Posts Tagged ‘Good News’

I Gotta Share This 4-21-19

In this Easter sermon, I explore the unexplainable joy that we find in the resurrection of Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-gotta-share-this-4-21-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ be with you, now and forever. Amen.

Anyone remember the Beverly Hills Cop movies? There’s a little bit of dialogue that keeps popping up through the second one that I appreciate, as Eddie Murphy…a police officer mind you, continues to do little things that…MIGHT not be strictly legal…and every he time he does, he makes the same comment… “You know I wasn’t always a cop. I fractured an occasional law.”(pause) Over the past few years, I’ve found myself in similar moments…and in conversation over old stories of my former life…I’ve been quoted as saying “Well you know, I wasn’t always a pastor…”

Like anyone…I’ve got some stupid stuff in my past…and one in particular comes to mind today…a moment that happened when I was pretty young…maybe 10 or 11…when I tagged along with my older brother and one his friends, down the road about half a mile to the old farm place where my grandparents used to live…and where my dad had actually grown up.  Now we called this, quite simply, “the old place.” And on occasion we would go exploring through the old buildings that still stood there…and on this particular day…we ended up breaking windows. I don’t remember how it started, but it did. Not proud of it…but I was a part of it.

Now here’s the thing…I was the type of kid who was REALLY bad at keeping secrets…and so it wasn’t long before I spilled the beans about our little destructive escapade. I just couldn’t keep it in…now if you’re wondering…yes there were consequences…but those details aren’t really important…What is important, is that sense of needing to tell someone…of having news that you just can’t keep in…I want you to keep that in mind while we think about the amazing story of the resurrection that we are sharing today. (pause)
Now, as we know the story of the resurrection doesn’t really start on Sunday morning…it starts on Friday evening…with Jesus dead…his body taken down off the cross…wrapped in burial cloth and laid in the tomb with the entrance covered by a giant stone…all of this witnessed by a group of women who have been following Jesus throughout his ministry…right up to the point of his burial…long after he was deserted and left by the men who swore they would follow him, even to death…interesting to see who actually made good on that promise isn’t it? (pause)

Now all logic says that’s the end right. Jesus is dead. And death is it right? The end of the line…and even though these people have watched Jesus overcome death more than once as he raised 3 different people from the dead…they are still caught in grief…in pain…in mourning and loss and rightly so…because death is final…and everyone knows that.

And so, in the hopes of one final act of kindness and love for Jesus, the women prepare spices for anointing his body…and then as their Sabbath begins, they dutifully wait, until the first possible moment, here at dawn on the first day of the week…and they head to the tomb…to the place where they had watched as he was laid…in order to fulfill this last act.

But what happens next…defies…all…logic.  (pause) As the women approach the tomb, they see the stone rolled away…that’s weird…but okay…I guess that’s one thing they don’t have to do right? And so they poke their heads inside, fully expecting to see a body wrapped up in cloth…but its…not…there.  The tomb is empty except for the discarded burial shroud.

Confusing? Yep…Perplexing….you better believe it? And the women are just kind of looking at one another in their confusion when out of nowhere BOOM…there’s two angels standing there…and the women are so freaked out…so startled and so scared to be in the presence of these beings of heavenly origin that they hit the ground.

Now…we’ve heard stories like this before…when some heavenly being, whether God in some crazy weird form or an angel of some sort shows up…apparently its…freaky…I can imagine that the person is scared because that which is divine in nature has gotta be so much more than we can handle…and we hear this in the greeting of the heavenly being ALMOST every single time…as they begin with “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” (pause) Except this time…they…don’t…say it.  Did you catch that?

The very first thing out of the angels…is a question of joyful origin.  Why do you look for the living among the dead?  (Pause) Now wait a sec…think about that question…think about what it implies.  The man who was dead…we watched him die…we watched as his body was placed…RIGHT…HERE…he…was…dead.  And now, he’s not.   WHAT?!?

I mean, that’s the message right? And it is SO GOOD…that the angels can’t be bothered with anything else…this has to be shared right away…just like that time when I was 10 years old and just couldn’t keep in the news that we had done something stupid…the angels can’t keep this amazing news quiet either.

Remember how he told you in Galilee…He would be betrayed…he would be crucified…but then on the 3rd day…he would…rise. (pause) Jesus TOLD THEM ALL THIS NEWS…and not just once…we’ve got details of at least 3 times when Jesus told his followers that THIS VERY THING was gonna happen.

And each and every time…it would seem that the news just didn’t sink in for any of them…not for the 12…and apparently not for the women numbered among his followers either…at least not until this moment…this moment when they find the tomb empty…and they hear the proclamation of the Risen Lord…and they…REMEMBERED…his words.

You know what we call that? We call that faith…that somehow as we hear the story…and we remember the words that JESUS HIMSELF shared…the Holy Spirit takes that and somehow makes this unbelievable thing…this event that defies all logic…and makes it believable.

THINK ABOUT IT…death, which is supposed to be the ultimate end of the line…isn’t anymore. WHAT?  How does that work? Well…I DON’T KNOW…but it does…that’s the promise…and through the power of that same Holy Spirit that was acting in the hearts and minds of the women works in us too…and you know what…it empowers us to do the exact same thing.

