Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

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.

Be Loosed 8-25-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 13:10-17, I explore a story of Jesus healing a woman on the Sabbath day, and the realization that God’s desire is that we are unhindered to live a life of fullness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/be-loosed-8-25-19

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

The human body is a pretty amazing thing. Just how everything works. We have all these different systems within us, all interacting with one another enabling life as we know it. Modern medicine has explained a lot of how our bodies work, but not entirely. But regardless, if we think about it…it makes sense that following the creation of humanity, God sat back and called it very good.

However, as we all come to realize with the realities of aging, eventually, our bodies wear down. For some it happens sooner, for others later…but its inevitable.  I never wanted to admit this about myself…and admittedly, I’ve taken steps to avoid it. I started to see signs of it in my late 20’s…but then through exercise and paying a little better attention to what I eat…my general health and fitness improved and I’ve probably been in better shape through my late 30’s then I was a decade ago.

But not entirely either.  As I continue getting a little older…I’m noticing some differences…and I’ve had some lingering injuries as well. Most of you sitting out there know that I have a bum ankle…one that has thrown me for a loop quite a few times in my life…and most notably…at our 1st annual block party a few years back when I made the mistake of playing basketball in sandals.

Following that injury which many of you witnessed…I found myself sitting in the doctor’s office for x-rays…and while nothing was broken, he did give me some pretty blunt feedback. “You’re 35 now…you gotta knock that stuff off.” And he’s reminded me of the same thing each year since when I’ve gone in for checkups.

But ankle injuries aside, I have been pretty blessed up to this point. And as I think back, there are only two times that I can recall where my body failed me…and they were both self-inflicted. Most of you have heard the story of when I tried to swim out to a buoy and ran out of gas…nearly drowning. And the other time was my most recent attempt to climb a mountain in CO several years back…when I ran out of gas coming back down the mountain and spent hours just trudging along, feeling like death warmed over. It was not a feeling that I enjoyed…to have my body fail…and yet, in life, it is inevitable. (pause)
But as I mentioned a moment ago, for some, it happens much sooner than we normally expect…there’s no rhyme or reason to it…unfortunately sometimes it just happens…and there are wide variety of causes. Sometimes it can be an accident…other times an illness…still others are sideswiped by genetics and are born that way. None of these things are good…but they are a reality that countless people deal with…sometimes for a short amount of time…others for years or even for their entire lives. (pause)
That’s the case in today’s gospel story…as Jesus encounters a woman with a pretty drastic physical ailment that has quite literally hindered her for nearly 2 decades…Just what exactly is happening we don’t quite know.  We hear that she has a spirit of infirmity, crippling her…we hear Jesus say that Satan has bound her…so it seems that there’s something of the demonic going on here…but regardless, it affects her physically…keeping her hunched over…unable to stand up straight…and so for years, she has been shunted to the side…unable to look anyone in the face…unable to view the world beyond the ground, as her body is physically unable to straighten itself out.

That in itself must have been bad enough…but imagine what this must have done for the woman from a social standpoint. With the physical inability to look anyone in the face, how hard must it have been for her to engage in relationship with those that she encounters? Her stricken appearance a constant reminder of her problem…and keep in mind the common thought at the time that a situation like this was the punishment for sin…and so for her to experience such a dramatic problem, she would have likely been considered ultra sinful…and people would keep their distance…avoiding her whenever possible…and even in the setting today…she is one in the crowd at the synagogue…think logistically for a moment…she’s bent over within a crowd of people standing…she would be invisible… (pause)
And yet…Jesus sees her….and not only does he see her…but he engages her…he acknowledges her and calls her over…and then Jesus goes a pretty amazing step beyond that…by telling her she is set free…and he lays hands upon her and she is healed. (pause)
Now this is all amazing right? But if we think about it…its pretty par for the course…Many times Jesus sees a need such as this and does something about it…but the controversy this time…is because of timing…and as we hear…the leader of the synagogue…the one in charge…the expert…he starts squawking.

There are 6 days to work…come for healing on those days…not on the Sabbath…I kind of chuckle at this, as the leader addresses the crowd…being pretty passive aggressive at his actual target of Jesus…This man heals on the Sabbath…he’s working on the Sabbath…He’s breaking the rules.

Because…of course…the 10 commandments tell us to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy…to do no work on the Sabbath because even God rested on that day…but think about it…what did Jesus really do?  He told her she was free…and talking is not work…and then he laid hands upon her…another thing that was not considered work…seems to me that the leader is being pretty nitpicky here…and we see exactly that when Jesus strikes back at his hypocritical attitude. Because in the expanded law of Moses…there are loopholes.  Does not each of you untie your ox or donkey and lead him to water on the Sabbath? (pause)
That’s okay…you can untie an animal and take it to water…although you aren’t allowed to bring water to the animal.  It would seem that to unbind the animal in order for it to have what’s needed for life is okay though…and I suppose that’s a pretty good loophole isn’t it? A good way to sidestep the notion of “no work on Sabbath.” (pause)
Now this is not to say that Jesus needs loopholes, because he doesn’t…But rather, what Jesus is doing here is pointing out the very same instance, just on a very different scale. It is acceptable…even honorable, to allow your beasts of burden water on the Sabbath…you could even say that the simple act of unbinding them is life giving…and likewise…Jesus is unbinding this woman from that which hinders her life. He sets her free from that which oppressed her…which separated her…and why? Well, because she is a daughter of Abraham. (pause)
Now when Jesus calls her this…it’s a big deal. Keep in mind, for the Jewish people, being connected to Abraham…being one of his descendants is vital to their identity. It brings them into the community…and for a culture as utterly structured as the Jewish people at the time…this inclusion is utterly important.

