Posts Tagged ‘Followers of Christ’

Urgency 7-7-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who Am I 9-16-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 8:27-38, Jesus poses a question “Who do you say that I am?” Its a big question, and a difficult one to answer. And yet its worth pondering on.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here: (note this looks differently than simply listing the link as in past postings…listen by clicking the orange play button in the top left corner).

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

A few days back I had a conversation with an old friend…and we got to talking about the irony of cell phones.  Pretty much everyone walks around with a phone in their pocket these days…which means that it should be incredibly easy to get a hold of each other.

And yet…no one answers their phone do they? Maybe we can blame it on caller id…when the phone rings…if its not someone’s name, or a number that we recognize…we let it go to voice mail don’t we? This was what my friend and I were discussing…and in the midst of this discussion she said “You know, its probably the telemarketers fault.”

She said it in passing…but that statement stuck with me long after the conversation was over…and it made me think back to my younger years, before everyone had a cell phone…when we’d answer the old landline at the house…and that coupled with remembering countless conversations with telemarketers…calls that would go along these lines…Hello…a long pause while the robo-dialer connected on the other end…and then…Hello…is this Mr DaHlen? (cringe and hang up the phone).

It was in this moment that I recognized a pretty major pet-peeve…I hate it when names get mispronounced…an issue that happens with my last name with a LOT of regularity. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know why this bugs me so much…but it does…it feels like the person calling me by name really doesn’t know me…and vice-versa in the times when I’m the one doing the mispronunciation, it probably feels the same way to them……and I can only think that it points to a sense of unfamiliarity…a lack of understanding…or relationship…whether intentional or not…its just not a good feeling.

And I can’t help but think that this sense is present in our gospel for today…this lack of understanding or familiarity…and Jesus is still making the rounds during his ministry prior to his intentional turn towards Jerusalem and what will ultimately culminate in his death.

We are right about the half-way point of Mark’s gospel with where we pick things up today. And it would seem that Jesus thinks its about time to check in and see what people are saying…and so, as he walks around with his myriad of followers in tow, he asks the simple question.  Who do people say that I am?

The disciples respond with the various chatter that they’ve heard. Some call him John the Baptist…others Elijah or one of the prophets…and none of these are really out of line…his ministry and his message certainly have similarities with these different figures who came before in Israel’s history.

But Jesus apparently isn’t satisfied with this answer…because maybe its not enough to simply explore what people in general are saying…and so he gets a little more personal, particularly with the 12 disciples as he asks Who do YOU…say that I am?

I can’t help but think that this is a good question…an important one…and one that the disciples should really be able to answer by this point. They’ve been following Jesus for a while…clearly they’ve formed a solid connection and relationship…they’ve seen the miracles and listened to his teaching time after time after time…if anyone should have insight into just who Jesus is, its them.

And as we hear…Peter takes his normal role as spokesman with a divinely inspired response…you are the Messiah…the Christ…God’s anointed one. Peter is the first person to give Jesus this name…this identity…and Peters not wrong…but he is still in error.

Because as soon as Jesus starts to reveal to them what it means to be THE Messiah, Peter starts squawking…rebuking Jesus…which leads Jesus to start some pretty major rebuking of his own…Get behind me Satan…you have your mind set not on divine things…but on human things. (pause)

Here’s the rub. Sometimes I sorta feel bad for Peter when I come across this story…of course he’s got his mind on human things…he’s human…just like we are. So come on Jesus…maybe tone it down with calling him Satan…that seems a little on the harsh side. (pause)
And yet…its worth noting that Peter’s expectations of the Messiah, whatever they point to…are off.  It stands to reason that his expectation is more of a political figure.  The kings of old were anointed to be rulers…and prophecy had stated that the Messiah would again sit on David’s throne.  All signs probably pointed him in this direction…and Peter’s own experience with Jesus might have pointed that way too…somehow he’s made this assumption…although it would seem, based on Jesus’ response…that Peter is unfamiliar with just what the truth is of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.

