Posts Tagged ‘Healing’

Lord Have Mercy 10-28-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:46-52, I explore the healing of Blind Bartimaeus. This is Jesus’ final ministry act prior to his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem which marks the final week of his life. Jesus asks the same question that he posed to his disciples in the previous story. What do you want me to do for you?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lord-have-mercy-10-28-18

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

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

I have to say that I am a huge fan of spellcheck…because my spelling is horrendous.  When I’m typing quickly, its super common for me to look up at the screen and see those little red squiggly lines under all kinds of words…because I often tend to spell something phonetically, even when that’s not correct.

This even catches us in today’s lesson…do you think I’m in anyway capable of spelling Bartimaeus correctly?  Its funny though…because the opposite side of things is also true at different times…because sometimes English is hard.  There are some words that I’ve discovered over the years, that trip me up.  Words that I might even use in regular conversation…but when I encounter them on the page…I don’t know what it is.

Now this has happened a lot…but two in particular come to mind.  I was way too old…probably about 7 or 8th grade…before I stopped pronouncing the written word chaos as “chose,” and I was also very sheepish when someone pointed out to me…in my 20’s…that the written word segue was not some random word “seg-you.”

Interestingly enough, we’ve even got one of these words that used to trip me up within our liturgy…most of you are familiar with our flow of worship…how we feature the Brief Order on page 56…but then, typically we move back out of the order of worship found in the hymnal…but the very next thing listed within the traditional liturgy is something called the Kyrie…a call and response, often chanted, portion that sounds like (sing) “In peace let us pray to the Lord…Lord have mercy.”

I grew up with this Liturgy…and the name…kyrie is printed right at the start of this portion…but for many years I looked at it and pronounced it “kie-ree.” And I’m embarrassed to announce that I didn’t learn the correct pronunciation until I was in Seminary.

Now, since we’re talking about this, maybe you’re wondering where the name Kyrie actually comes from…and its from the original language. We sing it in English…but the phrase Lord have mercy comes from the Greek Kyrie Elieson…Kyrie means Lord, and Elieson means have mercy.

Admittedly…this is some of the fancy seminary type stuff that they taught us in school…and I’ve shared before that I’m not overly fond of the big fancy terminology and 50-cent words…so this is one of those things that I learned…but then sorta just tucked in the back of my mind and forgot about.

But then this week I was working with the translation of the gospel text, as I usually do during my background sermon prep work…and I started focusing in on the word for mercy that we hear pop up a couple times…and in looking at that specific word…I realized, once again…my tendency to not connect the phonetics of how a word sounds with how a word looks on the page…until I’d been working with “elieson” for a few minutes…and in another instance of healing from Mark’s gospel…I found a time when Jesus talks about showing mercy…and sharing with others what the Lord has done…and with that, since I have the tendency to think out loud when I’m alone in the office, I said to myself “mercy from the Lord…Lord have mercy…like Kyrie Elieson.” And then the next thought that came spilling out was “duh Scott…you’re a pastor…you really should have known that.” (pause)

Now…all of these thoughts about my personal difficulties with the English language aside…this is an idea that we find within the gospel today…the healing of Blind Bartimaeus. An outcast…a beggar…cast aside to the fringe of society because of his disability…a man who must sit by the roadside…utterly dependent upon the pity of others to throw him a coin or two, in order to survive. But for whatever reason…call it luck or happenstance or serendipity…he happens to be along the way that Jesus is traveling in this last moment before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the final week of his life.

This story concludes the middle section of Mark’s gospel…one that we’ve been in for the past several weeks…a time of transition when Jesus has moved away from his early itinerant ministry around the region…and he’s moving towards the inevitable conclusion in Jerusalem that will culminate on the cross and in the tomb…this central part of the gospel features his teaching and miracles and encounters along the way.

Now interestingly enough…that whole section started off with the healing of another blind man…who the crowds bring to Jesus…and Jesus heals him as well…though that was a bit of an odd situation as Jesus seemingly has to try twice in order to get the healing done correctly…as the first attempt results in the man seeing people walking around looking like trees.

But before we get to the Bartimaeus here at the end of the section…several chapters go by that include events we continue to talk about, even as recently as a week ago…the predictions that Jesus makes about his betrayal and arrest…his torture and execution on the cross, but also the fact that on the third day he will be raised.

