Posts Tagged ‘Equality’

The Same Level 2-17-19

In this sermon, taken from Luke 6:17-26, I explore Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. In this version, Jesus includes the woes, which should give us some pause. And yet, we find a sense that Christ is placing us all on the same level…and it is one in which we are blessed.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

Many of you know that I have an older brother who is about 4.5 years older than I am…and while I feel pretty fortunate to have grown up with an older brother that was pretty quite tolerant of me as a younger brother…that age difference meant that in any sort of physical altercation or contest, no matter what form it took…he had a clear size advantage.

This was probably most apparent when we would wrestle, as brothers are known to do. Even though I was a wiry little bugger, inevitably he’d get a hold of me and win…and its also worth noting just how long this went on.  I was, to be sure, a small kid…one of the smallest in my class all the way through elementary and jr high…and since I was a bit of a late bloomer…I was still pretty small during my freshman year of high school.

Throughout all this time, my brother was able to throw his weight around…but then…things changed.  I grew 8 inches in one summer…finally put a little bit of weight on…and in a day that will forever be memorable for the two us…I was standing in the living room of my parents house, and he came up behind and tried to put me in a headlock…and without even thinking about it, I grabbed his arm and gave him a little hip-toss over my shoulder…and before he knew what was happening…he was laying on the couch looking up at me as I was looking down at him.

To say he had a shocked look on his face goes without saying…but I’ll never forget how his look changed from shocked to understanding…and his verbal response….SHOOOOOOOT.  Now, at the same time that he was realizing the new dynamic between us, I was realizing the same thing…that we were now on an even playing field…that somehow, the dynamic between us was level.  (pause)

Its that idea right there that connects us into today’s gospel lesson…an account of Jesus sharing a teaching known best as the Beatitudes…the start of a fairly lengthy sermon here in Luke’s gospel…but what’s important for us to notice right here at the beginning…is the logistics.

Now Matthew, if you’re familiar, places this story on a mountain…but Luke tells us something different…in fact Luke tells us that Jesus intentionally comes down…OFF…a mountain for this particular event…and that’s what we hear in the first verse…that he came down and stood on a level place.

Now this points us in a couple different directions…first of all, the logistics of the situation…he was on a plain…flat ground…a place where he could potentially walk around and look every one of the people there that day in the face…and secondly…a bit more metaphorical.  That Jesus…the man who is also God…the divine made flesh…intentionally came to the same level as his audience…a mixture of people from many different places and cultures and backgrounds…people from every point of every single social ladder…divided by every possible aspect…and yet as Jesus stands among them…everyone is on level ground.

Now maybe, just maybe…as the people stood there that day…able to look this God-man in the face…maybe a new realization began to dawn on them as well…that things were no longer the same…that the reality they had known to this point was now different. (pause)

Now that being said…the actions of Jesus are worth noticing…for as he comes down to this level place…fully intending to preach and teach those who have gathered…Jesus does something else first.  He begins to heal…he casts out demons…the people crowd around for the divine power is flowing through him…out of him and into those who need to be freed from that which has hindered them.

That caught my attention…that the very first thing he does…especially considering that he has JUST named the 12 disciples immediately before this moment…the first thing he does is allow his divine power to free all kinds of people from whatever it is that hinders them…and its only then…when that’s done…that he begins to teach.

Now his message…its eye opening…We are, perhaps, more familiar with Matthew’s take on this teaching…the Beatitudes…we’re used to hearing more of them listed…and a more spiritualized version of each statement. We listen for the poor in spirit…or those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…

But Luke presents it a little differently…and Jesus is, perhaps…a little more on the nose in terms of the actual/physical reality that many face.  Blessed are the poor…blessed are those who hunger…Blessed are those who weep…blessed are you when people hate you, or exclude you, or revile you or defame you. (pause)

And Luke takes it further…because Jesus has some things to say on the flip side too…Woe…woe to you who are rich…woe to you who are laughing…woe to you who are full or to you spoken well of. (pause)

I can’t help but think that Jesus is covering the bases here…because these various aspects of life…all of them are fleeting…and we don’t have to try very hard to realize just how easy it is to slip from one extreme to the other…and maybe as we think about this we begin to understand that Jesus is giving us a pretty accurate view of life…and the fickle nature of the things that we tend to put stock in…those things where we place our hope and our trust and even our faith. (pause)

Now I don’t know about you…but as I consider this list of “blessed are’s” and “woe to’s” I hear just a touch of rebuke…and I think that we should…and its only by dumb luck that we happened to be born here in this time…don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everything is perfect in our lives…far from and we all know that…but from a worldly standpoint…we would certainly fall under the category of “blessed” wouldn’t we. (pause)

But remember…Jesus…God in the flesh, has come down to place us all at the same level…and maybe, just maybe that’s what the blessing and the woes are really pointing at…that in the things that ultimately matter…we’re all on the same level…and that maybe just maybe, Jesus is trying to wake us all up to the invitation to start living our lives like we ARE at the same level. (pause)

And if that’s the case, then maybe we need to start looking at things from the same level that Jesus sees them…and to do so we need to pay attention to the order in which he speaks.  (pause) What comes first? The blessing or the woe? (Pause) The blessings right?