So for Jesus to call this woman Daughter of Abraham…he might as well be calling her a child of heaven…or to use a term that we might find familiar, beloved child of God…Jesus, God in the flesh sees this woman who might as well been invisible, sets her loose from what physically binds her…and claims her as a beloved child. (pause)

Sound familiar? Sorta seems like baptism to me doesn’t it? When God looks upon us as an individual, broken as we are…and sets us free from the power of sin simply because God looks upon us as a beloved child… Now most often when something this happens for us, it happens in the setting of worship…so much so that its pretty much an expectation…but if we come back around to expectation that Jesus was breaking that day…it all boils down to who is working on the Sabbath…and if the rules are broken…and the notion that there is some “RIGHT WAY” that we do Sabbath. But Jesus has faced this sort of thing before…and he will face it again…and each and every time, he reminds those detractors…as well as each of us…that he is the Lord of the Sabbath…in short…that he is the Lord…ironic that He’s even called the Lord here in today’s passage…as he strikes out at the hypocrites…it could even be the voice of God booming out in opposition to this misunderstanding of what can and should be happening on the Sabbath day as these people have gathered for worship. (pause)

Now I have to say…I like this story a lot…because the woman is a physical representation of each of us. She comes to worship, broken…and so do we. Each and every one of us here…all of us…NO EXCEPTIONS…We are all broken people and we come before the Lord…and just as Jesus sees the woman…God sees you…and calls to you…and sets you free from what binds you because you have been claimed as God’s child. (pause)

Now if you’ve been around lately, you know that I missed a couple weeks, one of which because I was off with my family on our annual pilgrimage to the mountains for family camp. And over the course of the week, we shared communion several times…the first of which, we shared in the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness, just like we do every week here in worship…you know the part…when I invite you to turn to page 56…and together we confess that we are bound…unable to set ourselves loose…but then at the end, I stand before, just as I already have this morning…and I share these words, just as I share them again now…as a called and ordained minister of the Christ and by HIS authority, I therefore declare unto you the entire forgiveness of ALL of your sins. (pause)

One of the things I love about being at camp…is that I get to hear that proclaimed to me…and boy it struck me hard…because as a solo pastor I proclaim it but I don’t actually hear it that much….and I don’t say to be whiny, but rather because in that moment, of hearing someone proclaim to me, the forgiveness of the sin that binds me…I felt free…and I realized just how big of deal we participate in each and every week here in worship.

Here on the Sabbath…God frees us from that which binds us…and if its not enough to hear about…God has also blessed us with a physical reminder…one that we share every other week here in worship…a holy meal in which we are reminded that his body is broken and his blood is shed for you…for the forgiveness of your sin…not because you have earned it…not because you are worthy of it…but because God loves you and has chosen to do this for you. (pause)

We hear at the end of today’s passage, that his opponents are put to shame…and may we remember that whenever we stand in the way of what God is up to…whether intentionally or not…God’s grace is simple yet universal…and if we think that God’s grace can be hindered in anyway, well then Christ died for nothing…and its not grace…

It doesn’t matter what we look like, or sound like…it doesn’t matter where we come from…or if we follow the rules or not…God’s grace is offered to broken people…period. No conditions…no expectations…no exceptions.

God’s grace is offered…freely…and knowing that…perhaps we need to join the crowd in rejoicing at the wonderful thing that Jesus is doing…Freeing each of us…setting us loose from what binds us…You are a child of God…seen, named, and claimed. And I announce to you today that because of what Christ has done…you can be loosed to live the life of freedom that God has intended. Amen.

Thought Word and Deed 10-1-17

IMG_3967

In this sermon, taken from Mathew 21:23-32, I explore a strange little parable in which 2 sons defy their father in different ways. We are reminded that our brokenness will manifest itself in different ways. Yet through the Cross, God has somehow overcome this brokenness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/thought-word-and-deed-10-1-17

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

Today is, of course, the first of October, 2017. We have now reached an important month…as 30 days from now…October 31st, will mark 500 years since the event which sparked off the period of church history known as the Reformation.

Now when I say the word Reformation…there are many names that could come to mind as important…depending on your particular view of history…Names like Tynsdale…or Melanchthon…or Wesley or Zwingli…and of course…considering our denominational heritage…Martin Luther.

He started it all didn’t he? And in 30 days, we’ll remember his defiant act of nailing the famous 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg Castle in Germany…and how his desire to reform the Catholic Church shaped the course of the past 500 years of history.

As Lutherans, we’ve been thinking about this for a long time…and collectively the various branches of the Lutheran Church have given a lot of emphasis on Luther and his teaching…on his writing and his theology. We’ve been doing it for the past year…and perhaps rightly so…500 years is a big anniversary.

But that being said…I’m going to share something with you that might be considered…unpopular…given our current setting. (Pause) I, Scott Dalen…ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America…am kind of over Martin Luther. (pause)
Don’t get me wrong…his theology is wonderful…his courageous action of standing up against the political and religious powers of the day were beyond commendable…and his views on the importance of simple faith in Christ where utterly life changing for me.

But, he wasn’t a saint by any stretch of the imagination.  Luther was considered arrogant…a bit of elitist. We can argue that in his younger years he utterly wasted the enormous cost of education that his parents had invested in him…and in his older years, he became quite bitter and much of the writings from late in his life were utterly anti-Semitic…long story short…as great as he was, a person could easily make an argument that Luther was kind of an A-1 jerk.

You know what though…Luther has good company…because if you take pretty much any person from the Bible…with the obvious exclusion of Jesus…it’s a fair assumption that you can probably make the same argument. Take any of the big names and they’ve got skeletons in the closet. Abraham tried to pawn off his wife as his sister to save his own skin. Moses was a murderer and whiner, and like to take credit for God’s actions.  Jacob was a schemer. Joseph was an arrogant trickster…David was an adulterer…the prophets all argued with God on a regular basis…and the folks from the New Testament weren’t really any better. But if there’s one lesson that I try to convey, its this…God uses imperfect people…God uses broken people…God uses A-1 jerks, and God does it with a fair bit of regularity.

Now what’s all this got to do with today’s gospel? Well…I can only think that Jesus shares a parable that might just illustrate this same point. A man goes out to his two sons…telling them both to go out and work in the vineyard.

The first son that the man approaches seems…a little snippy…doesn’t he? Son…I want you to go out and work in the vineyard today.  NO WAY DAD…NOTHING DOIN POPS…It ain’t happening…but then given a bit of time to think it over, he does in fact head out and gets to work.

In the meantime, dad has headed off to son #2 with the same instruction…You also, go out and work in the vineyard…and he hears the answer that he’s looking for. I will go sir…but then son #2 either spaces it off…or changes his mind…or more likely was just trying to keep dad happy with no intention of actually doing anything…and he fails to go do any work.

