Posts Tagged ‘Division’

I’m Glad That’s Over 8-18-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

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Not Really A Hero 10-30-16

In this Reformation Sunday sermon, based on John 8:31-36, I explore the notion of freedom through Christ, and how understanding this idea has led to all kinds of division throughout history.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/not-really-a-hero-10-30-16

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

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

Most of you know I’m a movie buff, and I watch a lot of movies. Some I hate, some are okay, and some I love. But most movies, once I’ve seen them, I don’t really go back and watch them again. That being said, there are exceptions. There are some movies that I can watch over and over again…the type of movie that if I’m channel surfing and I stumble across it, I’ll just stop and watch it, regardless of what I might have been planning on doing.

One of these movies is Tombstone, came out back in the 90’s…telling the story of the shootout at the OK Corral as well as the aftermath. Now if you’ve seen this movie…you know who the hero is…and honestly, even if you haven’t seen it, common knowledge of the OK Corral would probably lead you to say that the hero is Wyatt Earp…backup players…important, but not quite as cool…were his brothers Morgan and Virgil, and his friend Doc Holliday.  And the badguys…well that was the Clantons and the McClauries…who, of course…got what was coming to them.  Throughout the course of the movie, we route for Wyatt as he blazes a trail through the bad guys before finally getting the girl at the end of the movie and settling down for the rest of his life. (pause)
But that’s just a movie isn’t it? And even though its based on real events…its still just a story…and Wyatt Earp, probably wasn’t anywhere close to as heroic as the movie portrays him…in fact, just a little digging shows us that in all honesty…he was a pretty regular guy who had a lot of ups and down.  But history remembers him as the hero.

Its funny how that happens…how our opinions of someone are shaped over time, or perhaps by a specific instance or period in their lives and we forget that in reality, they were just a regular person, doing their best with the situation that they’ve found themselves in…and that this is pretty much the reality for everyone…even the individuals who were portrayed as the “bad guys” in the movies…I’m guessing that they didn’t consider themselves to be the bad guy…just like the one that history portrays as the hero, they were just trying to do the best they could with the situation they found themselves in.  I’ve heard an old saying that everyone is the hero in their own story…its just a question of who’s telling it.

This same notion applies throughout our church history as well…even going clear back into the period of the Old Testament. We are talking about this idea in the confirmation class this year, as we move through the overarching Biblical Narrative…that the big names in the Bible…none of them were perfect people…and even if God used them to accomplish some amazing things…they had their issues as well.

Think of a few examples…a few big names in the Bible…names like Paul…a former Jewish zealot who, if he didn’t commit murder, he at least condoned it.  Peter, the rock…the first pope…a loud mouth who often spoke without thinking, and denied Christ when things got tough.

Let’s back it up. King David, an adulterer who conspired to murder…Moses committed murder…Noah was a drunk…and even Abraham…the great father of faith…the father of a great nation…the key name that we hear in today’s gospel story…He had his moment as well, like trying to pass off his wife as his sister in order to save his own skin. (pause)
Now I can say for certain, because of course I wasn’t there…but I’m going to venture a guess that none of these individuals probably thought of themselves as the hero…but rather they just tried to do the best they could in the situation they were in…and the case of these specific individuals…the situation they were in corresponded with the action that God happened to be taking in our reality…and so, their names are found in the scriptures…and for the most part, they are remembered as heroes. (pause)
And likewise, there are the bad guys in the scriptures as well…sometimes individuals, sometimes groups of people…and when we find ourselves in Jesus’ time…within the narratives of the Gospels…well those bad guys were usually the Pharisees or the Sadducees…the religious elite…occasionally the Roman oppressors…or in John’s gospel, the group commonly referred to as “the Jews.” And that’s the case today.

Jesus is in Jerusalem…hanging out at one of the big Jewish festivals that he was known to frequent…and over the course of a couple of chapters here in John, he continually ends up in the temple…hanging out…teaching, debating…arguing, correcting…in short, he was there doing his thing…and rest assured between the beginning of Chapter 7 and the end of Chapter 8, there is a lot of arguing…and this short little tidbit that we hear today, barely scratches the surface. Rest assured that the mood within this particular little tidbit of scripture…is not peaceful by any means.

