Posts Tagged ‘Gospel’

The End is Not the End 11-17-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 21:5-19, Jesus offers some “end timesy” type teaching, and so we explore how the promise of the Gospel offers us something to hold on to when it feels like the world is ending.

As this sermon was preached extemporaneously, I have not included the text.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-end-is-not-the-end-11-17-19

(note that the audio was recorded without a mic, so the audio is low quality)

WOE!!!! 11-3-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 6:20-31, I explore Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Not only does Jesus speak of blessings, but he also offers the wake up call of Woe.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/woe-11-3-19

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

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

We live in a time that is ripe with good storytelling…and it comes to us from a lot of different sources. I’m a big fan of the visual mediums like movies and tv shows…and as a fan…I’ve never been the type to get bogged down when a story seems unrealistic.  Just tell me a good story.

Now there are a lot of good examples of this type of thing, and I love it…if the story is engaging, I don’t care…and while there are a lot of good examples, its probably safe to say that Disney and Pixar do the best job of this.  Take, for example…the recent movie Finding Nemo.  A great story in which we learn in this reality that clown fish are neurotic…seagulls are greedy…pelicans have Australian accents…and sea turtles talk like surfer dudes.

That’s probably my favorite aspect right there…and we learn it from the instant we first meet one…now this sea turtle…named Crush by the way…first enters into the story after the main character, the neurotic clownfish named Marlon, he has a run in with a bunch of jelly fish…and promptly passes out…and when he comes too, he finds himself riding on the shell of Crush the sea turtle…and we hear “Dude….oh HEY DUDE!!!!” And then Crush introduces Marlon, who he calls the Jelly-man to his son…and we hear “Allow me to introduce my offspring…Offspring, Jellyman…Jellyman, Offspring.”

And finally the surfer dude image culminates as the Jellyman tries to remember what happened and Crush tells him “Oh dude, at first you were like WOAH…and then we were like WOAH…and then you were like…woah.” (pause)

Now given our gospel lesson that we shared just a moment ago…you probably see where I’m going with this. Today we hear Luke’s account of the Beatitudes…part of a larger teaching of Jesus…a long sermon…one that covers almost an entire chapter here in Luke…but one that we also hear elsewhere…this whole sermon from Jesus, including the Beatitudes are also found in Matthew’s gospel…and to be honest, his account is longer and more in depth…

But that reveals something very common within the gospels…often times, the same stories…the same teachings…they are found in more than one gospel…but even when the different authors record them in similar ways, there are still differences…and we certainly see that here with the Beatitudes.

We hear about the people who are blessed…that sense is present in both accounts…but in Matthew, Jesus talks a little longer…there are more of them…they could probably be called a little more spiritual in nature, Luke is a bit more on the nose.  Matthew kinda generalizes, using language like “theirs” or “they.” But in Luke its more direct, as Jesus addresses “you.” (pause)

But the main difference…the thing that really sets Luke apart from Matthew in this particular instance…is the presence of the Woe-statements…Crush would be impressed. (pause) but in all seriousness, Luke gives us a very different sense with these woes listed along with the statements of blessing.

What really seems to be happening as Jesus teaches…is that we’re hearing two sides of the same coin…the statements all partner up and they’re very much connected…something we see if we mix them together rather than listing them separately.

Blessed are you who are poor…but woe to you who are a rich.   Blessed are you who are hungry now, but woe to you who are full.  Blessed are you who weep now, but woe to you who laugh…and finally blessed are you when people hate you and exclude you and defame you on my account…but woe to you when all speak well of you. (pause)

Isn’t that interesting, how that little shift really highlights these reversals that Jesus is talking about? The ups and downs…the back and forth…which…I can’t help but think…that sounds like life…one minute we are on top of the world and the next everything falls to pieces….but maybe what’s most eye opening here…are some of the specific words that Jesus uses through this teaching…words that don’t really work when we really stop and think about them at face value…

Words like “blessed.” Think about that one…what images come to mind when you think of something as blessed? Or what other words could we use? Maybe the most prominent word is…happy? (pause) But does that work?  Are the poor…happy?  Are the hungry…happy?  Are the ones hated…HAPPY?  And here’s the real kicker…blessed are you who weep now…HAPPY!?!  I don’t buy it.  (pause)

Well what about the flipside…and all those “woes?”  Admittedly, Woe isn’t a word that we throw around much is it? So what does it mean?  If we take this whole thing at face value…and if we consider the ongoing theme of a great reversal that Jesus is bringing about…the ultimately switch in things in the kingdom of God as opposed to the reality of this world….well then maybe we hear about blessings and then woes…and we think that woe equals damnation…

Fair assumption on my part? If we keep things surface-level we hear Jesus say blessed and we think happy, and we hear woe and we think that person is damned…I think we can make that jump…but only if we take things at face value…because digging a little deeper brings some better insight.