We’ve talked about these as we’ve encountered them…and the strange responses that the disciples have had each time Jesus makes the prediction…how their expectations are on display…or their bickering and jockeying for positions of authority and prestige, particularly with James and John a week ago.

Admittedly, I had that moment in mind as I approached this week’s gospel…because there’s a pretty stark overlap between the two stories.  In both stories…the interested party…James and John last week, and Bartimaeus this week…approach Jesus wanting something. And Jesus poses the exact same question both times, because it would seem that he wants them to admit just what it is they want.

What do you want me to do for you?  Now the brothers…they were looking for status…namely an increase for them at the expense of others…but Bartimaeus…well, as we hear from the get-go…he’s looking for something entirely different.

Jesus, Son of David…have mercy on me…and as the people in the crowd try to hush him up…making a quick judgement that he’s not worthy of Jesus’ time or attention…he cries out all the louder…JESUS SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME. (pause)

Mercy…He’s putting it right there on front street…and he’s appealing to one that he believes is able to offer it.  Now with this, Jesus turns his attention to the man…and despite the grumbling going on in the crowd around him…Jesus calls him…here’s another thing we hear multiple times…three times, the “call” of the Lord is offered to Bartimaeus…who jumps up and comes to him.
What do you want me to do for you? Teacher, let me see.  Your faith has made you well…and instantly his eyes are opened…and Bartimaes can see…he’s freed of the thing that has kept him pushed to the margins…the thing that has kept him hindered on the outside…and as we hear…this blind man, follows Jesus along the way.

That’s an important final statement…that Bartimaeus becomes a follower…in fact in Mark’s gospel there’s no more important command that Jesus makes…than the one that we hear over and over again from the Savior…Follow me. Discipleship here in Mark’s gospel means following the one who has called us…following the one who offers mercy to those who are seeking it.

I can’t help but think that’s why Mark placed those two stories right next to each other….especially with the exact same question being asked by Jesus. The repetition to should make us perk up and pay attention. The disciples wanted prestige and didn’t get it…because prestige is not for Jesus to bestow.  But Bart asked for mercy…and it is given to him.

Now as I think about this particular call to follow Jesus…which we can also say is a call into discipleship…I can’t help but think that the Lord calls those seeking mercy…and mercy is received…and maybe Jesus’ final statement to Bart is also telling…your faith has made you well.  Faith…believing that the mercy of the Lord IS offered to you freely…that the promises of the Lord are real and that they are for you.

Now maybe you see where I’m going with this…because as I look down at this font, I’m reminded that in the waters of baptism, we are given a physical representation of this promise of God’s mercy offered to us freely.  In baptism the promises are spoken over us that we have already been claimed by God as beloved children…and that it is made possible the through the action of God in the life death and resurrection of Jesus…that whatever it was that Jesus was accomplishing…its already done.

Baptism is not something that we are doing…its not something that I’m accomplishing as pastor…or the individual is earning or that their parents are achieving on their behalf…the action that happens in Baptism is God’s claim upon the individual, which was made through Christ 2000 years ago…this just gives us something tangible to hold on to in our moments of doubt or fear that we experience at different times in our lives.

And in a few moments, Breckin is going to share in that promise…one made freely by God for all people…as we cry out Lord have mercy…and thanks be to God that the mercy of the Lord is already given. Amen.

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I Can Do That 9-9-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 7:24-37, I explore 2 divine healings performed by Jesus, though one of them includes a troubling encounter. Through this, we see an appeal to the one who is able to act in the face of our powerlessness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-can-do-that-9-9-18

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

At one point Friday morning, I left the office and walked over to the post office to pick up the mail. Many of you have seen me do this before…its something I often do during the portions of the year that are warm enough to be outside.

As I was walking along the highway, I was looking around, just taking things in as I often do, when something caught my eye laying on the ground. At first glance, I thought it was just one of those little fake cards that come in the mail…designed to look like a credit card…and thinking that’s all it was I took a couple more steps…but then I realized that I had seen a chip in it…and so I backtracked those couple of steps to look a little closer…and sure enough…it was a real credit card lying there.

And not really knowing what else to do, I picked it up…it crossed my mind that the individual had probably already canceled it…and so I thought I’d just throw it away…but then as I kept on walking I thought of some other possibilities…and the next idea I had was to call the customer service number on the card and report to them that I had found the card…and that they could advise me on either disposing of it, or they could contact the individual to let them know it had been found.