Because this is amazing news isn’t it? Jesus was dead, but now he’s alive again…that’s too good to sit on…and apparently that’s how the women felt…that I can’t hold this in…I gotta share it…and who better to share it with than the men who were considered the closest friends of Jesus himself…and so they run off to the tell the disciples…and the disciples…blow it off.  Luke describes their reaction as hearing an “idle tail.” And since I wasn’t always a pastor, you probably know what OTHER 2 word phrase I would use to describe that…hint…it has to do with a male cow going the bathroom… (pause)

Isn’t that crazy…Jesus told these guys too…more than once…and now, hearing the proclamation…they promptly…do nothing…the only one who can even be bothered to get up and look is Peter, who goes and finds the empty tomb itself, still doesn’t believe it…none of these guys do until the resurrected Jesus actually appears before them later on that day…and even then they don’t quite grasp it until he picks up a piece of fish and eats it. (pause)
And you know…I always think that seems crazy…that not even THESE GURS could believe the gospel of the resurrection without physical proof…but that speaks to ludicrous nature of the gospel…the crazy news that Jesus was dead but is alive again. This gospel that we share…and that we profess as true.

So what is it…what was different about the women compared to men…because the ladies didn’t see Jesus…and yet the proclamation was enough to create faith in the resurrected Lord…and Jesus himself talks about this very thing in one of the other gospels as he addresses the disciples and says “You have believed because you have seen…but blessed are the ones who have NOT seen, and yet come to believe.”

Any idea just who Jesus might be talking about? (pause) HINT….LOOK AROUND YOU…AND IF YOU GOT A MIRROR LOOK IN THAT…BECAUSE YOU ARE THE PEOPLE HE’S TALKING ABOUT. (pause)  Folks…this faith thing is crazy…it doesn’t make any sense…but somehow it works…and whatever it is that the Holy Spirit is up to…somehow we are empowered and given the gift of faith…the gift of believing that he who was dead is alive again…and that through that same Spirit, we are made heirs of the same promise of the resurrection…and that somehow, someway…we have joined with him in a life like his…that one day each of one us will join with him in a death like his…but most importantly…we will also join with him in a resurrection like his.

This is what God has accomplished through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…to show us that there is NO length that God will not go in order to make it possible for us to be reunited with God…Now…that perfect love, while beyond our ability in this life…is possible…and even though our broken world killed him for it…God has shown us through that empty tomb…through the proclamation that Jesus was dead and now he’s alive again…God has shown us that Love is bigger than anything else…and that nothing…not even death gets the last word where we are concerned…God does…and now, empowered by the Holy Spirit, may each one of us carry this amazing news…news that takes us out of the place of death and into the joy of new life…and like the women who were the first preachers of the gospel…may we share this same amazing message with the world around us…so that they too, might come to believe this amazing news…this story that is SO GOOD…it leaves us with a sense…that I gotta share this. Amen.

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As You Hear It 1-27-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 4:14-21, I explore Jesus’ first public proclamation in Luke’s Gospel. We find a heavy emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, which guides the ministry that Jesus will do. We are connected to this same ministry by that same Spirit.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/as-you-hear-it-1-27-19

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

The Grace and Peace of our Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Many of you have heard me talk about my fascination with plants…and how amazing I think they are…and how different species of plants do some amazing things.

One of the things that I appreciate about plants…is the way that they tell you when they need water. If you are a gardener you’ve probably noticed this before…when plants get thirsty…they get all wilted.  Granted, some species are better at this than others…but it happens.

There is a scientific reason behind this…something called Turgor Pressure…basically, if the plant has enough water, the fluid inside each cell keeps it nice and rigid…resulting in the plant, and specifically the leaves upright and perky…but on the other hand, if the plant is lacking water…that fluid pressure inside the cells drops, and it flops over.

This happened part way through last week with one of the plants back in my office. I walked in after lunch and noticed the leaves all wilted over and realized it needed water…which I did…and since I had the thought of turgor pressure in the back of my head…I did a little experiment.

I knew I’d be sitting at my desk working for a while, so I pulled out my phone and started a time lapse video that covered roughly 30 minutes’ worth of time over the course of a 20 second video. If you’re interested let me know, because I can show it to you…and its fascinating.

As soon as I turned the camera off I watched the video and plain as day you can see the leaves starting to perk up as the water was drawn up into them.  It was so cool, at least to my plant-nerd brain, that I watched it a couple more times…but the more often I watched it, the more I started seeing other stuff happening in the video…like the clouds moving across the sky in the background…or shadows lengthening and sunlight shifting as the sun moved across the sky…something really clear during one brief portion where my knee is visible in the video.

It was really amazing to see the passage of time sped up like this…and eye opening to realize how our perception of time affects us…things that we don’t even notice are moving…and changing…and its only when we see time as we know it sped up, that we can begin to witness this movement and action.

And its right there that I start to connect into our scripture for today…because there are times when we struggle to notice or see the way that God is working in the world…and perhaps more specifically…that we fail to see the action of the Holy Spirit.

Now maybe it goes without saying…but it seems like the Holy Spirit is the toughest part of our Triune God to figure out.  We hear about it…we think about the Spirit of God in the world…but more often than not we don’t see it…its only shows up physically a couple of times in the scriptures…one of them quite recently in our gospel lessons…and yet, throughout all of this…the Spirit is there.

