Posts Tagged ‘Grace’

We Are Even 2-24-19

In this sermon, taken from Luke 6:27-38 (along with earlier verses from the story), I continue to explore Jesus’ important words and inherent invitation for us to respond to the free gift of grace and salvation by acting in a way that reflects the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. As we do so, we are joining with God in bringing that reality into being.

This sermon is a pretty direct continuation of last week’s sermon…with many similar themes and ideas.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-are-even-2-24-19

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

Mother Nature played a mean trick on us a week ago didn’t she? No worship thanks to winter weather.  And due to the fact that we didn’t have worship…I didn’t preach the sermon that I prepared…though admittedly I did still post it online, so perhaps a few of you did check it out…and if so…this opening bit is gonna sound a little familiar…if, on the other hand, you did not find it online…then disregard my disclaimer.

My older brother, while pretty decent to me as a younger brother…did often take advantage of the size difference inherent with a 4.5 year age difference…especially considering that I was a pretty small kid as I was growing up.  But then…one day when I was about 15 or 16…things changed. My brother came up behind and put me in a headlock…and without even thinking about it…I grabbed his arm and pitched him over my shoulder on the couch…and it was in this moment that my brother realized…we’re on the same level.

Rest assured, I viewed this as a moment of victory…but life has a funny way of turning the tables on you…and now 25 years later…my 15 year old son can pretty much look me straight in the eye…and in the instances when we get started wrestling…sooner or later I run out of steam and he gets me in a headlock…forcing me to admit defeat and tap out.  And let me tell you something…that moment of realization that now I’m not the top dog…and that my son is on the same level…that’s humbling.

Now in both of these cases…the level that we’re talking about…its physical…but as we all know there are a lot of different categories that we could name where people tend to fall in different places on the respective ladder.  Physical size. Economic status…age…social standing…just to name a few…but this idea of a ladder…of someone ranking higher or lower than another…that’s what catches my attention as I consider the scripture lesson for today.

Now again…a lot of what I’m talking about today builds off the message and lesson from last week…I even including the opening portion of last week’s because its all the same setting. Jesus has come down off the mountain…been surrounded by great crowds from all over the region…a mixed bag of cultural background, Jews and Gentiles…all seeking something from him.

He heals diseases…he casts out demons…he frees everyone from whatever it is that has them hindered…and it would seem that within this particular crowd…that same sense is pretty universal…it doesn’t matter who you are…Jesus frees you…and only then does he begin teaching.

I like this teaching…or sermon…its one that is probably familiar…though we tend to hear Matthew’s version up on the mountain a little more often…but Luke reverses things…literally bringing Jesus down off the mountain…to a level place…and I don’t think that Luke does this to metaphorical…I think he wanted us to see that Jesus…God in the flesh…was willing to come down on the same level as all these people…people from all walks and backgrounds…effectively placing everyone on the same level…making everyone even. (pause)

His sermon…well it does more of the same.  In the portion that we skipped over…commonly known as the Beatitudes…Jesus speaks about those who are blessed, even if their situation seems to be the polar opposite of the world would expect given that label…blessed…and then…having done that, Jesus turns the coin over telling us woe to you have it good…who are comfortable…because things will change.

Seems to me that Jesus is reminding us that the world and our reality is a fickle thing…and that our circumstances can get turned on their ear in the blink of an eye…and it begs the question…what do we put our faith it? (pause)  But that said…the awesome thing is that Jesus doesn’t stop there…he carries on quite a bit longer…and he really start to flush out this whole idea of an even playing field…despite the reality of social standings in his day and age.

Make no mistake…in Jesus’ time…there was a very rigid social ladder…and there was zero question where you fell on that ladder…everyone knew their place…and honestly…if you encountered someone higher up that particular food chain from you…you were pretty much at their mercy…and they could treat you any way they wanted…now we can call this a lot of things…some might call it persecution…especially in the first century where persecution on religious grounds was a very present reality.

But when Jesus starts talking about turning the other cheek…or offering your shirt along with your coat…I don’t think that’s what Jesus is really talking about…I think he was a being a little bit on the subversive and sneaky side.

Think about it this way…if someone got a little cheeky with you and you wanted to put them in their place…you always used your right hand…don’t ask me why but you did…and depending on the social standing of the other person…that determined how you hit them.  If they are your subordinate…you back hand them…but if they happened to be on the same social level as you…well then you balled up your fist and punched them…a slap says I’m better than you…a punch says we’re even…I’m just really ticked at you.

So when Jesus says that if someone strikes you on the cheek…he’s talking about that backhand…so you turn your other cheek to them…and the only way for them to hit you again is with the punch…and you have placed yourself on the same social standing…and if they throw that punch, they’ve just confirmed it.