But what I find interesting here, is that by the point where we start off today…Jesus’ teaching actually seems to be working for a portion of the audience…for we hear just prior that many believed in him…and so as we pick up today with verse 31, that is who Jesus is addressing.

You believe in me…Good…now here is what that means…this isn’t a one time deal…abide in me…remain in my teaching…if you do so then you are my disciples…you are my followers and you will know the truth…and the truth will set you free.

Now here’s the weird part…we hear that…and it sounds pretty good…almost a no brainer…freedom in Christ…remain in the word, hold onto the teachings of Jesus…okay.

But for those individuals there that day…this notion that they would receive freedom…well this is something that they just can’t get over. WAIT A SECOND JESUS…WE ARE DESCENDENTS OF ABRAHAM…WE HAVE NEVER BEEN SLAVES TO ANYONE. (pause)
Now that’s a laugh isn’t it? Apparently these guys have a really short memory for history, because their very culture, became a culture in the midst of slavery in Egypt…and there are several other examples of servitude within their history as well…but regardless of all that…regardless of any further debate on the nature of sin, and belief and faith…regardless of all that stuff…these guys are clinging to their heritage as the literal end all be all. We are descendants of Abraham…and for us, that’s all we need.

God gave Abraham the promise…and since we are his descendants, we automatically get it too. (pause) But that’s not how this works.

The promise of God is an amazing thing. The notion of salvation…of eternal life…of being included in the kingdom of God, both in the here and now as well as in the age to come…this is a really big deal…even if it goes far beyond our comprehension…

But the amazing thing about this promise…the amazing thing revealed in this short tidbit of scripture…this short tidbit of Jesus teaching…it reminds us that this freedom that he is describing…it is not some physical freedom…its something more…something that honestly goes so far beyond our ability to wrap our heads around, that all we can do is trust that whatever its going to look like…it will be wonderful…it will be beyond comprehension…and that since God has promised it, God will make good on that promise and nothing will stand in God’s way of giving it to us.  For if the Son sets you free, then you are free indeed…free to receive this gift of the heavenly inheritance…whatever that means….Jesus makes it possible for us to enter into the house of God and be in God’s presence. (pause)
Now once again…for us, here, 2000 odd years after this conversation took place…perhaps this seems almost second nature…maybe it seems like a no brainer…but we’ve got more in common with Jesus’ opponents on that day than we like to admit.

They held onto to their cultural heritage as the end all be all…that being Jewish was all they needed…and we do the same don’t we…we have all sorts of traps that we fall into…cultural…racial…financial…political, just to name a few…we fall into the notion that this is right and that is wrong…and even here within the church we fall in this same trap.

Today is Reformation Sunday…a day when we recognize and celebrate the work of the reformers that all started when a random German priest decided to try and reform the Catholic church and nailed a poster on the church door…and depending on which side of history we fall on, Luther was either a big hero…or he was the chief bad guy.

And in the nearly 500 years that have passed since that day…we have organized ourselves into countless different groups…groups based on tradition…and culture…and interpretation and understanding…we’ve rallied ourselves around different themes and ideas…often times demonizing those who take a different stance…and I fear, all too often we place all of our stock in that basket, along with the false notion that God thinks the same way we do…that we’re right and they’re wrong.

But I’m pretty sure God doesn’t think the same way we do…which is probably good because if God thinks like me then we’re all in trouble. (pause) But the wonderful thing about all this…is a simple promise of Jesus…abide in my word…remember my teachings…even in times when they don’t make sense…even in times when you might disagree with one another on just what I was talking about…even when you’re trying your best to hold on to truth that goes beyond your human ability to understand…in all of this…I have chose you.

That’s the glory of the gospel…we don’t have to get it right…we don’t have know some magic words…we don’t have some cosmic checklist that we need to complete in order to receive it…the glory of the gospels tells us that in the midst of our flaws….in the midst of our brokenness, God has chosen us, simply because he loves us…and he will not be separated from us.

That’s the truth…that God has chosen you…you don’t have to be a hero…you just have to be…God’s already done the rest. Amen.

