Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble 10-20-19

In this sermon, based on Genesis 32:22-31, I explore the story of Jacob. Specifically we look at the brief story of his all-night divine wrestling match that results in a change in his identity to Israel.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lets-get-ready-to-rumble-10-20-19

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

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

I always wanted to develop my own catch-phrase…I have yet to accomplish this feat…but I still want to…because a great catch phrase is amazing.  I’ve heard a lot of them over the years…those simple phrases that immediately key you into something specific…and if the phrase is good enough, it always works.

Think about it…I’m gonna lay down a phrase, and see if you can name the product its associated with. (Tony the Tiger) “They’re GREAAAAT!” (pause)…Frosted Flakes. See how well that works? It just sticks in our minds doesn’t it?

Now there’s another catch phrase…it’s a little bit longer…but I’ve heard it SO many times…it is utterly engrained…and the second it begins I both picture the specific person…and I know exactly what coming next.  Now if I say the name Michael Buffer…a lot of you know what’s coming next don’t you?  But don’t worry if you don’t know the name, because you’ll probably recognize the phrase.

He walks out to the middle of the venue…and begins “Are You Ready?” And the crowd cheers…then after a pause, he repeats himself, a little stronger this time “ARE YOU READY?” And the crowd goes nuts…and then he really goes for the gusto… “To the thousands in attendance…and the MILLIONS watching…around the world…Ladies and Gentlemen…LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!!!!” (pause)

Don’t you just love that? Its exciting…and it’s the perfect opening to what comes next.  This phrase has been everywhere…its in movies and tv shows…but most commonly it happens at the beginning of sporting events…events like boxing, or MMA…and the one where it happens most frequently…and the one place where I actually heard it in person once…at the beginning of wrestling matches.

I don’t know quite why…but its perfect for this type of event…because it implies that the people involved…the opponents…they are gonna throw down…they’re going to battle…they are going to contend with each other for dominance.

And that my friends…is the perfect segue into today’s scripture lesson, the Old Testament reading of course…and the story of Jacob’s divine wrestling match…that’s our focus…but before we get into this oddball hours long, overnight main event…let’s get a little history about Jacob.

He’s one of the individuals that we tend call the Patriarchs…and that distinction starts 2 generations before Jacob with Abraham…you remember him…random dude, hanging out in Genesis…God tells him “hey, go somewhere, I’ll tell you when you get there…also, you’re gonna have tons of offspring.”  Abraham nods…years pass…he has a kid with his wife’s slave…weird I know…and then more years pass and he finally has a child of the promise in Isaac…but what’s weird is the way inheritance works in those days. The oldest son is the heir and gets everything…So Isaac should be out of luck…but God chooses him anyway.

The story sorta repeats, or at least has a lot of similarities. Isaac eventually gets married…he and his wife ALSO wait a long time for kids, but then finally have twin boys.  The first one is born all red and hairy…so they name him Esau, which is Hebrew for…anyone know? Red and hairy…keep in mind Hebrew names are usually pretty on the nose.

But when Esau is born, his twin brother is holding his heel…so when HE’s born a moment later…they name him Jacob…anyone know what it means? Yah, it literally means “He grabs the heel.” I know, Hebrew is weird but we’ll go with it.

Now Jacob…from the get-go, he’s crafty.  He cheats his brother out of his birthright…and later, when Isaac is about to die and he’s too blind to see the difference, Jacob tricks him into thinking he’s Esau, and so he gets the blessing of the heir.  Once again…God has shined a light on the younger brother…the one we wouldn’t expect…especially not this trickster.

But you know, it doesn’t stop there.  Esau is so mad at Jacob that Jacob hightails it off to his uncle Laban…promptly falls in love with Laban’s younger daughter…promises to work for him for 7 years so he can marry her…then Karma catches him ever so slightly as Laban tricks HIM into marrying his other daughter…then Jacob works another 7 years to marry the daughter he loved in the first place.

Once that’s done, he uses some sort of divine inspiration to start earning great numbers of livestock from his father in law…and even though Laban keeps changing his wages, it still works out pretty good for Jacob…but after a batch of years…he’s grown rich…he’s got 2 wives…he’s also got 2 concubines, weird but he did…he’s got a dozen sons and bunch of daughters…he’s got tons of servants…dude is doing well…

But always the fickle one, he decides to go home…pretty much running away from Laban in the process…Now Jacob remembers that Esau, his big brother…was REALLY mad at him and wanted him dead…and as they approach Esua’s land, Jacob finds out he’s on his way, along with 400 of His men…and Jacob gets scared…and he starts taking steps to outsmart his brother.

He divides his whole household into two camps…he then sends tons of bribes to his brother ahead of him…then he sends his wives and children out in front of him…all the while thinking that if Esau is out for blood, Jacob will be able to figure it out and get away.  Nice guy huh?

And yet, this is the one that God has chosen to carry on the ultimate blessing that originated with Abraham. This crafty trickster who has taken every advantage he could finagle his way into to bring him right up to this particular moment.  A moment in which he’s tried to utterly separate himself as much as possible in order to ensure his own personal safety…right down to sending his family and property across a river towards his brother…and he’s gonna the spend the night on the far side.

But as soon as night falls…Michael Buffer shows up with the divine announcement “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE” and Jacob finds himself in an overnight test of wills…in what the scripture describes as wrestling match.

Now all thoughts of Professional Wrestling with its light shows and pyro technics, not to mention high flying aerial acrobatics between contenders aside…this wrestling match seems to be a little different. They aren’t try to pin each other…they aren’t going for the coveted 3 count or a tap out due to a submission hold.