The whole coat and shirt thing…same type of deal. Because if someone tried to sue you for your cloak…its an insult…basically saying that you are so worthless than your cloak is the only thing of value…but if you give it up, you’ve got another layer before you get to your birthday suit right?  But here’s the thing on this one…in Jesus day…nakedness was not a matter of shame for the individual…it’s the opposite…it’s a matter of shame for the person who view it…and so Jesus is saying that if someone attempts to shame your inferior status by taking your cloak, get naked…because that returns the shame on them… (pause)

Now these are some weird cultural things aren’t they? But they do speak into that idea…that we are all on the same level.  It probably goes without saying that society would disagree on that…both back in Jesus day as well as today right?  But when we are honest with ourselves…I think there’s a lot more truth to that than we want to admit…and the example that makes this blaringly apparent…is found in the two points of life that we have zero control over…and they are found on opposite ends of our life span.

Every single person….ever…comes into this world helpless and naked…and then, no matter how long or how short their life is…no matter how well they did socially or spiritually or economically…it all ends up the same way doesn’t it?

And so…as we begin to see and to realize that we’re all even in this crazy game of life…maybe we begin to see one another as God sees us…equal…on a level playing field…even in every single aspect. Broken…flawed…and yet…utterly and completely loved by the one who made us in the first place.

What would life be like if we all started treating one another like that? If we started acting in a way that reflects the enormous gift of salvation that God has granted each one of us…remember when Jesus came down off the mountain? First he freed everyone of what hinders them…then he started talking about how to respond to things.

Likewise…we have been freed…out God’s loving Grace…and Jesus is telling us how to respond to that.  There’s a little trick in the original language…and our translation that asks “What credit is that to you?” Well, it’s a little off.  Jesus actually says “if you love those who love you…what sort of grace is that to you?”

What sort of grace?  Jesus seems to be talking about the idea of reciprocal generosity…that too often we give to others thinking we’re going to get something in return…or we lend in order to make money of the repayment…or we only care about those who care about us in return…but if everything we do has a catch…then that’s not grace is it?  No more than if we’ve got to do something to repay the free gift of God’s grace for us.

And that…right there…that’s where we find the basis for the golden rule…do to others as you would have them do to you…and that goes way past being nice doesn’t it?  It filters into every aspect of our relationships and interactions…and we do this…we are aware of this in response to the gifts that God has given us.

Now here’s the really exciting thing about all this.  Jesus comes down…God comes down and gets on our level…and shows us that WE ARE ALL ON THAT SAME LEVEL…and then…having freed us from what hinders us…we are invited to live in this new reality…one that reflects the kingdom of Heaven that God is somehow bringing into reality…we like to call it both now and not yet…and that’s true…but I’m pretty sure that when we start treating one another with dignity and respect…not to get anything out of it…but simply because we recognize that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US bears the same divine image of God…when we start living out our lives in that reality…we are living as if the kingdom is already here…and maybe just maybe…that’s how God is bringing that reality into fruition…one person…one interaction…one loving moment after another.

Isn’t it amazing to realize that out of divine love and delight in you, God has offered you grace and mercy…making you a new creation…and in doing so God is inviting you into this amazing work of making all things new…that’s exciting…that’s worth jumping up out of our seats…to know that God wants you to be a part of this work of literally changing the world.

Now we’re even…whether the world tells us that or not…but its true…and we know it because we have a God who’s just sneaky enough…who’s just subversive enough to do what no one would ever think a god would do…to come to our level…and free us all…to show us the depth of mercy and grace…and then to invite us to share that same gift with one another. Amen.

Divorce Take 2 10-7-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:2-16, I talk about the painful reality of broken relationships, which has manifested in the reality of divorce. It is, however, not limited to this, and permeates all of our relationships.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/divorce-take-2-10-7-18

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

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

Today is a little strange…because my sermon prep process has gone a bit off the rails. I sat down on Friday to write the sermon for today, as I usually do…and after a lot of back and forth I wrote one.  Admittedly, there have been plenty of past weeks when I walked out the office on Friday not quite sure about the sermon that came out…but then went a head with it anyway.

Not this time.  This time I wrote about 3 different sermons all crammed into one…a batch of ideas that felt all over the map…and didn’t actually focus in on the truth that needs to be said.  So I scrapped it and started over, because I fear that my first pass would do a disservice to quite a few of you sitting out there today.

There are several different passages that come up in the Lectionary that rub me the wrong way, and I grimace when I open up the Bible on Sunday following worship to see what next week’s text is going to be…but then I get to work.  This one is different.  Today’s passage stinks.  I knew it was coming up, but when I saw it this week, knowing that I’ve tackled it a couple different times already…my first instinct was “nope…not this year.” And I planned on preaching out of Hebrews instead.

But then I went to text study on Tuesday…and I listened to the comments and conversation, particularly from one colleague who is currently in the process of divorcing…and I know this individual well enough to be able to read him…and to also be able to hear some of the things that he “wasn’t saying” if you know what I mean.

That conversation stayed in the back of my head throughout the week…likewise I also thought about conversations I’ve had with several of you over the years that have centered around this particular text.  And as I did, I kept thinking to myself…nope, skip it…don’t even reference it…just use the first two readings and skip the gospel.

