Posts Tagged ‘Hardships’

Remember Whose We Are 6-25-17

This sermon is based on Matthew 10:24-39. Jesus offers the disciples a very candid view of the opposition that they will face in the world, something that applies to us as well.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/remember-whose-we-are-6-25-17

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

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

I’ve been in Underwood 4 years now…this is my 4th full summer here…and I’ve noticed a trend, a rather unfortunately trend for me.  Somehow, I’ve managed to hurt myself through my own unbridled stupidity every…single…summer.

2014, I’ve been here almost a year…and we had our first block party…and I was in the midst of a game of basketball out in the street…while wearing sandals…and I landed wrong. Many of you were here that day when my ankle decided to roll over on itself…and you likely remember the way that I hobbled around following that injury.

2015, late April…a gorgeous morning and I decide I’ll go out for my first outdoor run of the season…and after just a few minutes…somehow, someway I manage to put my left foot through the loop of the shoelace on my root foot…and I faceplant…hard. My wrist takes the brunt of the force, thankfully saving my face…but I tweaked my wrist pretty badly…and broke the screen on my cell phone in the process.

2016…late May. My daughter is trying to figure out how to ride a bike…and after several laps of running beside her up and down our street during my lunch break, I say “Let’s go one more time.” And this time I want to teach her how to use the brakes…which she wasn’t read for yet…and as I keep telling her to stop, we get tangled up together and wipe out…resulting in my bad ankle blowing itself out yet again…and for the next month I was hobbling around again.

2017…last Thursday evening…we’re on a bike ride…and as we cruise along, I get careless and cocky…and I let go of the handlebars…and a moment later, I was on the pavement…once more I took the brunt of the fall on my hands…and so my wrists and one shoulder are still feeling pretty sore…and I scrapped the dickens out of my shin and ankle and sliced open 2 toes…because I was dumb enough to be wearing sandals. (pause)

I swear…it’s a trend…and its getting to the point where I can just about plan on the fact that somehow, right about this time of year…physical activity combined with my own stupidity, which I can only call evidence of my own brokenness…together this is going to result in injury and hardship on my behalf. (pause)

Now keep that in mind…and let’s jump into the gospel. We find ourselves with a continuation of the gospel from last week. If you were here, we heard how Jesus recognizes the need to expand the ministry that he’s been up to…the proclamation that the kingdom has come near to us…the healing of diseases…the casting out of demons…even the raising of the dead…all of this amazing stuff that he’s been up to, and Jesus sees the need to spread out the work so that it will begin to reach more people.

And so he calls his 12 disciples…these guys who have been following him around…learning from him…watching him in action…you could say that he was in the process of mentoring them…and as he calls them, he empowers them to go out into the world and do the exact same work that he’s been doing…his followers are called by name and empowered to be Christ in the world…something that extends out to us as well, as we too, profess to be followers of Christ, called by God in the waters of our baptism…joined together as the body of Christ here on earth.

Well that was last week…but as the story continues…as we continue to move through this portion of Matthew’s gospel…we hear Jesus offering some pretty startling…pretty eye opening…pretty darn depressing views into just what discipleship of Jesus…views into what being a follower of Christ, really means.

We hear all kinds of stuff through this back half of chapter 10. If they insult the master, calling him a demon, what will they do to his followers? There will be condemnation…some will be killed…we hear that they’ll be dragged in front of kings and officials…we hear that there will be division and scoffing…households turning against one another…we hear the need to pick up the cross, like those condemned by the powers of the world…we hear all things and more…and let’s be honest…Jesus isn’t painting a real pretty picture of discipleship is he?

