Posts Tagged ‘God’

The Incarnation 1-5-20

In this sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas, I explore John’s version of the Incarnation. God enters into the world as the Word became flesh to dwell among us…but we also are reminded that God’s fingerprints have been present since THE BEGINNING, as the light shines in the darkness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-007-the-incarnation-1-5-20

The Innocents 12-29-19

This sermon is utterly off the cuff and unplanned. Due to the news of an antisemitic hate crime the night before this sermon, I punted my original plan of a hymn sing with accompanying reflections on the hymns.  The news mixed with the assigned gospel text of the Slaughter of the Innocents, found in Matthew 2:13-23, seemed far to timely to ignore.

As this was not scripted, there is no accompanying text.  Also please note in the audio, the scripture passage at the beginning is substantially louder than the sermon itself. A mic-issue during the reading of the passage resulted in splicing in a separate recording of the scripture.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-006-the-innocents-12-29-19

A Long Long Time Ago 12-24-19

In this sermon for Christmas Eve, based on the normal text of Luke 2:1-20, I explore the action of God in the birth of Jesus. We dive into divine mysteries of faith, and not understanding what God is up to, but being assured of the promise that it is for us…and there’s a healthy amount of Star Wars excitement.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-005-a-long-long-time-ago-12-24-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Savior be yours tonight. Amen

When I was in high school and college, I went to a lot of movies. Rarely would a week go by that I didn’t take in at least one…and since I watched a lot of movies…I also watched A LOT…of previews.  And I enjoyed it…it was one of my favorite parts of the experience in those days…to see a small piece of an upcoming movie…and to get that sense of wonder and anticipation about something coming your way in the future.

Now there was one in particular that I can remember…showed up late 1996…it opened with an image of a small square boxy television set, placed in the middle of the large theater screen…and as images of a space battle played on that small tv screen, a voiceover told us “For a generation, THIS, has been the only way to watch Star Wars.”  And you see a X-wing fighter flying straight at the screen…and you hear “UNTIL NOW” and that X-wing comes through the tv screen…straight at you, filling the entire theater screen.

This was how they announced the Special Edition theater release of the original Star Wars trilogy…and I was ecstatic…All three of the original movies came out by the time I was 5 years old and so I was part of that generation who had only seen them on television…and so the excitement to be able to sit in a theater a few months later…and see that blue text…a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…followed by a second of silence before the giant STAR WARS emblem flashed across the screen at the same time as that amazing musical fan fare begins…it was thrilling.

A couple years later, beginning in 1999, it happened again…and this time, with the release of the prequel trilogy…I was able to sit in the theatre and have that same excitement and thrill…to know that I was seeing part of a larger and familiar story…and yet to experience an unknown chapter.

2015…it started again…with the release of episode 7, the Force Awakens…and that time I was able to sit next to my son for his FIRST experience of Star Wars in the theater…and finally, this past weekend…in what has been billed as the FINAL chapter in the Skywalker Saga…episode 9…and sure enough…as I sat there in that brief second of quiet and dark, and then felt the thrill of STAR WARS along with the music…and I don’t know if was nostalgia or excitement or anticipation…or maybe a mixture of all three, but I had a little grin on my face as we entered back into this familiar LARGER story…maybe for the last time…in order to experience it new. (pause)

It seems to me that through 42 years of Star Wars…the way that we continue to revisit that larger story…connecting with the familiar…sharing it with a new generation…and even those moments of anticipation for something new…that whole thing seems to have a great deal in common with the sense that we bring tonight.

Christmas…such a vitally important part of the church year…of the overarching story of what God is up to in our reality…a night in which we join together in the familiar to celebrate something that is worth remembering.

Some of us bring many years of experience to this night…a sense of tradition…memories of year’s past and in our minds “the perfect” Christmas conditions.  Some might be here for the very time…hearing this story, experiencing this worship with brand new eyes.

For some…events have happened in the past year that give you new perspective…you are bringing something different tonight…and because of that, whatever it is…good, bad, or otherwise…this night feels different…and you hear that same old story in a new way…and this is a truth that we all bring into our lives of faith…that OUR existence shapes our experience of the scriptures…and of worship and tradition…that our lives up to this point, shape how we experience the divine. (pause)

It seems to me that this is also the case for the individuals who are involved within the Christmas narrative…the story of the Nativity…the story of Jesus’ birth…so let’s think about the different people that we hear about.