That’s the parable…and once Jesus has shared it…posing it in response the tension he’s experiencing with the religious elite…the big wigs from the temple…he poses them a question…which son did the will of the Father? (pause) Now the chief priests and the elders have an answer don’t they? They make a judgement call…even though they recognize that Jesus is wisely taking a pot-shot at them…they point out which one in the story is “the good son.” (pause)
But here’s the thing that catches my attention…as I think about these two brothers…I can’t help but think they’re both acting like jerks.  The first son disrespects his father in his words, even if his actions ultimately fall in line…and the second son disrespects his father by failing to follow through with his actions, even if his words show a false sense of honor.

And correct me if I’m wrong…but doesn’t the 4th commandment tell us that we’re supposed to honor our parents? In one way or another…in their thoughts or in their words or in their deeds…both sons fall short…now maybe we should keep that in mind when we…like the religious big-wigs that are butting heads with Jesus, start making a judgment call as to which one was good and which one wasn’t…because neither one of them are ultimately good are they?

Maybe that the subtle yet mind blowing point that Jesus is trying to make…it doesn’t really matter how we react…in one way or another, we are going to fail to measure up…our brokenness…the way we act towards one another will ultimately fail.

And I can’t help it…I’ve got to swing around to Brother Martin here…because he wrote about this when he said “Reflect on your place in life in light of the 10 commandments: whether you are father, mother, son, daughter…whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, lazy, whether you have harmed anyone by word or deed.”

And in considering that rather on-the-nose comment written a few centuries back, perhaps we are reminded of the way that our traditions of worship are reflected when we say…each and every week…we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves…we have sinned against you in thought…word…and deed…by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

There are times when I think that the English language lacks the words to properly convey or articulate the depths of our brokenness…brokenness that we feel within ourselves…brokenness that manifests in the way we tear another done when we see them doing something that we could have done or should have done, and in feeling guilty we attempt to make ourselves feel better by making them feel worse.

Brokenness that has manifested in our ability to utterly ignore the needs of our neighbor on the opposite side of the backyard fence or across the street…brokenness that has manifested in our tendency to stare at a screen thinking that it is our connection to the world as we ignore the person sitting in the same room with us.

Brokenness that ultimate leaves us feel utterly devoid even to the point of what people describe as “dead inside,” all while still sitting there breathing.

This is the truth of our existence…and it seems dire…it seems lousy…it almost seems like there is no hope…we can call this a lot of different things…in the past I’ve used the phrase “little deaths.”  These things that keep us down…broken…isolated. And as I’ve pondered on this reality, I’m reminded that as Christians we live our lives in the midst of tension…and we are Saturday people….living in the tension between death on Good Friday and new life on Easter Sunday.

This describes our lives, and the difficulty that we often find in living with the garbage on one side and the new life which God has made possible in the resurrection of Christ. Make no mistake, what God has accomplished in the brutal death of Christ on the cross is not simply limited to the forgiveness of sins…vital though that might be…but what God has accomplished through the death of Christ is showing us that resurrection is possible…and that nothing in all creation will separate us from the love and delight of the one that made us in the first place…not any little death…and not even death itself. (pause)

500 years ago God touched the heart of an arrogant pompous know it all monk…and reminded him that the righteous will live by faith…which might be better said that those who are righteous believe what God will do…and that God has already done what God said he’ll do…and what God has said is the righteousness that can try so hard for and ultimately fail in our thoughts, words, and deeds, is already given to us because God calls us righteous when he claims us as his beloved children.

2000 years ago God took on flesh and dwelled among us…and then died…and then rose again to show us…not just to tell us but to literally show us that resurrection from that which harms…resurrection from that which destroys….resurrection from that which kills…IS POSSIBLE. (pause)

I can’t help but find it a little bit ironic that today I’m talking about this tension that we experience in our life lived between Good Friday and Easter Sunday…between death and new life…because Easter is literally 6 months away…we are far away from it as we can possibly be today…and yet Christ continues to remind us, each and every day…that we are new creation…may we find life…may we find hope…in that promise. Amen.

Math Doesn’t Cut It 9-17-17

math

In this sermon, based on Matthew 18:21-35, I explore the parable of the wicked slave. The lord forgives an astronomical debt, but the recipient is unable to show the same mercy.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/math-doesnt-cut-it-9-17-17

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

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

I think at one time or another, every single young person tells themselves that they won’t turn out like their parents.  That when the roll is reversed and they are the parent, they won’t act the same way, they won’t think the same way…and they sure won’t talk the same way…When I have kids…I’ll be different.

Parents…how’s that working for you? (pause) I think its inevitable that certain patterns are going to emerge, because we have been shaped by those who came before us…and I recently realized this in conversation with my kids over the subject of homework…and specifically math…because I have heard from both of them “I hate math…I wish I didn’t have to do it.”

And just like every other parent that has come before…not to mention every math teacher who has taught…we say the same thing “You need to learn it, because you’ll use math everyday.” (pause) Now the old adage is true…math is everywhere…but…up until this point, I never really needed to worry about using math here in the context of preaching, (long pause) until….now.

Jesus is teaching his followers about forgiveness…reminding them of how important it is…how vital it is…especially among believers within the church. There is sin and brokenness…and there is repentance…and there is forgiveness…all of it aimed at the ongoing reconciliation that can and must occur among individuals.

Now as this conversation is going…Peter raises his hand…and I can’t help but picture Peter as the kid who squawks in math class saying “I’m never gonna need this.” (pause) Well actually Peter raises a more direct question…because Jesus has just told them that fellow believers…that other people are going to sin against them…and since Jesus has also given instructions on how to go about seeking reconciliation…I think Peter wants to clarify just how far we need to take this whole forgiveness thing.  “Lord…if a brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive?” He goes on a bit too, and actually Peter has probably given this a bit of thought because he doesn’t just pull a random number out of the air when he proposes a cap on the forgiveness scale…he says 7 times…and 7 happens to be the number of completion as far as the Jewish culture goes…after all, God created the world in 6 days, and on the 7th established the Sabbath…and Peter knows this…and so…to offer forgiveness to the same person 7 times…that should bring the matter to completion right?

But that’s not quite what Jesus has in mind is it…and here it is…math in the gospel. “Peter…dude! Not 7…but seventy times seven.” (pause) With this Jesus gives us a tiny little glimpse of the ongoing nature of forgiveness and reconciliation…when we think we’ve completed it…we’re just getting started. (pause) But as we see today, Jesus is just getting started…and following this little mathematical tidbit…he jumps into a parable to illustrate his point. And wouldn’t you know it…we have the opportunity for some more math in the midst of it.