And it really stems from the original language of Woe…because it implies emphasis…like there needs to be an exclamation mark with it…and its not the only word like this…there’s another one that we usually translate as See or Behold! And you can’t just say (flatly) behold…its (boisterous) BEHOLD!!!!.

I discovered this week that WOE…is the same way…its not “woah.”  Its WOE!!! (pause) Plug that in there. WOE!!!! To you who are rich for you have received your consolation…WOE!!!! To you who are full now for you will be hungry…WOE!!!! To you who are laughing now for you will mourn and weep…WOE!!! To you when all speak well of you….

It seems like Jesus isn’t say you’re out of luck…it seems like he’s trying to get your attention.  Maybe we should say “YIKES” or “WAKE UP.”  Pay attention!  This is a wakeup call…and honestly I think it goes both ways because of the truth that life swings us both directions doesn’t it…this wakeup call is for those called to be content in their present circumstances every bit as much as it is for those he cautions against getting comfortable in things that are fleeting.

This whole thing…the entire first portion of today’s scripture is all about reminding us that we are all in this together…and that we are equal in the grand scheme of things regardless of how our present creature comforts are treating us.

And so hearing that wakeup call, maybe we need to perk up our ears and pay attention to what comes right after it…something we could probably call the golden rule section.  Love your enemies…do good to people who hate you…bless those who curse you…turn the other cheek…offer your shirt and your coat…give to whoever needs it….and like our mom’s taught us…do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Now I don’t know about you…but I hear that and its like “Duh!”  (pause) Or at least it should be.  But is it? Does life really work out that way?  Do we act like that? Or do we foul it up? (pause) This whole deal…this entire thing…it all serves to show us how the world works…and how that’s utterly opposed to the kingdom of God that Jesus has brought near to us.

The world says ‘this is what’s right…this is power…this is authority.” It even tries to tell us “this is what’s blessed.” But Jesus is over here “uh-uh…not even close.”  But we get caught up in it don’t we?  That selfish nature takes over…and time after time…we foul it up…putting ourselves first…cuz I gotta get what’s mine right?

And so as much as we might think we are the ones who fall in the “blessed are you” category…when we’re really honest maybe we hear Jesus sparking off that “WOE!!!” in our direction…and we should…because that’s what the gospel is supposed to do…its supposed to remind us that we can’t pull it off…no matter how hard we try…we need God’s grace…and you know what…in that instant when we recognize it…its there…every time.

And what’s wonderful is that we’ve been given gifts to receive that grace from Christ…and we find that in the sacraments…one which we will share today…and for some of our young people…today they will share it for the first time…what a blessing to be here in community with them, as we all gather around this table…equal in our need for grace…and as we cling to that grace throughout the course of our lives…we are also reminded of the faithful witness of those who have come before us…those who have now gone on ahead into whatever it is that lies on the other side of death…those who are now experiencing first hand…the fullness of the kingdom which we have only glimpsed.

This is a wakeup call that is worth having…one we should be aware of every day…one that should fill us with gratitude…because we have God who cares enough about us to get into the midst of it with us…as one us…We have a God who gets right in our faces with a hearty “WOE!” So that we might rely on his grace…and be recipients of his blessing. 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.

I Get Knocked Down 9-22-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 16:1-13, I explore the utterly confusing parable of the dishonest manager. In this strange teaching, Jesus compares the way the world works with the freedom that is offered through the Gospel.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

I am a big fan of music…and particularly the music of my formative years, the late 90’s and into the early 2000’s. And an interesting aspect of music for me is the creativity that is expressed through the names of bands. There are some amazing…albeit strange…band names. Admittedly I have no idea what these names are supposed to mean…but they sound cool.