Now, all else aside…I can’t help but think of the magnitude of this question from Jesus in the first place. Who do you say that I am? (pause) I don’t think he’s merely posing this question to 12 dudes who followed him around for 3 years prior to his execution on the cross…but I think this is a question that Jesus poses to each one of us…and it’s a hard question.  Who do you say that I am?

I think this is a hard question because our answer not only reveals something about how we think of God…but it also reveals something about us doesn’t it? Think about that question and how you would answer it.  Is Jesus just some wise 1st century Jewish rabbi?

Is he someone who showed up to tell the religious elite that they were doing it wrong?  Is he just some nice guy in a story that may or may not be true? (pause) Or if we go with the title assigned to him today…what does it mean that he’s the Messiah? What does the anointed one of God mean?

What are some of the other names or titles that we use when we think of Jesus? Lord…the lamb?  Emmanuel. God…the Son…savior, teacher, friend?  These are just a few of the various titles that we can and do apply to the one who our faith is named after. But I wonder, do any of them really do justice…or is Jesus, God in human form…the all-powerful creator of the universe made man…simply too big for any of us to wrap our limited understanding around…even though we try to do just that on a pretty regular basis.

The thing is…every time we try to assign meaning or identity or whatever we want to call it…all we pretty much end up doing is placing God in a box…even if that particular box might be an aspect that’s true…we can not begin to limit God to anything that we can come up with…because our assumptions, no matter how good our intentions…will always…fall…short.

I really doubt that Peter had poor intentions when he pulled Jesus aside to dispute the very notion that the Messiah would suffer and die at the hands of the religious and politically powerful…much less to suffer the utter indignity of the cross…a cursed death intended to be a brutal example of what would happen to you if you opposed the Roman government.

And yet…this is the reality of Jesus…and what does that reveal to us? That maybe, just maybe the Messiah is one who will ALWAYS align himself with those who are marginalized…those who the powerful say are unacceptable or even less than human…and that not only will Jesus be found with them…he will love them…and will show us, time and time again that there is another way to live in this broken and yet wonderful world that we have been given.

Maybe the Messiah is the one to show us that there is a way that we can chose to love one another and treat everyone as a fellow human being, regardless of social standing or status…but that’s a challenge to those whom society deems to be the powerful…and those with the illusion of power will often do anything to hold onto it…and this is why Jesus died.

Because in the life of Jesus, the one called the Messiah, God was showing us that there is another way…and that we can live in harmony with the world around us…and those that we share it with…and even with the one who made it…and the world…said…no. The cross, tame as it has become for us over the course of 2000 years of history and separation…the cross was a BRUTAL answer to the new way of life that God was showing us, something we call the kingdom of heaven…but the cross wasn’t the last word…because 3 days later he rose again to show us that not even death can silence the love of God that is actively breaking through into our reality. (pause)

Now I need to back up just a bit…and come back around to Peter…because I still think its harsh to consider Jesus’ response…Get behind me Satan…but its worth noting that Jesus doesn’t say Get away from me…he simply says get back in line behind me…and Satan is simply a Greek word for an adversary…so he isn’t actually calling Peter the devil here…Jesus is telling Peter that he needs to come back behind Jesus…and keep following him…even if that leads to the torment and torture of the cross.

Peter didn’t have the whole story yet…because he hadn’t seen the resurrected Lord…the living Lord who is a physical example that not even death can beat the good news that God has brought into our realty. Maybe Peter was singing a different tune once Easter rolled around and he saw things first hand.

And here’s the thing that we have in common with Peter…even with the benefit of hindsight…we don’t have the full picture yet either. Yes Jesus is alive…yes the tomb is empty…yes it is finished…and yet, we still view all of this through our limited human understanding.

But there will come a day when we will see these things clearly…a day which has been promised by the very one who lived and died and rose again in the first place…and in the meantime we live in hope and expectation of that day, and not only that…but we live out each day as if it is true…whether we can wrap our heads around it or not.