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who’s ready to settle debts…so he starts calling in his markers…and low and behold…in walks one of the high rollers…a guy with a debt that goes beyond our imagination…10,000 talents. Now 10,000 of anything seems like a lot…but if we do a quick bit of math we begin to see just how astronomical his debt really is. A talent is equal to 15 years’ worth of daily wages for a laborer…15 years per talent…so this guy has got a bill worth 150,000 years of salary.

Now the second guy, he’s got a debt too…and here’s the last bit of math…100 denarii…which figures out to about 3-4 months of daily wages. Still a decent amount…but nothing compared to the first guy. This second slave…he can probably do something about it, but the first guy…not a chance…and yet…they both answer the same exact way. “Be patient with me and I will pay you everything.”

They are both buying a myth…regardless of the cost…we like to think that we can solve it don’t we? We like to think that given enough work…given enough time…given enough effort…we can earn our way back to even…like we’re playing Jeopardy and we’re in the hole because of answering too many questions wrong…but if we start answering them correctly we can get ourselves out of that hole.

And here’s the thing…at first…it seems that the king is buying into this system as well. Because he knows that there is no way that the slave is going to be able to repay that debt…and maybe just maybe, the king realized that he was kind of stupid to allow a debt that large in the first place…and so in order to soften the blow, the king follows the system and orders that the man and his wife and his kids all be sold…so in the very least he gets a tiny bit of value back. That may seem a little barbaric to us…but that’s the way things worked back in Jesus’ day.

Now when faced with the reality the slave begs for patience…and not only does he receive it…the king cancels the debt completely. Its done…its gone…the man is free from it…because the king chose to step away from the old system. Now by rights, this should just trickle down past the slave himself…this gift…this forgiveness of what he owes should benefit everyone else that’s a part of the system as well.

Consider this…for the slave to have this much of a financial burden to the king…he’s gotta be pretty high up in the whole system…with a lot of layers underneath him…a lot of different moving parts and people that all add up to an enormous financial responsibility…and so, if the king is still going to demand payment, then this slave needs to turn the cranks on everything and everyone below him in order to bring in what he’s response for.

But, on the flips side…if the king forgives the debt…if he erases it…which we know is exactly what he’s done…then this freedom…this blessing…it should trickle down through all those different layers as well…isn’t that amazing…that the act of mercy for one person, would affect the lives of so many others? (pause)
But what actually happens? Does the first slave make good on this wide spread blessing? Is he changed by it? Or does he keep playing by the same set of rules…by the same system that got him here in the first place?  (pause) We hear that he goes out and finds one of the slaves that owes him money…a tiny portion of the astronomical sum that was just removed from his responsibility…and rather than letting the blessing flow downward and outward…the first man keeps playing the game.

Give me what you owe…the second man responds in the very same way…word for word…be patient with me and I will repay everything…but he refused…and as we see, when news of his wickedness reaches the ears of the king, he’s punished…and the judgment which the first slave passed on, is the judgement that he in turn receives.  (pause)

Now here’s the thing…I’ve been talking about math and money…and debt and repayment…a lot of things that we’re familiar with…things that can be quantified…things that we can assign a specific value to…even if some of those values are so amazing huge that they go beyond our ability to really comprehend.

But what if there is no value…what if there is no scoreboard…and all we can really say about this whole parable is that the mercy of the king…who’s God just in case you were wondering…is beyond measure. No slave is ever going to earn 150,000 years of wages…you might as well call it a million years…or infinite…there is no amount that we can assign, nor should we…because when we fall in the trap of assigning a specific value or amount, then we’re still stuck in the same old system.

The system that says you’ve got to do this…or you have to avoid that…that you have to earn it…or even, that the mercy of God…the grace of God…the forgiveness of God is something that you can lose. (pause) The first man was forgiven and it should have affected every single relationship that he has. His family is safe from condemnation…and every other person that’s beholden to him in the system should be freed from it.

This is what the grace of God does when it truly lands within the heart and mind of the individual…because we realize in that moment that living in the reality of the kingdom of heaven right here, right now…it frees us from the burden of the system. And in turn we are freed to pass that same mercy…that same grace…that same freedom on to every other person that we are relationship with…whatever that relationship looks like.

But the guy in the parable couldn’t do it. Because the gift of the king never reached his heart…and his own brokenness…whether greed, or fear, or whatever it was that he was clinging to kept him trapped…and that’s why he was unable to show the same mercy to the second slave…and the result…torment…he found himself outside of the grace-filled gift of his Lord. (pause)
Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven has come near…and I believe that we are given the opportunity to live our lives each and every day in a way that reflects the kingdom that will be. Yes we are still broken and flawed…and yes we do still harm one another…but we also live in the freedom from the old system that requires us to earn it.  That’s the freedom that the man in the parable misses out on…he finds himself imprisoned…because he was never really free in the first place.

Truly…the grace of God…the forgiveness of our sins is beyond measure…and its foolish for us to even begin an attempt to quantify it. Because math just doesn’t cut it when we’re talking about the gospel…it is so utterly other to our limited minds…but the amazing thing about it…is that the freedom that we find within it…it already offered to you…the king has already canceled any and all debts…so let us live our lives in that freedom…and let us mirror that to all those around us…so that they too might encounter and embrace the same freedom that is so freely given through Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Gospel is a Broken Record 2-12-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 5:21-37, I explore a portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus reveals the depth of sin. It results in broken relationships, yet we are reminded to be reconciled.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-gospel-is-a-broken-record-2-12-17

You can 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

This past Tuesday evening, the adult Bible Study gathered downstairs and spent about an hour discussing the 4th chapter of Romans. Now within that chapter, the Apostle Paul focuses quite heavily on the example of the Old Testament figure Abraham…and how he stands as an example of faith…Abraham fits this bill because for years he believed the promise of God, that he would have many descendants…even while he remained childless, until finally God makes good on the promise and Abraham has his beloved son.