First off, a couple of big-wigs in the historical and political realm. Ceasar Augustus…emperor of the Roman Empire…and Quirinius, the Syrian governor who overseas the area we know as the Holy Land.  Two important people…who beyond a name drop, and an order given for a Roman Census…we never hear from again. Logic would say that these two would play a bigger part in this reality altering moment…but beyond the census giving the Holy Family a reason to be Bethlehem…they play no other part…because apparently God doesn’t put a whole of stock in status and political power. (pause)
Who else do we hear about?  Well, we’ve got Mary and Joseph…who have followed the rules and headed off to be registered…and they’re in a tough spot aren’t they? As we hear, the time comes for Mary to have her baby…because those two political bigwigs don’t give a hoot about the biological situation of these commoners from backwater Palestine…and biology doesn’t care that they are in a strange city, surrounded by strangers in the dwelling of some random house in Bethlehem.

Mary…is probably scared out of her mind…not only is she in unfamiliar surroundings…but she’s about to go through labor and birth for the first time…and remember she’s like 13 or 14. Granted, the angel of the Lord had shown up and relayed this whole deal to her 9 months earlier…but now she’s in the midst of it.  (pause) Joseph…he’s there too…and though we don’t hear much from him, I imagine he’s stressing out as well.  But in the end, the baby is born…they wrap him up and lay him a manger…which, despite any expectations you might have of a barn connected to a hotel…would have actually been a normal aspect of the structure of houses in those days…everyone had a corner where you’d keep your animals in the cold of winter…and so you also had a manger to feed your animals…and lacking any other available space…that’s where they laid the baby. (pause)

Now we have one other batch of people to consider…the shepherds…a ratty, stinky, batch of guys hanging around outside of town…pretty much the lowest of the low from a social standpoint…polar opposite of those first two individuals that we heard about in the emperor and governor…and yet these shifty characters are the ones with the dynamic, downright shocking part to play in this story.

It was nighttime…the sheep were bedded down…and while they were keeping watch, I imagine not much was really happening…I bet that guy was totally nodding off…when suddenly…out of nowhere…brightness and divine glory and booming angelic voices surround them. This was their Star Wars fanfare moment…and they are given the divine message. Born to you this day, a savior, who is Christ the Lord…and then a heavenly choir shows up…adding to the experience…but then just as quick as its begins, its over…the angels depart…the shepherd blink at each other for a moment before deciding…well, let’s go check it out.

And they do…and they find the baby laying there just like the angel said…and they share the divine news that was given to them…and then they haul off, still praising God and telling everyone they encounter…which is great…and Joseph’s over here doing who knows what…and Mary…she hears all this stuff…and sorta takes it all in…and then treasures it. (pause)

Different people…all of whom bring their own perspectives…their own experiences into this DIVINE moment in history…and that shapes HOW they experience this divine encounter…and same is true for us.  Consider what has happened…consider what we profess to be true…consider what we celebrate every year at this time.

The divine creator of EVERYTHING…God who is ultimately bigger…larger…grander…greater…the one who is completely and utterly MORE than we are…through the power of divine Holy Spirit…which is still the same God but is somehow also different…that Spirit of God SOMEHOW has begotten a baby into the womb of very young woman. A baby who is somehow both human and divine…who is the Son of God and yet IS GOD. (pause)

This truth which we profess…this concept of one God in three persons…it defies all logic…and when we bump into things like that…we default to calling it a divine mystery…and there’s nothing wrong with that…but its doesn’t explain things.