Finally, as I had walked most of the way back to the church, it occurred to me that the individual’s name was on the card…and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of effort on my part would locate them…if I was willing to expel that effort…and that little voice in my head said “Yah, I can do that.” And sure enough…about 2 minutes of mild Facebook stalking, coupled with a quick back and forth on messenger, allowed me to place the lost card back in the hand of the individual who lost it in the first place…problem solved, all within about 10 minutes of the card catching my eye in the first place. A little bit of effort coupled with the willingness to get involved, and the recognition that “I can do that.” (Pause)

Now what’s that got to do with today’s scripture? It is, perhaps, the realization of our limitations. Today we have not just one, but two different stories of times when individuals were stuck in a situation that they were not able to do anything about…and so they seek out the help of another who is able…and as we see, in both instances, healings of the divine nature.

The interesting thing about the various healings that we see Jesus perform…is that there is no rhyme or reason to just how they happen. In every single instance, Jesus goes about performing the miracle in a different way. Sometimes he heals from a distance, just speaking the word and telling the individual who came to him that they’ll find it done when they return. Other times Jesus lays hands upon the individual in need of healing. Sometimes he debates before acting…other times he moves quickly.  There are times when he delays action…and not just momentarily but for extended periods of time…and then sometimes he pokes a guy in the ear and touches his tongue while telling the man to “be opened.” (pause)

Now there are often times when I come across a story of Jesus healing someone in a miraculous fashion…and I tend to think of it as a display of his divine power…of the work that God is up to in the world to overcome the problem of the individual…to free us from that which hinders us from wholeness.

But in today’s lesson, with both of these instances, I find myself really zeroing in on the individuals…and the encounter that they had with Jesus in this moment…and to be perfectly honest, the woman’s encounter catches my attention more than the guy. Many of you have probably heard me preach about this encounter before…it shows up here in Mark as well as in Matthew, and so we’ve come across it a few different times since I’ve been here…and perhaps, like me, you are troubled with the way that it goes down…Jesus is in Gentile territory for some unknown reason. And when news of his presence spreads, this foreign woman debates with him, Jesus seems to respond to her request in a derogatory…maybe even racist fashion, she owns it…and then continues to push until she gets what she’s asking for.

All troubling aspects aside, I found myself trying to find the headspace that the woman was in…because this healing isn’t for her. She’s acting on behalf of her daughter, who is possessed by a demon. We don’t know the specifics. We don’t know how long its been going on or how it effects the young girl…but what we do know is that…momma is on the case…and something tells me she’s tried everything up to this point…but this is beyond her ability to handle…no matter how hard she tries to cure her daughter…she can’t do it.

I wonder…have you ever been there? Have you ever felt that powerless feeling…as you look at someone that you love more than life itself, and you can’t do a thing to help them? (pause) Maybe it sounds almost cliché…but it is utterly devastating to experience.

In a bit of levity…I’ve joked before that both of my kids are lucky to be alive. When my son was about 3, I gave him an underdog, he fell off the swing and hit headfirst…even got a grass stain in his hair. And while that was happening my daughter who was 1 slid down through the stroller and got her head stuck…I thought I killed them both within 5 minutes. A few years later I watched as my son clotheslined himself off his bike by running full speed into a tree branch as he hadn’t learned to slow down and turn yet. And just about a month ago, my daughter tried to jump up on me, thinking I would catch her. I wasn’t paying attention and she fell, and was within a fraction of an inch from cracking her head on a rock. Now in every instance, they’ve been ok…but in that instant, it’s the worst feeling in the world.

How many of you have had that moment of powerlessness.  Of sitting at the bedside of your child in the hospital as they fight some unknown illness…or watching your fully grown son start back down the same old road of addiction…or seeing your spouse or your parent go through mental deterioration?

It happens doesn’t it? And we see it time and time again…and its bad enough when we watch a full grown adult in one of these battles…but when it’s a child…its that much worse…and I think we can all agree on that.

And this is the situation that the Syrophoenician woman finds herself in. No one can heal her daughter…no one except this random traveling Jewish rabbi who has shown up unannounced in her community…and yet…in her desperation, she appeals to him…thinking maybe, just maybe the stories are true…maybe he can help…that he has the power to act in a situation where everyone else is powerless…and nothing is going to hinder that possibility…not even some strange back and forth that makes zero sense to us as we read it 2000 years later.