I didn’t share this thought during Bible Study…but I was reminded of an old comedy routine…one that focuses in on this very idea.  For God came upon Abraham and asked Abraham do you love me…and Abraham said YES! And God said GOOD…now go in the kitchen…get a knife…and kill your own kid. And Abraham responded….Ummm, let me see if I got this….Could I not merely punch the lad to show my devotion? (pause)

It’s a bit cheesy, I realize that…but its interesting to consider that God asked for a pretty extreme display of faith…and all jokes aside, that situation happened back in Genesis. But coming all the way around, I thought this same sort of idea was on display here within our gospel lesson today…a situation where the punishment really seems to defy the severity of the crime. Where the result seems pretty extreme. (pause)
Admittedly, today’s story may seem like a bit of a broken record…like something we just heard…and rightly so. We’ve been here in Matthew chapter 5 for 3 weeks in a row…and if you were here last week you might remember that our lesson ended with the same verse that I started on today.  Its going to continue as well…and next week we’ll finish up chapter 5…and admittedly it will sound like more of the same.

And the ongoing theme…that which started off last week and continues right on through this week’s portion of the chapter…the law…only here Jesus seems to be explore the depths…and how the presence of sin in our reality goes far deeper than we realize.

Because that’s what the broken law is right? Sin? The failure to live out our day to day lives in a way that God approves of…in the way dictated so many centuries ago through the 10 commandments and the rest of the law…the “procedures” that God’s chosen people were supposed to follow, first of all to live in harmony with God and with each other…and then…if and when the law was broken…the procedure to go about atoning for it…the sacrifices to make, the prayers to pray.

Sound familiar? That’s what I talked about last week…and that Jesus raises up the example of the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees to make that point…but sometimes, Jesus’ audience can be a little slow on the uptake right?  And its not enough for him to make the point once…but he needs to dive a little deeper…bringing in things that they would understand….and that’s precisely what’s going on here today.

Think for a moment, that you are a Jewish person…just living out your day to day life…and this traveling Rabbi comes around and starts quoting your cultural rules your way…you’d pick up on it right away wouldn’t you.

You’ve heard it said to those in ancient times…you shall not commit murder…and those who commit murder will be liable to judgment. (pause) Well duh. That’s a no brainer Jesus…its right there in the 10 commandments…we don’t have to dig very deep to find that one do we?

And that’s true…we don’t need to dig very deep in our day in age either do we? Murder is bad…I don’t think anyone would disagree with us, whether they claim to be a Christian or Jewish or any other religious standing. Murder is morally horrible…so of course you’re liable to judgment.

But here’s where it gets tricky…because Jesus starts to take things deeper than face value.  Because if you get angry with your brother or sister, you’re liable to judgment…and if you go one step farther and insult them, you’re liable to the council…and if you call them a fool, you’re liable to the fires of hell. (pause)

Is it just me…or does that seem to be going the wrong direction in terms of the severity of the offense?  It would seem, based on the escalation of judgment for murder all the way up to burning in hell for calling someone a fool…is that logical? Does it make any sense at all? (pause)

But maybe that’s the point…because maybe sin doesn’t make any sense…but if we are trying to make heads or tails of it, let’s take just a look at the rest of the examples that Jesus offers us today. Come to terms with your accuser or risk jail. Don’t commit adultery…good at face value, but apparently a lingering look at someone is just as damaging…and divorce is bad all around, regardless of what the law has to say about it…and then he wraps up this part with making oaths and not sticking to them… (pause)
Now of course, there are some other statements in there too…but when it gets right down to it…isn’t each one of those situations telling of a relationship that is in the very least damaged…and in the extreme is utterly destroyed? It seems so…and if we get right down to brass-tax, it seems to me that this is what sin does. It damages relationships.

Can’t we boil it all down to that…sin hurts…and it doesn’t matter who is the recipient of it…it doesn’t matter who is on the receiving end…because in the end…sin destroys. God made paradise, and he put two people in it who existed in unbroken harmony both together and with God…and then sin destroyed that…and we are still living the very same situation now…with our actions, with our words, with our intentions…we are flawed and the result is fractures in the relationships we have with those around us…and whether we realize it or not with God.

The 10 commandments weren’t just a batch of rules handed down by some cosmic policeman, but they were instructions for how to honor God and those around us…to exist within good relationship…and humanity has broken them, over and over again…and this all serves to support the very same statement that I made last week…I may sound like a broken record, but the truth is that we can’t do it.

The righteousness…which is simply being “right with God” is not possible out of anything we do or don’t do…and no batch of rules to follow…procedures to go through when the commandments are broken are going to atone for that. Righteousness through works of the law does…not…work. (pause)
And so, once again, as we heard last week…Jesus came to fulfill the law on our behalf. We can’t do it…so through the life death and resurrection of Christ God does it for us….its done…completed…fulfilled…period.

And you know what, that’s good news…that while we were sinners Christ died for us…and because of this, even if we don’t understand how or why…its done…and we are able to live in the freedom that Christ has given us…freedom from having to accomplish enough, or avoid enough…freedom to be back in relationship both with God and with each other.

But here’s the part where I get all Lutheran on you…and I throw out something that Martin Luther was found of saying. We are, at the same time, saints and sinners…we are forgiven of the sin that entangles us, and yet we are not perfect and we feel the effects of sin and brokenness…and of course, of broken relationship all the time.

Now maybe those of us sitting here in this room realize this…or maybe we don’t. Maybe we recognize that this is why we share in the brief order of confession and forgiveness every single week…because we need to continue to hear the words of forgiveness offered back to us…because even though we are saved…even though we are redeemed, we are still broken…and our relationships suffer…and being a follower of Christ does not excuse us from that…in fact it has the tendency make us more aware of it…and Jesus addresses that very thing today.

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and god…first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus wasn’t just talking to his Jewish audience who would go to the altar bearing a lamb to sacrifice…he was talking to us…knowing full well that we gather here in worship as forgiven people…and yet people who still harm one another…and as nice and civil as our congregation is…guess what people…we still hurt each other. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it…and I’m pretty sure that I’ve done it.

The gospel might seem like a broken record at times, repeating itself over and over again. Maybe there are times when my sermons sound like the same thing…maybe there are times when the scripture seems to be saying the same thing…and you know…its probably true, because regardless of the changing circumstances, the gospel doesn’t change. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. (Pause) And now, even if we are forgiven of sin, we are still called to reconcile ourselves to one another when our brokenness rears up and harms another.