But I knew in my gut that wasn’t right…and in further reflection I knew that if I skipped the gospel reading altogether, you would wonder why, and you would probably turn your bulletin over, and since Mark 10 is already printed…you’d read it…even if I didn’t.

And here’s the thing…when this passage comes up, you can’t not talk about it. Because the reality of divorce is too real.  Its not metaphorical…its not debatable…it’s a reality within our society, one that apparently has been around for at least 3500 years…and regardless of the differences that various societies and cultures have placed upon it, I’m guessing that its been equally painful for the people involved for as long as its been around.

And even if I can’t speak from personal experience, I know it’s a painful one for some of you out there…and I’m guessing that almost every single person sitting in this room today has been touched by it…and I don’t think any of us would deny that divorce carries stigma…particularly here in the church.

It might be viewed in a lot of different ways…but it seems that the sense of failure is pretty universal within it. Divorce marks a legal distinction to a failed relationship…and while I fully believe that there are marriages that should end…and that in many cases it is the best thing for everyone involved…I think we can all agree that its not a good thing…and that it hurts those involved in it.

This is a blunt reality…and these are blunt statements that I’m making…statements that seem to be mirrored in the extremely blunt statements made by Jesus today…statements around the legality of divorce…and statements that dredge up feelings of guilt when he brings the idea of adultery into the conversation.

Now we have the tendency to categorize bad stuff don’t we? Categories that, perhaps we use to justify ourselves…or make ourselves feel a little better.  Divorce is bad…and adultery is worse…but at least I didn’t kill anyone…I may have done this, but at least I didn’t do that. (pause)

This is evidence of the human condition…it is evidence of our brokenness…that we recognize our shortcomings and the things in our lives that just don’t feel right…and we want to try and feel better…and yet we don’t…and we see over and over again that this brokenness results in fractured relationships…and we also know that no relationship, no matter what form it takes, no relationship is safe from this truth of our broken reality. (pause)

Worse yet…it seems, at face value…that Jesus himself is condemning it here…and as a result, this passage, as well as the one from Genesis that we heard today, have been used to condemn and bully countless individuals…and maybe just maybe that in that pesky voice of doubt and fear that lives in the back of our minds, we say the exact same things to ourselves. (pause)

Here’s the thing…this situation is not limited to individuals who have either experienced divorce or those who look at their present circumstance and wonder if its an inevitability.  This tendency to see our own shortcomings and failures…as well as the ability to see the brokenness and failures of those around us…this is simply evidence of the greater underlying reality of sin that has permeated this life that we live.

And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…this breaks relationship…it rips apart the harmony that exists in true relationship…and that’s at the center of this entire thing.  Genesis tells us that all of humanity is created bearing the divine image of God…God who exists in divine relationship among the Creator God, the living Word of God, and the Spirit of God.

And when God placed humanity in the garden, whether that was an actual event or just a story that a culture told themselves thousands of years later…the story of the garden reveals that pretty much as long as humanity has been around, that harmony intended by God has been broken…and as a result our relationships suffer with God and they suffer with one another.

And I think that this is the point Jesus is trying to make when he starts talking about “in the beginning it was not so.” The intention of God, as we consider the creation stories…was for harmony between individuals…and I think that maybe, just maybe, what Jesus is trying to tell us is that in the kingdom of God, whenever that will be and whatever it is going to look like…that harmony will be restored and the brokenness that manifest in the death of a relationship in any form will no longer be a reality.

Jesus keys us into the fact that Moses allowed for divorce…just as our laws today allow for divorce, because broken human relationships are a reality…and if the scriptures tell us anything…its honest about this fact. (pause) And so, if you hear this text today and it stings? If it pulls up memories and thoughts of failure or judgement…or maybe it brings up that same old thought of “I should have been able to do more” or “what if I had tried harder,” and you aren’t hearing much else that I’m saying today…then please hear this…

The truth that the gospel reveals to us is that when it comes to the way our broken sinful selves manifests itself in ways that break the harmony that God intends for creation…you can’t do it…no one can…whether its divorce or something else.

None are righteous…not one…and yet God has come near to us anyway. That’s the gospel…that in whatever it was that God was up to in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…in whatever it was that he meant when he said it is finished…the promise remains that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…and that even our brokenness will not hinder God from coming near to us and claiming us beloved children. (pause)

This passage stinks…period…but you know what…scripture often does…but let us remember that this same scripture reveals a God who can, who does, who already has created new life out of death…and that we are not only invited…but we are gifted this same resurrection…this new life…over and over again…and that even when harmony is broken, our God will always gather us up into a loving embrace and bless us, with unwavering love and grace and favor…just as Jesus did with the children at the end of today’s passage…made possible through the body and blood of Christ, which was broken and shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins…body and blood that we will share in just a few moments…a physical embodiment of God’s grace and love for every single one of us. 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.