Now some of these bands are still popular today…others are probably still around, but they’ve faded into obscurity…and others have broken up…but their names remain seared into my consciousness. Names like Matchbox 20…The Goo Goo Dolls…Hoobastank…we’ve got others like The Urge, or Clever…Mr Plow was a popular Ames band when I was in college…and then there’s one that probably wins the title of “creative yet utterly weird” band name…Chumbawumba…a one-hit wonder from 1997 with a song title that is equally as strange as their name. Tubthumping.

Now the song itself was really catchy, although there weren’t a whole lot of lyrics…I mainly remember the opening line…(Sing) I get knocked down…but I get up again…you’re never gonna keep me down (repeat once…then pause).

I can’t help but think that there is a guy in Jesus’ parable for today that can relate to that song…or in the very least…the opening phrase…I get knocked down…

The parable of the dishonest manager…admittedly one of the BIGGEST headscratchers in Jesus’ repertoire of parables. Picture if you will…a wealthy individual who employs a manager.  Now this manager…he’s really bad at it…so bad that his boss walks up and pretty much says…you’ve got to the end of the day…and then…you’re fired…and the manager…he hits the panic button.  WHAT? I’M FIRED?!?! What am I gonna due?  I have no marketable skills what so ever. I’m not strong enough to dig, so manual labor is out of the question…and I’ll never land another management gig…and I’m not going to become a beggar, that’s TOO embarrassing. WHAT AM I GONNA DO?  (pause) He might as well be singing that opening line. I get knocked down…

But then in a moment of inspiration that continues to reveal just how lousy he is at managing his master’s property…he comes up with an idea that will soften the blow he’s about to endure.  And he calls up the different individuals that are in debt to his master…You there…how much do you owe?
And I can imaging the guy on the other end is like “What? Shouldn’t you know that? You’re really bad at your job.” And the manager is like “yah I know…but seriously…what’s the damage.”  100 vats of oil…okay cool…ummm take your receipt and make 50.   And you there…how much do you owe?  And while the second guy is probably thinking the exact same thing he says “I owe 100 batches of wheat.” Yah that’s cool…ummm let’s make it 80….and then in a moment truly inspired by the Godfather…the manager might as well be saying “Just remember that I have done you this favor.” (pause)

Why does he do this?  Because he’s about to be destitute…but maybe just maybe if he butters up his master’s clients…they’ll invite him to come in and stay as a guest…he’s still gonna be fired…he’s still knocked down…but maybe, in some small way…if he plays his cards right…he can get back up again. (pause)

Now that’s weird enough by itself…but in the major twist at the end…we hear that his master…the guy who’s property has been mishandled all along…and who just got cheated even worse…he actually applauds the guy for his shrewdness.

So I don’t know what we’re supposed to make of this Jesus.  I don’t know who we’re supposed to relate to in this parable. I don’t know what lesson we’re supposed to learn…none of this makes sense on its own.

But…that’s actually pretty common when it comes to the parables of Jesus isn’t it? Think about it…in many instances when Jesus uses a parable to illustrate a point he’s trying to make…the message tends to go over the heads of his audience doesn’t it? Even the disciples…how many times do we hear that Jesus has to explain things to them.  So maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising.

Jesus is in an exchange or a debate of some sort…and he illustrates it with a parable…but what got me this time, as I thought about that normal teaching style of Jesus…is that this time it almost seems like Luke wrote it down out of order.

We’ve got the parable first…and then the teaching that needs explanation comes right after it.  And admittedly…that one is almost as confusing.  The children of this age are more shrewd with each other than the children of light.  If you can’t be trusted with a little how will be trusted with much?  You cannot serve two masters…for a slave will love one and hate the other. (pause)

Now that teaching…it’s a little vague…but its kinda makes sense…and maybe just maybe if we think about that…and then swing back around to the parable maybe we realize that Jesus is throwing the most exaggerated wink in the history of winks as he tells it.

You cannot serve both God and wealth…WINK WINK…there’s a manager that’s SO BAD that he tries to utilize every possible legal loophole just to save his own keister…WINK WINK…and this one moment of craftiness is SO good…WINK WINK…that the guy who got swindled says “nice job.”  WINK WINK.

Like, maybe Jesus is in on the joke here…and he’s giving us the nod that lets us in on it too.  Because…he really seems to be saying….all this stuff over here…that’s how the world works…the world where everyone looks out for themselves…where people are crafty…wise though maybe not in a good way…they find the loopholes…they use the system…and its all geared at the idea that we look out for number 1.  We exploit everyone and everything to make sure that we come out on top.