It actually seems like they are scrounging around, trying to maintain a grip on one another…and it lasts all night.  To be honest, I can kinda relate…my son is every bit as big as me now…and in the rare moments when we get into a wrestling match, I’m to the point of simply trying to hold him off as long as possible because eventually I’ll get tired, he’ll get me in some sort of a choke hold and its over…I just try to last as long as possible.

Jacob and this divine being…seems to be the same thing…and somehow, they appear to be evenly matched.  It must be a pretty violent struggle, as we hear Jacob’s hip gets wrenched out of place…but as it goes on, neither can get away from the other…and as day begins to break…its time to be done and this divine being begs him to be let go.

Jacob refuses…because he wants another blessing…apparently every other blessing that he’s finagled his way into, all the tricks that he’s pulled off, or the mental battles he’s won and benefited from…those weren’t enough…and he wants this one to.

But before he gets the blessing, this divine being asks his name.  Jacob…the one who grasps the heel…the trickster…And now here’s the thing…he gets a new name…before he is blessed…there’s a change in identity…and Jacob becomes Israel. (pause)

Now, what have we already established about Hebrew names?  They mean something right?  Israel is no exception…this name means “he who contends” or “he who wrestles” And specifically…he who wrestles with God. (pause)

Now of course, Israel is also the name of the culture and the eventual kingdom that his descendants will ultimately become…and just like the man Israel who has contended with everyone including the divine…we later hear that the entire culture continues to wrestle with God in one way or another…and so this name is fitting.

But…what do we take from this whole deal?  Is it just some story? Some oddball little moment that the author decided to stick in there?  Or is there something for us to learn?  And I think there is.

Nowhere in Jacob’s story, do we hear him condemned by God because of his behavior…as we’ve already mentioned, he’s just one of the line of recipients of God’s ultimate blessing…even if he’s the unlikely choice.  And so maybe, just maybe as we hear that God GIVES him this identity as one who contends with God, maybe God is actually in favor of this type of thing.  Not the cheating…not the swindling…not the craftiness…but the actually wrestling…the contending.

And so what does that mean? (Pause) I think it means that in our encounters with the divine…wrestling…contending…questioning, seeking, wondering…battling…these are not bad things…but rather, we are encouraged to do just that.  These are not signs of weak faith. These are not indicators of issues in your spirituality…doubt, fear, questions…they are indications that you are paying attention to the reality you are a part of…and that you care enough to go to the source with it.

And you know what, you’re not alone in this…and we find this in the biggest batch of prayers that we have in our faith tradition…the psalms. The psalms are prayers and they cover the gambit. Joy, celebration, praise, questions, concerns…laments…and the laments…are the biggest batch of them. So if we find the psalms pointing out the legitimate nature of questioning God…and we find Jacob rewarded with an identity that LITERALLY means he battles with God…maybe we see that its okay when we need to do it to…and those moments happen in our lives and for some of you, I know these moments are happening right now.

But there’s one more thing we need to take note of…this encounter with the divine…this moment that results in a new identity…it leaves a mark on Jacob. And he limped for the rest of his days.

Likewise, we cannot expect to wrestle with God, in the good stuff and the hard stuff…and not be changed by it.  These divine encounters do leave their marks upon us in one way or another…but thanks be to God that they also result in a new identity…one given by the divine.

Jacob ceased to be the one who grabs the heel, and he became the one who contends with God.  And in our encounter with the divine, we are claimed as God’s beloved child…and this is made possible through the ULTIMATE divine wrestling match…when God became flesh…and took on death itself…

That encounter left its marks too…which we know because Jesus himself told his followers to put their fingers in the nail marks and their hands in his side.  Not even God can escape being marked by divine encounters…but thanks be to God…that this has all been done for us.

And so, today and every day…don’t be afraid to contend with God…God’s got broad shoulders…God’ll take it…but don’t be surprised…if you ultimately…end up changed by it.

What do you think everyone?   Let’s get ready to rumble. Amen.

Entered At the Wrong Time 10-6-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 17:5-10 (and also referencing 1-4), I explore an odd little teaching of Jesus about faith the size of a mustard seed.  Its a strange one, but speaks to us about the idea of faith as something which is quantifiable…which is isn’t.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/entered-at-the-wrong-time-10-6-19

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

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

How many people are familiar with the expression “that was the wrong time to enter into that conversation.” I have this thought a lot…because it seems like I can’t go more than a day or two without walking into a room, or simply finding myself in the proximity of a conversation that is already in process, and for whatever reason, it catches my attention just as someone is saying something…odd.

It manifests in a lot of different ways…but the lack of context is usually the contributing factor…and without it…we just hear something utterly out of place.  Take for instance…if you heard me spout off something like “I’m just a little tea pot” you’d probably give me a weird look and wonder what the heck I’m talking about…

But you know this sense right? You’ve had moments like this? Good, because it seems to me that the lectionary is giving us one of those moments with the rather abrupt beginning of our reading. (pause)

The Apostles said to the Lord…increase our faith. (long pause) On one hand…of course…Lord increase our faith. No brainer…but on the other hand, its like…what? Why? (pause)  It’s a weird place to start the reading isn’t it?  But maybe if we keep reading we’ll get some insight.

Jesus responds…If you had faith like a mustard seed you could say to this tree, uproot…be planted in the ocean.” (nod) That explains everything right?  Hmmm, maybe not…and honestly the oddball little parable about a slave working in the field and then coming in to cook dinner and wait on the master doesn’t really help either…and all I can think…we came into this conversation at the wrong time didn’t we?

