over those who are pushed to the edges and are treated like they are less than human….those powers will do WHATEVER they can to push back, or better yet silence that voice that says “there’s a better way…there’s an easier way…a way of acceptance…a way where everyone has a spot at the table…a way where everyone is equal, not only in the eyes of one another, but in the eyes of the one that made them in the first place.”

But to recognize this way…and live within that reality of true freedom, it comes at a cost…and that cost is the power and authority that our broken world has given to the mighty…but if the good news of Jesus Christ tells us anything…its that those that derive their power out of brokenness are destined to crash and burn.

We’ve seen it through history…as empire and after empire has risen and fallen…only to be replaced by something different…by the new superpower…but one by one…they all…fall. (pause) But amazingly, through our history, both that of the Jewish people in the Old Testament, and the early church in the New Testament, and all the way through our own history up till now, we continue to hear the promise that we have a God who is for the lowly…we have a God who stands with those who suffer under oppression…we have a God who sees us, even with our own brokenness…and this God continues to invite all of us…all of humanity…forward into something new.

And so it should come as no great shock, when this earth shattering good news…when this new way of seeing the world and everything in it, continues to stand up against the dark forces still at work in this world. Jesus experienced it…his disciples experienced it…and in our own lives, we experience it in one way or another.

But there is good news here…even in the midst of this stark reality that Jesus reveals today…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny, yet not one falls to the ground without the Father seeing…and you, you are worth many sparrows. (pause)
Our God sees you…right here, right now…in the midst of whatever brokenness you embody. He sees YOU…and God loves you…and God calls you good…and God claims you as his own….for you…are…of… worth.

Truly discipleship…following Christ…comes with cost. There can be no doubt of that…and truly there are still some on the world that know that far better than we do. Yes we experience hardships in this life, but there are many in the world, even today who face many of the exact same hardships that Jesus has described…even to the point of condemnation and death…and yet, the brokenness of the world and the brokenness that lies within each of us, is a reality…and we see that in the ways that we hurt one another…in the ways that we hurt ourselves…and in the ways that we ourselves are hurt. Because the work that Jesus has invited us into…this work of subduing the world…the work of being the light that shines in the darkness, it is not done yet.

And so in the midst of this life, as we experience all that life has to offer, the good and the bad…the blessed and the broken, may we remember WHOSE we are…and like Jasen in just a few moments, as we are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we are claimed as Beloved Children of God…and that is an identity, that is a truth that NOTHING can overcome…for I am convinced that NOTHING in all creation can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus….nothing…not hardship…not insult…not division…not even death. So remember when struggles come your way, and they will…remember WHOSE…you are. Amen.

So What Does The Cross Really Mean 9-4-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 14:25-33, I explore some rather harsh statements from Jesus regarding the cost of discipleship. Different audiences can and likely do hear his words differently.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/so-what-does-the-cross-mean-9-4-16

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

If there is a single type of movie that society would consider to be the “most popular” right now…my vote would be the comic book movie. They are everywhere…you can barely turn on the tv anymore without seeing a commercial for someone flying around in a cape.

Now I’m not complaining about this in the least possible way…because I love them…and I’m a big fan about how each of the major organizations that are making these movies are working to create a shared universe…namely, that all of the different movies and characters and stories that fall under their particular brand occur within the same universe.

Now if you’re familiar with the universe, if you’ve seen the different movies…then you can typically pick up on the different little details…but on the flip side…if you aren’t familiar, then it can get really confusing.  (pause) This was on full display at my house the other night. My son Jack and I had been channel surfing and we happened to find Iron Man 3…and so we were sitting there watching it.  If you’re unfamiliar, Iron Man falls under the Marvel brand, alongside other names like Captain America, or the Hulk, and Thor…and one that I’m guessing you’ve at least heard of before…the Avengers.

There are all kinds of movies mixed in with tv shows…in short…there’s A LOT in the Marvel universe…and Iron Man 3, the particular movie we were watching, came out about 3 years ago…so there’s been a lot more story that’s developed in the mean time.