This is a concept that comes up in Confirmation Class all the time…and this year’s class has really grabbed onto that question.  “Wait…so Jesus is God?” “Yes.” “But Jesus prays to God right?” “Yes.” “And Jesus calls God, Father right?” “Yes.”  “So…Jesus is his own dad?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love it that our young people are thinking about this…that they are wrestling with it…because it doesn’t make sense does it…and yet…that the gospel…that we have a God who desires to be with us so much, that this DIVINE entity would become one of us and dwell among us…and not only that…but in order to somehow overcome every aspect of this broken reality that hinders our relationships with God and with one another…this same divine made flesh would grow up…spend 3 years embodying the freedom from what hinders as he heals, and teaches, and raises the dead, and constantly reaches across the margins to those pushed to the outside…and then when the powers of this world push back against this new thing that God is bringing into the world…his body is broken and his blood is poured out…and he PROMISES us that whatever is going on in THAT moment is FOR you…and we will remember that…we will celebrate THAT tonight as well…even though we don’t understand it…even though it is a mystery on how or why it works. (pause)

People of God…it is my great joy to stand up before you when we gather for worship…and especially in times like this one when we gather specifically for the purpose of remembering the action that God has taken in our reality…it is my joy to speak about the divine mysteries of our faith…the mysteries of things we cannot explain…but to be able to share the truth and the promise that whatever it is that God is up to…that it is for you…a promise spoken by the angel to the shepherds…that this good news of great joy IS for ALL people…even if we do not understand it.

The birth of Christ…which we celebrate tonight…it may have happened A long long time ago…somewhere far far away…but it is for you…and just like the shepherds…you are invited to go forth from this place…from this experience…glorifying God and telling all who you encounter…about this mysterious thing that God has done.

This is the promise of the Gospel…that it is for you…and this is the challenge of the Gospel…that now YOU…are empowered by that same Spirit…to carry the good news out into this world that is so desperate for it…a world SO desperate for news of joy and love.

I gotta reference Star Wars one more time…not the brand new one because that would be spoilers and that’s not cool…but episode 8 that came out 2 years ago. There’s a line in THAT film that embodies the mystery of what God is up to in our reality…the mystery of Divine love for this world.  “This is how we win…not by fighting what we hate…by saving what we love.”

I don’t know how it works…but I profess to you…THIS…is what Jesus…has done. Amen.

Jesus and Silent Joe 12-22-19

In this sermon, based on Matthew 1:18-25, I explore the divine announcement of Jesus’ pending birth as well as the birth itself. Matthew aims the action at Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. His actions reveal a great deal about the connections that humanity holds with the Messiah.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-004-jesus-and-silent-joe-12-22-19

(Note that sermons will now feed into my Podcast, The Rambling Rev, available on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify. Subscribing on any of those feeds will automatically bring you the audio of my future sermons as they become available.)

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

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

As someone who has a background in acting, not to mention a fair amount of public speaking…I’ve got an appreciation for skills related to this type of thing…and in particular, I’m thinking about the skills needed for non-verbal communication.

It goes without saying that this takes on a lot of different forms, but I’ve always appreciated individuals who can convey a message without words…they use expression and mannerisms, and of course their actions to convey what’s going on with their character.

I’m sure there are a lot of examples of this type of thing, and a couple come to mind for me…and in both of them…the non-speaker is part of a duo…now the first set are entertainers in the realm of illusion…Penn and Teller…Penn talks constantly during their act…and in the midst of it all…Teller is busy doing the magic…and his expressions and actions make up his side of the show.

The second example actually comes out of a series of movies that came out back in the 90’s and early 2000’s…humorous but REALLY lowbrow…a pair of characters known as Jay and Silent Bob.  They’ve got a lot in common with Penn and Teller…Jay talks A LOT…but Silent Bob…well its right there in his name isn’t it? He’s silent…and its his expressions and actions that tell his side of the story in whatever scene they pop up in.

This idea of a silent character is where I’m connecting into today’s gospel story…Matthew’s account of the divine announcement of Jesus’ pending birth, relayed angelically to one of his parents…not to mention, in an almost throw away comment…we hear of the birth of Jesus as well.

Now Matthew’s account, this passage which we have just shared, is unique within the three year cycle of the lectionary and the passages that come up here on the final Sunday of Advent…its unique because of the presence of Jesus’ birth within the passage. Granted, most of it is still anticipatory in nature…looking forward to the birth…which it should be as we are still in Advent for a couple more days…but with Christmas coming right up on us in a couple more days…I don’t think it’s a bad thing…in many ways today is a transition from a sense of anticipation into celebration of the Messiah’s birth. (pause)