And I think its safe to say that of the gospels…Luke, not to mention Luke’s follow up of the book of Acts, does the best job of putting the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit’s action on display…and we’ve already seen that through the opening few chapters of Luke.  We hear about the Spirit coming upon the parents of both John the Baptist and Jesus.  We hear about how John is empowered by the Spirit even before he’s born…we hear the Spirit flowing into Elizabeth and Mary…we hear of two faithful witness led by the Spirit into the temple to witness the baby Jesus…we hear of the Spirit physically showing up at Jesus’ baptism…about how it leads him into the wilderness for 40 days…and that following that event, Jesus is still full of the Spirit as he begins his ministry around Galilee…we even hear it quoted from the Prophet Isaiah as Jesus reads in the synagogue…and that’s just the first 4 chapters.

So I think its safe to say…that whatever it is that’s going on here…the Holy Spirit…the Spirit of God…its at work, whether we take notice of it or not.

Now today’s story is an interesting one.  As we continue through Epiphany, focusing in on the ways that Jesus is revealed to the world…here we have Luke’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ intentional public ministry…as he travels around Galilee, preaching and teaching in the synagogues…and that news spreads around…and that he is praised…glorified even…by everyone. Granted we don’t get much in the way of detail here in the first couple of verses…at least until Jesus walks back into his hometown of Nazareth…and apparently continues in the same trend.

It raises the question…what’s so important about this particular situation…Did he volunteer to read and teach, or was he picked…we don’t know…is he preaching about the same passage as in the previous communities…or is Isaiah unique this time around? We don’t know…did he chose Isaiah, or was luck of the draw…again we don’t know. But what we do know is that he chose the specific passage in Isaiah…because he turned to the place where it is written…and what a passage…

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

With that Jesus rolls up the scroll, hands it back, and sits down to start teaching…might seem a little odd but that’s how they did it…and as we hear…every eye is upon him. (pause)
Let me set the stage for you here…because I’ve been to one of these small town synagogues in Galilee.  Its in a big square…with benches lining the walls as well an inner row…Jesus would have been standing in the middle as he read…and then he would have sat on one of those benches…and everyone could see him…the whole structure was maybe 25 or 30 feet across…and he could look everyone in the eye.

Now keep in mind…this was Nazareth…this was his hometown…a tiny backwater community of maybe a couple hundred people…everyone knew everyone…and I can only imagine what was going through their minds as they listened to Jesus…these people who remembered him as a baby and young boy…individuals who were in the caravan when he was 12 and got left in Jerusalem.  People who knew Mary and Joseph…childhood friends of his family. Some who could probably say “dude I changed your diaper 30 years ago” which is a weird thought…but its true.

This is the setting where Jesus talks about the Spirit of the Lord being upon him…and anointing him…empowering him to bring good news of a great reversal…something that sounds an awful lot like what we call the kingdom of heaven.

And initially…everyone seems to like what they hear…as Jesus wraps up the reading and kicks off his teaching by announcing “Today the scripture is fulfilled as you hear it.”  If you’re familiar with the story…his sermon actually stirs up issues and everyone here in his hometown gets cranky to the point of trying to throw him off a cliff…but we’ll save that for next week…and today…we stop with this announcement…this reveal…this epiphany even…that the scriptures have been fulfilled as we hear it. (pause)

Here’s the thing…here in Luke’s gospel…this is the first action of Jesus’ ministry…the other gospels place it a little later…but Luke puts it here…and while these aren’t the first words that Jesus speaks in Luke…they are the first words of his ministry…might as well be his inaugural address…because they line out a pretty solid overview of what his ministry is going to look like.

Good news to the poor…sight to the blind…release to the captives…and even a hint at something they would call the Year of Jubilee…that’s the year of the Lord’s favor that he mentions…and you want to talk about a great reversal…the Jubilee was epitome.

Every 50 years, debts were forgiven.  Land that had been sold or acquired were transferred back to the family of origin. Slaves were freed…which is great news if you’re on the receiving end…but maybe not such great news for those on the other side of it…what if you’re the lender…or the new land owner…or the owner of the slave? Then this news…this reversal…it is going to cost you something isn’t it?

And I can’t help but think that’s important for us to hear…because sometimes the gospel sounds like good news…because we’re the ones who have been oppressed or shoved to the margins…but sometimes we’re also the ones who have benefitted from it…and maybe that good news begins to reveal the cost to us….but you know what, we need to hear that too.

Make no mistake…we are connected to this event as well…it wasn’t a simple proclamation that Jesus made once in his hometown, only to be abandoned and forgotten when he walked away that day…we are connected through the power of the same Holy Spirit which was so active in the background of the gospel…the same spirit which anointed and empowered Jesus in his baptism has done the same for us in ours.

The Spirit is still at work here in the world, even if our perception fails to notice it…and this same spirit connects us all together into the one body of Christ on earth…one body with many members as we hear in 1 Corinthians…we are all gifted and empowered in different ways…both as individuals as well as different congregations and churches and even denominations.  None of us are wired to ministry in the same way…but we are all part of that greater ministry of the church. (pause)

Jesus made this proclamation at the beginning of his ministry…being very clear that in his presence, empowered the Spirit…the scripture is fulfilled…and I believe that today…in our hearing…the same thing is going on…it may go beyond our ability to comprehend…but somehow someway…right now as we hear this…it is being fulfilled and WE are a part of that.