Different is Shocking 10-29-17

IMG_4041

In this Reformation Sunday sermon, I explore John 8:31-36 as Jesus reminds us that the boxes that we create for ourselves are insufficient for salvation.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/different-is-shocking-10-29-17

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

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

Patterns are a wonderful thing…and they bring a sense of familiarity and often, predictability along with them. An example is the tendency for certain people to show up here in the church at predictable times. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but one of the things that I’ve come to recognize is that on Thursday afternoons…usually right about the same time that I’m getting ready to head out and get my kids at school, our very own Julie Larson is going to show up for some light altar guild duties…namely…she’s here to tend to the altar candles. Sometimes we overlap, sometimes I’m already out the door…but it happens often enough that I hear the front door open as I’m sitting in my office and I know who it is…and that about 10 seconds after I hear the front door, Julie will poke her head around and say hi as she’s walking into the sanctuary.

This, of course, was the case this past Thursday. Julie walked in as I was wrapping up…and she was still in the process of candles when I left…and so…when I walked into the office on Friday morning…and did my customary glance through the Sanctuary windows…I did a double take…I was shocked to see the change from the green paraments over the red for today.

Now any time the paraments change it catches my attention…but this time its probably safe to say that it shocked me a little more than normal…because they haven’t changed in a really long time. We’ve been in the season on Pentecost…which features the color green…and is also the longest season of the church year…and so there’s been no change in color since the beginning of June…almost half a year has gone by…no wonder I did a double take when things looked differently in here…I said it a minute ago, and I think it’s a good way to describe my reaction to the change…shocking.

Now…today is of course…Reformation Sunday, that’s why everything is red…and its big one isn’t it. This year is 500 years…we celebrate today on the last Sunday of October as we always do…and the actually anniversary is in just a couple days…we’ve been talking about it all year…but really, its safe to say that our tradition gives the Reformation a lot of emphasis…we even named ourselves after the guy who started it with a hammer and nail and 95 ideas for reforming the church.

Now that event in itself, was shocking enough…and the ripples have spread across the world over the course of the past 5 centuries…now for us its old hat…old news…familiar…but just think about how shocking it must have been for those who were alive at that time…that this upstart professor from backwater Germany was pushing back against Rome and the pope…that he dared challenge the authority…that he challenged the way things have ALWAYS been done.

Interestingly enough…Luther’s experience…and perhaps, the basis for his important work…well it stemmed from a shocking experience as well…and no I don’t mean the fact that he was almost struck by lightning in his younger years, though that would certainly be shocking…pardon the pun…but rather…in his study of the scriptures…Luther’s mind was blown…his world was rocked…when he stumbled across the passage from Romans that we shared a moment ago…and the verse “the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  His view of a judgmental God that was waiting to strike us all down for our sins was blown out of the water as he recognized the free gift of God’s grace through Christ…shocking for him to say the least…and something that I think served as his metaphorical, or perhaps, spiritual 2×4 upside the head.

Change is shocking isn’t it? A change in decorations or color like here in the sanctuary. A change in tradition like Luther instigated through the Reformation…and also, the apparent shock that comes around when Jesus challenges the thought process of his audience in today’s gospel. (pause)

Now this brief reading out of John 8 is featured every year on Reformation Sunday…as Jesus reminds us about the importance of continuing in his word…or sometimes we hear remaining…or abiding…a common theme in John’s gospel…one that we hear many different times and in different settings.

And interestingly enough…the setting of this exchange between Jesus and some of the Jewish elite is a perfect example…but we’ve got to back up to the beginning of chapter 7 for things to start making sense…and as we look back, we learn that Jesus is in Jerusalem in order to celebrate one of the Jewish festivals…something that they did multiple times a year in their tradition…and this particular time, its for the festival of booths.

The whole setting of this festival is interesting…it lasts 8 days…with a Sabbath day at the beginning as everyone collectively rests…and then there’s another big Sabbath day at the end…and throughout the course of the entire festival…everyone is living in a booth…or a little tent that they’ve constructed in and around the city. The purpose of this festival was two-fold…first to celebrate the harvest in the fall…not unlike our Harvest Festival in November…but then as with all of the Jewish festivals…there was a sense of remembering the past…and in this case, God had instructed the Jewish culture to have this celebration every year to remember the 40 years of wandering as their ancestors lived out these years living in their tents…and not only that…but to remember that during that entire time of wandering…God dwelled among them…God, abided in their midst.

This is the festival that has JUST happened prior to today’s reading. One night has passed and Jesus is still in the city…hanging out in the temple courts…teaching and preaching as he often does. And because of his words…because of the truth that he’s been laying out…we hear that many of the Jews in his audience have come to believe in him…and with that, we hear his instruction of abiding in his words…and how this truth will set them free.

Cue the shocked look on the faces of these brand new believers…Wait a sec Jesus…we WILL be free? We’re descendants of Abraham…we’ve never been servants to anyone…what do you mean we will be free? (pause)
Now I can’t help but chuckle at this, because apparently these individuals…who are all members of a culture that places ultimate value on their history and their cultural identity which is tied intimately into past events…they seem to have forgotten that the vast majority of their history found them conquered and controlled by one ultimate political power of the day…the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Persians and Greeks and Romans.