But that being said…the unique aspect of Matthew’s account of this story and the focal point did grab my attention.  Perhaps its because we’ve just come out of year highlight Luke’s gospel…one in which there is a stronger emphasis on the Good News and its effect on the marginalized. We see this in many moments, but one of the earliest happens when the angel of the Lord shows up to announce the pending Messiah and interacts with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In Luke’s account they have a conversation…Mary is given some agency…even a choice in the matter…but Matthew presents things a little differently doesn’t he…and that was blaringly obvious to me as I started working towards today’s message….the angel shows up to Joseph.  Joseph is given direction…Joseph is given divine assurance of what’s happening…and even though as “righteous man” he’s determined to follow the law in regards to his now-pregnant fiancé, Joseph receives divinely inspired direction aimed at taking the unexpected action in this story.

Its all about Joseph isn’t it…and where’s Mary?  She’s in the background…completely passive…she’s got no choice in this matter, She’s powerless…and like Teller on stage, and Silent Bob in the movies…she’s given no voice in this VITAL moment of history.

And I’ll be honest…that REALLY bugs me…because while Luke reveals her choice and her agency in this whole deal…Matthew glosses over it…she’s lucky she even gets called by name…and I wonder what she was thinking…is she standing there in the background wanting to smack Joseph upside the head. What makes him so special that all of the focus falls in his court? (pause)

That was my first thought, one that I wrestled with as I explore Joseph’s role in this story…and not just within this immediate passage.  I took a look at the different times that Joseph pops up…because he does fill an important role in the early life of the baby and then child Jesus.

While Joseph had seemingly died by the time that Jesus’ ministry begins in his adulthood, Joseph is still around during each moment we’re given while Jesus is growing up…filling that role of parent…of provider and protector…and we find evidence of THAT specific role of parental protector of the baby Jesus…when his divine dream radar just keeps going off.

The angel of the Lord just KEEPS showing up in Joseph’s dream…we’ve got today’s passage.  And then after the birth of Jesus, when the king is trying to kill him off, Joseph gets a dream warning to haul the family off to Egypt.  Then after the king dies, another dream pops up telling Joseph to come on home…but then upon their arrival back in Palestine, another dream comes up warning of the king’s son who is now in charge and is just as dangerous, and Joseph takes the family north to Galilee. 4 times within 1 chapter of the gospel in which Joseph’s dream radar provides divine direction.

And each time, Joseph takes action…and good for him…We’re proud of you Joseph…but still…why’s the focus on you and not Mary…why doesn’t she get a voice in the matter and you do? (pause)  Or does he?

Here’s the mind-blowing thing that I realized after fitting and stewing on this most of the week.  Joseph…while he receives divine direction…he’s given divine assurances…and he takes action…throughout his ENTIRE story, in ANY of the gospels, Joseph…never…speaks.  Not one time…as we look at the larger story we might call them Jesus and Silent Joe, because JUST LIKE that character…its not words…its his actions that matter. (pause) So What does Joseph do?

He defies social decorum, not to mention religious regulations to accept Mary as his wife…despite logic saying that she’s committed adultery. He takes her into his home, no doubt facing public shame and ridicule…and then, when her pregnancy comes to a close and the baby is born…we hear that Joseph…named him Jesus.

Now for us…that seems like an throw away comment, one that we take for granted…BUT the significance of Joseph taking this action cannot be understated. In this time…it was the role of the father to name the child…ESPECIALLY if the child is a boy…something that we find in a few different scriptural stories as well.

And so…for Joseph to claim this responsibility…to give the name to the baby…Joseph is, for all intents and purposes…claiming this child as his own…he’s essentially Adopting the child that he knows is not his…this baby that is born of both flesh and spirit…human and divine in nature.  When Joseph says “I give him the name Jesus,” he is claiming Jesus as his child.

Now I can’t help but think of how HUGELY significant that fact is as we consider the overarching story of the gospel…a story which is hinted at as we consider the names given to the child. Jesus is the Greek version of Joshua…in fact it would be have been pronounced Yay-shua…and that literally means God saves…and not only but that but we also hear the prophet Isaiah referenced as the child is called Emmanuel…God with us.

And that’s the gospel isn’t it? The God who saves is with us. The divine will be found in the midst of us. The God who knows we are unable to save ourselves will dwell among us in order to accomplish that which we cannot. And this same God who took on flesh…while utterly different…is ALSO far more like us than we realize.