Something is missing right? Why did the apostles make this request? What prompted it? What’s going on that puts them in the perspective of insufficient levels of faith? (pause)

We can’t just start right there…We’ve gotta back up don’t we? Jesus starts off this chapter warning us that moments of stumbling will happen…it’s a part of life…but we should be careful to avoid making someone else stumble.  And then he goes on to talk about forgiveness…and that seems to be the issue at hand for his followers.  Be on your guard…if another disciples sins, you must rebuke the offender…and if there is repentance, you must forgive….and maybe at this point we can picture the disciples all nodding…yah…that makes sense Jesus…I think I’m with you….

But then he goes on…and if the same person sins against you 7 times a day, and they turn back you every time in repentance, you…must….forgive. (pause) Wait a sec Jesus…let me see if I got this.  We’re called to forgive, I get that…we even pray it…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…I’m tracking there…but 7 times? Really?  Is that even possible?

Like for real? If a person actually repents, they probably aren’t going to turn right around and harm you again right? Much less 7 times in one day…I don’t buy it Jesus…I think you’re pulling my leg…this whole deal seems impossible…right?   RIGHT? (pause)

But that’s the teaching…and that reveals something I can relate to…Jesus has made this statement…not even a request…we might call it a command…an expectation…an implication of being a Christ follower that we will forgive…over and over again…even if it seems impossible.

And maybe that resonates…maybe that’s relatable to you…because you’ve experienced something SO major…So completely unforgivable that you can’t even begin to wrap you head around the idea of forgiving the person who harmed you…not even once, much less 7 times in a row.

That seems to be the quandary that the disciples are dealing with…and yet they realize that this command given by Jesus is something they need to take seriously…but it also seems that they recognize their own inability to do so…and even though we don’t hear it in the narrative…we can probably imagine what they are thinking, maybe even saying as we read between the lines.

I can’t do that. I’m not good enough for that. That makes no sense…I need help…I need to be better…and so they turn back to Jesus with the request that kicks this whole deal off today.  Lord…increase our faith…we don’t have enough…we can’t do that. (pause)

I wonder if that sounds familiar…ever found yourself in that same boat…feeling like what’s being asked of us by God…or by our church, or from our family or friends…any of that…its too much and we don’t feel like we’re adequate to accomplish it? I know that sense…and I’ve heard many of you express that same sentiment.

I can’t do that pastor.  I don’t know enough…I don’t have anything to say.  I don’t know how to do it. (pause) Now I don’t bring this up to shame anyone…we all do it…all of us…and we think Maybe if I’d studied just a little bit more…or if I believed just a little bit harder.  Or the one that seems to be on the nose today…if my faith was a little bit bigger.

How many times have you heard that expression…I need to grow in my faith…as if faith is some achievement level in a video game, or a muscle that grows larger with exercise…or a reservoir that can be filled up to larger capacity…or since its football season, that faith is some sort of scoreboard, and when time runs out we can look to see if our faith-score is bigger than the sin-score. (pause)

But that’s not how all this works…and I think we see that as we consider this REALLY weird response from Jesus.  “Lord, increase our faith.” And Jesus is like (embellish this) “DUDES…if you had faith the size of a MUSTARD SEED, you could say to this mulberry tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea…and it would happen.” (pause)

First of all…what? That statement is not just mysterious…its flat out stupid. No one would want a mulberry tree to be planted in the ocean…it would die…no one would ever say that…and I think Jesus knows it…I think we have to read sarcasm into this…we have to look Jesus in the face and see him winking at us as he says this.

Because it seems like Jesus is saying…the TINIEST bit possible…it can accomplish utterly impossible things.  Things you would never even consider are possible…and maybe just maybe what Jesus is really telling us here is that with faith, its not about quantity…that’s not how faith works.

Maybe Jesus is telling us that its either/or.  You either have it or you don’t. But if that’s the case, then what is it? Great question…an important question…one that we should probably think about more often because we throw that word around constantly here in the church. Faith this…faith that…saved by faith. The righteous shall live by faith…faith faith faith…and we probably sound exactly like the disciples as we do it. (pause)
So what is it? Well…if we consider the various examples of faithful people that we hear about in the scriptures…it would seem that faith means believing what we hear from God.  And if God says that we’re supposed to forgive…then we forgive. If God says that we are forgiven…then we are.  If God says you are worthy and I love you and I claim you as a beloved child…then you are. Period. (pause)

But…that’s not always easy is it?  Doubt is a real thing. Questions, concerns…they’re real to…because life is messy and even though the gospel is really easy…its also really hard isn’t it? And I think that’s the issue that the disciples are acknowledging today…Lord this is hard…I feel like I am incapable of doing this.

And Jesus looks them in the eye…and says….You’re right. (pause) Wait…what? (pause) I believe with every atom of my being, that what the gospel reveals and what the gospel asks of us…is utterly…100% impossible to achieve (long pause) on our own.

Nothing we can do…nothing we can achieve will ever accomplish it for us…because if we could do it on our own…then we wouldn’t need Jesus…and he died for nothing.  But folks…the one we call Jesus…the living word of God made flesh…lived…died brutally…and then rose again in order to make the impossible…possible.

And he did it on your account…and it is finished.   You need only believe that it is true…and it is true…and not just because you chose to believe it. I don’t buy that either…the idea that we can chose to believe it…that makes salvation through Christ just another work for us to accomplish…and that my friends is the law…the idea that we are enough…that we are capable…and we aren’t.

I’ll say it again…we are not…capable on our own…So God has done it for us…God has done it for everyone here…and God has done it for everyone that you think is outside of it.  Because God loves the world…not just the ones who say the right words.  Its…finished. So believe it. That’s faith…even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense. (pause)

Now…the disciples do have one thing going for them today…they go to the right place. Lord, increase our faith…Lord…Jesus…God. Give us what we cannot.  (pause) They might make the wrong request…but at least they are going to the right source.