Jesus asks us…Who do you say that I am? (pause) It’s a big question that we need to continue to ask ourselves…and as we do so, let us each continue to follow the one who makes the promises to us…for that is our place in our identity as followers of Christ…we follow behind him, whether we really get it or not. Amen

We Get To Work 6-18-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 9:35-10:8, I explore the work that Jesus is up to in the world. He’s bringing about the reality of the kingdom of Heaven, and as his followers, we are invited into the very same work.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-get-to-work-6-18-17

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

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

The phrase “mountain-top experience” has become synonymous with those events in our lives that are just big…those things that are rare or deeply meaningful…those times that sear themselves in our memory. I’ve had several in my lifetime. My wedding day and the birth of my kids are great examples. Another one was sharing in holy communion, quite literally on top of a mountain during one my annual trips to Colorado. My graduation from seminary was a big one…and one more…my ordination day on June 16th 2013…this past Friday marked the 4-year anniversary of that day…truly a mountaintop experience for me.

That was a wonderful day, but it preceded my start date here in Underwood by a couple of weeks…and immediately following my ordination, we actually headed back up to the Twin Cities, where we were still living…and interestingly enough, since school was already done and I had some free time on my hands prior to moving, I spent the next week after my ordination volunteering at our church in the Cities…helping out with the opening and closing assembly for their Vacation Bible School. VBS had a kingdom theme that year and so I was portraying a character known as King Humperdink…but since Humperdink is kind of a difficult name for small kids to remember, over the course of the week my name morphed slowly into King Hobodog Dude. (pause)
Now interestingly enough, on the first morning, I can remember having a conversation with the other guy that I was working with. We didn’t know each other at all prior to that day, so as we talked he discovered that I had just been ordained the previous day…and he said “Oh wow…so I guess its ‘Pastor Scott’ isn’t it?” (pause) And thinking back on that, I realize that my first ministry work as “Pastor Scott” was volunteering to make kids laugh as King Hobodog Dude…but more importantly, that the 2 weeks that I thought I had between that mountaintop experience of my ordination and the beginning of my work in ministry were non-existent…and the work was starting as soon as I came down off that mountain.

Now in similar fashion…the narrative that we have of Jesus’ life and ministry in the gospels is full of mountaintop experiences as well…and in his case…pretty much all of them occurred when he was, quite literally, on a mountain. The sermon on the mount…that one is right there in the name…the long sermon that begins with the familiar passage of the beatitudes and his words about those who are downtrodden…those who are broken and suffering, and how they will be somehow lifted up.

There’s other mountaintops for Jesus as well…the transfiguration…his night of prayer and betrayal in the garden was on top of the mount of olives. The great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel is on a mountaintop…and even the crucifixion took place on the pinnacle of a small mountain outside the city of Jerusalem.

All of these big momentous events that are so memorable out of the gospel narrative…but interestingly enough, we don’t see a whole lot of Jesus’ ministry work happening in those spots do we? (pause) The ministry…the work, that happens in the valleys between the mountains…and with just a little bit of searching, we see that work typically kicks in as soon as he comes down.

Take for instance, the rather lengthy Sermon on the Mount…no sooner does he come down off the mountain, then he encounters a man with leprosy…and the man is cleansed…and then a Roman officer comes to him, speaking of a beloved servant that is sick, and the servant is healed…and then Jesus ends up in Peter’s house where he restores Peter’s mother in law to health…and he casts out demons from 2 men, sending them into a herd of swine, and then the lame are made to walk, and to top it all off, Jesus raises a little girl from death…and throughout all of this that has been going on since Jesus walked down off that mountaintop experience, he’s been sharing the good news that the kingdom has come near.  That’s what he’s been up to in the early days of his ministry.