The savior of the world…the word made flesh…Emmanuel, is claimed by his earthly father…he is adopted into the family of Joseph…he is given a name by one who claims him as his own…you see where I’m going with this?  We are given the promise in the waters of baptism…that we too are claimed by a parent…we are adopted…made heirs to the promise as beloved children of God.

But the similarity doesn’t stop there either…there’s another that we find in this story…when Joseph is told that the child in Mary’s womb is begotten of the Holy Spirit…somehow, in ways that go beyond our ability to comprehend, and beyond my ability to explain…the humanity of Jesus is created out of the presence of the Holy Spirit…the Spirit which we hear dwells within him at his baptism…and the same Spirit which has promised to dwell within us through the waters of our baptism.

This same Holy Spirit empowers us as followers of Christ…and it unites us together into the one body of Christ here on earth…we REMEMBER that the very spirit of God which somehow incarnated the living word of God in the first place…resides within us.

And this promise opens up a whole new understanding of what Emmanuel means, what God with us…means…that not only do we have a God who walked among us. But that which is divine is found WITHIN us…within those who created bearing the divine image of God in the first place…and in whom God delights to be found in the presence of the Spirit. (pause)

As we move from this season of expectation into the season of celebration, remembering once more that God has dwelled among us…may we all remember in the midst of dark times, both literally as we consider the dark season of winter which is upon us…as well as metaphorically as we consider the darkness still present within this broken world that we live in…may we remember that to look in the face of one another is to see the presence of God IN one another.

And as this is true for you as you look at another…know that it is ALSO true as they look back at you.  This is the glory of the gospel that goes beyond all understanding…that the ultimate creator and sustainer of everything, everything which is seen and unseen…this God has chosen to dwell…in…you. Amen.

Reformation off the Cuff 10-27-19

This sermon, based on both John 8:31-36 and Luke 18:9-14, is a bit of an oddball.  As I talk about in the beginning of the sermon, normally I preach from a manuscript. Today I didn’t, opting to preach extemporaneously.

But you can still listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/reformation-off-the-cuff-10-27-19

Note, you should turn up your volume. I recorded this without a mic, so the audio is pretty weak.

Acclimation 10-13-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 17:11-19, I explore the way that the church has grown acclimated to a sense of complacency instead of feeling empowered to be the body of Christ carrying the gospel into places of exclusion.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/acclimation-10-13-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
(Note that the text will differ in some small ways from the audio due to changes that happened in the moment of preaching. I went off script in several different spots)

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

Friday morning was one of those utterly blustery days.  And at one point, mid-morning, I watched the sky go from utterly cloud covered…to sunny…and back to cloudy again…all inside of about 5 minutes.

And in that moment, I remembered the time-honored phrase which we love here in Iowa…Don’t like the weather?  Wait 5 minutes…it’ll change. (pause) And wow…that’s been true the past couple of weeks hasn’t it?  We have reached the time of year when the weather is UTTERLY unpredictable.  We’ve had sun, we’ve had rain. We’ve had hot, we’ve had cold. We’ve had really nice moments…and we’ve had really cruddy ones…not to mention we’re in that part of the season when its not uncommon to turn on the heat in the morning, switch it to ac in the afternoon, and then back to heat again in the evening.

But if there’s one thing that I’ve come to expect around this time of year…and to be sure I’m guilty of it myself…is the observation that turns into a question…Why does 35-40 degrees feel SO cold in October…when it feels so warm in February? (pause)

In a word…Acclimation…its all about what our bodies are used to isn’t it?  Now that idea of acclimation is one that I think a lot about…I run into it every summer when I trek out to Colorado and spend the first few days heaving as my 1000 ft-lung capacity struggles with 8500 foot atmosphere…and of course…we see it here in the acclimation to temperature trends…since we’ve had a lot of 70s and 80s and even 90s not too long ago…these 35 degree temps feel pretty cold…but in about 4 months when we’ve been enduring sub-zero temperatures and get the rare warm day…40 will pretty nice won’t it. (pause)

Its funny what we acclimate to isn’t it? Because its not just weather…we can get used to a lot of different things…even a state of mind…or a condition…like exclusion or isolation…and that’s where we’re gonna jump into the gospel for today.