And maybe, just maybe, we begin to see some hope as we consider the way the woman addresses Jesus in the first place.  Now in our translation she calls him sir…but in the actual language that she was using, she calls him Lord…she literally addresses Jesus as Lord…and interestingly enough…she is the ONLY person to do this in the entirety of Mark’s gospel. Not even the disciples use this word with Jesus…only her.

She is appealing to the one who is able to act…to the one who can do something…to the one who can say “Yah, I can do that.” For she is appealing to the Lord…regardless of her status as a foreigner…regardless of anything…she get it. Now this is not a new idea. In fact we even heard the same thing in our Psalm that we shared earlier today. Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help, whose HOPE…is in the Lord their God…The Lord opens the eyes of the blind…the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous…the Lord cares for the stranger…the Lord sustains the orphan and the widow. (pause)

In the middle of this back and forth…in an exchange that might almost be called an argument or a fight, and in the very least seems to be a debate…she calls him Lord…the one who acts…funny, the Psalm also says the God of Jacob, who you might recall wrestled with God until he received the Lord’s blessing. (pause) Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

So what does that mean for us today? Especially in light of the suffering that we see…the suffering that happens to those we care about but are powerless to do anything to stop? What do we do when our pleas and our prayers seem like they are falling on deaf ears? (pause)

We hope. And we cling to the promise that we have a God who can act…even if the action doesn’t look like what we think is right…because sometimes that action is simply the promise that the Lord will always have the last word in our story, or in the story of the ones we love.

Happy are those whose hope is in the Lord their God…we hope…because we have a Lord who sees every single one of us with that same love that we feel…for we have been claimed as beloved children…each and every one of us.  We have been claimed by the one who, in one way or another…will ALWAYS say…Yah, I can do that. Amen

Something Unexpected 2-4-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 1:29-39, I explore the healing of Peter’s mother in law, as well as the unexpected way that Jesus reacts to Capernaum’s favorable opinion of him.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/something-unexpected-2-4-8

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

Quite a few years back, early on in the days when I was just starting to discern the call into ministry…I took an assessment called Stengthsfinders…some of you might have heard of it…it’s a test that identifies between a large number of personality traits to identify just how the individual is wired…and specifically, it will identity your top 5 strengths.

Here are mine…see if you think these are accurate. Empathy…the ability to relate to the emotional state of another person. (pause) Communication…that one’s pretty self-explanatory. (Pause) Something called Woo…which sounds like I just like to go around yelling “WHOO” but actually points to the ability to persuade others to your point of view. (Pause) Input…which describes a person who wants to keep learning…they’ve never collected enough info…particularly off the wall, useless information. (Pause) And the final one, actually my number one…is Adaptability…the tendency to simply go with the flow and take things as they come…Sound about right?

Here’s the thing though…you’d think with my number one strength being adaptability…that I would bristle against repetition…planning…expectations of what will happen…but strangely enough, I’ve grown more and more accustomed to a general flow of how things will happen…especially here in worship.

Most of you have probably picked up on that. We have certain tendencies…ways that worship flows from one part to another…whether it’s the general order of worship…or the things that I say that introduce certain aspects…you probably have an idea of what to expect from me don’t you?

Admittedly, some friends of mine REALLY want me to shake things up on you sometime….they continue to push that just once…out of the blue…right in the middle of the sermon…that I should just…stop talking…and silently walk down the aisle and out of the sanctuary, around the corner and out the door…then walk across the parking lot and just sack out over on the deck at the parsonage…just to see how long it would take for someone to poke their head out the door and come looking for me. (pause)

Now rest assured….I’m never going to actually do that…as crazy as I might be, I know that would be utterly foolish…not to mention completely disruptive…but think about it…what would you do? What would happen if someone in a position of leadership, whether a pastor or not…just utterly upended everyone’s expectation? Because that’s what’s happening today. (pause)
Now its important to realize that as our gospel picks up today, we are in a utter continuation of where were last week.  As we’ve mentioned before, Mark chapter 1 crams A LOT of stuff into a pretty short space…and Mark as a whole is pretty good about moving the action along, often times glossing over the passage of time as we move from one instance right into the next…but this time is one of those where the action that we heard last week literally flows straight into today…

So let’s back up just a touch…Jesus has called the first 4 disciples, Peter and Andrew and James and John as he encountered them on the seashore…and then they mosey into Capernaum…which is the home town of these 4 guys…and then on the Sabbath day Jesus and the disciples have popped into the synagogue where Jesus takes on the role of preacher…proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Now we heard last week that he teaches with authority…and while we might not know just what exactly that means, we find that it takes shape when a man with an unclean spirit jumps up right in the midst of everything and Jesus throws his divine beat down on the spirit, commanding it to come out of the man…and it does.