These people seem to forget all of that history because they are completely stuck in the connection that they hold as descendants of Abraham…and the promise of God’s covenant made so many years before. For them…this is the ultimate distinction…and the thing that they place all of their stock in…as if to say that there’s a box…and if you fall in that box you’re good to go…but if not then you’ll somehow be found lacking. (pause)
I can’t help but find this almost laughable…they’ve just been celebrating God abiding among his people in a spiritual sense…but yet they fail to fully recognize that God has chosen to abide among his people in the physical sense…and even more specifically, that this God in human form…this Word of God made flesh was standing right in front of them talking to them.

Because to fully recognize this…and to fully accept his word and his teaching is to say that the box they had created…the connection to Abraham…their culture…to recognize that this distinction isn’t good enough…that’s downright shocking…it seems to be a tripping point for them that they just can’t get past.

And as I consider this, I can only think that its serves as an example for us as well…that somehow, someway every single one of us will come face to face with a tripping point…with a stumbling block, at some point in our lives…even in the midst of our lives of faith…perhaps even because of it.

Jesus says if you abide in my word you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.  It seems that on that day, for these particular people…the truth that was revealed was that their cultural identity earned them zero points as far as justification goes. Their Jewish distinction got them nowhere…and it blew their minds to the point of being unable to continue following Jesus…which we hear if we continue on through the narrative.

And I find myself asking the same question…when we come face to face with the ultimate truth of God made flesh in Jesus Christ…what misconceptions…what falsehoods that we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking give us the edge, will be brought to light for us to see?

Will it be the distinction of our American freedom?  Will it be our upper European Lutheran heritage that we celebrate today on Reformation Sunday…that idea that we’ve got all this theology and tradition figured out and everyone else has it wrong? Will it be our insistance that we don’t actually need God and that we alone are in control?

What is it that is revealed with THE LIGHT shines in our darkness? (pause) I can only think that when we face whatever truth shocks our fragile illusions, we will be left as bare as those individuals who couldn’t get past their cultural identity.  And when we come face to face with a truth that shocks us beyond measure…our only hope is to cling to the words of Christ…to remain there…to abide there in the midst of the promises that he has made…and here’s the thing…he promises us that if the Son makes you free…you are free indeed…and that because of what God has done through the death and resurrection of Christ…because of the proclamation that He has claimed you as his beloved child…the promise is yours that you will abide in his house forever.  (pause)
Here in the Lutheran church…we’ve spent a lot of time looking backwards at the last 500 years…clinging to our culture and tradition…and this is not a bad thing…but we must learn the same lesson that Jesus revealed to the Jews who were stuck in the same state…that now things have changed, and let us seek out how to live into the unknown future as we cling to the hope of God’s promises for each of us…let us remember the importance of what God has said about us…as we move into the next 500. And not just that but as we move past the last 2000 years, and not only that but as we move past all the years that have come and gone since time began and remember that God’s promise is to love us and claim us today and tomorrow and forever. And that this is true for us despite the brokenness that we all feel, shocking though it might be…let us abide in that. Amen

Grace Isn’t Fair 9-24-17

grapes

In this sermon, based on Matthew 20:1-16, I explore the parable of the generous landowner. God’s grace and mercy isn’t really fair…but that’s actually a good thing.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/grace-isnt-fair-9-24-17

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

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

When I was really young, like “too young to go to school yet” young…we had some neighbors that lived on a farm pretty close to my parents farm…and they had a couple of daughters…one of which was about my age…in terms of a class in school, I was one of the really young ones, and she was one of the really old ones…so even though, by my understanding, we were the same age, we really weren’t.

But regardless…we grew up together…often playing together while our parents socialized…and so, when we started kindergarten, all I knew was “she’s my friend.” A little bit of time went by, I can’t really tell you how much…but it wasn’t long before my friend, who could already read, was jumping up to work with the 1st grade class in reading…and then pretty soon, since she was technically old enough, she was jumping up to 1st grade.

Now of course they didn’t explain everything that was going on to the rest of us in the class…and even if they did we probably wouldn’t have really understood what was happening anyway…but all I knew was that if my friend was going up to 1st grade…then I should be able to do it too…and when I said something to my parents and they told me no…I reacted exactly how you would expect a 5-year old to react. “THAT’S NOT FAIR!” (pause) I think its safe to say that this was my first lesson…the first of many lessons that I am still trying to learn…that life…and many of the different aspects of life…just isn’t fair.

This brings us to the gospel for today…a parable in which Jesus is attempting to reveal yet another truth about the kingdom of heaven…and interestingly enough, Jesus is sharing this parable as a response to a question posed by Peter…a question that seems to be aimed the issue of fairness.  You see, Jesus has been talking about entering the kingdom of heaven and just how hard it is and Peter pipes up “Hey Jesus, we’ve left everything to follow you. What then will we have?” (Pause) Peter might as well be asking “hey, look at how much we’ve given…so we do we get out of it?” And with this, Jesus rockets into a story.