But maybe that’s exactly what we should expect to see when we take on this mantle of Christian…Christ follower…disciple of Jesus. Isn’t that what he faced? Surely, if we are reading the gospels, and particularly the gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus always at odds with the powers that be…he butts up against he religious elite…he butts up against the government…and in the end…these powers of the world…these forces that seem so hell-bent on silencing this invitation into a new way of living…that they trump up charges of insurrection and nail him to a cross.  (pause)
And if Jesus’ words to his followers, both the 12 disciples sitting there that day as well as everyone else who has come along behind in the 2000 years since then…if his words tell us anything, its that we can expect…we can pretty much plan on having the exact same experience that he did…for the servant is not above the master…the student not above the teacher.

Now there are times when I sit and I wonder why this is? Why would the world and those in it have such a reaction against what we have come to understand as good news? The gospel offers freedom and healing…it offers acceptance and love…it offers a new way to simply be in this world that we know…but make no mistake…the powers that benefit in this world…those dark powers that find strength in the exploitation of the weak…that wield their authority over the lowly and the marginalized…over those who are pushed to the edges and are treated like they are less than human….those powers will do WHATEVER they can to push back, or better yet silence that voice that says “there’s a better way…there’s an easier way…a way of acceptance…a way where everyone has a spot at the table…a way where everyone is equal, not only in the eyes of one another, but in the eyes of the one that made them in the first place.”

But to recognize this way…and live within that reality of true freedom, it comes at a cost…and that cost is the power and authority that our broken world has given to the mighty…but if the good news of Jesus Christ tells us anything…its that those that derive their power out of brokenness are destined to crash and burn.

We’ve seen it through history…as empire and after empire has risen and fallen…only to be replaced by something different…by the new superpower…but one by one…they all…fall. (pause) But amazingly, through our history, both that of the Jewish people in the Old Testament, and the early church in the New Testament, and all the way through our own history up till now, we continue to hear the promise that we have a God who is for the lowly…we have a God who stands with those who suffer under oppression…we have a God who sees us, even with our own brokenness…and this God continues to invite all of us…all of humanity…forward into something new.

And so it should come as no great shock, when this earth shattering good news…when this new way of seeing the world and everything in it, continues to stand up against the dark forces still at work in this world. Jesus experienced it…his disciples experienced it…and in our own lives, we experience it in one way or another.

But there is good news here…even in the midst of this stark reality that Jesus reveals today…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny, yet not one falls to the ground without the Father seeing…and you, you are worth many sparrows. (pause)
Our God sees you…right here, right now…in the midst of whatever brokenness you embody. He sees YOU…and God loves you…and God calls you good…and God claims you as his own….for you…are…of… worth.

Truly discipleship…following Christ…comes with cost. There can be no doubt of that…and truly there are still some on the world that know that far better than we do. Yes we experience hardships in this life, but there are many in the world, even today who face many of the exact same hardships that Jesus has described…even to the point of condemnation and death…and yet, the brokenness of the world and the brokenness that lies within each of us, is a reality…and we see that in the ways that we hurt one another…in the ways that we hurt ourselves…and in the ways that we ourselves are hurt. Because the work that Jesus has invited us into…this work of subduing the world…the work of being the light that shines in the darkness, it is not done yet.

And so in the midst of this life, as we experience all that life has to offer, the good and the bad…the blessed and the broken, may we remember WHOSE we are…and like Jasen in just a few moments, as we are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we are claimed as Beloved Children of God…and that is an identity, that is a truth that NOTHING can overcome…for I am convinced that NOTHING in all creation can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus….nothing…not hardship…not insult…not division…not even death. So remember when struggles come your way, and they will…remember WHOSE…you are. Amen.

Death Stinks 4-2-17

In this sermon, based on John 11:1-45, I explore the raising of Lazarus, as well as the long story leading up to it. Death, like many of life’s other hardships, leave us asking the question “Where are you on this one?”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/death-stinks-4-2-17

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

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

There’s a story about a young couple, maybe you’ve heard it before…but the story goes that this young man and woman get married, and on their first day together after they get home from the honeymoon, the new bride decides that she’s going to cook a big fancy meal for her new husband. So she goes out to the store and buys all the fixings…including a great big, tasty ham for the main dish.