That being said, Jack and I were watching…making comments about things in this movie that set up stuff that came later on…comments about characters and settings…all kinds of stuff…and my wife…well…she was completely lost…to her credit…she was asking questions…trying to understand…but we might as well have been speaking another language…and I think that all she was really getting out the movie was a bunch of flashy explosions. (pause)

This whole deal points towards an important point.  Audience is important…different audiences will understand things differently…they’ll interpret things differently…and this is true whether we are speaking about individuals, as well as when we get a little more generic and talk about groups…in short…our experience changes how we understand something…and this is important because today’s gospel lesson puts this truth on display. (pause)

I’ve often talked before about the differences in how people in Jesus’ time would understand a particular situation…and how that can often be different from the way we do…and it’s the result of many different things…but mainly boiling down to the differences in context…and to offer even a tiny glimpse at this…within today’s story Jesus talks about a king going out to war. At that time, the notion of 10,000 men fighting 20,000 hand to hand made perfect sense…but they would have zero notion of what to make of airstrikes or nuclear submarines, something that we take almost for granted. (pause) Context determines understanding for different audiences.

And today’s story…perhaps more than any other that I’ve really come across highlights this…typically when this comes up there are two possible audiences…but today, there are 3…Those of us hearing it today, bringing with us all of our experiences and ideas…then there would have been Luke’s audience…individuals living approximately 75 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus…individuals who would be 2 or 3 generations down the line from the events described in the story….and then there would have been the audience of Jesus…standing there in the crowds actually listening to him that day…and I’m guessing that all three audiences…21st century upper Midwest Lutherans…early 2nd century believers…and early 1st Century Jews…all three probably pick up things a little differently. (pause)

Now this particular passage is often referred to as the cost of discipleship…sparked off when large crowds are following Jesus…likely for a very wide variety of reasons…and Jesus lays out some truth for them to make sure they actually understand what it means to be his disciple…now Jesus lays this out in the first portion of the reading…with these shocking words about hating parents, spouses, children, siblings…even our very lives…and then picking up our cross to follow him…the rest of the reading about building the tower and the king going to war are just illustrations intended to highlight this notion. (pause)
But for everyone who hears these words…I’m guessing something specific…and likely different…jumps out. Now admittedly, this is a hard passage…to hear Jesus, the one we are so used to hearing talk about love and acceptance…say that we are supposed to hate our family…that’s a hard pill for us to swallow…because we are so used to the big picture…we’re used to hearing those other teachings from Jesus…and because of that…this comes across really harsh.

But let’s back it up…what about the audience of Jesus that day? Most of them would have been Jewish…and I’m guessing that this was even more shocking…hate your parents? Well that breaks one of the commandments…hate your family? By no means!!! These individuals was culturally engrained to think about their family, their heritage…it was central to them.

But then what about Luke’s audience…those 2nd century believers who had very likely experienced this sort of thing first hand…Remember just how divisive the gospel was at THAT time…these would have been individuals that were cast out of community…out of their synagogues…they would have been disowned by family members that could NOT tolerate this new belief…and so for those people…hearing these words of Jesus, while painful, would have served as more of a reminder of the life they were living…the choices that they had made to follow Christ. (pause)
And there’s another statement that Jesus makes that really falls under this whole situation as well…Anyone who does not carry the cross ad follow me cannot be my disciple. (pause)

Now how do we hear that? I fear that the first thought that enters our head is the very common statement “that’s my cross to bear” which if you’re family is typically used to describe some uncomfortable situation…but we think of it as our personal cost…the thing that we have to endure simply because we are believers in Christ…but perhaps at the same time…our Lutheran theology always makes us think about the cross as a symbol of hope…and the notion of what God accomplished through the death of Jesus on the Cross and his subsequent resurrection…2000 years of history and interpretation lead us to that…that’s what we think of.
But let’s back up…and what would the other audiences hear? For Luke’s audience…those 2nd century Christians…those people who lived under the threat of being martyred…those individuals who had likely watched friends or family be tortured and killed, perhaps even crucified…because of their faith?  Well that’s going to mean something dramatically different than it does for us won’t it? (pause) And finally, what about Jesus’ audience that day…those people in the crowds who hear “carry the cross.” What would they think?