That’s Life 6-22-14

This week’s sermon came from Matthew 10:24-39. Jesus is offering a sort of pep talk to the disciples prior to their departure on the two-by-two mission. He reflects on the reality of the gospel’s divisive nature, and tells the disciples that they will experience the same sort of response.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/thats-life-6-22-14

You can also read 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

Having never really been a big sports enthusiast, I don’t recall ever sitting in the locker room before a big important game listening the coach deliver his epic inspirational speech. I’m sure it happens though…it has too right?

We have countless examples of the epic pep talk in the movies…sometimes it’s the hero of the story like Mel Gibson inspiring the Scottish troops before the first major battle in Braveheart, telling them that they have one chance…just one chance to tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!

Or it could be the president of the United States psyching up pilots just before a giant aerial battle to destroy invading aliens and crying out Today is our Independence Day! (pause) Or a seasoned father trying to inspire his son to be better when the aged and ragged Rocky Balboa tells his son that life hits hard but you’ve gotta be willing to take the hits and keep moving forward…that’s how winning is done!

But perhaps no other pep talk is as inspiring as those we see in sports movies…who can forget the movie Rudy, just before the last game of the season at the end of the movie, when the head coach calmly but intensely says No one…and I mean no one comes into our house and pushes us around.

And the one that comes to mind most vividly for me comes from another football movie Any Given Sunday, when the great Al Pacino, head coach of the fictional Miami Sharks gets his players reved up for the final regular season game in order to make the playoffs…he goes from calm and vulnerable to intense and loud…declaring to them that football is a game of inches and the man who’s willing to fight and die is the one that’s gonna win that inch.

As Pacino delivers this speech, you hear the responses of the players start in. “That’s right.” “Heck ya.” As he continues they start to rise to their feet…they nod…and in one brief image that always sticks with me, one no-name player gazes at his coach, fire in his eyes…so much intensity that his head is literally shaking.

That’s the point of the pep talk…to prepare them for battle…whatever the battle will be…but as I think about this laundry list of inspirational movie scenes that I’ve listed off here…I find myself wondering at just how realistic they really are…because none of them, inspiring as they may be for the audience watching the movie…are probably all that accurate in terms of real life. (pause)

But today’s gospel lesson…well, now that’s a different story. We find ourselves in the midst of a scriptural pep talk…all of Matthew chapter 10, both the verses before today’s lesson as well as the few that follow, along with the entirety of today’s lesson…makes up the speech that Jesus delivers to the disciples just prior to one of their “big games.”

The disciples are about to embark on their first mission away from Jesus…commonly known as the two-by-two mission. Jesus is sending them into the countryside to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near. He also gives them authority over unclean spirits, and the ability to heal all matters of diseases. They will serve as his heralds around the region…because he is sending them out to where he also intends to go.

But the difference between Jesus’ speech and all those other movie speeches, is the fact that Jesus paints a more realistic picture…and honestly…it’s a pretty sobering one. We hear that the disciples are like sheep among wolves…they will be arrested and flogged…dragged before governors and kings…there will be betrayals and some will be put to death. (pause) Hmm…inspiring huh?

But despite all the hardships that they will face, Jesus does offer encouragement. Now some of that encouragement comes across as pretty obvious. “Have no fear of them…Even the hairs of your head are counted…You…are…of value to your father.” (pause) But some of the other encouragement is a little more subtle. (pause)

All week long, its been driving me a little crazy, pondering on this text…as to why it starts right where it starts. A disciple is not above the teacher…it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher. I kept coming back to that opening couple of verses. It seems, at first glance, like Jesus is laying out a bit of hierarchy within the community of believers…but with further reflection I’m no longer convinced that’s the case.

Rather…I think Jesus is simply offering the disciples a very realistic look at what they will be facing…both in the immediate two-by-two mission…but also later on…following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus…when they constitute the church. A disciple is not above the teacher…but it is enough for the disciple to become like the teacher.

Perhaps what Jesus is really saying here is that…guys…you are going to experience the very same things that I do…and we all know that Jesus experienced division within his ministry…that’s obvious…some believed, other’s doubted…some followed him, other’s scoffed…some supported him, while other’s nailed him to a cross to suffer and die. All that despite the amazing signs and miracles he performed…despite the amazing truth that he proclaimed….despite the amazing love that he embodied…despite all that, the results of Jesus ministry in terms of personal response was mixed at best.