Now he’s home when she’s cooking…and as she’s getting ready to put the ham in the roaster pan…he watches his new bride pull out a knife, and slice the end off the ham, before putting in the oven.  Now he’s curious…why would she do that…and so he asks the obvious question. Honey…why did you cut the end off the ham?  She looks at him for a moment, clearly thinking about it…and she responds…well…because that’s what my mom always did before she cooked a ham…I guess I don’t really know why. That’s just what my mom taught me.

So now both of them are a little curious…and so the young woman pulls out her cell phone, puts it on speaker and calls her mom.  Mom…when I was growing up, whenever you were cooking a ham, I remember that you always cut the end off…how come?  Mom thinks about it for a moment and replies…Well…because that’s what I always saw my mom do? I guess I really don’t know why? That’s just what my mom taught me. (pause)
You see where this is going. Now the young bride dials up Grandma…and poses the same question. Why do you cut the end off a ham before you cook it?  And Grandma laughs…well dear…when I was first married to your grandpa…we had a tiny little oven…so small, that I couldn’t fit an entire ham in it…and I got in the habit of cutting the end off so it would fit…and now that I think about it…I never stopped, even when I got a bigger oven. (pause)

Sometimes the things that just seem normal, have a very different, often unexpected reason why they start in the first place. We have many different examples in our day to day lives…things that we do, because that’s just what you do…but they have their roots in something specific.

And one of these things happens around the subject of funerals.  Now the first funeral I remember going to was my great grandmother when I was about 8 years old…and I don’t remember much of anything about that day…except the flowers. The front of the church was blanketed in flowers…and with good reason.  Because when someone dies, what do we do? A batch of us get together and place an order to have flowers sent…its just what you do…and I know that, because that’s what my mom taught me.

But have you ever stopped to consider the reason why? Why do we send flowers? Why is the automatic association with someone’s death, flowers? There’s a reason…but it goes back aways…back before the days of funeral homes…and mortuaries. Back when most people didn’t die in a hospital…they died at home…they’d get sick…they’d be cared for in their final days at home in their bed…and then when they died…the body would stay right there…and when loved ones came for the visitation, they would find the bedroom draped in fresh flowers. Because fresh flowers give off a pleasant smell…and that smell was intended to cover up the smell of death.

Now in the years since, we’ve outsourced funeral prep…and that’s not a bad thing…but in the process, the flowers have just become the go-to sympathy gift…and the masking of death has gone the route of science. We prepare bodies for the funeral in an attempt to hold off decomposition…and we dress up the body, with nice clothes and makeup…trying to make the individual look life-like, and pleasant, and nice…but make no mistake. Death isn’t nice.  Death has an effect…and death has a smell.

Now many of here today are familiar with farm life. And one of things that I can remember most vividly, having grown up around livestock, as the rendering truck when an animal died. That smell is locked in my brain…you can’t put it in words…but its awful…and that smell sticks with you. Last summer, we were sitting at a baseball game for my son…and this particular field was right next to a gravel road…and as we sat there, 3 or 4 different times the rendering truck drove by…and for about 5 minutes…all you can smell is…death.

Now imagine for a moment…that you are Mary and Martha…and your brother has died…and not only that, he’s been in the tomb 4 days…not just dead, but buried…enclosed…rotting…and then Jesus shows up, and he asks you to open the tomb. (pause) That’s exactly what happens today, but interestingly enough not till quite late in this rather lengthy story.

We hear that Lazarus is sick…this man, who along with his two sisters are beloved friends of Jesus. And this is a sickness that isn’t going to get any better so they send word to Jesus…because if anyone can help him…if anyone can make a difference…its Jesus…he’s opened the eyes of a blind man after all…certainly, he can heal Lazarus…

But when Jesus hears the news…he promptly sits around for 2 more days before finally working up the gumption to head towards Bethany…and by the time he meanders there…as we have heard…Lazarus is already rotting away in the tomb.