Because keep in mind…at that point…the Cross as we think of it…it hadn’t happened yet…The crucifixion of Jesus…hadn’t happened yet…His death and resurrection was not yet a reality…and so for those people there THAT day…all they could possibly think of is who they’ve seen carrying a cross.

And that…is the one who has been condemned…remember that crucifixion in general was VERY common…it was the Roman’s favorite form of public execution…intended to send a message…and the worst part of it…when you were condemned to die by crucifixion, you had to carry your own cross. How horrible is that? (pause) And so, for Jesus’ audience…they would hear “those who do not willingly recognize that they are condemned cannot be my disciple.” (pause)

Let me say that one more time…those who do not recognize that they are condemned cannot be my disciple. (pause) Think about that for a moment…Harsh? Utterly devoid of hope or promise?  Shocking…you better believe it.

But that…that right there…that is precisely how we need to hear these words today…Now there are times when we look for the gospel in the midst of Jesus’ words…and there are times when we look towards the greater overarching story…but then again…sometimes the Holy Spirit smacks us directly with his…exact…words. To be a disciple of Christ is to see ourselves as the one who is already condemned. (pause)
Now I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently…likely because of the fact that our congregation has experienced 2 deaths…2 funerals in the past 2 weeks…and one of the themes that emerge in and around funerals is the truth of death within our reality…and additionally that death is the result of sin.

This is the reality for each and every one of us…each of us experiences 1 death…it is inevitable and it is the result of the presence of sin within our individuals lives…the apostle Paul reminds us that the wages of sin is death…and there are no exception…we are each subject to it…you might say that we are each condemned. (pause)

That’s the reality that Jesus’ audience would have heard that day…that to be his follower is to recognize that you are condemned…and there was no joy to be found in the cross yet…and so that raises the question of what does it mean to be people of the cross in the here and now…while we are in the midst of this life…and that’s a great question…perhaps one that we cannot truly answer…because that is not our reality.

We live in a reality where the cross…the crucifixion…the death AND the resurrection of Jesus HAS already happened…and we are shaped by the history that has occurred…and we cling to the hope that the cross represents for us…and we call things what they are. YES…we are condemned by the presence of sin in our lives…but through the cross…through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the power of sin and death has been overcome…and so when Jesus reminds us to carry our cross as his disciples, we are simply acknowledging that alone, I am as good as dead…but thanks be to God that God didn’t leave it there.  (pause)

So what does the cross really mean? Well…it means something different to everyone…but the hope that we cling to…the hope and the faith that we express each and every week here in worship…is that through the cross…through the death of Jesus followed by his resurrection, our lives today are lived in the promise of life everlasting…and we live in that freedom right here, right now. (pause)

Now that being said, this does not mean that our lives as disciples of Christ are going to be easy…often times far from it…and that’s where the rest of Jesus’ words today are still important for us to hear…there is cost to discipleship…and its different for every single individual…for some it might be the loss of family connections…it might even be the loss of our very lives…and yes there are parts of the world, even today, where this is still a very real thing.

Our faith in Christ is both unbelievable easy…because we don’t have to do anything to get it…but at the same time it comes with extraordinary cost…because through it, your life will never be the same…so keep that in mind as you follow where Christ leads. Amen.