Faith is a gift of God…it is not self-generated. And that seems to be the one aspect that the disciples do have figured out today.  Peter didn’t look at Andrew and say “hey man, can you toss me a nickel’s worth of faith for today?”  James didn’t elbow Matthew and say “hey I’m a pint low, can you spot me?”

They went to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith…the one who hears us when we experience hardship…when we experience doubts or fears or questions about the circumstances that we find ourselves in…and these are not bad things. And experiencing them does not make a bad person or a bad Christian or an ineffective Christ-follower. They simply show you that you’re human…and that you are being realistic about the world that surrounds you…because this life is messy…this world good, but its also very hard. And this life we live together is anything but routine.

And so, if you find yourself wrestling with these things, know this…you are not alone…and you can bring these concerns to the one who will never leave you…that is the promise…not because of anything that you have done…but because of everything, he has done for you. Amen.

What Do You Read There 7-14-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:25-37, I explore the exchange between Jesus and a lawyer that leads to the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. While the parable itself reveals some timely and important truth, the exchange itself reveals something important for each of our lives of faith.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-do-you-read-there-7-14-19

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

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

Every Christian denomination has a unique path towards ordination, or what we might call officially authorized pastoral ministry. In my opinion, here in the ELCA we’ve got one of the most intense processes…something called candidacy for ordination.  Its lengthy, typically beginning upwards of a year before the individual even begins seminary…and then it runs concurrently alongside seminary education through graduation and eventually ordination.

Now in the process, there are three separate interviews that the individual experiences…one at the beginning called Entrance…one at the end called Approval…and then one just a little past the halfway point called Endorsement, just prior to beginning their year of pastoral internship.  And of the three, I found Endorsement to be the least stressful…likely because while the first and last happen with a full committee of about a dozen people, Endorsement happens with two individuals from the candidacy committee and the students faculty advisor.

Now my Endorsement interview happened sometimes in the spring of 2011, so I don’t remember a whole lot about it…but I do recall one question…talk about how your theology has changed through your education up to this point…honestly I can’t remember much of my complete answer, but I do remember saying “Well, prior to beginning seminary I had no theology.”

Side note…theology is one of those big 50 cent seminary words…but it’s a combination of two Greek words that are squashed together that literally means “the study of God” or “the divine.” Just go ahead and tuck that in the back of your minds.

Now, regardless of whatever else I said in my answer…I remember, quite vividly my advisor laughing and saying “Scott…prior to seminary, had you ever read the Bible?” And when I said yes he said “Well then guess what, you had a theology…this process is just helping you refine it.”

I’ve thought a lot about that insight over the years…and I’ve also thought about the ways that seminary did serve to develop my theology…or my understanding of the divine and the scriptures…and while the classes and the lectures and the readings and the papers and everything else I endured through that 5 year process did do a lot…there was one other aspect that was absolutely vital…and I was reminded of that as I prepared for today’s message.

One of the last steps I do every week is reading…I read through a multitude of different commentaries written on the specific passage by a wide variety of individuals…one of which is produced online every week…and this particular week…I was excited to see the author…a professor in the Religion department of Valparaiso University in Indiana…known as the Rev. Dr. Amanda Brobst-Renaud…but who I have always known simply as Mandy.

When I made the transition from part-time distance learning to on-campus full time learning…Mandy was in several of my classes and small groups…and so she was one of the first people that I got to know pretty well from my larger class…and I can remember countless times between classes when we’d end up sitting in a lounge discussing something…a passage that we were working on for preaching class or an article assigned for lecture. And we’d just go back and forth…sharing insights…challenging interpretations…pointing out details that seemed significant. (pause) And as I think back to the entirety of my seminary education…that sense…that experience of sitting around with one or two other people probably helped shape me and my understanding of the word of God being living and active more than anything else. (pause)
Now when I say that…when I reference that bit of scripture…I think it is talking about the way that the scriptures themselves reveal widely different things to individuals based on their experience…and in the same way, the scriptures can reveal widely different things to an individual at different points in their lives…and because of this…I think its dangerous to assume that any passage, or individual book of the Bible or even the Bible as a whole has a single “correct interpretation.”

And I think we find evidence of this in today’s passage.  Now admittedly I’ve already been talking for a while without getting into today’s gospel…but as I read it…especially the opening narration about the back and forth that Jesus has with this lawyer…this expert in the Jewish Law code passed down from Moses back in the day…as I consider this exchange, I don’t envision some uppity dude looking down his nose at Jesus…thinking he’s got the education and credentials to put this upstart Galilean wanderer in his place.

I see a lively discussion, we might call it a debate…but I’m reminded of those times spent sitting on couches going back and forth over a passage…trying to get to the heart of it…trying to understand how its applicable into our lives as it is in this moment.

I don’t know what mental image you might have of this exchange…but I don’t think these two guys are butting heads…and I don’t think that either one of them are trying to set the other one straight…and we find this in a pretty simple…maybe even throw-away question from Jesus in the midst of the back and forth…see if you catch it.

Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?  What is written in the law, what do you read there?  Love God and love your neighbor.  You have answered rightly do this and live. (pause) Did you catch it?

Jesus…the literal embodiment of the divine…the Word of God made flesh…the epitome of “the authority” on this subject…Jesus asks the guy…what do you read there?  How do you read it?  What’s your take? (pause)

Admittedly, I dig this little back and forth…its present in a couple of the other gospels…but Luke is unique in the way the exchange goes down…and this is the only one when Jesus poses that important question.