I can’t help but think that with the emphasis on TODAY…we find a sense of urgency…or at least we should…an urgency to follow the guidance…the power…the whisper of the Holy Spirit to us. Now maybe that leads us into the wilderness…or maybe it leads us into Galilee…but it would seem safe to say that the Spirit is leading us join in the same mission of bringing about the great reversal of the Kingdom of Heaven, just as Jesus did through his ministry…through his life…and through his death and resurrection.

Now this is fitting for us to hear today…knowing that in a few minutes many of us will join together in the work of the Annual meeting…as we consider the year that has been and the year that will be…as we consider our budget and how we support the operation of this place…as well as the ministry that we do out there in the community and the world.

And so I pose this question…Where is the Spirit leading us today?  I can’t answer that for you…but it is my prayer that we are listening together…and that we recognize that we are connected into something much larger than we are…and that we will be brave enough, not only to listen…but then to join in and follow…this is our mission as followers of Christ…because as Jesus tells us…The Spirit of the Lord is upon US…because he has anointed US to bring good news…

Today, this is fulfilled as YOU hear it. Amen

Who Am I 12-23-18

In this sermon, I explore Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-55. In this brief passage, we are reminded of the reality of oppression and marginalization and the privilege that lies on the opposite side. And yet, the promise of the gospel is that God’s mercy and love puts us all on equal ground.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-am-i-12-23-18

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

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

Have you ever heard the expression “everyone is the hero of their own story?” (Pause) I think that’s a pretty accurate statement…and it speaks into how our existence…our life…our day to day is utterly shaped by our own experience…none of us tend to think of ourselves as the bad guy in any situation…but that we are simply doing the best that we can given the circumstances.

But sometimes I wonder if that’s always the case…and I think its safe to say that sometimes we all get caught up in the “poor me” mentality…that idea that things are everyone else’s fault…or that everyone else is being stubborn or narrow-minded.  I wonder, how many of us have ever been in a situation when we are listening to another person share their frustrations…their irritations…and we’ve thought to ourselves…or maybe we’ve just come out and asked the question “What’s your part in this?”  I think this is pretty universal…that we wear blinders to our part of things…to our responses or our statements…and we get caught up in the other persons stuff without considering what we can control…and I can think of no better way of saying this…of conveying this idea other than the phrase “Own your stuff.”  The good and the bad…I think we all fall in the trap of failing to own it don’t we? (pause)

In the interest of full disclosure…I’m gonna own some stuff right now…most of what I’m going to say will not be shocking…but I need to say it anyway.  I’m a guy…I’m nearing 40, and at this stage in my life I’m old enough to be taken seriously by the generations above me…and I’m still young enough to not be utterly blown off and disregarded by the generations coming up below me.

I am, as you may have noticed…white.  I am married with a couple of kids, and while that’s not a dead giveaway in every instance, it does point to the strong possibility that I’m straight…and I am. I hold a Master’s Degree making me pretty highly educated, and along with that I’m gainfully employed with a fair wage and organizationally required health insurance and retirement savings…and finally, the icing on the cake…I live in the US.  All of this adds up to the reality that I will fully own…I AM…one of the single LEAST marginalized people on the planet. (pause)
Now I can only imagine that you are wondering what this has to do with anything today…we find ourselves at the tail end of the season of Advent…the season of anticipation and longing for the coming Savior.  Today is of course December 23rd…Christmas Eve is tomorrow…and tomorrow night we’ll gather to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus…the birth of the savior…and as we know that’s a really big deal.

But before we can get to the birth of the savior…that mind-blowing guy who is somehow both fully God and fully human, we have think about how the human aspect gets into the world…which is the same as any other human…he’s born, but before he can be born, there has to be a pregnancy.

And that’s where we find ourselves today…our story begins “in those days” and in those days, Mary the mother of Jesus has literally JUST been visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she’s going to be pregnant through the power of God’s Holy Spirit…and that the child will be the savior of the world…and not only that…but that her older relative Elizabeth, who has been barren her entire life and is well beyond child bearing, is also pregnant.

And so…with haste…Mary takes off and goes on a visit…and this is the focal point of today’s story…the amazing Spirit-filled initial encounter between these two women who are pregnant in what can only be considered miraculous circumstances.

Now Mary and Elizabeth have some things in common but they’ve got some pretty distinct differences as well.  Elizabeth is older, perhaps even considered elderly…Mary is young, probably not even in her teens yet.  Elizabeth is the wife of a priest that is periodically active in the Temple…they’ve got means…enough that they actually owned two different houses…in the fairly well to do region of Jerusalem and Bethany right outside the city.  Mary’s engaged to Joseph, but is not yet married…and she’s from a tiny backwater town where she’s grown up in a tiny mud walled hut built over a naturally occurring limestone cave alongside countless other so-called “houses.”

But the thing that they both have in common is this pregnancy…now culturally speaking, there’s a lot going on here. Scripture tells us that when Elizabeth’s barrenness is broken and she’s miraculously pregnant she goes into seclusion…tradition in Israel says that she was embarrassed to be pregnant around all the city girls so she runs off to the country house…and that’s where Mary comes to see her.

What we don’t know is why…why does Mary come…it could be a lot of reasons. Maybe she wants to connect with a relative in the same sort of boat and have some girl-chat.  Maybe she’s going to serve as a mid-wife to her relative in the later stages of her pregnancy.  Or maybe, since Mary was now pregnant in “questionable circumstances,” and she lives in the epitome of the small town…she’s trying to get away too…after all she would have faced the possibility of scorn and ridicule and even being stoned to death.