Because today, we’ve got Jesus on the move…encountering 10 people who have done just that…they’ve gotten used to something…they’ve acclimated to the sense of exclusion…As Jesus picks up his travels towards Jerusalem once more…we hear that he’s moving in between two territories…Galilee in the north, and Samaria…smack dab between Galilee and Judea…the region where Jerusalem is located.

Now maybe it goes without saying by this point…but if you’re not familiar, just know this. Galilee is Jewish territory…itself considered a little on the backwater side…but Jewish none the less…but Samaria…not so much.  The residents of that region have long been at odds with Jewish folk by Jesus’ day.  There was history of the divided kingdom about 900 years prior, not to mention the intermingling with foreigners during the period of the Assyrian rule a couple years after that.

And so these people have a lot of similarities…but there’s also a lot of differences…imagine cousins who live in neighboring towns and find themselves on opposite sides of a football game…and then multiply that by about a million…and that’s the sense of angst between these two cultures.

And in the gray area that lies between the two…that’s where we find Jesus today…so he’s really out in the middle of nowhere…and as he moves about…he encounters these 10 lepers…a batch of people who yell at him from a distance…something they were required to do…and they ask for mercy. (Pause)

Now, what’s going on here? Leprosy was terrifying in those days…its bad enough now with modern medicine but in Jesus’ time calling something leprosy covered the gambit of unknown skin ailments.  And if someone said you had it…you got kicked out of town…and you had to stay out of town until it cleared up…or you died.

Scary to be sure…but leprosy was scary…and really contagious, so they kicked people out of their communities in order to save the community…but, if the ailment cleared up…which it often did because sometimes it just a random infection…then you traipsed off to the local priest…he announced you clean…and you could join your community again…no harm, no foul.

But until that time, you were out…and the only people you could interact with…was another leper…and so seeing them grouped up like this…not that uncommon…they were unified by mutual exclusion…mutual isolation…except for maybe 1 of the 10…who ALSO happened to be Samaritan. (pause)

Think about this…we don’t know for sure…but Jesus instruction to go show themselves to the priests indicates that the other 9 are probably Jewish…so at least they’ve got that in common…but then there’s this 10th guy that isn’t…and you can bet, that even among this group of the marginalized…this guy gets shoved even farther to the outskirts…an outcast among outcasts.

This is the group that encounters Jesus…and to their credit…they go right to source…Jesus…Master…have mercy on us…and he does…just not quite in the way we might expect.  He tells them…Go show yourselves to the priests…which if you recall…is exactly what they are supposed to do…Jesus its telling them “hey guys, follow the rules.”  And they do…and its in the going that they are healed…on the way…its not instant.

Now the 9 guys…we don’t know what happens to them…but it stands to reason that they went to the priest like Jesus said…were announced to be clean…and then they all went off to their respective homes…rejoining their communities…which is great…but the one extra guy…the Samaritan…the one who couldn’t actually go to a priest in the first place due to his religious affiliation…he returns…he goes back out into the wilderness…back out into isolation and the place of exclusion…in short he goes right back to the place where Jesus found him in order to show gratitude…Jesus comments on his faith…throws a bit of shade on the 9 who didn’t think to show gratitude…perhaps indicating a group of people that thought they deserved the healing because of who they are…and then Jesus tells him to get up and go, because his faith has saved him.  (pause)

Now there’s a lot going on here…but its worth noting what Jesus has done…he’s intentionally gone into a place of exclusion…and he’s freed a bunch of people, including the one that the rules dictate shouldn’t be eligible…and Jesus brings the kingdom of heaven with him….offering freedom from exclusion…freedom from marginalization…freedom from isolation…and its given to everyone.

The only difference here…9 go on to the priests because they need someone else to announce…to tell them what God has done for them…and the other 1 is able to see for himself and give praise where praise is due. (pause) But all 10 were healed weren’t they? All 10 were freed and were invited back into community…and maybe, just maybe…that’s what the kingdom of heaven is all about…freedom from isolation…freedom from exclusion…and what else can we call that besides acceptance and community? (pause)

Now what’s this got to do with us today?  Maybe a lot more than we realize…because despite the fact that almost all of us have a device in our pocket that gives us access to the vast majority of all human knowledge…and not only that but connects with other people in every corner of the globe…not to mention, you can phone calls on it…but despite the fact that this is the single most CONNECTED time in human history…all studies indicate that we as individuals are feeling more isolated…more excluded…more lonely than ever…so much so that the British government has recently established a Minister for Loneliness in order to combat this problem.