And in this particular passage he’s telling his followers…both the disciples there in the room with him as well as us today that we will face the very same results when we follow the mission of Christ to go out into the world to proclaim the good news that through Him, the kingdom of heaven is here.

Just like the disciples, we also face division…we face scoffers…we face opposition. Now some of it will come in the form of polite conversation…or perhaps in more intense debate…or they may ridicule our beliefs by calling us weak minded fools and Bible beaters and church freaks, or they may do it by hijacking a plane and flying it into a building killing thousands of innocent people.

And that’s a sobering thought isn’t it? It doesn’t exactly sound encouraging does it? (pause) Or does it?

Maybe…just maybe…what Jesus is trying to tell his followers here…both the disciples then and us today…is take heart…you’ve seen how people respond to me…its gonna be the same for you because the authority that you possess…the good news that you proclaim…the person that you represent isn’t you…its me!!!! (pause)

And even more than that is the encouragement that Jesus tells us that we share in his experience…and at the same time, he shares in ours. That’s something that I kept coming back to this week…something that I wanted to focus on…but I found myself coming at it from the wrong direction. I was trying to approach this text from the perspective that we share Jesus’ experience…and as per usual, last Friday, I attempted to sit down and write a sermon about it.

But it was one of those days. I was home with the kids…and try as I might to focus my mind on sermon…on organizing my jumbled thoughts into a coherent message….life kept getting in the way. I would spend 5 minutes in thought…and then I’d realize that the laundry needed to be changed…or one of the kids had a question…or it was lunch time and I needed to make some food…or paperwork for a ymca camp came through that needed to get filled out…

All day long I kept getting interrupted…life kept happening which was, of course, frustrating. After awhile I gave up on it and tried to enjoy the evening with my family…until about 7:30 when we looked outside and saw yet another storm approaching…and I nervously watched the swirling clouds while listening to the radio and watching tv to catch severe weather updates…all while trying to reassure the kids that everything was okay.

And then later on I went to bed…but sleep was allusive…and about 2:30 in the morning I was up and around…listening to the rain still falling…watching the lighting keep flashing…worrying about all kinds of things…and I remember thinking at one point “come on Lord…what’s next?”

And as I thought about life getting in the way…I realized hey that’s life…Life is busy…life is distracting…life is messy. Things happen…some of them good like a moment when Jack walked up me on that busy Friday just to give me a hug…and some of them not so good like when we spent half an hour aggravated as we searched for a lost library card. That’s life.

And coming all the way back around to today’s scripture lesson and the encouragement that Jesus is trying to offer…Jesus shares all that. Because Jesus lived. (pause)

We have a God who loves us enough that he chose to step away from his heavenly existence and live life among us as one of us. Our experience in the ministry that we share…in the life that we live is like that of our teacher…like that of Christ, not because we seek to be like him…but because he chose to become like us.

Jesus lived a life full of distractions…full of worries and concerns…full of interruptions and we see in scripture that he didn’t always have the best response to it. There were times when he got angry…there were times when he got short…and there were even times when concerns led Jesus to experience sleepless nights.

Friends in Christ…the glory of the gospel is that we have a God who willingly chose to enter into this messy existence…and he did so with a purpose…to do something about it. Jesus Christ came into this world just like we do…as a helpless baby. He grew…lived his life…and then died a horrific brutal death, only to be resurrected by his father in heaven…overcoming the powers of sin and death…and in the midst of all that, he tells us that we become like him…and then subtly tells us in the midst of the hardships that we face just as he did….that OUR father values us…not just his father…but OUR father.

Because through Christ…through our teacher and master…we are made heirs of the promise of eternal life…and through him, we are given the ability to call God Our Father…just like he does. Because he has lived life…life with all its hardships…but also life with all its blessings…and he shares that life with us. Amen.

 

 

Jesus Wants To Break Up Your Family

This is my sermon from Sunday August 18th. The Gospel reading is Luke 12: 49-56 in which Jesus tackles division. You can hear the sermon here:

https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/jesus-wants-to-break-up-your

Here is the word file if you’d like to follow along that way. As usual, disregard the weird punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember them somehow.