Both of these women are facing tough circumstances…and the culture of the day certainly didn’t help any. It may seem utterly foreign to us now…but in that time, women were property…marriages were arranged for financial reasons…and other than caring for the house…pretty much the sole reason for women to exist was to provide babies for her husband…and preferably boys because the guy needed an heir.  They couldn’t own property…they couldn’t embark on business transactions…they couldn’t do much.  In short…they were marginalized to start with…and now you put these odd ball circumstances into their lives…and I think its safe to say that Mary and Elizabeth fall under the category of the lowly…the downtrodden…the very people that Mary starts singing about in the Magnificat.

I think its safe to say that their experience is the polar opposite of my existence…and in the interest of full disclosure…I feel very very uneasy in trying to tell you how you should think or feel about this divinely inspired exchange between the two women…because this situation is so utterly out of my wheelhouse.

As I’ve considered it…I think about those of you who have struggled with fertility…because that’s a reality…and I wonder how you hear this story of God’s divine intervention in not just one but two pregnancies…two pregnancies that build off of a history of other Old Testament pregnancies of divine nature.  I wonder if this strikes you as painful to hear as you wait and hope and hope that one day it will be your turn.

On the flip side…we’re in a day and age where a women’s worth is not…or in the very should not be dictated by having children…and I know many women who live a fulfilled life with no desire for kids…and I wonder how this speak in their situation to hear scripture saying that they are blessed through having children.

We can go deeper than that and think about those who are marginalized for all kinds of different reasons…because if there’s one thing we’re good at its pushing people to the margins over really pointless stuff…race, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, age, just to name a few…and it happens, sometimes intentionally…and sometimes its happening despite our ignorance of it…and we are blissfully unaware. (pause)

Now what I cannot tell you…is where you fall on all this.  Some of you may be sitting out there today and this hits close to home…because of something beyond your control that pushes you aside…that says you are somehow less. (pause) But on the flip side some of you might be uncomfortable because this brings up the sense of how you’ve benefited from it.

And that’s where I find myself today…and as I consider my own privilege that honestly is no more than dumb luck to be born this way…I can’t help but hear a rebuke in Mary’s words…God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts…he has brought the powerful down from their thrones…he has sent the rich away empty. (pause)

The crazy thing about scripture…about the gospel…is that in its very nature it brings comfort to the afflicted and affliction to the comfortable…and we see that on full display today…because God has looked with favor on the lowly…God has filled the hungry with good things.

Maybe just maybe what God is up to is evening the playing field…something we might call equality or justice…and in the midst of that…giving a reminder that when it comes to God’s mercy…when it comes to God’s favor…when it comes to God’s love for each of us…there is not a scarcity…but there is an abundance…that God offers it to each us in the same amount…and that the promises are that God will be found with those who are lowly…something evidenced in that God chose the lowest of the low…a young unwed mother in first century Palestine…a girl from a poor backwater town in the midst of controlled territory…she is the one who is chosen to bear the literal embodiment of the divine into this broken reality.

That through her…all life, broken as it is…is somehow glorified because that which is divine dares to be found in the midst of it…and in the middle of all this God has made promises to each of us…that no matter what our circumstances…that divine love and acceptance…that divine favor is shown to us…that’s the promise of the gospel.

Elizabeth poses a question that seems quite fitting…at one point she says “why has this happened to me?”  Might as well be asking “why me” or “who am I?”  I can only imagine that Mary asked herself that same question…and its one that we probably ask as well… “Who am I that God would see me…that God would consider me…that God would look at me?”

Know this today…the promise which God has made through the life and the death and the resurrection of Christ…is that you are claimed and you are loved…and that God will be found with the least of us in order to show us how universal his love is for all the world…that’s the promise…whether we feel encouraged by it given our circumstances…or if we feel the need to repent of something based on our circumstances…the promise is the same…we need only believe it…and blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.  Blessed is the one who believes…and may we all find the hope present in this blessing as we anticipate the change which our Lord is bringing into the world. Amen.

The Crazy Cycle 8-26-18

In this sermon, based on John 6:56-71, I explore the “hard teaching” of the gospel, and the amazing revelation that God chooses us, knowing that we will ultimately fail to chose God.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-crazy-cycle-8-26-18

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

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

Last Tuesday evening was back to school night at the elementary and junior high building here in Underwood…as countless families all brought their kids, and more importantly their kid’s bundles of school supplies, in order to drop things off and explore the important spots in the school for another year…class rooms, lockers, all that stuff.

And I was there too, bringing along stuff for my daughter who’s still matriculating there in the Jr High…and as we walked around the school…I overheard 2 different phrases that caught my attention.  The first one was “So 8:30 at my place for mimosas on Thursday.” (pause), No idea what that one was about…but the second phrase was one that I overheard MANY times over…and I’m pretty sure that I said it a time or two as well.  “Here we go again.”