This astonishes everyone else in attendance…and they recognize that this authority over unclean spirits simply illustrates the divine authority that lies behind his proclamation…behind his teaching…the authority behind his message…and with that, Jesus is walking out of the synagogue.

If we were watching tv right now…that would have been the “previously on” montage that opens up most episodes anymore…catching us up to where we are now…and where we are now is Jesus and the 4 guys walking out of the synagogue…seemingly across the street into Peter’s house…and here we find Pete’s mother in law in bed with a fever.

Now Jesus doesn’t miss a beat…he walks over to her…he grabs her by the hand…and as we hear she is “raised up” by Jesus…the language is quite literally that she is raised…anyone else think that sounds a lot like Easter morning when Jesus is “raised up” from the dead? It should.  Likewise she is raised to new life…and she responds by entering into service. (Pause)
Now its worth mentioning that Pete’s mother in law is not simply stepping back into traditional gender roles here. Once again the language tells us that she “serving” or more specifically that she’s “ministering.” And this is the same thing that angels do for Jesus in the wilderness…it is the same thing that Jesus proclaims as he says I have come not be served but to serve…and it’s the same thing that he commands to his followers when he says whoever shall be greatest among shall become a servant. (pause) Pete’s mom in law is raised up to a new life in Christ, a new life as a Christ-follower…as a disciple…as one who willingly serves the other…now that right there…that’s awesome…and its unexpected…but that’s a side note. (pause)

So let’s go on with the story…word of these 2 healings…first the unclean spirit being cast of the man in the synagogue and now Pete’s mother in law…it spreads around town like wildfire…and understandably…everyone in the synagogue saw it…and Capernaum wasn’t exactly a huge town…miraculous healings would have been something to talk about.

And so…when evening falls, everyone seems to know about it, and everyone starts bringing the sick and the possessed to Jesus to be healed…the entire city gathers around the door…and into the night, Jesus heals them all.

Now I can only imagine what the people were thinking there in Capernaum…Guys…this is awesome…we’ve got this AMAZING preacher…and not only that…he can heal…like…actually heal. We should keep this dude around…we can learn a lot from him…and if we get sick he can heal us…I mean…maybe he’s like, the Messiah or something? So I think we should keep him around, maybe give him a house or something so he’ll stay…so we’ve got him right here when we need him. Sounds good. (pause)

But Jesus doesn’t exactly play along does he? After all the healings are done…late at night…actually early in the morning before it even gets light…he slips off into the wilderness to be alone…and we hear the next day that everyone is hunting for him…now its Peter and the other 3 guys who actually locate him…and it seems like they are buying into things too…Master, everyone is hunting for you. (pause)  Now think about it for a second…if you’re hunting for something…you want something from it right?  I remember in my younger days when I would go fishing, I practiced catch and release…but its pretty hard to catch and release when you’re hunting isn’t it? And so it stands to reason that if everyone in town is hunting for Jesus, they want something from him. They want him to live up to their expectations…expectations that he’ll keep healing…that he’ll keep teaching…that he’ll take on the mantel of Messiah that fits the bill of what they’ve come to expect.

And I can’t help but think that the people of Capernaum…all of them, even including the 4 disciples at this point…I think they’re stuck in expectations….they’re stuck in what they’ve always thought…what they’ve always known…and we find evidence in this in what might have been almost a throw away comment from the narration of Mark.

Did you catch when the people from the city started bringing their sick to Jesus? (Pause) At sundown…and here’s the thing…in the Jewish understanding…the new day started at sundown…like today is Sunday…but at sundown, when its evening…it stops being today and starts being tomorrow…everyone with me?