Now when the lawyer answers…Jesus seems to agree…yes dude…love God, love you neighbor…that’s it man…do this and you’ll live.  It seems that the two have reached an agreement…but then the lawyer…being a lawyer…being himself…being true to who he is…well, he wants to dig a little deeper…and so he asks another question…if the law can interpreted as loving our neighbors…let’s get specific Jesus…I need to know just how far this goes…who is my neighbor?

And this question prompts one of the most familiar parables in the scriptures…commonly known as the Good Samaritan…although I really think we should change the name to the parable of the dude who got beat up because nowhere in any language does Jesus ever say the Samaritan is good…but that’s just another side note for you. (Pause)

You know the parable…guys going down the road…robbers jump him…beat him up, leave him for dead.  The two guys who REALLY should know better, chose to ignore him and leave him laying when they walk by…then the Samaritan…the foreigner…the last person who should be hero…is the hero…a fact so shocking to this Jewish lawyer that he can’t even bring himself to say “Samaritan” when Jesus asks “who was the neighbor to the man?” And his answer reveals the reversal that is often present within a parable.  “The one to offer him mercy.”

Now here’s the next thing…the parable doesn’t answer the question “who do I have to be a neighbor to?”  It flips it around to address the issue that this particular guy can’t seem to get past…who can I not even fathom the possibility might be a neighbor to me?  (pause)

I don’t want to dive to deep into this…to be perfectly honest the parable itself doesn’t interest me that much…but if it catches your attention I’ll ask the question before I move on…who is it that you can’t fathom being a neighbor to you?  What identity would make you bristle at the idea of accepting help or mercy?  What differences?  Because that seems to be at the heart of this parable.  Is it racial?  Is it cultural? Economic?  Nationality? Legal status?  Sexual Orientation?   What’s your trigger?  (pause) If the parable itself catches your attention, then ponder on that…and the possibility that maybe just maybe the kingdom of God, and the Holy Spirit inspired gift of love and mercy and compassion shown on the part of the Samaritan might just be coming your way across that boundary that today you just can’t wrap your head around…and maybe the Spirit is calling you to offer that same compassion and mercy the opposite direction. (pause)

But now that being said…I want to circle back around. And pick back up with the way that this honest back and forth encounter with Jesus and the individual seems to reveal a tripping point in his faith…and the parable is simply an illustration tool that Jesus uses to reveal it to him.

I wonder if you’ve had moments like this in your life…and in your faith…moments when an honest back and forth with another person resulted in an ah-ha…or in a feeling of conviction…or in a moment of joy…I hope so…because in my experience, that’s where the real miraculous moments of faithful revelation happen.

As much as I love standing up here preaching every week…I do sometimes wonder how effective it is…but I’ve seen moments when the lightbulb turns on…when the Spirit reveals something and it clicks…and more often than not…it happens in honest back and forth conversation among 2 or 3 people.  That’s why the relationships that we form together are so important…that’s why I think small group study is so important…and that’s why I think that family conversations around matters of faith are so vital…because that’s where faithful learning happens…as we grow together and let our shared experience shape the growth that we go through over the course of our lives lived together.

Now today…we have a new individual who is taking a first step in this whole process…as Lindy is brought forward to the font by her parents…and she’ll be washed in the waters of baptism…claimed by God as a beloved child…and as I say every time, she’s going to be watching us…but soon she’ll also be engaging with us…learning from us and with us, and God willing, she’ll be teaching us…as the Spirit empowers her and every one of us to learn and share in the faith…we might even call it a shared study of the divine…which as you recall has a name…theology.

You all have it…you don’t need someone else to tell you how your experience shapes your encounter with the divine and the scriptures…and so, just as Jesus asked the lawyer that day…I’ll leave you with this simple question…when you ponder on the action and the presence of God in the world around you…and when you crack the Bible…what do you read there? Amen

I Have Seen the Lord 4-28-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I Have Heard Everything 7-29-18

In this sermon, based on John 6:1-21, I explore two miraculous signs of Jesus, and how they remind us that God is with us even in the midst of terrifying events.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/now-i-have-heard-everything-7-29-18

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

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

My late grandfather had a habit, or maybe we can call it a ritual…one that started up about the time that he took on the status of “semi-retired farmer.”  About 10:30 every weekday morning, he’d head into town and pull up a chair with several of the other semi-retired farmers at the local watering hole. They’d each have a cold one and they’d share the news of the day…and once they’d solved all the world’s problems for another 24 hours…they’d trickle out and head home for lunch.

Now, maybe you’ve got a ritual kind of like this…a gathering place or even just a group of people that you swap the news with…those big stories that have caught your attention…those unexpected events that make you say “well now I’ve heard everything.”

I can’t help but think that with our 24 hour news cycle and the myriad of information available at our fingertips at any given moment, that’s probably a statement that we make with a fair bit of regularity…we hear something crazy…for instance I just read an article this week about a drug sniffing dog in Columbia that is so good at its job that the cartels have literally placed a bounty on its head…I can’t lie, I read that article and literally said it. “Now I’ve heard everything.” But I also know that in another day or two, something new and unexpected will happen…and I’ll probably say it again.

Now pondering along these lines…I find myself wondering if the same sort of conversations were happening about 2000 years ago around Israel…as people sat around talking about the events of the day…which I’m guessing they did…word of mouth conversations were the C-Span of the day after all…and so I wonder just what those conversations might have sounded like…

Hey man…you’re not gonna believe this. But I heard there was this wedding in Cana…and get this…part way through the wedding, they ran out of wine…and there was this random guy with a bunch of friends there…and his mom was there too…and when she heard they were out of wine, she went and told him…and he looked over at this huge water jars that they use for washing up, and he told them to take some out and give it to main dudes…and they did and it was wine…guy turned water into wine.  Woah…now I’ve heard everything.