I think that’s one way of looking at the action of this odd-ball story…another might be Jesus saying “look what happens when you try to accomplish everything according to the rules…to the law…it doesn’t work does it? And…that’s kinda eye opening isn’t it?  Because our society…our entire way of life…its all based on that idea isn’t it? That the dollar rules all…and that no matter how hard all the rules and regulations try to cover every contingency…it never quite works out like its supposed to…and people end up hurt because of it…I think we could see that idea in this story as well.  That the crafty are gonna be crafty…and the powerful are gonna applaud them for it. (pause)

But then there’s Jesus…and he says that’s all over here (hold up one hand)…but that’s not how the kingdom of heaven works over here (hold up the other one). And even more eye opening…Jesus is also indicating that its one or the other…and even though we’ve done a really good job in this country of trying to marry the two sides together…we’re lying to ourselves…and we see that as we consider the uncomfortable language that Jesus uses when he says that we’re a slave to one or the other…A SLAVE…

We don’t like the idea of slavery do we?  It’s a big ugly stain in our society that we’d rather pretend doesn’t exist but its there…And I think Jesus uses it on purpose…and its supposed to uncomfortable…because a slave has no agency do they?  They are completely at the mercy of their master, whatever or whoever that master is.

And that’s why Jesus holds up this mirror to a system that exists only to perpetuate the well-being of the self. Because when we put every egg in the basket of “I need more no matter what it might cost someone else” or “I gotta look out for me above everything” then we’re serving the master of stuff…and the master of this myth known as wealth and money. (pause)

Now is money bad? No, we need it. Working is good. Careers are good, compensation is good.  But when that dictates our entire existence, and we exploit every loophole in that system to get ahead…then we’ve made it a god. And that my friends is known as idolatry.

And when we realize that we’re stuck in it…and no matter how hard we try, our efforts to free ourselves are in vain…that’s when we realize the truth…that nothing I do can ultimate save me…nothing I achieve will ever really be enough.

And its in that moment…that you are truly susceptible to the saving truth of the gospel.  That any idea of righteousness isn’t something that we can ever achieve through personal effort or  shrewd dealing.  Our intellect isn’t gonna get us there.  And its only in knowing that there is NOTHING you can manage, that you will finally be willing to cry out for help.

But…the gospel tells us that this help has already been offered…and that’s the other side of the coin that Jesus is pointing us at today…the world works like this…and when you realize that’s not gonna get you anywhere, then the kingdom of heaven is over here on this side and the promise has already been given to you…and the Spirit will take this truth proclaimed to you and make it real.  That’s the gospel…and that’s what it means to be a slave to God…weird as that might sound.

Now saying that…to be a slave to God…its not saying that you just have to do everything that God says…but because faith…salvation…the gospel, all of that…its beyond your control. (Pause)

Think about the idea of being in love.  Do you step into love?  Do you sit down into love?  Do you make the choice to be in love?  No…what do they say? You…FALL in love…and to fall means you are out of control…the result is out of your hands…and so is faith. We hear the promise…that the love of God, the grace of God…the mercy of God is made real through the life and the death and the resurrection of Christ…and the Spirit uses that proclamation to free you from the burden of trying to earn it on your own. (pause)

And now the really wonderful thing about all this…is that we get to live out our lives in the reality of this truth…of this kingdom…of this way of being that is so UTTERLY OTHER than the way the world works…we get to live in the joy of THAT truth right here right now.

Salvation is not just about getting to heaven some day when we die.  Its not just some get of jail free card in some cosmic game of Monopoly. Salvation gives us freedom to live…fully embraced in the love of the one who knows you can’t do it on your own…and even better…is we get to share that same amazing news with others…we share it so they can hear it and the Holy Spirit can free them from serving that same crazy cycle that dominates this world.

How great is that…that no matter how hard this world smacks us around…no matter how many times we’ve gotta sing that phrase “I get knocked down…”  We’ve got the promise of one who lifts us up…who frees us from it…and maybe just maybe…he even gives us a wink as he’s doing it.  A wink that says “Now YOU’RE in on the joke…that all that stuff, it doesn’t ultimately matter. What really matters is the joy and the love of the one who frees you from it. Amen

Lost 9-15-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 15:1-10, I explore two of the three “lost” parables of Jesus, the sheep and the coin. The similarities that we find in the parables point us to an important question…what does it mean to be lost?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lost-9-15-19

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

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

It probably goes without saying that we all have stories about getting lost…some might be personal experiences when we were the one who got turned around…some stories are from the times when it was someone that we know who ended up in the wrong place. They take on many shapes and forms.

