Posts Tagged ‘hate’

Its Not Up To Us 3-29-19 Maundy Thursday

In this Maundy Thursday Sermon, I explore the Last Supper found in John 13. Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, knowing what’s coming, as an example of the way that we are called to love one another.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-not-up-to-us-3-29-18

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

It never ceases to amaze me to consider the utterly outlandish stories that I come across as I read through the Old Testament narrative. There’s one in the book of Numbers that’s a great example. At this point in the Israelite history, the people have been wandering in the desert for quite a while. They’re of course, very numerous…and they’re actually approaching the borders of the Promised Land.

And as they’re traveling around, there’s this gentile king named Balak who’s getting a little freaked out…he’s seen their numbers…he’s heard reports of battles that they’ve fought with other forces…and he’s concerned.  So King Balak get’s this awesome idea to call in a prophet…a holy man…to call down a curse upon the Israelites…and this prophet’s name is Balaam.

Now maybe you recognize the name of Balaam…and maybe you know his story…at first he resists the messengers that King Balak has sent his way…figuring that if these are God’s chosen people, he better not try to curse them, even if King Balak offers him great riches…which he does…but then God tells Balaam go ahead and go…and so he saddles up his donkey and off he goes…but then an angel of the Lord shows up in the road…which only the donkey can see.

Now the donkey isn’t going anywhere near that angel…and just stops in the road…and Balaam gets so ticked off at this stubborn animal that he gets off and starts beating it…until God opens the mouth of the donkey who pretty much says “DUDE!!! Why are you beating me? There’s an angel there.” Now talking donkeys are awesome…but what is really important about the story of Balaam is the way he views God’s chosen people.  3 times, in 3 different places King Balak calls upon Balaam to curse the Israelites, but he won’t do it…because Balaam knows that God will bless whoever God choses…Its not up to us…and there’s not much that we can do about it. (pause)

Now with that in mind, let’s consider our gospel lesson for tonight…Maundy Thursday…the night of the Last Supper…the time when Jesus joins together with the 12 disciples for one last bit of fellowship…a time of teaching…a very intimate exchange between Jesus and these men that he has claimed…these followers that have been and will continue to be the closest recipients of his personal attention and his love.

We hear this from the get-go. Jesus loves his own…and he loves them till the end…regardless of what anyone else might think…regardless of how they might respond…regardless of everything…the love of Christ…the joy that he feels in the very presence of these people…this is the sense that takes shape here in the Last Supper.

After this time together…they will go out to the garden…Judas will bring along a great crowd…the disciples will flee…Peter will deny…and things only get darker from there. Tonight Jesus will be arrested…tomorrow he will be tortured and killed on the cross…and Jesus makes no secret of that. He’s told the disciples time after time what’s coming…and he even says it here with a term of beloved endearment. Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

And remember Jesus knows all this…he knows what’s coming…he knows what’s in the hearts of the men that are with him…he knows it all…and despite the utter betrayals that will come about on EVERYONE’S part…he still takes this time to literally show them what true love looks like.

During supper Jesus rises from the table, takes off his robe, wraps a towel around his waist…and then one by one, he stoops down to wash the feet of his disciples…some protest…Peter in particular…failing to understand just what it is that Jesus is really up to…but one after another, Jesus looks them in the face…knowing the failure that each will experience just minutes after this time together…and he still washes their feet.

Now you’ve maybe heard me talk about this before…that the job of washing the feet of a traveler would never fall to the master…either the individual would wash their own feet or the lowliest household slave would come along to do so.  This is a matter of hospitality…but no one would expect it go down like it did…and this is why we hear the confusion from Peter…the back and forth as he struggles to understand what’s really happening, just as I imagine the rest of the disciples were feeling as well…and then in the midst of it…in the middle of this odd back and forth which continues to reveal the perfect love of Christ in the face of Peter’s aversion to it…we hear the declaration that Jesus makes…you are clean. (pause)

Now as I think about water along with a statement about the individual on the part of Jesus…on the part of God, my mind goes to things sacramental…because of course this sounds like baptism.  Likewise, as we consider the Last Supper, perhaps we are reminded of Holy Communion…and rightly so…the other gospels tell us of Jesus’ first institution of the Holy Meal…one that we’ll share together in a few more minutes…a meal in which we are all reminded that this is for you for the forgiveness of sins…but not only that…we are also reminded that this meal is for all people.