But then like a week later they were talking again…Hey man, you know what I heard about that guy with the wine? I heard he’s been walking all over the place…like, healing diseases, and casting out demons, and I guess he was doing it down in Jerusalem during the Passover and he even threw a giant ruckus in the temple at one point. Woah…NOW I’ve heard everything.

Wouldn’t you know it…next time these guys get together…they start talking again. Hey man, you remember that guy we were talking about…get this…I heard he went up by the Sea of Galilee and SO MANY people followed him because of crazy stuff he’s doing…that like, they were all sitting around and it was late…and he told his buddies to get bread for the whole crowd…and get this, it was like 5,000 people…and you know his buddies, they just freaked out…thinking about how much it would cost to give everyone like a tiny bit of bread…well and another one spotted this kid who had a few loaves and a couple fish…but get this…the guy…yah the same one who’s been doing all the other crazy stuff…he took that tiny amount of food…and he said a prayer…and somehow…I don’t know how but somehow he managed to multiple it so that everyone ate…and there’s more…because after they ate…there was a ton of leftovers…I mean they started with hardly anything, but there was like 12 baskets left afterwards and he told them to pick it all up so the abundance wouldn’t get wasted.  Man…Now I’ve heard everything. (pause)

But wouldn’t you know it…the NEXT day…Get this, you remember the guy from yesterday…the bread and the fish and 5,000 people…dude there’s more…cuz last night, after that was all done…he went off up the mountain for a while, and his buddies, I think there’s like 12 of ‘em…they got in a boat and took off across the Sea for some reason…and one of those storms came up, you know like they do on the sea…and anyway, it was pretty rough and they were having a pretty hard time getting where they were trying to go…and you know they were freaked out right…I mean, I’ve been out on the sea when its rough too…comes out of nowhere and it can be scary, so I bet they were scared…but anyway out of nowhere…that same dude…he comes walking out to them…wait for it…ON THE WATER…You mean he wading in the water…NO MAN…HE WAS WALKING…ON THE WATER…You mean on top the water…Yah man…on top of the water…and his buddies were all kinds of freaked out…cuz, he’s on the water right…but he’s like…Dudes Its me, or maybe like I am or something like that…which isn’t that sorta like what God would say, but anyway, he told them not to be afraid…and then he was just with them in the storm while they were freaked out…can you believe that?  Man…Now I’ve heard…everything. (pause)

Here’s the funny thing about the gospel…and all these miracles or signs as John calls them…they keep happening don’t they? About the time we think we’ve heard it all, Jesus does something else unexpected…and blows our expectations out of the water…and maybe, just maybe as we consider all of these signs, including the two pretty impressive feats that Jesus pulls off in the lesson that we shared today…all we can is scratch our heads…and ponder on just who this guy is who can perform such awe-inspiring events.

Now interestingly enough…all over John’s gospel…scattered throughout the various interactions and miraculous signs and long periods of teachings…Jesus continues to remind us of just who he is…and he even said it today…I am.  Sometimes he uses this phrase as he compares himself to something else. I am the good shepherd…I am the vine…or even I am the bread of life…That particular one is coming right up just a few verses after where we leave off today…in fact the next 4 weeks will continue to feature the teaching of Jesus along with the interactions that this particular sign kicks off.

But sometimes Jesus simply calls himself I am…which happens right here in the midst of a storm as Jesus is walking on water. Now for the Jewish people…the name I am is a big deal…its synonymous with God…and the beginning of their culture all the way back in Exodus. Moses asks God what God’s name…and God says I am…if the people ask, tell them I am.

And as the disciples are in the boat, caught up in the wind and the waves, they might be crying out to God for deliverance…if you’ve ever been driving down the road when a giant rain storm comes blowing through, you’ve probably experienced that same sort of tension and terror…low and behold…in their fear…in this tension…in the midst of the frightening unknown…here comes Jesus doing something miraculous…something impossible…something that defies all logic. Something that can only be done by a being that is way more powerful than we are…

Now we’ve heard these stories before…perhaps we’ve heard them enough that we almost take them for granted…but imagine you were there…and you hadn’t heard them before…and there’s this man who is doing things that no human being can do.  And this man claims the name of God…

Could it be possible that God would be found in the human? That the divine…that which is so much bigger or larger or greater than we are would be found in a human body? Could it be? He performs these amazing miracles so maybe? (pause) Maybe, just maybe God would be found here among us…flawed and broken though we are. (pause)

But if that’s the case…I can’t help but think that it might raise some questions…or even some concerns for us as we hear these miraculous stories.  It would seem that Jesus performs miracle after miracle. Constantly doing things to better the lives of those he encounters…feeding them…healing them…and maybe, just maybe we start wonder why we don’t see the same sort of thing today.  We express faith in the same Lord right…in the same Jesus…and I wonder how many people might look at their own circumstance and wonder…where’s my miracle.

Diseases that go uncured.  Accidents that happen out of nowhere.  Jobs are lost…careers are destroyed.  Violence harms the innocent…we see all kinds of stuff like this every day don’t we…perhaps we even experience it…and maybe just maybe we wonder are those stories true.