Once I had answered my colleague, he responded to me…preach on this (pause) Jesus just wants to break up your family. (pause) I laughed at first…and was still laughing about it when I got off the phone with him…until I thought about it for a moment and realized that he was serious.
Fast forward a few minutes, and I was sitting behind my desk, thinking about how in the world I could possibly turn that into a sermon. I had a music app called Pandora playing in the office, piping songs into the background, when all of the sudden, this theme song broke through.
(Play the Mission Impossible Theme song on the piano)
Do any of you recognize that theme? Mission Impossible. A popular spy themed tv show from the 60’s and 80’s and now a series of popular movies starring none other than Tom Cruise.
Mission Impossible…the very premise of the show indicated the task that I was facing. Find some good news in the idea…that Jesus is going to break up your family…division, in the ranks.
Well, it happens doesn’t it? Division in families. Division in general. It’s nothing new is it? There’s this funny thing built into our DNA…individuality. Just like your fingerprints, you are unique to you. There is no one else on the planet, and there never has been, and there never will be…another person just like you…and with that wondrous variety in the world…with that amazing individuality that defines each and every member of the human race…with that amazing gift given to us by God in creation…we have the ability…and tendency…for opinion.
(pause) And those opinions vary don’t they?  Parents…you have kids?  Then you know what I’m talking about. Kids, you have siblings? You know what I’m talking about.  Everyone else out there…got a coworker? Chances are…you know what I’m talking about.
The ability to formulate an opinion is a marvelous gift…but by its very nature, it creates the dilemma of choice…and by forming an opinion, by forming an interpretation of a situation…by making a choice, we are dividing ourselves from the opposite side of the situation.
Each and every time we make a definitive decision, regardless of the question…regardless of the issue…we are alienating those that are on the other side. Sometimes this alienation is friendly. It could be as simply as “do you like winter or summer better.” If I put that question to a poll right now and each of you raised your hands to answer…I seriously doubt that anyone would start arguing in the aisle about who was right and who was wrong. (pause)
But not every question is as simple and innocent as winter vs summer…and as we look back through history…we can see example after example of situations that didn’t turn out quite so friendly.  All too many examples turned out bloody. Jacob and Esau…remember those guys…offspring of Adam and Eve…they quarreled over the best way to honor God…and in the 2nd generation of humanity…murder was invented. As society grew and developed, there were disputes over territory…and resources…and war became a scary reality.
In the last 100 years alone there have been countless wars around the world…and several of you in this room have been directly affected by that reality…WW1 and 2…Korea…Vietnam…Desert Storm…Iraq…Afghanistan…the War on Terror…and those are just the ones that we’ve been in on directly. Disputes…battles…over ideals…over opinions…and the differences that individuals make of those opinions.  How many lives lost? How many families torn up and destroyed…and not just of our soldiers…but all of the lives affected and torn apart around the world….because we have different ideals.
It’s a sobering thought isn’t it…and the church isn’t immune to it either. When we look back through the last 2000 years…we find that our own history is dotted with just as many “family squabbles” as the rest of history.  The book of Acts alone is full of disputes. Paul speaks of more in his various letters…and they were all written within the first 50-100 years of Christ.
As time marches on, we see more disputes. Constant councils and opinions over doctrine…constant fights centered on the notion that “we’re right and you’re wrong.” A big one happened about the year 1000, when eastern orthodoxy split off from the Roman Catholic church because they couldn’t decide where the center of church power was.
Then 500 years later…the Roman Catholic church experienced another family squabble that perhaps we’re a little more aware off…It centered around this guy named Martin…seems like they named a denomination after him or something…but even the reformers couldn’t get their act together…and their differing opinions led to countless denominational splits. Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Christian Reformed…
Even when we start to narrow the microscope, we find it doesn’t get any better…Look at Lutheran history…our family tree can be best described as a weeping willow…countless divisions centered around doctrine, or nationality, or practices, or whatever have led to more splits than you can shake a stick at…and if we look at the Lutheran landscape today…especially here in America we find countless variations…each with their own opinions about what’s right and what’s not…and we can go farther than that.