Don’t Point the Finger 4-2-15 Maundy Thursday

This evening’s Maundy Thursday sermon came from John 13:1-12, 20-35. This is John’s account of the Last Supper including the footwashing and I also included the exchange between Jesus and Judas. Though John’s account is typically not associated with the sacraments, I explore some sacramental themes.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-point-the-finger-4-2-15-maundy-thursday

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 am guessing that by now, most of you have figured out that I am NOT…a sports guy. I’m just not, and I’m okay with that. If its not a little white ball with dimples then I just do not pay attention…but I am constantly surrounded by people who are…and it always strikes me as funny when someone attempts a conversation with me in and around sports related situations.
Admittedly I struggle to understand it…its not that I don’t care…its just that I don’t understand it…but I always try my best to engage…and to cover my complete lack of knowledge of just what they are talking about…My son is one of them…and he covers random information on pretty much every sport out there…baseball…football…and right now the big one is of course, college basketball. I’m impressed by his knowledge…I am, I just don’t get it…and another one that will often engage with me is Dick Miller…bringing up the current news of Iowa State athletics…and though I never really pay attention to the games…I can always rest assured that Dick will keep me abreast of what’s going on.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the interaction, and I certainly appreciate the individual’s passion for whatever sport they are talking about…but its just not something I share…and because of that, I often times fail to wrap my head around whatever big news is going on in the sports world…and that was never so evident to me…especially in this part of the country…on a specific date last fall…November 30th, 2014…the date that news went public that the University of Nebraska…had fired…Bo Pelini…the head coach of the Huskers football team.
Apparently, no one else was shocked by this news…but it caught me off guard…because I couldn’t understand why…Pelini had coached the Huskers from 2008-2014…and during that time they had a record of 67 wins and 27 loses…and to me at least…that seems pretty positive…at least 9 wins every year…qualifying for bowl games…each and every year…so what was the problem? (pause)
Admittedly, I tend to ask this question whenever news breaks of some head coach of a college team or a pro team gets the boot…because I just do not understand why one person gets the blame when things don’t go quite right. Granted, I know that there are aspects to being the head coach that are far reaching…but it’s a team…its not one person…and so I ask the question…time after time…of why does this one person get such a bad wrap? (pause)
And that question right there…that is where Bo Pelini and fired head coaches connects into tonight’s gospel lesson. (pause) Here we are…Maundy Thursday…on the verge of the Passion…standing on the precipice of Jesus betrayal and arrest and torture and death…and in our story for tonight, we hear a snippet of the final meal that Jesus would share with those 12 men that he loved so much…those 12 men who were his disciples…those 12 men…who were his mission here on Earth. (pause)
And those 12 men included one that we like to single out don’t we? You know who I’m talking about…Judas Iscariot…Judas the betrayer…the one that would hand Jesus over to the authorities…none of the Gospels make any great secret about this…and understandably so, because they were all written after the fact…and likewise we share the benefit of hindsight…of knowing the full story…and so whenever we hear about Judas, perhaps we grimace just a little bit…and we judge him…we point the finger at him. (pause)
Now just a few days ago…last Sunday morning…our gospel was the Triumphal Entry as Jesus comes riding into the Jerusalem to the cheers of the city…and we heard in Mark’s account that there was zero opposition…and we explored the difficult nature of this reality…that there was no one that we could point out…no one that we could call out…no one that could take the moniker of Bad Guy…therefore taking the pressure off of every other person who would also go on to turn their backs on Jesus…but now…we hear differently don’t we. (pause)
Now we have someone to single out…someone to point the finger at…and even the text makes no qualms about it…because we hear immediately at the beginning of the story…the beginning of John’s account of the Last Supper that the devil had ALREADY…put it in the heart of Judas to betray Jesus…and not only do we know it…but Jesus knew it too…because he knew now that his hour had finally come…and that he was about to depart from the world…and despite that reality…Jesus willingly walked into this time with his disciples…this final time to teach them…to share time with them…to love them…even knowing full well…that Judas was among them…knowing that evil lurked among them. (pause)