Okay…and remember what the setting was at the beginning today? Jesus was in the synagogue…and it was the Sabbath…Jesus heals, not once, but twice on the Sabbath…he performs “Work” but the law says that’s a no-no. The law says they have to wait until the Sabbath is over…which happens at sundown right? (pause)

The people of Capernaum are stuck in the old way of thinking. They’re caught in the old rule book. They’re still following the same method of bookkeeping…thinking that there’s some cosmic scoreboard that they need to be aware of in terms of honoring the Sabbath. Not only that…but Jesus seems to know that if he sticks around Capernaum…they’re gonna force his hand…they’re gonna try and make him be the Messiah that they expect…which is to say a political figure…that’s what Messiah’s were…God’s anointed leaders…often the kings of their history…that’s what they wanted him to be…and hey, throw in the ability to heal diseases and you got a bonus out of this Messiah right? (Pause)
But here’s the thing. Jesus is doing something utterly different. Utterly other…utterly new. Jesus isn’t playing by the rules anymore…in fact, whatever it is that God is up to in the world through the life death and resurrection of this man known as Jesus of Nazareth…the one that we have come to call the Messiah or the Christ…whatever it is that God is doing…it is completely off the map of expectations.

Sabbath rules don’t apply…if someone needs healing, Jesus will heal them…if someone needs to be freed from what hinders them…Jesus will free them…and why? (Pause) Because the kingdom of heaven has come near. And this kingdom is utterly unlike ANYTHING that we can imagine or anticipate.

And this is what Christ has come to do…to proclaim the good news of the kingdom…and not just Capernaum, but everywhere. (pause) Yes, Jesus can and does heal.  Yes, Jesus shows compassion on those who cast aside. Yes…Jesus brings about a new normal…a new existence…a new way of being in this world that we have been given, flawed though it is.

This is what Jesus has come to do…to make all things new…to make all things Good…and to draw all people to himself….Jesus has entered into our reality in order to bring about this kingdom and he has invited us into it. (pause)
So what does that mean for us today? How do we respond to this man, who is also God…who has utterly changed the game? What does life look like now, in the midst of this kingdom which is both now and not yet?

In order to answer that question, we need to look back at Pete’s mother in law…we must remember that her story is not an example of a happy little house wife that we can say “oh now you’re up and about, good make me a sandwich.” What we learn from her is that to be raised to a new life by Christ is reflected in our ability and desire to serve those around us…to minister to those around…to literally embody the change that the kingdom of heaven is bringing into this world. (pause)

We all have our tendencies to be like Capernaum…wanting the Messiah to act a certain way…or to be a certain way…or to bless the ones that we want…we all fall in the trap of setting up the Messiah according to our expectations…but in the end that’s not how this works…because Jesus is continuously bringing about something new…and through the power of the holy spirit may he change us all in a way that makes our lives reflect this utterly new thing out into the world that we hope to see changed. May we be the change that we hope to see in the world…and may we give credit where credit is due…that this change is only possible through the power of Christ working in us and through us. May that be…the kingdom coming near to us. Amen.

Shut Up and Get Out 1-28-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 1:21-28, I explore Jesus’ first miracle in Mark’s gospel, the healing of a man with an unclean spirit. We find that God will act when there is something that is hindering the good life he desires for his children.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/shut-up-and-get-out-1-28-18

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

Every once in a while something happens that makes me think back to the teachers that really had an impact on me. Most recently it was news of the death of my middle school English teacher just a few weeks ago.

In times like this I tend to stop and think about those different teachers…the really good ones…who incidentally also tend to be the ones that made you work the hardest. She was the one in middle school…but once that was done and I moved into High School, it was the Social Studies teacher that fit the bill. Mr Worley. He had been around forever. He started at my school at the beginning of my Dad’s senior year, back in 66-67, and he stayed year after year until his eventual retirement about 5 years after I graduated. He always said he was sticking around for a third generation of Dalen’s but didn’t quite make it.

Now, Mr. Worley was a small guy…most of us towered over him even as piddly little freshmen…but MAN he was intimidating…So much so that in conversation about the guy we dropped the Mr. and just called him Worley. I think he was so intimidating because he expected a lot from us…and, more importantly in the classroom…Worley took ZERO crap. If you were messing around, or you got mouthy, he’d kick you out…he didn’t care…and the amazing thing was that he didn’t even have to say anything…he’d just look you in the eyes and do this. (Point sideways at the door) That point…said everything it needed to…that point said “You’re done…shut up and get out.”  (pause)

Now its probably safe to assume that no kid from Graettinger High School has EVER compared Worley to Jesus…but I’m going to do it today…because I think we see a very similar situation in today’s gospel lesson.