Maybe, just maybe Jesus is inviting us into a bit of reversal for how we see things…because its all too common for us to see the negative…to view the things that we feel ought to be condemned or cursed…but Jesus starts from a place that seems to be positive…that seems to be good…which might just point us all the way back to the beginning and the fact that when God made all this stuff…it started from a place that’s good…and we see now that God still begins by focusing in on that which is good.

And to continue to flesh this out…its worth noting that when Jesus calls a particular type of person blessed…he’s naming them…that’s the form that this word takes in Greek. Makarioi…sorta fun…but its literally an identity…a way to identify the individual…just like a name.  Who are you? Blessed one…that’s who you are…and it is in this sense of identity…called out by Jesus…named by God…that we begin to connect back into our Baptismal identity that is, perhaps, so vital to our Lutheran understanding of faith.

In the waters of baptism, God speaks a promise…a claim upon the individual…naming them beloved Child…and this identity is one that nothing overcomes…and I believe that the same thing is going on today….when Jesus calls us blessed…it is an identity that nothing changes…even in the moments when it doesn’t feel like it…or when the world tries to tell us the opposite.

Because to be a blessed one…is to be one that God is found with…God is found with the poor…God is found with the hungry…God is found with the one who is mourning…and God is found with the one that is excluded and marginalized simply because the world says so.

This is the truth of the gospel…one that we come back to time after time after time…that God knows we are unable to ever be good enough to reach God’s level…and so God becomes human and meets us in ours…broken and humbled as we are…this is where God meets us. (pause)

There’s something significant that happens when we discover the truth of being found on the same level as another…the ability to look them square in the eye…or to know that things are somehow equal…and isn’t it amazing that the almighty…all powerful creator of the entire universe…the one who made the expanse of the ocean…the one who created the majesty of the mountains…the one who created the beauty of a sunset…this same one looked at the world and thought this amazing world needed one of you too…and then that same all powerful God gets right down to your level…looking you in the eye…and this God calls you Good…this God calls you blessed.

May we all be changed by this truth…may we be encouraged, both in those times when the odds seems stacked against us…as well as those times when our circumstances allow us the opportunity to share those blessings with another….bringing us all to that same even ground…that same level where God meets us all. Amen

Who Is This 4-13-14

In this sermon, which occurred in the context of Palm Sunday, I explore Jesus’ obedience to the will of God and how his obedience, through his death and resurrection, connects us to him through our baptism.

You can hear the sermon here:

You can follow along with the sermon text here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.
The last time I preached on Palm Sunday was two years ago…I was in the midst of my year of internship in a large congregation in Eden Prairie, MN…and in a bit of a “training exercise” my supervising pastor thought it would be good practice for me to do 2 sermons in rapid succession, and so he had me preach Palm Sunday, directly followed up by preaching again on Maundy Thursday…if nothing else, it was good practice…and we’ll find out if I’ve really gotten the knack for it this week as I’ll preach three separate sermons over the course of 7 days.
But looking back at that Palm Sunday, 2 years ago…I had a little different tactic come into play. First of all, it was a different gospel account. I utilized Luke’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, kicking off the final week of his life, and all of the vast experiences that he had during that week.  And Luke’s account, while similar to Matthew’s, does pose some differences. It is a little more confrontational than Matthew, and there is a really strong division between those cheering for Jesus and those centered around the Pharisees who attempted to silence the celebration.
I was pretty proud of myself…that Palm Sunday sermon…proud enough in fact that I utilized it in my approval essay…a very long multi-section piece of writing that helped some of the faculty at Luther Seminary as well as a batch of pastors and lay people from the Western Iowa Synod to approve me for ordination.  Some of you might have even heard this particular sermon before as well, because if memory serves me correctly, I included it along with a few others in an email to Gary Leaders about a year ago as the congregation here at Underwood and I flirted with the notion of me becoming your pastor.
But that was then…and this is now…and this year, we heard Matthew’s account, much less confrontational…and focusing much more on the celebration that was Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem. There are no nay-sayers…though we do hear that there is a bit of confusion as many from the city, unfamiliar with just who this random donkey rider is ask the question… “Who is this?” (Pause)
Who is this? (pause) That’s quite a question isn’t it? Who is this guy that lived 2000 odd years ago that has touched so many lives? (pause) Great question.
Now some of you might be wondering just why we switched up the readings today. Most of you are probably used to the regular format…someone else steps into the lectern…reads from the Old Testament…and then a reading from the New Testament…and then I walk up here and read out of one of the Gospels…and so you’re probably a little confused as to why Tonya read the gospel account a moment ago, and I wrapped it all up by reading from Philippians.
Well…I did so because I think the Philippians reading really gets to the heart of the question posed by those in Jerusalem…who is this? Who is this Jesus guy?  This great prophet…this amazing teacher…who is this man that healed the sick…who is this man that challenged the religious elite…who is this man that raised Lazarus from the dead? Who…is this man…that acts…as if he were God? (pause)
He does so many amazing things…surely he must be someone great…perhaps it is even as they say…perhaps he really is…God. But how can that be? How can anyone be both man and God at the same time…and that my friends…is the million dollar question right there isn’t it?
Do we believe that its true? Can it really be true…that God…the amazingly incomprehensible creator and sustainer of the universe and everything in it…was found in this simple Jewish carpenter that sat on the back of a donkey as it came riding into town? Really? (pause) And to that question I say yes.
But how can that really be? (pause) Well, because in the beginning was the word…it was there long before any of this happened…long before there was even a world to come into…He was in the form of God…and why? Well quite simply because he was God…but he became something else…humbling himself and taking on humanity. Jesus Christ, who was, is, and forever shall be God…took a look at himself…recognized equality with the Father…recognized that he was ONE with the Father…and put that equality on the shelf…Jesus, emptied himself…he voided himself of that equality because he recognized that divinity was not sometime to be exploited…Jesus Christ…God himself in human form…took on humility instead…because he was obedient to the will of the Father…the will that wanted to do something about the human condition. (pause)
And now that whole human condition…that’s really something isn’t it? Humanity…created by God…in the image of God…created to be in relationship and blessed harmony with God…but flawed…corrupted…voided of our relationship due to the presence of sin in our lives…and twisted because of it…in constant conflict with each other and within ourselves.
You see, humanity has this amazing ability to reflect God…and we find that in an absolutely beautiful capability of love and compassion for one another…and yet simultaneous, we each possess and equally strong capability to hate and destroy…and that unfortunately is what we tend to hear about more often than not don’t we.
Yet again this week…the news broke of a young man, who for reasons beyond our ability to comprehend…pulled out a couple kitchen knives in a school and started cutting…and stabbing…and yet again…lives were shattered…and while I wish we could call this an isolated incident…we all know better don’t we…because this is the reality of humanity. (pause)
But…God did something about it…in the only way that would actually work…God got his hands dirty by becoming one of us…through Jesus Christ, casting aside equality with God…he took the same form that we posess…remaining obedient even to the cross…and because of his obedience God gave him the name that is above every name…so that one day, every tongue will confess that name together…calling Jesus Christ…Lord. (pause)
And while this name for Christ reveals his divinity…and his mastery…we also know that God gave Jesus another name…when the heavens were ripped open…and the Holy Spirit came down like a dove and God himself called Jesus…my SON…THIS IS MY SON…THE BELOVED…and it all happened on the day when Jesus himself was baptized.
And that my friends is a name, given by God, that we, the fellow baptized also share.  In a few moments, Avery Taylor will come to this font, presented by her parents and God-parents…she will be washed in the water…and we will declare that she has a new name…one shared by Jesus Christ himself…beloved child of God.
And we believe that in that act of baptism…the sinful self that currently resides in this precious little child will die…drowned in the water…but she will rise again a new creation…named and claimed by God…to take her place among God’s people. (pause)
And so, in the future when someone takes a look at her and asks “Who is this?” There will be two answers that can be given. The obvious answer is Avery Taylor…but perhaps the more important answer is beloved Child of God…and that is an answer that each and every one of us share…because it was granted to us in our own baptisms…and perhaps in those moments, if we call Avery…or any other precious child of any age…child of God…the person we are talking to might just say…Oh yah…just like Jesus right? (pause)
And yes, that is right…because, in our baptism, we join with him in a death like his, and by doing so we also join in resurrection like his…and because of his amazing sacrifice…because of his obedience to the will of God…because of his humbleness even unto death on the cross, which we will experience along with him through this coming week…we are able to join with him in everlasting life, cleansed of our sin and all the junk that comes along with it…where forever we will declare in one voice that Jesus is Lord…and that…is worth celebrating.
Hosanna in the highest heaven…and blessed…is the one who comes in the name of the Lord… (pause)  And who is this? (pause) Well Its you…child of God.  Amen