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who defies all logic…over and over again. He goes to hire workers…which the landowner would never by the way…he’s got people for that…but regardless…he rolls himself out early enough to be out in the marketplace at 6am…and he grabs a batch of people…promises them the normal daily wage if they go work for him…and sends them off to work.

So far, the only odd thing is that he went on his own…but then a few hours pass…and for whatever reason…he ventures out again…and low and behold…there’s some more people standing around doing nothing…Yo! Head off into my vineyard…I’ll give you what’s right…interesting.

He wanders out again at noon…and then again at 3…seriously, doesn’t this guy have anything better to do than wander around the unemployment line? Regardless, when he finds more idle workers, he sends them off too. (pause) And then…defying any and all logic, he heads out again at 5…seriously, there’s only an hour before the closing whistle blows…and yet, here’s more people…and when he asks them why they’ve been standing around all day, they respond “because no one has hired us.”

This makes no sense at all…but with no mention of compensation…not to mention zero thought as to if he needs any more workers or not, which he wouldn’t have by the way…the landowner sends these guys off to work as well. (pause) Now, you’d think that this would be the end of it…but we’re just getting started aren’t we?

Because when quitting time roles around…we see that it’s time for paychecks…and for whatever reason the landowner has…he tells the foreman to pay the guys he hired at the end of the day first…pay them in reverse order…this makes no sense at all…none…seriously why would the landowner want to show off like this? You’d think, knowing what he was about to do…that if he ever wanted the credibility to hire workers again in the future, he’d have done things in order that they were hired…but that’s not what he does.

And as we see…the people who had only toiled for an hour get a full day’s wage…and everybody else start getting excited…especially the group that have been working since 6am. “Look how much he gave for an hour…imagine how much more he’s gonna give us.”  But then they reach the front of the line…and the foreman drops a denarius in their hands…precisely what they had been promised. (pause)

They might as well be a batch of 5 year old kindergarteners who’s friend got jumped up to 1st grade. THAT’S…NOT…FAIR! (pause) Look at how much we have done…look how long we have been here…look how hard we have worked and how much we have endured…and you have made them equal to us…you have given them the same as us…They don’t deserve it…That’s not fair. (pause)

That sound familiar? I’m guessing it does…I think its likely that we all see evidence of life not being fair with quite a bit of regularity don’t we? Younger siblings crying out “that’s not fair” when the older one is given more privileges. Someone on the job who does their work and keeps their head down, only to see co-workers constantly slack off without issue, and muttering under their breath “That’s not fair.” Watching the news and seeing some big-shot business person accused of corruption and getting off with a slap on the wrist, instead of facing the consequences like anyone that can’t afford a bunch of big-shot lawyers and we think “that’s not fair.”

Each and every day it seems like we see something, or hear something, or experience something that continues to pile on the evidence of this truth… “its not fair.”

But what makes this really eye opening, especially coming back around to the parable…is when we remember that Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven…and he’s talking about wages, or rewards, or compensation…and we start to wonder just what’s that all about…and perhaps we begin to consider the possibility that the daily wage that the workers all receive, regardless of how many hours they put in…was entrance into the kingdom of heaven…or salvation…or eternal life…whatever we want to call it…but all of it, or any of it contingent on the grace of God being shown in our direction…on God’s mercy being shown our way.

This seems to be the thing that the workers are taking issue with. “We’ve done it all…we’ve been around long enough…we deserve it…they don’t.”  Or maybe just maybe that if they’re going to receive this much…we should get a whole lot more. I don’t know what to call this…greed…pride…something else? Whatever the cause…the generosity of the landowner draws the anger of those who have also benefited from it.

Now part of me starts to think that this is something that we can understand…and if we’re talking about grace and mercy of God…well then that also makes sense in Jesus time…but you know what…it goes back way farther than that…this anger at God’s mercy.

Take into account the story of Jonah that we heard today. Now, Jonah’s best known for getting swallowed by a whale only to get barfed back up on land 3 days later after he learns his lesson. But the big story of Jonah is important. God had given him a task to go to Nineveh and proclaim their need to repent and turn towards God. But this is the last thing Jonah wants to do.

Now Jonah was around about 700 years before Jesus…shortly after the northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by the superpower of the day known as the Assyrians…anyone want to guess where the capital of Assyria was? (pause) PSST…IT WAS NINEVAH!

Jonah has been sent to proclaim the need to repent to the very heart of the people that had conquered his people…and Jonah knows that if they repent, God will show them mercy. (pause) Now do you think Jonah considered the Ninevites…the Assyrians…the enemies of “God’s chosen people,” do you think he considered them worthy of God’s mercy? I’m guessing no…and low and behold when he finally does get there and start preaching, and his sermon is really lousy by the way…seriously, you should read it, the whole book is only a few chapters long…but wouldn’t you know it…they repent…and God’s shows mercy…and Jonah loses his mind over it…and then God corrects him. Should I not be concerned about this great city with more than 120,000 people in it…people who do not know their right from their left?”