Needless to say, the sisters…well they’re a little perturbed aren’t they…and apparently they are close enough to Jesus…that they can get away with ripping into him a little bit…and we hear the exact same accusation from both them at different times. If you had been here…my brother wouldn’t have died.

Now I can’t help but think that this is a pretty common reaction…when something bad happens…when something occurs in our lives that we can’t make heads or tails of…and we happen to be in the group of people that express belief in God…I think its safe to say that at one time or another…we have probably all uttered a statement like that haven’t we…or maybe asked the question…Hey God…where were on that one?

I think there are many different examples of things that happen in our lives that bring that question to our minds. Its not just limited to a illness and death…maybe we ask it when our family faces a financial crisis…or when we lose a job.  Maybe we’ve prayed that our marriage will work out…but instead it deteriorates and we find ourselves getting divorced.

Or maybe we are facing the trials of bullying with no end in sight…or maybe we’re being abused…or maybe we’re facing the difficulties of mental illness…there are countless ways that people suffer…and as we look around this room today…who knows what someone is experiencing in the depths of their heart…who knows what hardships are present…hardships that make us ask the question “Where are you on this one God?”

But if the story of Lazarus shows us anything today, its this.  While God might not act according our timing…and while God might not respond to our prayers or requests or questions quite like we hope for…God isn’t afraid to get into stuff that’s messy.

Take the stone away…Lord he’s gonna smell. I don’t care…take it away. (pause) A lot has happened in this story before Jesus cries out in a great big voice…a voice that’s somehow big enough that not even death can hinder it.  Jesus has been accused of not caring.  He’s been blamed for coming too late…but he’s also witnessed death of someone that he loves…and he’s gotten mad…and he’s mourned…but now…finally we see that somehow, someway…Jesus, God in the flesh…cries out in the same voice that spoke creation into existence in the beginning…and in this same amazing voice…he speaks to the dead…and the dead listens. (pause)

That’s the amazing thing about this God that we serve…this God that we worship…this God that we look to for salvation…This God, is willing to get messy…this God is willing to step into those things that make no sense…those things that bring us pain…even death. God gets into it…and not only that, but God get’s his hands dirty in the process…because life’s messy and so is death…its messy because of the way that power of sin has twisted our reality away from that which is good and joyful…but we have a God who loves us so much…who loves us beyond anything we can imagine…this God will go to any length in order to overcome that brokenness.

And that is what the cross is all about…We are almost there…next week Jesus gets to Jerusalem…and just a few days later, he’s betrayed…he’s beaten…he tortured…and he’s nailed to a cross where he suffers and dies. (pause) But the cross is not about God saying I’m so angry with you that I’ll punish my son. (pause) The cross is God saying I’ll endure even this to show you that I love you. (pause)

I am the resurrection and the life. These words of Jesus are a corrective today…both for Martha and for us…because there is this misconception that the life death and resurrection of Jesus is only something that’s intended to benefit us out there in the unknown future.  But Jesus reminds us that we live in the hope of the resurrection…and through that hope we live in the freedom from all that which hinders us…right here right now…and if we don’t believe that…then look at the tomb…because Jesus get in the stink…and cries out in that amazing voice that not even death can stop and says Lazarus come out.  (pause)
And this same God calls us by name…inviting us into a new life…a life free from the things that hinder us…a life where we are not defined by what the world says about us.

And so, wherever you find yourself today…whatever it is in your life that isolates you…whatever suffering makes you ask the question Where are you on this one God…rest assured…that whether we are able to recognize it or not…God…is right beside you…whether it makes sense or not…and as I say this, I pose the same question that Jesus asked Martha…Do you believe this?

I hope so…because believing it grants a freedom that goes beyond words…a freedom that goes beyond the ability to explain…but I believe that its true…I don’t know why…its just what faith has taught me. Amen