But if there’s one thread that slides through them all…it’s probably a sense of unease…maybe even borderline fear…that comes creeping in…and since we’ve all lost our way at one time or another…we have the tendency to teach others important safety steps to take if and when they find themselves in something similar…and this is probably most common between parents and their kids.

I remember dad drilling into us what to do if we ever got lost in a cornfield…YOU FOLLOW THOSE ROWS IN A STRAIGHT LINE…oh and when you get to the end of the row, start counting…you’ll cross either 8 or 16 and then you’ll find the edge of the field.

I also remember mom’s instructions for if we ever found ourselves separated from the family.  Look for someone in uniform…an officer or security guard…or if you’re in a store…go to the front desk and ask them to send a page. I first heard these instructions from mom after my older brother disappeared in the local mall…and I remembered them a couple years later when I was the one who wandered off.

But maybe the most telling is the way that I internalized those instructions…and apparently passed them on to the next generation…and this came to a head back in our days living in Minnesota.

The kids were pretty small during that 2.5 year period in our lives…small enough that the idea of “getting lost” was something we had to be aware of…and it happened one day when my wife took the kids to the public library…now by this point, we’d already lived there for a bit and had one specific location that we always went to…but on this particular day, Emily took the kids to one of the dozen different library locations…one that everyone was unfamiliar with…and sure enough…at one point she stepped around to the next aisle…and a moment later Jack realized…I’m all alone. (pause)

Now proud parent moment…his training…kicked…in. He knew what to do…the exact same thing his grandma had taught me years before…go to the front desk and have them send a page…but here’s where things took a bit of an odd turn.

As Emily heard the page come over the speakers, here’s what she heard…Would the LOST MOM…please come to the front desk. (pause) Interesting distinction isn’t it? In my son’s mind…he wasn’t lost…she was. (pause)

Now that idea of being lost in one way or another…that catches my attention today…and that’s probably understandable isn’t it? Today our lesson features some parables of Jesus…quite well known…two of the three known simply as “the lost parables.”  Illustrations that Jesus puts out there in light of another round of criticisms coming his way for who he choses to spend time with…for the company that he keeps…even going so far as to breaking bread and celebrating with them. (pause)

If a guy’s got 100 sheep and he discovers 1 is missing…will he not leave the 99 out in the middle of nowhere and go looking…looking everywhere…high and low…over hill and dale…behind rocks and in caves…until he finds that pesky one all by itself. (pause)

Or if a woman has 10 coins…and oh no! She discovers that somewhere along the lines one has been misplaced…she’ll grab the flashlight and look EVERYWHERE!!! Upstairs, downstairs…in the basement…under the rugs…she’ll yank the couch cushions out of the way…strip the bedding…she’ll even dig into the sink drain if she needs to…she will look…EVERYWHERE…until she finds that pesky coin. (pause)

Two short parables…two different examples that, honestly…have a whole lot in common don’t they?  The situation that Jesus presents in both is pretty much identical…and the end result is as well…something that we maybe even take for granted simply because of the familiar nature of these parables.

In both cases…the lost sheep and the lost coin…when the lost is found…the results are the same…Joy on the part of the one searching…and then they call together their friends and neighbors for a celebration…COME TOGETHER…Share my joy! Because I have found that which was lost to me. (pause)
Even Jesus’ explanations come across pretty straight forward in both of them…I tell you…there will be MORE joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents…than over 99 that have no need of repentance. (pause) Its sorta like “DUH” right? Like for once…the point that Jesus is trying to make is SO ABUNDANTLY CLEAR…that we could just leave it right there.  I could seriously just say Amen and sit down couldn’t it? (pause) But I won’t…because there’s more to explore here than just the face value of these parables about being lost.

I want you to think about WHAT was lost for just a moment. A sheep…and a coin…and bonus points for you if you know what’s lost in the third parable that comes right after this one…not just one…but two sons who are in some way lost to their father…the common thread between all of these things…they are valued by the one who lost them…treasured by the one willing to look high and low…who will forsake everything else, until the lost is found.