Jonah gets ticked off when God shows mercy to those that he thinks are unworthy…The laborers who spent the full day in the vineyard get ticked off when those who have done less receive the same thing they do…and maybe, just maybe we get all up in arms when God’s mercy and grace is shown to the people that we think are undeserving. We do don’t we…its offensive that God’s grace is given to them. (pause)

But here’s the thing about God…here’s the thing that’s revealed by the actions and the worlds of the landowner in the parable…when he hears the grumbling he pulls one of them aside…doesn’t matter which one…it could be any of them…it could be any of us…and the master says “Friend…I do you no harm. Are you jealous because I am generous?”

The grace of God isn’t fair…which is probably a good thing because if it was fair and we got what we earned…then none of us would receive it would we? Grace is free or its not grace and whether we like or not, we benefit from it because God freely gives it to those that he loves…those that he takes delight in…those who God has made in his image…and if I’m not mistaken that includes all of humanity…whether we think they deserve it or not. God will show grace on whoever God choses…and we can either get offended by it, or we can recognize it as cause for celebration…that another person has been touched by the joy of belonging…the joy of knowing they have been claimed by the one who made them.

The amazing thing about the Grace of God is that there’s no limit…Its not like God’s grace is a pie…and if someone else gets a piece there’s less available for us. This is why the master says “I have done you no harm” when he generously offers others the same as he has offered you.

Grace isn’t fair…its not supposed to be. That’s what makes it grace. Amen.

 

Its A Mystery 1-29-17

In this sermon, taken from the Old Testament book of Micah, chapter 6:1-8, I explore the reminder that God asks of us to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humble with our God.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-a-mystery-1-29-17

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

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

Many of you know that I’m a pretty big fan of the fine arts…and that I was pretty active in a wide variety of the arts in my younger years. Band, Choir, Drama…and one of my favorites…speech.  I tried a lot of different styles, both large group and individual…but one of my favorites, one that I ended up doing all 4 years of high school was choral reading…about 15 of us…a scripted deal…on some sort of central theme…many voice all chiming in.

Now my freshman year, the very first time I participated…our message was called the Battle of the Sexes…and a pretty big part of it was aimed at how men and women just don’t understand each other very well…and there’s one part that I still chuckle at all these years later.  At one point…one of the girls says “I can’t handle this right now, I need to go to the bathroom.” And on cue…the rest of the girls all chime in “Me Too.” And they all shift off to the side together.  The guys stare at them as they leave…and then we hear one of the guys ask “Why do they always go in groups?” And then we hear… “It’s a mystery that will baffle men forever.” (Pause)

Now, while the mystery of group oriented bathroom visits isn’t overly earth-shattering in its importance…the fact of the matter is that there are certain things in life that we can’t explain…certain mysteries about the world around us…or the life that we live that are just that…mysteries. And yet our natural curiosity makes us wonder about them…we seek answers.

Now this in itself isn’t a bad thing at all. Human curiosity has led to countless advances and discoveries throughout our history. But at the same time, there are questions that don’t have good answers…mysteries that remain, well, mysterious for lack of a better word…and often times, throughout human history…religion has become the basis on which we try to arrive at understanding.

Now, one of the main mysteries that pretty much every religion attempts to answer is “where did all this come from?” And as we think along this lines it leads to the next question… “And who made it?” Now different faiths will answer this question in different ways, but when we are called upon to answer this question, we answer that God made it…we don’t know exactly how…but we trust that God, who is an entity or a power…or something much greater than we are…somehow, some way, pieced all of this together. (Pause)
Now with this in mind…as we consider that there is a power out there that is greater than we are…a power that’s capable of making everything including me, and that probably means that this power is also capable of UNMAKING me…then perhaps the biggest question of them all is “How do I keep them happy?” (pause)

What do you think? Is that a fair question? One that we still wrestle with today in the midst of our day to day lives? How do we keep God happy? How much is enough…is my offering enough…have I given enough of my time and talents at the local congregation? Have I crossed every t and dotted every i? (pause)

I can’t speak for you…but I know that I wrestle with that question on a pretty regular basis…and I can only assume that this doubt…this question…this fear…is a pretty normal human response…and as I think that…it gives me the tiniest bit of relief to know that this is not a new question…but it goes back a LONG way. (pause)

A brief history lesson…we find ourselves in the year 2017…Christianity…or followers of Christ…or even followers of “the way” as they were first called date all the way back to the period right after the death and resurrection of Jesus…right about the year 30…so about 2000 years, give or take…now this movement was an offshoot of the Jewish culture and religion…which itself dates all the way back to this random dude in the book of Genesis names Abraham who heard the voice of God and said “Okay…that all sounds good.” And that all happened, roughly 2000 years before Jesus was walking around…

Now, as this whole Jewish movement was growing…alongside their culture…things were getting a little hairy…and just like we have posed the question today…they asked the same thing…and so God gave them a little roadmap to help guide the path…this list carved out on some stone tablets called the 10 Commandments…and God told the people this is how you act…do this, and you’ll be honoring me and you’ll be living well together….and that worked out great…for about 5 minutes. (pause)
And this was a pattern that seems to exist all the way through the narrative of our scriptures. God delivers people out of some sort of oppression…and they’re grateful for a time…but then things go to pot as our human nature has the apparent need to screw up and turn away…and then after a while the people remember God and cry out again, and the process repeats itself.