And you know…there’s actually an old custom that’s built into traditional liturgy…and while we don’t do it here overly often, its probably something we should do…its called the passing of the peace…or the sharing of the peace….and while in many places it has morphed into a chance to shake hands and say good morning to each other, it should actually look like what Jesus describes today. Being reconciled to those we have wronged.

And so now, rather than doing my normal wrap up of saying amen and walking out to sit down before the organ fires up with the hymn of the day, I’m going to invite you to rise… (let them stand up)

May the peace of the Lord we be with you (and also with you). Let us share a sign of God’s peace with one another.

Normal is Out the Window 4-10-16

In this sermon, based on John 21:1-19, I explore the reality of God’s grace and how it utterly changes us. There is no going back to “normal.”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/normal-is-out-the-window-4-10-16

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

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

By now, I think most of you are used to my normal way of opening a sermon. I talk about a movie or a tv show or a song or a conversation or an event from my past that, at least in my mind, somehow connects with the gospel story…and once I explain the applicable anecdote its normal for me to say something along the lines of “and that’s where I connect with today’s gospel lesson.” (pause)

But today, normal is going out the window…and I’m going to start things off with a thought about creation…all the way back in Genesis 1…somewhere between the lines of the 4th day as God is making the various animals that walk the earth…because in the midst of everything…God said “Let there be dog,” and there was dog…and God saw that dog was good…and God said “Who’s a good dog? You’re a good dog.” (pause)

Full disclosure…that has nothing to do with ANYTHING today…but I saw it pop up on Facebook as I was pondering on this sermon and it made me laugh…because its so random…and telling a completely unrelated random joke, though not out of the ordinary for me in other settings…is so COMPLETELY out of the norm for me, it seemed like the perfect way to start off this sermon. (pause) Because as I mentioned…today, normal is right out the window…but not for lack of trying.

For today, as we find ourselves a few weeks out from the resurrection…and the reality that the tomb is empty has sorta begun to sink in for the disciples…and they seem to have accepted that the Risen Jesus is still out there walking around somewhere…popping into view from time to time…a group of the them are sitting around…a little over half of the remaining 11 disciples…and all I can think is…they’re getting bored. (pause)

Ever have a time like that…just sitting around…with nothing really going on…and out of the blue, someone has a random idea that they just decide to run with…that’s what happens…as these 7 guys are sitting there, wondering what’s next…Peter has a spark of an idea. “DUDES!!!! I’m going fishin.” I can only imagine the other 6 guys blinking at one another for a moment, only to chime in “Yah, that sounds good…let’s do that.” (pause)

But this is no random notion of a leisurely way to kill an afternoon…I think Peter has something else in mind all together. Because as we hear…this all occurs on the Sea of Tiberius…or as its more commonly known, the Sea of Galilee…and so it seems that Peter is heading home to his old stomping grounds…that’s where he’s from…that’s where he grew up…and fishing on the sea of Galilee…that’s how he made his living before that fateful day 3 years earlier when a random rabbi found him on the beach…and he’s not alone either…for also in the group are the sons of Zebedee…aka James and John…as well as a couple of unidentified disciples…one of which is likely Peter’s brother Andrew…and if you recall, those 4 dudes were partners…they worked together in the boats, with their nets…night after night…bringing in fish. (pause)
And now…it appears that they are going right back to it….almost like nothing had ever happened…like the past 3 years of their lives hadn’t occurred…that they hadn’t been called to follow Jesus…and wandered around with him…watching the healings…listening to the teaching…seeing the opposition…and that they hadn’t ended up in Jerusalem for the Passover…and shared a meal with Jesus when he washed their feet and told them to love one another…only to see him betrayed by his friend…and arrested, and tortured…and hung on a cross where he died…like they hadn’t seen the empty tomb, and then stood there in astonishment when the risen Lord appeared in their midst on multiple occasions. (pause)
Think about it…how could Peter have witnessed all of this stuff…and then shrugged his shoulders…and thought “Well, I guess this is done…I’ll just go back to normal.” (pause) Isn’t that what he’s doing here? Jumping right back into life like he knew it before? Seems like it…right on down to the events that occurred just before Jesus showed up in the first place.

We hear early on in Luke’s gospel, that Jesus shows up on the shore to find Peter and James and John and Andrew coming off an unproductive night’s worth of fishing…and he jumps in the boat with them, tells them to head back out…and throw the net off the wrong side of the boat…and low and behold…a miraculous catch of fish.

And now…here at the end…as they’ve attempted to get back to normal…they hear a voice from shore. “Children, have you no fish? (pause) Throw your net on the other side.” (pause) And once more…an amazing catch of fish…an abundant gift, miraculously provided by the Lord…and in this…they realize who it is that is calling out to them from the shore…and Peter…ever the impulsive one…promptly dives into the water to swim up to shore…leaving everyone else to haul in the amazing catch.

But what Peter finds when he makes it to shore seems to stop him up in a hurry doesn’t it? A charcoal fire burning…just like the one that had been burning in the courtyard of the temple…a fire just like the one where Peter warmed himself in the cold of night…when others stood there asking him “aren’t you one of his disciples…aren’t you one of his followers?” And three times at that fire…Peter…says…no. (pause)

And so as he comes up to shore, I can only imagine that previous moment…that previous failure…those three denials…were playing out in his mind…but the Lord, well he’s not thinking about that…he just invites his friends to breakfast…come on guys…let’s have a sandwich together. (pause)

Now here’s the thing…here in John’s gospel…this is it…this is the last story…there’s only a few more verses that follow what we read today before John comes to a close…and so as far John is concerned…this is the last encounter that the disciples will have with Jesus…and what do they do? Pretty much the same thing that Jesus always seems to do with those he encounters…they hang out…they share a meal…and have a conversation.

I get the sense that this was the key to Jesus…time spent with one another…abiding together…just being in the moment and enjoying the company…the relationship…but in this moment, Jesus also realizes that there’s something in the way for Peter…and that Peter’s thoughts are still caught up in his failure at that first charcoal fire…and maybe, just maybe, Jesus also realizes that Peter is living in denial of everything, as he has tried to go back to normal life…life like it was before…But Jesus knows better…and he reaches out to Peter, meeting him in the midst of the pain that he’s feeling in his failure.