We know isolation and exclusion don’t we?  It happens in so many ways…sometimes at our expense…and often times at the expense of others…just think about the various gates that we’ve built to keep people out.  We exclude based on race, economic status, gender, identity, sexual orientation, different faith tradition, even denominational differences…we exclude because of past criminal backgrounds or even odd behavior. These are just a few…

Now there are times when we’re the ones who get excluded…but I gotta say it…here in the church we’ve been so busy building the gates…putting up those fences or walls to keep people out because we say they are unworthy…we’ve been so busy doing that over the course of centuries…and we cite long standing tradition, rather than owning up and blaming our biases…for far too long the church has been so busy guarding the gates that we’ve missed the work that Christ has been doing…we’ve missed the ways that Christ has called us to carry the message of the kingdom out into those place of exclusion…to offer freedom to those who have grown acclimated to living in isolation…and in fact we’ve gotten so good at that, that the church has long become known for what we hate rather than the message of all in-sacrificial…UTTERLY grace-filled love and acceptance that Christ made possible on the cross.

We love to claim God’s grace for ourselves…and we should…because we broken too…but in hording it for ourselves we forget that it is freely offered to all people…because ALL people bear the divine image…and ALL people are loved right now…as they are…fully themselves, whether we like it or not. (pause)

Yes…God’s grace is for you…and we gather every week to hear that word of love and acceptance and grace…and often we partner that with the action of gathering around a table and receiving the body and blood of Christ which is given for you and for all people freely…but what do we do first? Before we do either of those things…we confess to our brokenness…we confess to the ways that we have failed our God and our neighbors.

And I think that’s something we need take note of…not just today when a story about a grateful foreigner smacks us upside the head and reminds us that all too often we’re among the 9 who needed someone else to point out what God has done among us…but we need to take note of this every day…

Because we are the church…and that means we are the body of Christ here on earth…and that means that WE are the ones called to carry the good news of the kingdom out into those places of isolation and exclusion…all of us…not just the ones wearing collars…not just the ones elected to a council or committee…all of us. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve done a really lousy job of that.

Is their forgiveness for our complacency? You bet…but we need to repent of it first…and then we need to take action, because that’s repentance means…to turn away…and the only way to turn away from complacency is to get off our butts and to go BE the church…instead of sitting around wringing our hands and wondering why it can’t be 1952 again. (pause)

Now is this a little harsh…yah probably…but look around…we need to hear it…because we need to be better…not to earn anything from God…but because we’ve already received it…and since we have, we’ve been entrusted with the most amazing…most wonderful…the flat-out best news in the world…this news that God has claimed everyone as children…and we are tasked with proclaiming it…but not just paying lip service to this good news…we are also called to be changed by it.
Because the mind blowing grace of God is way more life-altering that we give it credit for.  And if we start living THAT reality…well who knows what might happen…but I’d like to find out…because I’ve seen what the grace of God can do when its unleashed among those who have been excluded for one reason or another…and not only that but I’ve experienced it for myself.

Now some might say that living and proclaiming this type of radical inclusion that we are talking about is giving in to the pressures of the world…but I disagree…I believe that it expresses an openness to come alongside the work that the Holy Spirit…that GOD…is already up to out there in the world.

Now we can do that…Or we can just sit here on our laurels…show up on Sundays, hear a word of forgiveness…get our little Jesus snack and call it good.  But if we stay here I guarantee that’s not gonna change the world…because that’s a church that is either dying or its already dead and just doesn’t know it yet. Unfortunately here in the US that’s what the church has been doing for WAY too long now. We’ve done it for so long we’ve just gotten used to it…we don’t seem to know any other way…you could even say we’ve acclimated to it. (pause)

But if the scriptures show us anything…its that God is full of surprises…God’s even been known to raise the dead…and maybe, just maybe, God can lift us up too. Amen.

Entered At the Wrong Time 10-6-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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