That’s the history of the old testament…it starts off clear back at the beginning…before we had records or dates or anything of that nature…and eventually…God speaks through this low key prophet named Micah…just a normal guy going about his business about 700 years before Jesus would come on the scene…And God has a message for his people. It would seem that its time for a bit of a showdown.

But rather than being angry with the people…God poses a question. What have I done to you? Have I wearied you with displays of salvation and deliverance?  (pause) Time after time, God has shown mercy to his people…it almost seems like God is asking the people “What’s it going to take to get through to you?” (pause)
But here’s where things get kind of interesting…because in the midst of this back and forth between God and the people…it seems that the people finally express their confusion. “With what shall I come before the Lord?”

Keep in mind…that their customs of ritual sacrifice have been long established by the time of Micah…its all been dictated…but yet, no matter how often they attempt to atone for sinful behavior…it never feels like enough. And so…who ever it is that’s offering up the human voice…at least its honest.

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH GOD?   Is it enough if I offer and entire calf?  Well what if I bring 1000 rams…or 10000 vats of oil…not enough to atone for my shortcomings? Okay…I’ll offer my firstborn kid? What’s it gonna take Lord? When is it enough to for me to know that I’m justified? (long pause)
I think we can relate to this question…to this frustration. We live in a world today where enough is never enough…and no matter how hard we try in the midst of this dog eat dog world…this rat race that we love to run so hard…no matter how hard we try…its never enough…and we give and we give and we give…or on the flipside we buy into the world’s hype and we take and take and take…and I find myself wondering…how’s that working for us? (pause)

And in the midst of thinking about that…I find myself wondering if God looked at all the sacrifices that had been offered up…all the things that people tried to use in order to be justified…or to atone for their shortcomings…and God sorta sees all that stuff like a white elephant gift….Like, Oh that’s nice but what am I going to do with it? (pause)
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this honest look at the human condition…the honest question of how much do I need to give to be okay in your site Lord?  (pause)
But the truly amazing thing that we see today…is that God speaks through the prophet…and offers back a pretty eye opening answer…eye opening because of its simplicity. What is the Lord seeking from you?  That you do justice…love kindness…and walk humbly with your God. (pause) Now just what all that looks like…well we could debate that at length…but it seems to me that God is looking for us to look out for one another…and to treat one another like fellow people, worthy of love and respect…and then to recognize as we walk through this crazy thing called life that God is God and I am not. (pause) I am not God because I am human…and as such I fall short…I am broken and flawed…and I have thoughts that go through my head that aren’t overly loving…and I’m selfish…because when it gets right down to it…I break the 1st commandment…all…the…time…because my selfish sinful nature will place me on the pedestal with shocking regularity.  The 1st commandment is You shall have no other God’s before me…but when I look in the mirror, all too often I’m trying to place the face looking back at me in God’s place. (pause)

We can’t do it can we? And when we are honest with ourselves…when we humble ourselves before the one who made us. We recognize the truth about ourselves…and in doing so we realize just how futile of an effort it is for us to try and offer enough…or do enough…or say enough or think enough to justify ourselves. No matter how hard we try…we will let ourselves down…and we will let others down…its unavoidable.

But the wonderful thing about all this…is that God already knows that…and God has already done something about it. I heard a statement this week that I really like…Everyone else will let you down…but Jesus will never let you go. (pause)
Jesus…who is God in the flesh has done something that no burnt offering…no giant check written out to the local charity will ever do…Jesus has overcome the power of sin that we are powerless against…and Jesus has done this in order to prove to you that God loves you.

Now this raises a question…of just why does God love us so much? Well I can’t answer the question of why…but I do believe that its true…because God has claimed us…and we can see this in God’s actions of salvation and mercy throughout our history. We see it on full display in the cross of Christ…we saw it as God delivered his chosen people from slavery in Egypt…and interestingly enough, we can even see it both in today’s lesson, as well as in those 10 Commandments that I keep mentioning.

Walk humbly before the Lord YOUR God. That’s what Micah tells us…and clear back at the beginning of the 10 Commandments, before we get a list of what to do and what not do…we are given a reminder of WHOSE we are. I am the Lord your God. (pause) This is not a statement of humanity claiming God…but rather God claiming us…and that’s the key to the gospel right there…this is the key to every question that we ever ask of “how much is enough?” or “what does it take?”  Because salvation and mercy is not ever something we can obtain…and its about what God claims about us.

We are claimed as God’s people…because God has said so…simply because of his great unending love for each of us…so how might we live our lives today in this mind blowing promise? Well…I guess we need to do justice, love kindness…and walk humbly with our God. Amen.

 

Normal is Out the Window 4-10-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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