Peter…do you love me? (hold up 1 finger). Yes Lord I love you…Okay…feed my lambs. (pause) Peter…do you love me (Hold up 2 fingers). Yes Lord, I love you…Okay…tend my sheep. Peter…do you love me (hold up 3 fingers). Yes Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you…Okay, Feed my sheep.

We hear that Peter is hurt at this three-fold question…but perhaps its simply because it reveals the depth of his betrayal and the shame that he feels at not being able to live up to what he had promised. (pause)

I’ve often found that life has this funny way of pointing out our failures and shortcomings to us doesn’t it? Maybe its our conscious, or maybe its that voice of the liar in the back of our minds that loves to make us feel lousy about ourselves…but I think its safe to say that no one recognizes our failings quite as well as we do about ourselves…and yet…God meets us right there.

That’s the amazing thing about the grace of God. This free gift of forgiveness and salvation…and a life eternal, spent abiding with God…both in the here and now as well as in the age to come…that’s the promise of God’s grace…that we don’t have to earn it…or avoid something in order to keep from loosing it…but rather that there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less and that his love for us is already here…and the promise is already made and it is offered to us each and every day…each and every time we need it.

3 times Peter denied being Jesus’ follower…and so Jesus gives him 3 chances to renew the relationship…and then he gives him a task. (pause) Sin…repent…receive God’s grace already given…and get back to work.

That’s the amazing thing about this gift of God…this promise made to us…that once we receive it…normal goes right out the window…and life is not the same. When the grace of God hits you…and the Holy Spirit gives you that metaphorical 2×4 upside the head…there is no going back to the way things were…sure our day to day activities may continue…but the grace of God and his promises for us come along for the ride and that cannot be denied.

And the wonderful thing about all this…is that we have signs of this promise…something that we do, that God has given us, when these promises are made real in a tangible way…and we call this the sacraments…when we come to this font…or to any other font…or any other body of water period…and we hear the words that you are baptized in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit, then you are a new creation…and you are claimed by God as his beloved child, and those promises are yours. Not because of anything that you have done or said or thought…not by anything you have earned, or problems you have avoided…but simply because God has spoken this promise for you…and in just a few moments Rylan Pedersen will be brought to this font where the promises of God will be proclaimed for him…just as they are freely offered and proclaimed for each of you. Receive it today…and know that because of what God has already done…whatever normal has dominated your existence up until this point…its right out the window…because you are God’s beloved child, named and claimed…and nothing can take that away. Amen