Something tells me, that if we chose a subject, and sat down to debate it…we’d quickly find ourselves at odds with each other…because we all interpret things differently. We all make our own judgment calls about what’s right and what’s not…and in the end…we fail to agree. As I said before, it can happen with pleasant conversation…or it can happen with heated debate…or sometimes in an extreme case someone picks up a gun…or they set off a bomb…or they hijack a plane and knock down a building.
It’s true my friends…we live in a world where different opinions can be a matter of life or death…and for many individuals out there…it is exactly that dire…and in today’s scripture lesson Jesus himself tells us that he didn’t come to bring peace…He came to bring this very division that we’ve been talking about.
But how can that be? We hear in so many places that God is a God of Love…that Jesus came to bring peace and not the sword so what’s up with this passage?  Just what is it about Jesus that offends? What is it about Jesus that is so decisive that we find ourselves split from person to person, even within families?
What is it about his message that is so hot button? Well, it’s amazingly simple…yet devastating at the same time. Forgiveness of sins…(pause). It is that simple…but simple as it is…its not easy…it comes at a cost and Jesus hints at it in today’s story. I have a baptism with which to be baptized…and what stress I am under until it is completed…does that sound a little familiar?
Can you think of another time when Jesus talks about being stressed…maybe to the point of sweating…maybe to the point of sweating blood?  In a bit of foreshadowing Jesus is telling us here how much stress is upon him to complete the work that God has given him.
Jesus came to Earth for the sole purpose of sacrificing his own life as a ransom for many. God himself came to Earth to accomplish that which we could not do…atonement for sin…that sin that separates us from God…a reality of separation that God himself could not bear for his beloved creation…and so God chose to do something about it…we couldn’t get up there so he came down here.
We hear the famous words in John’s Gospel that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  And that right there…reassuring as it may be for some of us…is a huge tripping point for others…because there are those out there that don’t believe…there are those out there than simply cannot wrap their heads around this reality.  There are those out there than want to believe…but doubt creeps in…questions come in and sometimes there just aren’t good answers to those questions.  There are bad things that happen in the world…like all those wars that I mentioned earlier…and acts of terrorism…and natural disasters…things happen that make us question how a God who supposedly loves us so much can allow stuff like this to happen.
And you know what…there are no good answers to those questions and because of that, there are individuals out there that chose to turn their backs on all things spiritual…and it’s not a small group of people.
The single biggest group of religious affiliation in the US today is the nones…as in “no affiliation” or more specifically…religion…I’ll have NONE of it.
And they chose…not to believe….or perhaps we can say that their hearts are hardened…or that the Holy Spirit hasn’t acted in their understanding…or countless other reasons or opinions…but whatever the cause…there are those that do not believe…and I believe that this is what Jesus was talking about…if you believe in Christ as savior, then the Bible says that you will be saved…period…end of story…but not everyone believes it. And this is the reality that we face. (pause)
But you know what…we don’t face it alone…There is one that also faces this reality with us…one that understands our reality so much better than we do…one that created it…and one that I believe mourns the divided, messy, opinionated state that the world currently experiences. And that is God himself and I believe that God mourns this present reality so much that he got into it.
That’s why Christ came down…not only to point out this division…but to fix it. I don’t know how it all works…all I know is that I trust that it will. I trust it when I hear someone say that one day EVERY knee will bow and EVERY tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord….but until that day…I worry…and I pray…I worry and I pray about those people in my life that fall on the other side of the line. I pray for those people that do not understand…that do not believe….and I think we all do…I think we all have those people in our lives that we just don’t know about…and if you don’t have a person like that in your life then chances are you are that person for someone else.
I don’t bring this up to be antagonistic…only to point out the reality that we face in the world today…a reality that seems insurmountable for us…but it’s not up to us…and I believe it when I stand up here in front of you and proclaim with the authority of Christ that you are forgiven of your sins…and I believe that Christ is big enough to forgive the sins of each and every person in all of history…even if I don’t understand how.
So yes, it’s true. Christ came to bring division…but he also came to overcome it. May we all pray for the day when it is finished. Amen