This is the thing that seems so utterly significant tonight, as we enter once more into a mindset of remembering…of celebrating if we want to use that word…what Jesus endured…what God experienced in the event of Jesus’ life and death, which will lead to his resurrection in a few more days…the thing that is so significant, is that its not up to us.

Peter tries to control what Jesus will do, but Jesus shuts that down.  Judas has his part to play as well…and the rest of the disciples all have their failings. Likewise so do we…and yet, the promises of God, made real in Jesus Christ are still given to each and every one of us…simply because of God’s perfect love and delight found within each of us as individuals…each of us who were lovingly created bearing the divine image of God.

That’s something that we need to remember….that yes we are flawed and broken people…that’s a reality of humanity…but that’s not where our story begins.  If we go all the way back…Genesis chapter 1…we see that Humanity…each one of us was made by God from a place of delight…and God calls us good.  Brokenness doesn’t happen until chapter 3.

We don’t deny it…but we remember that the God who has chosen to redeem this world through Christ has done so because from the beginning of your existence…in the beginning of OUR…existence…we start from the place of goodness and the joy of our creator. (pause)

Now this perfect love…a love which admittedly, our brokenness hinders within each of us…this is the basis for the new commandment that Jesus leaves with his followers…to love one another. The Greeks call this agape love…perfect…sacrificial…all in love…and Jesus says that this is how the world will know that we are his followers, if we have love for one another. (pause)

But what does that look like? That’s a question that I often wrestle with…because it seems like we as a culture have gotten really good at the polar opposite. Many will argue that this is the single most divisive time in our history…and while that’s open to interpretation, I don’t think that any of us would argue that there is a sense of animosity…of division…of vitriol and anger…and dare I say, hate…that exists within the world…and all too often that’s the topic of conversation.

And rather than listening…we yell…we demonize…we throw the other side under the bus…and why? Because might makes right? Does it make us feel superior to have what we consider the better argument? Or have we just gotten really good at yelling louder than the other person?

Today…right now…it seems to be the 2nd Amendment and if its still relevant or outdated.  Or it’s the conservative right verses the liberal left. Or the president verses a porn star over who’s level of morality is better or worse. These are the big topics that everyone seems to be stuck on right now. And as we’ve all heard, maybe even participated in, its full of animosity.

And perhaps no where is this vitriol more present than right here in the church. And I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of being defined by who we hate. Jesus said love each other…so maybe just maybe its time that we as the body of Christ figure out how to start doing just that…instead of tossing logs around that look or sound a lot like judgement of who’s in and who’s out.

Let us remember that Jesus makes the declaration of who’s clean…Jesus makes the determination on who’s being blessed…not the other way around…and he is the one who reminds us that God loves the entire world and that God has sent the son into the world so that it might be saved through him. (pause)

So what does it mean? What does it look like to love one another? Maybe it starts from a place of respect and dignity for whoever it is that’s on the opposite side of the line from you…or maybe it starts from the realization that we’re all in this together, like it or not…and maybe we should act like it.

Maybe love looks like supporting a young man who’s bravely fighting cancer in our community.  Maybe it looks like crossing the street to say good morning to our neighbors. Sometimes it looks like just showing up when someone else is experiencing their own dark night of the soul…not with words of wisdom or the offer of a solution…but simply to bring your presence into their darkness so that they can see the truth that they are not alone.

We live in a world filled with darkness and brokenness and pain and suffering…that is our reality…but there’s a light that shines in the midst of it…a light that the world has tried REALLY hard to snuff out…in fact it tried so hard that it killed the source…but even death wasn’t strong enough to overcome it.

That light shines as a man named Jesus…And this same man, who looked his disciples in the eye, knowing that one by one they would somehow fail him, and he washed their feet…then he declared a blessing upon them…and he has declared the same blessing for you and for all people. Let us remember that in the end, this blessing is not up to us…for God will bless whoever God choses. Amen.

He Sees Me 3-19-17

This week’s sermon is based on John 4:3-42. Here Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well and they have a rather lengthy conversation. Her perception of Jesus changes, while his perception of her never wavers. He sees her from the get-go.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/he-sees-me-3-19-17

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

Most of you are probably aware that I fall under the category of second career pastor. I lived some life after college before I started seminary. Likewise, many of you know that when I started seminary, I was living up in the Okoboji area…juggling a full time job and my family…and I completed the first half of my seminary education through a distance program.  This first portion of my education took me about 2.5 years, and during that time I grew quite close with a group of fellow students that were all doing the same thing. Most of our work was done online, but a couple times a year we would gather on campus for intensive classes.  In the realm of seminary education, those people were my community.