Tuesday night was the beginning of another year…another cycle of school…and I’m guessing there were a few other things that happened on Thursday that come up in that cycle every year as well…things like rolling a sleeping kid out of bed at 6:30…and the groan that emerges from that bed when you turn the light on.  Or things like the annual posting of the first day pictures on Facebook…how many of you did that, or in the very least saw them?  And maybe, just maybe, a few of out there waited for that moment when your kiddo got out of the car and starting walking up towards the front door and in the sanctity of your car you cried out “FREEEEEDOOOOOM!!!!!”  (pause)

That first day of school is funny isn’t it…those little things that become routine….those things that happen every year at this time…those things that are just a little cog in the midst of that cycle that continues to repeat itself year after year…time after time. (Pause)

Now in light of things being cyclic…let’s pull our attention over to the scriptures…but not just the assigned texts for today…rather let’s think for a moment about the overarching narrative of the Bible.  Admittedly, I know everyone’s level of familiarity is different and that’s okay…but as I think back to a study that we worked through here in the congregation a few years back that really centered in on the overarching Biblical narrative, I remember a conversation that we kept on having…itself a bit of a cycle that repeated almost every time our study group got together…and that’s the crazy cycle that seems like it just keeps on repeating.

God is revealed to the people in one way or another…typically through some miraculous or divine event…and the people pledge themselves to following God…and things go pretty well…for a while…but people have short memories…and after a few years or a generation or two goes by…the people turn away from God…and things start going lousy…and then after a while…they remember God and turn back…and this story, in one form or another…repeats itself over and over again…often times with very similar details.

Now we actually catch just a glimpse of this from the Old Testament reading of Joshua that we heard a moment ago…when Joshua is addressing the people, who by this point are pretty strongly established in the Promised Land…and he tells them in the midst of an address to the entire assembled nation “Choose this day who you will serve….the gods of the people in whose land you are living…or if you will serve the Lord.”

What’s really interesting about this is that Joshua is pretty much mirroring his mentor from a generation earlier…maybe you remember the story when Moses stood before the people…and said something pretty similar “Choose life.”

I always chuckle when I read these different passages…and there are plenty more like them…and I picture the people standing there listening…and then they nod their heads….Oh yes…we will serve the Lord…for about 5 minutes…and then the crazy cycle kicks in again.  We see it over and over again…and let’s be honest with ourselves…we still see it today as we look around don’t we…especially when we are looking in the mirror.

If there’s one constant throughout the scriptures, I suspect it might be this.  God…the Lord, Yahweh, the great I Am, whatever name we want to assign…continues to stand before us in one form or another saying “Choose me.”

And it seems SO simple doesn’t it?  The SIMPLE choice to choose God…to walk the righteous path…to follow the rules and do what’s right? But how’s that working for us?  I can’t speak for any of you…but I know me, and I know just how often that doesn’t seem to be the way it plays out. (pause)

The crazy cycle of this life…this existence…its flawed in so many ways…the brokenness of our reality…the brokenness that lies within people as a whole…cultures or communities or groups…and the brokenness that lies within each of us as individuals…you might call systemic…you might call it a lot of things…but I don’t think any of us can honestly deny that its real…and every single time…that brokenness that lies within us will win out…as we place ourselves in the driver’s seat…as we place our own needs or desires above something else…as we essentially turn ourselves into an idol.

God continues to say “Choose me” knowing full well if it’s left up to us and our own devices…then God might as well be saying “You will always fail to chose me.” (pause) Now that’s sorta dark right…bit of a downer…but I think it’s a pretty accurate description of the human condition…because each and every one of us has within our very nature the incredibly strong ability to destroy…the capability for selfishness…the capability to inflict pain both on others as well as ourselves…and God knows this.

But God knows something else…because God takes a look at every single member of the human race, lovingly and joyfully made bearing the divine image of God, and that divine image bears an equally strong ability for love and joy and peace….and God calls this good. God sees you and takes delight in you, knowing that if its left up to you, you will somehow turn away…and so God takes on flesh…that very flesh that is broken within us…that sinful selfish nature…God takes it on and becomes human…abiding among us…dwelling in our midst…not just with us…but as one of us.

And that God made flesh…that divine word dwelling among us…makes us a promise, that even though the gospel is hard to grasp…even though the love of God, which is freely offered to every single member of the human race, just doesn’t seem to add up or make sense…and that this good news of our God that willingly claims us is a hard teaching…that same God choses us over and over again…and we hear this straight from the mouth of Jesus as he asks the 12 “Have I not chosen you.” (pause)
Now admittedly, there’s some tension here…because that wonderful phrase from Jesus follows a whole slug of other followers deciding that they just couldn’t follow him anymore…and who knows why…I’m sure there were a variety of reasons that those individuals turned away, just as there are a variety of reasons that people turn away today.

I’ve found myself in this tension quite a bit lately…and I’ve been a part of several different discussions on just how all this works. Can people turn away from the good news of Jesus?  Well it seems like it.  And all we have to do is look around in the midst of our day to day lives and we can see people who have separated themselves from the peace and joy that comes from living THIS life RIGHT here, secure in the claim that God has laid upon them.  We see it don’t we…maybe we even feel it ourselves.

But…I wonder…does our choice supersede the ultimate eternal promise that God has spoken over the life of an individual when we hear Christ say “I have chosen you.”  This is a big question…one that countless people across the centuries have wrestled with. Denominations have risen up or have split apart based on different understandings on this very question…and I’m not going to propose an answer.

But what I will say is this…the promise is offered freely…and maybe just maybe the grace of God which is made manifest in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ…maybe that grace of God is big enough to lay that claim upon us even when we have turned our backs on it.