And now…the Last Supper…it’s a great story isn’t it? One that’s familiar…though as per usual John’s account gives us some differences when compared to the other three…The overall length of the Last Supper in John is remarkably longer, as Jesus addresses the disciples over the course of chapters 13-17…commonly known as the farewell discourse…and in addition, we also hear the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples…taking the role of the servant and humbling himself to show them the lengths that God is willing to go in order to be in relationship with those that he loves. (pause)
But regardless of the various stories…I think for most of us…when we think about the Last Supper…our minds tend to shift over to thoughts that are a little more sacramental in nature…as well they should…because in the context of the Last Supper we hear familiar words, not here in John but in the other accounts…that in the night in which he was betrayed he took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples. (pause)
You know these words…we hear them in worship on a regular basis…and we will hear them again later on this evening as we prepare ourselves for Holy Communion…the time when God uses simple things like bread and wine along with his promises to come to us and assure us that Jesus will endure his body being broken and his blood poured out for you…for the forgiveness of sins. (pause)
That’s the direction that our minds often go when we think of the Last Supper…and it is understandable that many congregations will highlight Communion within the context of Maundy Thursday…tonight is a night when many young people will experience their first communion around the world…sharing along with the disciples…their first experience with the body and blood of Jesus. (pause)
And perhaps if we consider John’s account, including the washing of the disciples feet, then our minds will slip over to thinking about baptism as well…and rightly so…for that is a time when we believe that God washes us clean from the power of sin and death…just as Jesus washes the dirt away from those that he loved. (pause)
But now here’s the thing…within the story that we shared tonight…taken from John’s account…we have to try pretty hard to find much evidence of the sacraments…but…they…are…there…if we take the time to look for them. (pause)
Within the familiar passage of the footwashing, we hear that Jesus approaches Peter as he makes his way around the table…and after initial resistance, Peter asks that Jesus wash his hands and head…in short he is saying “Jesus…please wash all of me” which would be very similar to the request to be baptized, which in those days was full emersion…yet Jesus tells him…Peter, you are already clean…if I say it is so, then it is so…and just as we are washed in the waters of our own baptisms…we hear the promise from God that we are cleansed from our sinful selves. (pause)
But what about communion…where do we find that? Well, when Jesus begins telling his disciples that his heart is troubled…because there is one among you that will betray me…they ask him who it will be…and he tells them that the one that I give this bread is the one…and he takes a piece of bread…broken from a loaf…and he dips it…and you can pretty much bet that he dipped it in wine…because that’s what they drank in his day…and when he had done this…he handed it to Judas. (pause)
The only hint we have of Communion in John’s account of the Last Supper is Judas…the one who is about to betray Jesus…the one who the devil has already singled out…the one who personifies the presence of evil here during this holy time…Judas is the one to receive the bread and wine…and Judas had his feet washed by Jesus as well. (pause)
And isn’t that telling? Tonight as we look forward to the passion…the anguish in the garden and his arrest that happen yet tonight…the trial and the torture and his death on the cross which happens tomorrow…we are on the verge, yet Jesus shows his love for us tonight by offering the means of God’s grace to the very one who would inevitably betray him. (pause)
And now what does that tell us about God’s grace? (pause) If he is willing to offer it to the one who he flat out knows will reject it and betray him…then we see that when we are offered the grace of God…the promise that we are washed clean from the power of sin and that through his body and blood we receive the forgiveness of sins…we see that surely this promise is true…because the grace of God is that big…he’ll offer it to the one who personifies evil…and likewise he offers it to us…even though we know within our hearts that the darkness that consumed Judas also resides right here. (pause)
On Sunday we had no one to blame…no one to point the finger at…because no one opposed Jesus…but by tomorrow…everyone has turned their back on him…including us…and so tonight…rather than point the finger at the easy target…we realize that we need the grace of God just as much as he does…and praise be to God that He is willing to give it to us…simply because he loves us too much not to. Amen.