And here’s the thing that ups the tension…we can’t prove that the miracles happened…I believe they did, let me be clear about that…but we can’t prove it…but we can still find something hopeful and reassuring if we pay attention to the little details.  That night on the water…as the disciples were straining against the oars…frightened out of their minds as a Galilee storm swept up the waves around them. Jesus miraculously came walking out ON the water…defying all logic…but what Jesus did not do in this case…was stop the storm.  He could have…we know he could have because we hear other stories when he does just that.

But this time…Jesus, the one they call the Christ…the Word of God made flesh…the divine in the human…the one who calls himself I am…he doesn’t stop the storm…he just appears to them in the midst of it.

So maybe the take away for us today…is not to be looking for a miraculous event to save us when things get lousy.  It might happen…but it might not either…and so maybe the only thing we can do is trust that we have God who is willing to be there with us in the midst of whatever storm is raging….because we have a God who loves humanity SO much…that the divine was willing to take on the flesh and dwell among us…to show us that the divine and human can and will be together…and in doing this God has made us a promise…that no matter what happens…no matter what storms start blowing…the one who can feed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish and leave an abundance on the other side of it…the same one who has the power to walk on water…this same God will never ever forsake us…that’s the promise, whether we find ourselves in a moment when we can believe it, or whether our circumstances make us doubt it…the promise remains, and nothing will separate you from the love of the one who makes this promise to you.

And with that promise…when you’ve heard it in your mind and in your heart…then my friends…you’ve heard everything. Amen

What Does Cross Generational Ministry Look Like?

If you were asked to name 3 people that influenced your faith, 3 people who shaped you into the person you are today, who would you say?

I’m guessing that those 3 people come from a previous generation. Do you know why they stand out in your memory? I would venture a guess that they looked at you and saw someone of value, someone worth investing in, someone worth sharing with.

Maybe, just maybe, what they did was invite you into an opportunity. They worked alongside you, or they shared something with you. By doing this, a portion of your history, of your story, intersected with theirs.

This is Cross Generational Ministry. It isn’t a program, it is a way of life. When we are baptized, the Spirit brings us into the body of Christ and our story becomes part of God’s story. Sometimes that big scary word “discipleship” simply means embracing the example of Christ when he invited Andrew to “Come and See” (John 1:39).

Faith is not taught, it is caught. Often times it is caught from those individuals who are willing to invest, to encourage, and then to offer an opportunity to join in.

One of the small, yet utterly vital, aspects of ministry at Underwood Lutheran is the baking of bread for Holy Communion on the first Sunday of every month. In November, this lines up with our 5th graders going through Communion Education. Part of this educational process involves teaching. Part involves reading the scriptures to see what Jesus had to say about all this.

But there’s another part. Physically doing it. And so, one of our adults joined together with the students, talking about how they make the bread. She shared why we make the bread and why it is important for the entire congregation. That being said, its not enough to just talk about it. So she rolled up her sleeves, and so did the students. And together they made the bread that we will all share this Sunday.

image13    communion-bread

So when the pastor looks you in the eye and says “The Body of Christ, broken for you” and hands you a small piece of bread, it was was made by two different generations of Christ’s body, experiencing the wonder of faith together by serving side by side. And in that moment, their stories of faith overlap in the midst of God’s story.

Who Do You Say I Am 8-24-14

This sermon comes from Matthew 16:13-21. Jesus poses the question of “Who Do You Say That I Am?” to the disciples. Peter’s brief but truthful response reveals the God-given aspect of a faithful response to the this question.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-do-you-say-i-am-8-24-14

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

The advantages of social media never cease to amaze me. Admittedly, I am one of those people that very rarely turns on the news, and I can count the number of times that I’ve opened a newspaper in the past year on one hand. (pause) But on the flip side, I carry one of these (hold up smart phone)…and because of my inherent need to be connected, I am bombarded throughout the day with various images and status updates…and if there is any big news of the day, I typically hear about it on Facebook or Twitter…though admittedly, I will catch breaking news on cnn.com, though even that’s a rarity.

I admit it…I am, very likely, addicted to social media…I’m not ashamed…and I’ve come to notice over the years since it has come on the scene that there are definite trends that show up in the feed depending on which “next big thing” is currently in fashion. As of late, my Facebook feed has been littered with back to school pictures from proud parents, countless short videos of individuals getting doused with ice water in support of ALS (and yes I did one of those this week as well)…and finally, various articles or postings in memory of Robin Williams.

I happened to click on one of those postings last Friday…and it took me to a portion of an interview that Williams did a few years back on a cable show called Inside the Actors Studio…as a former community theater actor…I always held that particular show in high esteem…and even though I have no business to think so, I often dreamed of the day when I would grace the stage and have several hundred acting students hang on my every word…hoping to learn something valuable and insightful that they could utilize in their future careers.

But as I sat there and thought about it, I asked myself the question “how much of a narcissist are you?” Seriously…who am I to think that anyone is going to have that high of an opinion about me…but then I thought about it some more and realized that we live in a society where we are always looking for the latest gossip. (pause) Did you hear about this person? Did you see what she did? (pause) And vice versa…it wouldn’t surprise me to hear someone famous ask their publicist “What are they saying about me?” (pause)

Thinking along those lines, perhaps it’s a little shocking…that in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus seems to be the narcissist. Certainly that can’t be true can it? (pause) Well, regardless of the motivation for Jesus to pose the question to his disciples, that is exactly what he does. “Who do people say that I am?”

Imagine that for a moment…you’re one of the disciples…you’ve been following Jesus around for several years by this point…walking all over the place…watching him perform all kinds of miracles…witnessing countless interactions with individuals, both positive and negative…and now after all this time he asks “Hey…what’s the word on the street? Do people have me figured out yet?” (pause)
Uhhh…well…some people think you are your cousin John…and uhhh…I heard someone say you were Elijah…and another guy said Jeremiah…and a lot of people just called you a prophet…I guess that’s the general consensus Jesus.”