Because if the grace of God is big enough to overcome any sin…then maybe, just maybe it can overcome that promise which we attempt to break on God’s behalf. That’s the crazy…almost offensive nature of God’s grace…that if its big enough for me…then I have to let it be big enough for you too…even if I don’t want to. And that grace is the basis of the claim that God places upon each of us as a beloved child who is ultimately invited into the heavenly banquet…and that grace is just crazy enough that I might find myself sitting at that table alongside the ones that I think are unworthy of it.

Now, lets be honest.  That doesn’t compute does it? If that’s the case…it doesn’t seem fair…and here is where we experience the tension that lies between the knowledge that we will ultimately fail to choose God and the proclamation that he has chosen us anyway…do you feel that tension? Do you like it? Because I don’t. Its something that I can’t reconcile…that we seem to be given the ability to turn away from the loving arms of God, and that same God will still stand there with open arms. Sometimes it makes me wonder what the point of all this is…and I know that many of you sitting out there wrestle with this same tension…this same question…and I don’t have a good answer for you.

But what I’ll say is this…there is freedom…there is joy and there is hope found in our faith…in believing that the promises which God has spoken over you are in fact for you…and that they are true.  Words cannot adequately express this freedom…and this joy, but they are real and we find them as we abide with the one who claims us…right here right now…and not just for the sake of some cosmic get out of jail free card that we’ll cash in when our time in this life is done…but because the same God who took on flesh…the man who is also divine has come to give us life and to give it abundantly…right here…right now

And so as we live in the tension of the unknown…and we experience that crazy cycle, both in those who surround us as well as within ourselves…may we find hope in hearing those words from Jesus…have I not chosen you?  You…are…mine. Amen.

God’s a Lousy Farmer 7-13-14

Today’s sermon was based on Matthew 13:1-9,18-23. This is the parable of the sower.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/gods-a-lousy-farmer-7-13-14

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

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

Well, its been awhile since we’ve dabbled in the parable department here in worship…but today, the common teaching style of Jesus comes roaring back into the picture doesn’t it?

You may recall from a period last fall when the lectionary and Luke’s gospel served us up week after week a healthy portion of the parable pie…and after a few weeks of it in a row, admittedly I was getting a little tired of it…tired of the repeated need to attempt an interpretation.

But then advent rolled around and we switched gears…not to mention gospels…and thankfully we’ve taken a nice little sabbatical from the parable train…until…this week. That parable of the sower. (pause)

Now admittedly, when I started my preparation last Sunday, taking my first look at the gospel lesson for today…the first thing I saw was “Parable” and I remember thinking “Oh no…here we go again.” But then, I begrudgingly started to read the parable in question…and immediately my mood changed…the parable of the sower. PLANTING…SOIL…FARMING (pause) Considering my background…I might just have a little bit of insight into that.

I am, after all, a farm kid…a graduate of the college of ag at Iowa State University…not to mention happily entrenched in life here among many many farmers in a farming community. Today should be easy right? Let’s do a quick survey shall we?

A sower went out to sow…common translation…springtime planting. Ok..check. (pause) First batch of seeds fell on the path…ummm…let’s see…sounds like a bag of seed corn broke open on the way to the field…maybe it tipped out of the back of the truck on the way…not good…but I get it…so check. (pause) Oh, and the birds came and ate it up…yep..the pheasants get a free meal when that happens…oh and the deer probably show up too. (pause)

Next we hear that seed fell on rocky ground…I get that…all I have to do is think back to the multitude of hours I spent out in the field in early spring with a 5 gallon bucket…picking rock…continuing to add to the mountain that is the rock pile…present in pretty much every single field I’ve ever seen in this part of the country…so check.

After that we hear about seeds falling among the thorns…and then the thorns grow up and choke it…I know all about weeds…anyone ever walked beans mid to late summer…particularly when the cockleburs are particularly strong…I remember chopping my way through patches so thick you couldn’t even see the beans…because they weren’t there…because the burrs crowded them out…so yet again…check.

And finally, we hear that some of the seed fell on good soil and brought forth grain…30, 60, even 100 fold…sounds like countless conversations I’ve had about yield…checking in with dad to see how many bushels he averaged per acre. (pause)

And that’s not all…we can also list countless other things like conversations why the soil on top of the hills is a lighter color than that down in the low spots…time in high school spent studying different profiles in preparation for a soil judging competition…various classes in college where I literally studied soil and all the different aspects of it…time in the greenhouse working with different types of growing media and plants…work for a lawn care company when we needed to analyze the ph balance of the soil to determine the suitability of growing a strong lawn…and finally countless discussions with my wife on just why you call it soil…and not dirt.

It’s safe to say that when it comes to interpretation of today’s parable…I’m all set…and after all, that’s the whole point of parables isn’t? Jesus sharing truth about the kingdom of heaven in ways that the common person can understand…and today…this one’s for us…truth about the kingdom…in rural farm talk. (pause)

And now, this particular parable is one of those oddball ones when Jesus actually takes the time to explain just what he’s talking about isn’t it? We hear the explanation in the second half of today’s lesson…first the parable…then the description…and perhaps as Jesus was describing what each particular soil type refers to…you found yourself nodding along thinking…yah…that all makes sense.