But then, right about the halfway point, opportunity took my family to the Twin Cities, and I switched from the distance program to completing my work on-campus…and with this switch, I found myself outside of the community that I had developed. Most of the on-campus people had been in classes together, and so when I started off the spring semester that year, I felt amazingly isolated.

But it wasn’t long before one of the other guys recognized this sense of isolation that I was feeling…and he made a very solid effort to get to know me. He asked me a lot of questions. He was always intentional about asking me how my day was going when we’d bump into one another. In short…he made the effort, which meant a lot to me.

Now after that first semester, we all went off for our year of internship, but when we got back for our final year of on campus work, he picked right back up again…and pretty quickly invited me into a group of other guys…they became my community during that last year…3 or 4 of us…each of us unique in our own ways…each with a different approach towards ministry…but bonded together over one thing we all had in common…a love of having a couple beers on a Friday afternoon while playing random video games for a couple hours.

I’ve always appreciated this particular guy, not only because of his invitation into this community…but also because of our mutual respect for one another. Because while we had a lot in common, we had some very real differences as well…especially in terms of ministry. I’m very laid back in many ways, including worship…you’d call me very low-church as I don’t put a lot of stock into ritual and tradition…He’s on the opposite end of the spectrum…he loves all the pomp and circumstance of the traditional liturgy.  You’ll find him all decked out in the clergy gear…the collar, and the robe, and the decorative vestments. Me, I’d stand up here in a t-shirt and jeans if I thought I could really get away with it. (pause) Now those are just a couple differences…but they were never a problem…and I loved how our branch of the body of Christ…our denomination had room for both of us. And we were able to see past our differences to see one another as people of worth. (Pause)

Now I bring all this up, because the idea of being seen is on full display today. That was a long story…but a familiar one…as Jesus has an encounter that illustrates the truth of what he told Nicodemus a week ago…that God so loves…ALL…the world that he gave his only son.

Jesus goes hiking through Samaria…and long story short, Jews and Samaritans do not get along. Relations between the two ethnic groups are tense at best…and more often than not they just avoided each other. And yet, as Jesus is traveling back from Jerusalem in the south to Galilee in the north…he is compelled to go right straight through enemy territory…and now at noon…tuckered out from travel, Jesus has sacked out by a well in the heat of the day, while the disciples headed off to town to find lunch.

Now we could go back and forth about the intentionality of Jesus being here at this particular moment…but regardless of all that…he’s there, and the woman shows up with her bucket to grab some water. Jesus asks for a drink…and their dialogue is off and running.

Admittedly, I wish we knew a little bit more about this woman.  There’s been a lot of speculation about her over the years…most of it really bad assumptions…but all of them aimed at the question of just why she’s there alone in the midst of the day…the norm would have been to come with the other women of the nearby city when its cool, in either the morning or the evening…but never alone in the midst of the day…when we partner up this odd situation along with the realization that she’s had 5 husbands and is now living with someone who isn’t her husband…we have the tendency to think that she’s got a “past,” that she’s…sinful. But you know what we need to throw that out the window…because there’s no mention of sin or the need for repentance in this story. What’s likely going on is that the woman has been either widowed or abandoned 5 times over…which at the time…happened…they even had laws that dictated that it needed to happen in certain situations.  So whatever assumptions we want to make about her…we are probably wrong…but then we all know what happens when we assume don’t we?

All that being said…the woman arrives here…at noon…probably used to whatever stigma has been applied to her because the situation she finds herself in…and it seems that she’s accepted it…and as she walks up on this particular day…there just happens to be a man sitting there at the well…and all it takes is one look at his appearance to know…this is no local…he’s a Jew…so she thinks she’ll just ignore him. (pause)
I can’t help but think that the Samaritan woman…one who has been on the receiving end of assumptions of character…she seems to do the exact thing…and we see it in the way that she addresses Jesus once he asks for a drink.  How is that you…A JEW…asks me for a drink.

The way we address one another is telling isn’t it? The way we refer to one another…and the fascinating thing about this long back and forth encounter…is the way the woman addresses Jesus throughout the course of the narrative.