Can Anything Good 1-18-15

This sermon is based on John 1:43-51, the story of Jesus calling Philip and Nathanael to be his disciples. Nathanael’s response is pretty blunt, but that’s not really a bad thing.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/can-anything-good-1-18-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Have you ever said something off the cuff…without really thinking about it before you say it…and then almost immediately you regret saying it? (pause) Been there done that.
I’m guessing many of you have likely noticed by now that I have the tendency…at least at times…to speak faster than my brain is moving…to think it and have it come spilling out immediately. When I get in this mode…the natural filter that lies between an individual’s brain and mouth is completely bypassed…and sometimes…not all the time mind you…but sometimes…something kinda stupid comes out. (pause) And I…am most certainly guilty of this.
Just last week…a mere 7 days ago…I was downstairs with the confirmation and adult forum class…and we were discussing the massive crowds that followed Jesus during his ministry…and we talked a little bit about just why that is…and a lot of it has to do with the region where he had grown up and where he was at for much of his ministry…and that is the region of Galilee.
If you are unfamiliar…Galilee lies in the northern section of what we call Israel…it was considered to be a very backwater, out of the way region…quite a ways away from anything of major significance in that part of the world.
And as I was trying to explain all this to the class…I had one of those “foot in the mouth” situations. And I said…imagine yourselves in a really remote…backwater type of a place where there isn’t much excitement going on…like say you are from…(hold the pause)…and immediately I was scanning my mind for local communities in this area…especially one that might seem particularly “backwater” and the only town I could come up with…literally the first town that popped into my mind was…Minden. And immediately…about 4 different people in the class were like “Hey!!!”
Allow me to offer my apologies to the good people of Minden…it is a fine town…it was simply the first one that came to mind. Had we been up in my neck of the woods, I could have named off a dozen different towns that would have fit the bill just fine…something that harkens all the way back to my youth…when we had nicknames for every neighboring town…and in particular the ones that we would meet up with for school sporting events.
An example…every time we’d be playing Armstrong/Ringsted…the talk around school was how we were going to hammer Armpit/Ringworm. (pause) And isn’t that really the case where ever we go? There is always a town, or a state, or a college, or something that we pick on. Not that we really have any actual distaste for it…but its just what we do. Around here we make fun of Omaha, just like they call this side of the river Council Tucky…Up north we hammer on Minnesota…and likewise they pick on Iowa. We all do it…and we see another example of this in today’s story…as Nathanael let’s us in on a little hint of the distaste that he seems to have for Nazareth.
We find ourselves today in the midst of John’s account of Jesus’ first disciples. Directly before today’s story Andrew starts following Jesus and brings along his brother Peter…and today as we pick up…Jesus has wandered into Galilee from the Jordan river…which really isn’t that far…and he happens upon Philip…now Philip likely knows Peter and Andrew as they’re all from the same town…and so maybe, just maybe he’s got some idea just who this Jesus guy is…but regardless, Jesus spots Philip…tells him very simply “Follow me” and Philip is off and running on the disciple train…and what’s the very first thing that we see Philip do? (pause)
He runs off to find his buddy Nathanael. (pause) Now Nathanael is an interesting character…admittedly we don’t know a whole lot about him…he’s only found here in John’s gospel and even then only a couple of times…right here and then at the seashore along with some of the other disciples following the resurrection of Jesus…Some scholars speculate that maybe Nathanael also goes by the name Bartholamew, who’s partnered up with Philip in the list of the 12 disciples in the other gospels…but we don’t really know. (pause)
Long story short…he’s a bit of a mystery…BUT…he makes no mystery of one thing…Nathanael lacks a filter. (pause) Because when Philip finds him…clearly excited beyond belief…he shares his joy by exclaiming “WE have found him about whom Moses and the prophets spoke.” Now in the Jewish culture, this would clearly be talking about the long awaited Messiah…something that everyone would have been excited about. And I imagine that Nathanael’s face must have lit up at the prospect of meeting the messiah as well…until…Philip finishes his statement.
It is Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth….(mimic excitement draining BIG TIME…and lay on the snark) Nazareth….REALLY? (pause) Can ANYTHING good come out of Nazareth? (pause) Clearly Nazareth is a little lacking in terms of Nathanael’s opinions. Granted…we don’t know just what it is about Nazareth that Nathanael has an issue with, but he certainly would have been familiar with it. Nathanael was from Cana…just a handful of miles away from Nazareth…and just as I used to take issue with the neighboring towns when I was a kid…he apparently does the very same thing. (pause)