Seed isn’t going to grown on the path or the road is it? Nope…and the birds are going to clean it up pretty quick…and when plants grow among rocks, there is no root and it dries up or pulls out really easily…and when a crops try to grow in a weed patch…you don’t get much crop do you? But the seed that falls in the field…carefully tilled and cared for throughout the growing season…well of course you’re going to get crop out of that. No brainer Jesus. (pause)

But despite the obvious…when we back up to just what Jesus is telling us here, its almost laughable. A sower went out to sow, and as he sowed, seed fell on the path…and on the rocks…and in the thorns…and some, not all by any means…only 25%…managed to fall in the field where its supposed to be. And so it seems that our sower…he’s not very good is he? He doesn’t seem to be paying the slightest attention where he’s throwing that seed…which sort of makes you wonder how much value he places on it doesn’t it?

Think about that for a moment…how much is a bag of seed corn this year? $225…$250? Seems awfully expensive to just take it out and scatter it randomly…with no care as to where it lands. And I don’t know about you…but if I saw someone just open up a bag and give it a toss…not paying the slightest attention to where they were standing…much less trying to keep it in the boundaries and in nice even rows…if I saw that…I’d think it was a pretty lousy farmer…wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t we all judge that farmer pretty harshly? (pause)

But just who is the farmer in the parable? Who is it, that we’re criticizing for their lack of effort in the planting department? Well, when we listen to Jesus’ interpretation, we hear that the seed that is sown…is the word of the kingdom…it’s the gospel…the good news of Jesus Christ…the story of his life and his ministry…and his teaching and his miracles…and his confrontations and his interactions…and finally his violent death on the cross which culminated 3 days later with his glorious resurrection and his defeat over the power of sin and death…that’s the seed.

And if that’s the seed, well then we need to stop for just a moment and think about just who it is that’s throwing that seed to the wind. And as always, we must first recognize that the farmer…the first one to proclaim the work of God within our reality…is God himself…for we have a God that has spoken to humanity in many ways…first through Creation itself…then later on through the law and the prophets…but in these days we have a God that has spoken to us, and is still speaking to us through the Son and through his word in the Bible…God is the farmer…out there scattering the gospel without even paying attention…completely hap-hazardly…apparently letting ¾’s of it go where it has no business what so ever…what a waste right? So I guess God makes for one…lousy…farmer. (long pause)

But you know what? God…isn’t…a farmer…he leaves that to a very special group of people in the world…because God’s got other fish to fry…the seed is the Gospel…we’ve already established that…and so now we need to think about where the Gospel is going…just what are these four types of soil that Jesus talks about in the parable…3 of which seem to waste the gospel and only 1 does anything with it. (pause)
What is the soil? Well…take a look around…you’re looking at it. Each and every person in the world represents that soil…but the important thing to remember, is that we don’t get to choose which one. If we did…that would easy wouldn’t it? We’d all choose to be the good soil and bear fruit for the gospel…some 30…some 60…some 100…but that’s not the reality. (pause) And you know what…if all those soil classes in college taught me anything…its that there is all kinds of different soil everywhere…you take a soil sample, it changes from inch to inch…you look at a plot of land, it is riddled with different soil profiles…all swirled up together…and I think that each and every member of the human race is exactly the same…a swirl of all 4 types of soil…and its not up to us to make any one of the 4 stronger than the others.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…faith…believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ…it is NOT self generated…it is a gift of the Holy Spirit…it is the result of the Spirit using the proclamation of the gospel to you and creating the root of faith within you. (pause)

When I was working with this text this week, I was surprised to find insight in the original language, which you may know happens to me from time to time…but in the short bit talking about the plants having no root in the rocky soil…the action of “Having” or “Holding” occurs with the seed itself…with the plant…not with the soil. And this strengthens the notion that we do not create faith ourselves because through the Holy Spirit the gospel itself…the seed in our story takes hold of us…and once it does it WILL NOT…let go.

And once that has happened…once God finds the good soil in the life of an individual and faith grows within their life…well, then they join with God…in a different role…that of the sower in Jesus’ story. (pause) As fellow believers in Jesus Christ we join in the priest hood of all believers…and you’ve heard me talk about this before…we all share a calling to proclaim the gospel so that those who have never heard may here…and maybe…just maybe…that seed that we cast out in the name of Jesus Christ…will find good soil and take root.

But at the same time, we must also realize the importance of the example of the sower in today’s story…God himself…the original farmer…and the lousy one at that. (pause)

God doesn’t distinguish where the seed….where the Gospel…goes…he’s equal opportunity…casting that gospel to the wind in abundance and we are called to do the same…it is not up to us to judge the audience that we think is worthy to hear it…if that were the case, then the sower would have stayed inside the boundaries…but that’s not the case…and praise be to God that we are freed of the burden of judging who is worthy to hear the good news and who isn’t…because if that were in fact the case…then in our own lives…in our own history…whoever it was that had joined with God in the role of sower may have taken a look at each one of us and thought…nope…too rocky…and held onto that seed…but if you are sitting here today listening to this message…then you know that’s not the case…and today if you are hearing this for the first time…and I mean really hearing it…well then I think the Holy Spirit’s finding some good soil in you…and who knows how much fruit that’s gonna produce.

Thanks be to God…that God…looks at all of humanity and does NOT distinguish between good soil…and bad soil…thanks be to God…that He…is a lousy farmer…but is a loving Father. Amen.