But as per usual for Jesus, he plays the question game…and instead of responding to this latest Gospel Gossip report from the disciples…he narrows the question. But who do you say that I am? (pause)

Now its always important to stop and think about the words that Jesus chooses when he interacts with people. Because it always seems like he poses things in just the right way to really open up the mind of the individual…and so we have to wonder why does he ask for general testimony about himself…only to follow it up with the extremely personal question… “Who do YOU…say that I am?”

I found myself coming back around to that question over and over this week…because it is a very important question to think about. And even more important than that, is to know how YOU…will answer it when it is posed in your direction. (pause) As believers in Christ, we WILL be called upon to testify…at one time or another, someone is going find out you believe and they are gonna question you. Are you ready for that? Are you ready to offer your testimony? Are you ready to answer the question Who is this Jesus guy? (pause)

Now perhaps it comes as no great shock to you…but I’ve heard that question before…more times than I can count…blame the day job…and each and every time I’ve been asked the question, I’ve offered an answer…but those answer have varied from moment to moment…they vary because of present circumstances…they vary because of the person asking…they vary period….sometimes my answer is very short and down to earth…and at other times in my history…well…not so much.

Very early on in my seminary education…spring of 2009, I was taking the first of three theology classes…this one taught by a legendary Luther professor named Paul Sponheim. It was his last semester of teaching and I felt very blessed to have him as we read and discussed countless pages of Christian dogmatics.

About midway through the semester, we were given an assignment to write a MONSTROSITY of a theology paper….Sponheim called it our Theological Elephant…because like the worlds largest land animal…it was big…and I hold a copy in my hand right here. Over the course of 9 single spaced pages…and nearly 5,100 words I attempted to answer the question of What or Who is God. Now I could read it to you…but since it comes in at roughly 3.5 times longer than my average sermon…I’m guessing you don’t want to sit here and listen to me ramble on for the next 45 minutes…though if you are interested, I can certainly make it available.

And so I sat and thought about it some more…and I tried to be a little brief…and over the course of a couple minutes…I wrote out a single stream of consciousness answering the question from Jesus…Who do you say that I am? And that came out to be a single page…and 648 words…again…I’m not gonna bore you by reading it out loud…and I sat and thought about it some more…and realized that if someone is actually going to pose the question Who is Jesus, I need to have something a little more concise in mind. So I limited myself to 100 words….aimed at Jesus himself, as if his question to the disciples was aimed at me. (pause) And here’s what I came up with.

You are Jesus son of Joseph, of the line of David. You were with God in the beginning because you are God, and yet you are a man. You came to show us God’s love for all humanity and to get us to live in a way that reflects God’s love for one another. But we fail just as we fail to love God as He loves us. So God did something about and entered our reality as a helpless baby to live and die for everyone else. And then he rose again to create new life out of death.

But then I sat and thought about it a little more…and I went back to the gospel lesson…and I read Peter’s response to the question…short and to the point. “You are the messiah, the son of the living God.” And as I thought about that I was once again thinking about social media and I realized that Peter would be really good at twitter…pithy statements in 140 characters or less…and so in the final revision…I challenged myself to answer Jesus question on twitter…and in answering this very important question of “Who do you say that I am?” I said “Jesus is God’s way of whipping humanities sinful butt back into relationship with him. By dying in our place to create new life in our death.” 140 characters exactly…and if you’re wondering, yes that is posted on my twitter account. (pause).

And now think about all this…and begin to think about your own response when posed with this question. Who do YOU…say that Jesus is? All social media joking aside, Peter seems to be onto something with his short answer…because Jesus not only acknowledges it…he seems to shout for joy at Peter’s words…Blessed are you, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven…and perhaps that offers us just a bit of insight into why Peter’s words are so important.

When Jesus says that this truth is revealed to him…he uses the greek word APOCALYPTO…sound familiar? Sounds like…apocalypse doesn’t it…and it should because they mean the same thing. When this epic truth is revealed to Peter…it is earth shattering…just like the images that we think of when we hear the word apocalypse. And so no wonder Jesus says that this revelation has not come from flesh and blood but God himself…you’ve heard me say it before…faith in Christ is not self generated…it is only by the gift of God that we can come to believe in this amazing…earth shattering…life altering truth.

And just like Peter…or perhaps I should say Simon…receiving this amazing truth from God alters our very existence…For when Simon makes this declaration Jesus gives him a new name…For I tell you…you are PETER…Simon no more…now he is given a new name and with that new name…with this God given understanding of just who Jesus really is…the son of the living God…Jesus bestows the knowledge of his true mission on earth…to go to Jerusalem…where he will suffer and die…and then on the third day he will be raised again…overcoming death. (pause)

And if we stop and think about it…perhaps we see our own faith life reflected in this encounter between Jesus and Peter. For when we receive the gift of faith…and can truly answer the question of who Jesus is for ME…then we begin to understand not only who he is…but why he came…and I believe that just as we saw in the new name for Peter…we too are given a new identity…beloved child of God…and perhaps when I say that, it sounds a little baptismal…I certainly hope so…for in the waters of our baptism we are given this new name…not by flesh and blood but by God himself…and in the waters of our baptism we join with Christ in a death like his…a death that was his sole purpose here on earth…a death, by which God overcame all death…and offers us the promise of new life in Christ Jesus. (pause)

And so today…as we wrap up worship…and head out through those doors…think about the question…and realize today that Jesus is asking you…Who do YOU…say that I am? (pause) Amen.