And how does that come across? Most often when I read this passage, I think Nathanael is pretty blunt…sometimes he strikes me as rude…and if I’m feeling particularly sensitive then his comment makes him seem like a total jerk….but here’s the funny thing…Jesus doesn’t seem to care…in fact…Jesus applauds the bluntness of Nathanael’s question. (pause)
Granted, it sort of raises the question of just how Jesus even knew about it…as they hadn’t been introduced yet…but as Nathanael walks up to Jesus along with Philip Jesus’ first words to him are “Here is truly and Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (pause) To put it in today’s terms “here’s a guy that doesn’t sugar coat it.” Or “he’s a straight shooter” or maybe “now this guy cuts the crap.” (pause)
Now the exchange between Jesus and Nathanael goes on from there…and Nathanael not only becomes a follower of Christ…but he is told about the wondrous things that he will see as a disciple. (pause)
Truly, this is a strange look at this random disciple…a man who only pops up twice in the entire Bible…and yet this is precisely the one that Jesus affirms. (pause) And why is that? Why would Jesus be so impressed by a guy who insults his hometown? (pause) You would think that Jesus would just ignore him…there’s no way he should make him a disciple…and yet that’s exactly what Jesus does.
And so this raises the question today of just what we can learn from the example of Nathanael. (pause) That rudeness is rewarded? That our prejudices against other placed is justified? (Pause) Well probably not…but maybe what we can learn from Nathanael is that doubts and questions are okay.
Isn’t that exactly what he does when Philip says the Messiah is from Nazareth…Nathanael voices his question and his concern…and his doubt…and isn’t that what it truly means to be a disciple…and to learn from someone else…to share the questions and the doubts…to bring them to someone that can shed some light on those things that confuse us about the situation…and in this case the ultimate situation…a life of faith.
Jesus doesn’t tell us that to follow him…to abide with him…to live our lives with him is going to result in every single question being answered before we ask it…or every doubt to disappear or every fear to vanish…quite the opposite actually…but when Nathanael is bold enough…or perhaps just blunt enough to share his concerns…Jesus not only welcomes the question…but he welcomes the man…and Nathanael is invited into that life of discipleship. (pause)
Now its interesting to think about all the things that Jesus tells him he will witness. Admittedly it makes me kinda jealous…I would have loved to have seen the ministry of Jesus first hand…but as we know…that distinction belongs to a rather limited number of people…but Jesus was well aware of this…and towards the end of John’s gospel he tells his disciples “you have believed because of what you have seen…but blessed are those who have not seen and have come to believe.” (pause) Jesus was talking about the spread of the gospel…about the growth of his church which began with these few disciples…and over the course of 2000 years has grown exponentially…and it has grown when someone has the gumption to share their experience…and then to invite the next person to come and see.
What we will witness in our lives of faith is often amazing…but it is also often confusing…and life is hard…and the questions and the doubts and the concerns do happen…but praise be to God that we have a savior who not only welcomes the questions and the doubts…but he praises us for asking them.
My friends, we have nothing to fear in this life…and yet how often do we find ourselves paralyzed by fear or doubt or questions…how often do we let them waylay us from doing the important work of sharing the gospel…how often do we find ourselves falling into the trap of “I can’t do that…what if they ask me something I can’t answer?” (pause) Ever been there? (pause) I know I have and certainly that’s an uncomfortable place to be…to be faced with legitimate questions that we feel ill prepared to answer. But the wonderful thing about all this is that within the body of Christ…within the relationships that we have with one another we are able…and encouraged to share our struggles…to voice our doubts…and within them to build one another up…just as Christ builds us up…and just as Christ recognized the truth within Nathanael. (pause)
Nathanael was blunt…and Jesus knew that…in fact Jesus knew Nathanael even before meeting him…just as Jesus knows each and every one of us…with all of our imperfections…and all our doubts…and all our fears…and he loves us anyway…and he calls us blessed.
Praise be to God that we don’t have to be perfect people in order to follow him…we simply need to be honest…honest with others and honest with ourselves…recognizing that we don’t have all the answers…and that we don’t have to…because Jesus still gives each of us the same invitation…Come Follow Me…Amen.