And this is exactly where today’s story starts isn’t it? Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. (pause) And as we hear, he’s attracting quite the crowds…and when he looks upon them, he is moved to compassion for they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd to guide them and protect them. (pause)

Now that’s an interesting way to describe the people in the crowds isn’t it? Harassed and helpless…you might also call them troubled…or wounded…or lost…and to say that are with a shepherd is to compare the people to a sheep who is wounded and helpless and afraid…just waiting for a predator to come in for the kill…it seems that they are in a state of brokenness…that whatever it is that troubles them…whatever it is that has them downtrodden and oppressed…whatever their individual situation is, they are broken and lost…they are in need of liberation from what hinders them…they are in need of healing of whatever ails them.

And Jesus…God in human form…looks upon them with compassion. Not distain…not irritation…but compassion and love. And when I consider this state of compassion that Jesus experiences for the lost sheep of the world I am reminded of the words of our most famous Psalm…the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Jesus sees sheep without a shepherd…and Jesus…God…gets to work…and this work…this ministry begins with the proclamation that the kingdom has come near…but then Jesus goes another step to show us just what that looks like…liberation from what enslaves us…and healing from what ails us…whatever the brokenness is, Jesus enters into it, and somehow, someway…in ways that go far beyond our ability to understand, Jesus…God…does something about it. (pause) And the same promise is made for us…for like the people that day, we all experience brokenness…and it manifests itself in so many different ways…but make no mistake, its there in the lives of all of us, and to claim otherwise is to deceive yourself…but remember that God sees your brokenness…God meets you there…and God works to free you from it, to heal you from it. (pause)

But here’s the thing…it’s a great big world out there isn’t it? And its full of broken people in need of the good news…in need of news that liberates and heals…and Jesus knows it…and so what does he do? Well, he brings in reinforcements…calling the 12 disciples by name…he empowers them and sends them out with a mission. (Pause) Did you catch what that mission is?

As you go, proclaim the good news that the kingdom has come near. If they are sick, YOU heal them. If they are dead, YOU raise them. If they are lepers, YOU cleanse them. If there are demons, YOU cast them out.

Jesus calls his followers by name, he empowers them, and he sends them out to do exactly the same thing he’s already been doing. The mission of the disciples is to multiply the work of the kingdom that Jesus…that God in human form is already up to. (pause)
Now here’s the cool part. Keep in mind that Jesus summons the 12…he calls them to him…and they are called by name…and as he calls them he empowers them…now does that sound familiar? I don’t know about you but it sounds an awful lot like baptism doesn’t it? A time when we as individuals are called by name, are claimed by God, and are empowered with the Holy Spirit to join in the body of Christ…to join in the work that God is up to in the world.

And if the work that Jesus gave the to the 12 that day was the same work that he’d already been doing, well then it stands to reason that our mission is the same. Where there is sickness, offer healing. Where there is bondage, bring liberation.

Now I can’t tell you just what that looks like…but I find myself wondering if that’s the work that we’re up to…if those two things are the driving force behind the work of the church…behind the work of our congregation? Behind the work of the kingdom that we as individuals are participating in…because if its not, then we better take a long hard look at just what our motivations are….and if we are off…if our motivations are selfish…then repentance is our next step…but praise be to God that where there is repentance of our own brokenness, there is also forgiveness…and we will hear that word spoken to us today as we share in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which was broken and poured out for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.

And that right there…that IS good news…that is news of liberation from what enslaves us…and that is news that brings healing beyond our physical bodies…and the work that God has begun in Christ Jesus…and that Jesus has invited us to participate in is to carry that news out in the world…to break down the barriers that exists that hinder…and to fight tooth and nail to overcome anything that stands in the way of God’s mercy reaching those that need it, even those who are so broken that they fail to recognize that need.

God has invited each on of us into this work…and in the midst of it we do experience those amazing moments…those mountaintop experiences that fill us with joy at this world and this life that we are blessed with…and those moments are important for us, but as we come back down from those mountains…may our eyes be opened to see the kingdom work that lies before us…and may we get to work. Amen.