It starts off…Jew…he wants nothing to do with me and I want to do with him. But when Jesus does…well, whatever it is that Jesus seems to be so good at doing…and he engages with her in the way that only the Son of God seems to be able to do…that perception begins to change.  They start off talking about water…and being thirsty…and somehow that shifts over to something that Jesus calls living water, whatever that might be…and during this part of the conversation she calls him…sir a couple of times…no longer A JEW…but now, sir. (pause)
Now at this point, Jesus makes the random request for her to go get her husband, leading to the truthful revelation from Jesus that he knows her marital situation…in short that he knows her…and she realizes that God must be with this guy…he must be a prophet…and so, in order to impress the prophet, she starts dropping some religious knowledge as they banter about places of worship…and she starts talking about the Messiah…and what’s really interesting, is that she uses the Hebrew word. I’ll impress the prophet by speaking the old language…and its not until she finally goes into town, utterly changed by the encounter…when she’s breaking the cultural boundaries to do the inviting to everyone she encounters…that finally she calls him the Christ. (pause)

I don’t think any of us would argue that this was a long encounter…it was a long conversation with a lot of twist and turns…and amazingly, it took this long for her to begin to see Jesus for just who he really is. He went from a Jew to be ignored….to the Christ…God’s anointed one…and it didn’t happen because he shamed her in anything…it didn’t happen because the clouds opened up with heavenly proclamation.  It happened because they took the time for her to eyes to be opened to the truth about who he is….that this is God standing before her.

But on the flip side…this entire conversation happened because Jesus sees her from the get go. He doesn’t see Samaritan…he doesn’t see woman…he doesn’t see stigma…he sees someone of value…someone of worth…he sees an individual lovely made in the divine image of the Father…and she realizes this when he speaks the truth about her existence…not condemning her, simply SEEING…her.

Now you’ve often heard me speak of how God uses the unexpected person…and this woman is a perfect example…but her story lines up perfectly with the encounters that Jesus has with the first disciples.  Andrew asks where he’s staying…Jesus invites him to come and see…which Andrew does…and then he goes off to find Peter, inviting him to come and experience the Messiah for himself.

The woman does the very same…she spends time with this man…and gradually her eyes are opened to the truth of his identity…and she issues the very same invitation…come and see. This woman…who so many, including us, have labeled according to our assumptions about her…she’s an apostle…she is one sent by Christ with a message.

But perhaps most wonderful of all…whatever stigmas had blocked her from community prior to this encounter…we hear at the end of the story that those stigmas are gone and the gift that Christ has given her is relationship with her community.

Now I think that’s significant for us to recognize…that Christ makes it possible for broken people to look past the things that separate and to join together over what we have in common…we are all broken people…each one of us…and because of that brokenness we are really good about demonizing the same brokenness in others…we are really good at seeing only that which separates us…and hating each other because it…and that is a truth that has dominated our society, and even though I fully recognize my own part in that…I am sick of it….I’m sick of it in our regular day to day lives and I’m sick of it here in the church.

I’m tired of the church only being known for what we hate…when Christ has called to be his body here on earth…He has looked past our brokenness to see each of us…he sees me…he sees you…and he loves you…and that is what we need to focus on.

We come together today…and in just a few moments we will gather around this meal…broken people gathered around the table of Christ to hear a word of forgiveness…a word of love…a word of acceptance…and it is my hope that the church…Christ’s church…not just our congregation or our community or our denomination…but the entirety of CHRIST’S body will realize that there is room at that table for all us…and may we all be united in the knowledge that we are broken people…and yet because of what Christ has done…because God has come among us as one of us…we are no longer separate by that brokenness…we are no longer defined by it…because each and every one of us are a beloved child of God…each of us. Even those that look different, or think different, or talk different…everyone is made good, bearing the divine image of God, whether we want to believe it or not.

And so as we walk out of these doors today, having heard the proclamation that the body and blood of Christ has been broken and poured out not only for us as individuals but for all people…will we hold to the truth that we have a God who sees past all the junk that we get stuck on to see the person…and will we recognize that this table that we gather around is big enough for everyone? Because if we truly believe that, then maybe we’ll walk outside these 4 walls and invite those that we encounter to come and see that they have a place here as well…and if we can that, then maybe, just maybe all people will begin to see the truth, that when it comes to God…HE…SEES…ME. Amen.