But the question that is really rattling around in my head…how did they get lost in the first place? Prodigal son aside…because we know that he went off on a whim, and his older brother was lost in stubborn judgmental pride….but let’s just think about the sheep and the coin.

First the sheep…well, that could have happened in a variety of ways.  We all know a sheep isn’t exactly the Einstein of the animal kingdom…so this pesky little oddball could be lost due to a lot of different circumstances.  Maybe it wandered off looking at a particularly tasty looking tuft of grass.  Maybe it managed to get its foot stuck in crevice…or it fell in a hole and was physically unable to follow along with the rest of the flock when the guy moved them along…maybe a predator came along and spooked it so it ran away…or who knows, maybe this was the weird sheep that the other sheep didn’t like, and he wasn’t lost so much as they kicked him out…who knows. (pause)

The coin…well that’s a little easier to put our finger on…a coin can’t just up and walk away…so clearly the woman somehow misplaced it…she was responsible in one way or another…and even though the coin was lost…we can’t exactly place the blame on an inanimate chunk of metal. (pause)

So what do we take from this? That maybe, just maybe…there are a lot of different ways to be lost…and that sometimes, the one we think is lost might not even realize it.  That sheep might have been having the time of his fluffy life…and the coin sure didn’t care.

And maybe…another way to think about this falls in line with the way my son was thinking at the library all those years ago…he was exactly where he was supposed to be…and MOM was lost…maybe the sheep was right all along and it was the flock that was misplaced. (pause)

Now its possible that I’m overthinking things here…but this was the question that really came to the forefront as I worked with this text through this week…what does it mean to be lost? (pause) And not just in the “scriptural” sense…but in our reality? How can we start to connect this concept that Jesus is presenting with our regular day to day existence?

How do we feel lost? And how do we view others that makes us place them in that same category?  I can generalize…we’re lost in our ability to overcome the brokenness and sinfulness that is inherent within our regular lives.  Some of us might feel lost due to our present circumstances…when the world just seems to have it in for us and we are swept up in things that we are powerless to control or stop and all we can do is bounce along in this painful ride.

Maybe we look and see someone lost in an addiction of one kind or another…and no matter how hard they try…or on the flipside no matter how hard we try to offer them a hand to step back out of that battle…they’re stuck in it. And like the coin, they don’t even realize it.

Or maybe it’s the presence of mental illness…something that goes beyond anyone’s ability to control or manage or maintain…and the person that we know…the person and the personality that we expect…that person just isn’t there and they are lost to us.

This list could go on and on…and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if we went around the room, pretty much everyone in here could list a way that they feel lost…and a way that they see someone else who is lost as well…should we raise hands on that? (pause)

So all that being said…where do we go from here?  Is there some good news to be found?  It seems like it right? Jesus is talking about celebrations in heaven…and he’s talking about repentance and joy…so yah, it seems like there’s some good stuff sneaking around.

And maybe to find it…in order to put our fingers on it…we need to back up to something we just talked about a week ago. If you were here…you remember that in the midst of a REALLY difficult teaching from Jesus…we had to skip ahead to these parables in order to remind us of the good news that we have a God who willingly took on that role of the man looking for a sheep…of the woman looking for a coin…not to mention a father looking for both of his boys.

We have a God who WILL NEVER stop searching for us…we could even say shining that light like the women in the parable…the diligence of the one who made us…the one who values us beyond measure…it is never ending…and it goes beyond all logic.  That perfect love of God…that grace…it finds us when we are utterly lost and incapable of doing anything about it. And not only that…it will look past all those who are presently accounted for, leaving them behind to go in search of you.

That’s the amazing thing about God’s grace and love for you…no matter what your situation…no matter what situation has you wrapped up and knocked down…utterly lost…we can look to our God who took on flesh and dwelled among us…that God who became tangible…showing us that when we can’t get to him, he’ll come to us…and realizing that no matter what this messed up broken down flawed reality might throw our way…or even what our own brokenness might make us throw at ourselves…we can look to God and confidently say “Your grace will fight for me. It’ll leave 99 to go in search of one…and I…am…that…one.” (pause)

No matter which direction we want to look today…whether we are the sheep trembling in the wilderness…or whether we look and see someone who’s the coin…not even aware enough to know they’re lost…we are all on even ground as we realize that the gospel is the same for each of us…and that gospel says that YOU ARE THE ONE, who Jesus will not give up on.  Amen.