Angry Jesus 3-8-15

In this sermon I explore the cleansing of the temple in John’s gospel, and I also address a local situation that has reminded us that the darkness of the world is still very real.
You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/angry-jesus-3-8-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
There is a picture hanging up in my office that I received as a gift on my ordination day from some very close friends…at first glance, it appears to be a pencil sketch of Jesus looking up to heaven praying. No coloration, just various degrees of shading…and that’s all well and good, but what I really like about this picture is what is revealed when you get right up close to it…and you realize that the entire picture is actually made up of words of the entire gospel of John.
For most of you, it comes as no great shock to hear me say that John’s gospel is my favorite of the 4. I make no secret of this…and I’ve often been asked in the past as to just why this is the case…and you know what, there’s no one simple reason why…but if I was to put it in a nutshell I think it’s because John is just so different. John’s gospel is unique in its narrative and details…offering a much different picture of the life and ministry of Jesus than we get from the other three gospels.
Certainly stories take place in different ways…the order of things gets changed around…all sorts of things are different…and considering that I’m an individual who embraces being a little “different,” its probably fitting that I like John. (pause)
Now I bring this up for a specific reason, because today we have shared in a story where a lot of this applies. The cleansing of the temple…a story that is actually found in all four gospels…but in true John fashion, he switches some stuff up…most notably…the location and time when it happened. Matthew, Mark, and Luke place this story in the final week of Jesus’ life…directly following his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday…he heads on into the temple to find the proverbial den of robbers. (pause)
But perhaps you noticed…that we’re only in chapter 2 of John’s gospel. We are early in the story…so far all John has told us is that the light is shining in the darkness…Jesus has invited a few people to follow him…and he headed off to a wedding in Cana where he kept the party going by turning water into wine…and now…right away…we hear this story…the one that can best be described as…Angry Jesus. (pause)
I heard that somewhere this week…honestly I can’t even tell you where I heard it, but I liked it…because it describes something that I’ve actually witnessed before…back in my days of working at camp…we used to do a long drama for the kids called the Christ walk…moving through various scenes from the gospels…including this one.
I’ll never forget the very first time we did it…I was on stage…making a big racket as one of the people in the temple…when all of the sudden the guy playing Jesus…who was himself a pretty lowkey calm guy…came flying in and sent a table flying 30 feet across the stage as he screamed at us…needless to say…my reaction was genuine…because it shocked me. (pause)
And perhaps this notion of Angry Jesus is a little shocking to you as well. All too often we tend to think of Jesus as mild mannered…calm…and quiet…and serene…but this story gives us one heck of a wake up call.
Jesus witnesses all this madness going on in the temple courts…and he…goes…postal…making a whip…throwing over tables…screaming at people…this is not a quiet lamb waiting for slaughter…this is the epitome of being “fired up.” (pause)
And so today, we ask the question of why? What was it that got Jesus so riled up in the first place? What was it that made Jesus go off…why did he feel the need to cleanse the temple in the first place? (pause) And we begin to catch just a little bit of insight when we explore the differences in John compared to the other gospels…In Matthew, Mark, and Luke…we hear Jesus scream out against making the temple into a den of robbers…but here in John…it’s a marketplace that Jesus opposes. (pause)
But why? What is it that’s so shocking to Jesus about this? (pause) Because for the Jewish people…the marketplace…particularly during a big festival like Passover…is necessary…In order to follow the rules…in order to make atonement for the sins that they committed…the people needed to make a sacrifice in the temple…and this is where the oxen or the sheep or the doves come in…because those were the animals that needed to be sacrificed.
But at the big festivals…there would be Jewish people coming from all over the known world…some traveling great distances…and those individuals would often times purchase the sacrificial animal there in Jerusalem rather than trying to bring it along with them…and then the money changers? Well, they had a similar situation…as the individuals would need to exchange their common currency for that which was acceptable to offer at the temple. (pause)
And so, in order for the people to follow the rules…to worship correctly…to be in good order…this marketplace would have been helpful…this marketplace would have been a good thing…and so, once more…I’ll present the question…what was it about this that God Jesus so riled up in the first place? Was it that the merchants and the money changers were swindling the people…overcharging for their goods or services? Well maybe…but I think its actually more than that…
You see…Jesus wasn’t just throwing some tables around…he was tearing the whole system down…the people didn’t need to go to the temple anymore…they didn’t need to go there and make sacrifices…they didn’t have to go there to find God because…in Jesus…God was already among them…God was no longer limited to one place…God has dwelled among us…God…has put on flesh and is out in the world… (pause)
In short…we see in Jesus Christ…the one who calls himself I Am…that God is now human…and being fully human God experiences emotion…and when God see’s something in the world that is an error…or an injustice…God…gets…mad. (pause) And today…we see it…today…we see that Jesus…God in human form…God in the flesh…Jesus…gets mad…because he wouldn’t be human if he didn’t. Jesus shares this same trait with us…this trait of unpredictable emotion in the face of something…Jesus gets angry…and so do we. (pause)
Last Sunday, my sermon centered around our human tendency to ignore bad news when it doesn’t directly affect us…and those lies that Satan tells us…that these things don’t really matter…well here in Underwood…news broke this week…that we just couldn’t ignore. (pause)
Most of you sitting here today already know what I’m talking about…but if you are visiting, or if you haven’t heard…a former teacher and coach from our middle school…an individual that has been a respected part of our community for 20 years…got caught up in something that he had no business doing…and on Monday, the news went public about a long term, wildly inappropriate relationship that had been going on between this individual and an underage student for several…years. (pause)
Admittedly, I had known about it before in a small capacity…I think many of us here in the community were aware…but when I read the full news report…I was shocked…and I was saddened. (pause) That was my initial reaction…sadness that now this individual’s life is pretty much ruined…and not only that…but his family will bear the brunt…and not only that, but the young girl that was involved and her family…because that’s the nature of sin…it doesn’t just effect the individual…sin radiates out in those that it harms. (pause)
Now I need to pause for just a second…because everything that I’ve been saying up to this point likely sounds like its coming from a pastor…and perhaps you look up here and you see the collar in the black shirt…and that seems fitting. (pause…take off/unbutton the collar)…but right now I don’t want to talk to you as a pastor. (pause)
Because later on that day…I was sitting in a Bible Study with a group of other pastors…and somehow this situation came up…and as we talked about it more and more and more…I started getting emotional about it…it wasn’t sadness any longer…I think its safe to say that my emotional state was a little bit more fiery.
Because I realized…this guy didn’t just hurt himself and a couple of families…this guy betrayed the trust of an entire community…he betrayed the trust that we place in him as an authority figure…as someone that we trusted our children with…and when it occurred to me that I had trusted this guy as a coach to my son…I…got…mad. (pause)
Needless to say…I was not feeling very pastoral in that moment…and the longer it went on…the worse it got…to the point that I had to get up and walk out of that room…I had to remove myself from the conversation in order to regain my composure…because the anger that felt…the emotion that I was feeling at this situation, which can best be described as a travesty…was that strong. (pause)
And I know that some of you…perhaps all of you that are familiar with this situation…have had equally strong emotional reactions…over the course of this week I’ve shared in many conversations with individuals who are saddened…who are hurt…who are angry and confused…some all at once…and I think we are all asking ourselves the question right now of where do we go from here…what do we do with this…How are we supposed to react when we witness first hand…the presence of darkness right here in the midst of our little community? (long pause)
How are we supposed to react to something that is so dark…so horrible, painful and infuriating? (pause) Admittedly, I’ve been wrestling with that all week long…trying to come up with something good to share…something that speaks into this situation…something that would calm the fury…the emotion…that I’ve been feeling all week long. (pause)
And the only thing that I can think of…it to remember why Jesus cleared out the temple in the first place…because God’s out here…in the middle of all this stuff…whether we realize it or not. (pause) On Tuesday, when I walked out of the Bible Study with the other pastors…I ended up walking into the sanctuary at St John’s down in Council Bluffs…it was dark…all the lights were off…and I went in and just sat in a pew for a few minutes…stewing…when all of the sudden I looked up…and I saw the Christ candle burning away…a small dim light…that was just shining away…in the midst of the darkness of that room…I was reminded that the light shines in the darkness…and the darkness HAS NOT…overcome it. (pause)
The light IS still shining….and the word IS still dwelling among us…God is still here…because we have a God who will NOT be contained…not by a temple…and not by the darkness that is still fighting tooth and nail to keep our attention…to cloud our vision…the same God who took on flesh and got angry at the injustice that He witnessed in the temple is still with us today, even in the midst of this situation. (pause…rebutton collar and put tab back in)
And now here’s the really crazy thing about all of this…one last difference in John’s account of the story…Here in John, when Jesus makes the whip…he drives out the oxen and the sheep…and while he’s ripping into the people…setting them straight in the midst of his divine anger…he doesn’t drive the people out…the people remain…even in the midst of rebuke…and there’s a lesson for us in the midst of that too.
Because for all of the anger and hurt that we are feeling towards this individual who’s boneheaded actions rocked the world of Underwood Iowa…we MUST remember that the grace of God is also offered to him…and I have put my collar back on now to remind us all that I am both Scott Dalen and Pastor Scott Dalen…and that in the midst of our lives…we are called to proclaim the grace of God made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…by which our Father in Heaven showed his love, grace, and mercy for the ENTIRE WORLD. (pause)
I am not saying that we excuse the actions of this man…because our actions do have consequences…but we MUST remember that just as we receive the grace of God…the forgiveness of God for our sin through the blood of Jesus Christ…we also remember that God has forgiven this man…that is the nature of the Gospel…and that’s how far the love of God will go…far beyond our capacity…far beyond our ability to even comprehend…but praise be to God that its not dependent upon us. (pause)
And so today, as we try to figure out where to go from here…remember this…it is not bad that you have an emotional response to this situation…Angry Jesus shows us that today…that’s part of being human…and so in these moments we look to one another for love and support…and in doing so we follow Jesus’ command to love our neighbors…and we remember in the midst of all of this that the light is still shining…and no matter how hard the darkness of the world might try…it will not overcome it…God is here among us…and Jesus was willing to die in order to prove it…so that by the grace of God…we might just believe it. Amen.