Today we have the distinction of hearing about the very first divine action here in Mark’s gospel. Now we’re still in the season of Epiphany…a time when we hear stories about the ways that Jesus is revealed to the world…and here in Mark’s gospel…most of these stories are pretty brief. I mean, we’re still in chapter 1 here…and we’ve already heard that this is the beginning of the Good news of Jesus Christ. We’ve had the baptism of Jesus…we hear a throwaway comment about the 40 days of temptation…Jesus has called the 4 disciples along the seashore, uttering his first words in Mark, to follow me. And now…here in verse 21, ministry begins.

Jesus and the disciples go walking into the synagogue in Capernaum. And Jesus starts teaching…instantly…immediately Jesus takes over and apparently whatever his teaching style is…its something utterly new…and everyone is astonished at his teaching. I do wonder just what it looked like…but we don’t have to wonder about his message…because we’ve already heard it from Jesus here in Mark 1. “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. Rejoice and believe the good news.”

Now the funny thing about this short passage, is that the teaching of Jesus really seems to be focal point. We hear that the people are astounded from the get go…and then a few verses later as Jesus is wrapping up here in the synagogue and is getting ready to head out again, we hear again that the people are amazed at this new teaching…one with authority. (pause)

But something else happened in the midst of all this didn’t it? Not only is he teaching…we see the first miracle that Jesus performs here in Mark…healing a man with an unclean spirit.

Admittedly we don’t know a whole lot here. We don’t know who the guy is…we don’t know exactly what the problem is…we have no history whatsoever…all we know is that he has an unclean spirit. (pause) Now that unclean spirit has been the center of a lot of debate over the years…and I can attest to that personally as I went round and round with several colleagues in our mutual preparation for today to try and put our finger on just what this unclean spirit is. Is it a demon…maybe, but we don’t know.  Is it Mark’s understanding of mental illness in Jesus’ time…we hear that he shakes and cries out uncontrollably, so maybe that puts us in mind of epilepsy and Tourette’s syndrome. Honestly we just don’t quite know what to make of this unclean spirit…but maybe in the end we don’t need to know…maybe all we need to realize is that whatever it is…it hinders the life of this man. (pause)

And there’s another point that I think we need to recognize…and that’s to remember WHERE this is all taking place…they’re in the synagogue…they are in the center of the Jewish community…ESPECIALLY by the time that Mark’s gospel was recorded, and the temple had already been destroyed, the synagogue was LITERALLY the central aspect of Jewish life in every community…particularly in terms of their life of faith. The synagogue was their church…and this is where the man with the unclean spirit is found by Jesus…right here in the midst of his teaching…it would be like if someone suddenly jumped up screaming and shaking in the middle of Sunday School or even right here in the midst of worship.

As people of faith, we must recognize this fact…that unclean spirits, whatever they are, come right in with us, just like it came into the synagogue with the man that day. He was not immune as a faithful Jewish man…and we are not immune as faithful followers of Christ.

So let’s back up and think some more about this whole unclean spirit thing. We don’t know what it was…and maybe just maybe we don’t need to know. Maybe we just to acknowledge what we can about it…that it is some force that is hindering the life of the man. We could probably call it whatever we wanted to…a demon…an illness…a force…a power of darkness, take your pick…because the label doesn’t matter. What does matter is the effect that it has on the life of the man…the life of the individual…the life of this child of God.

Most of you have probably heard me say TOV before…it means good and it’s the Hebrew word for what God calls every single step of creation clear back in Genesis 1. Every action that God takes in bringing chaos towards order…of bringing our reality towards something new…God calls it TOV…and then when God makes humanity he calls us REALLY TOV.

But not only that…we hear clear back in the beginning that God has a good existence in mind for his children…a good path…a good journey…a good life, however we want to say it…but we also hear that there are those things that hinder this good existence that God desires for us…and we can call this many things.  Brokenness…sin…pain, suffering…death.  Disease, addiction…isolation. Countless different things.

I can’t name just what it is that has come in through these doors with you today…but I have no doubt that it is there, even here in the midst of God’s house…the powers of darkness…the unclean spirit if you want to use that term…its here with you…its here with all of us…there is something fighting tooth and nail to hinder that TOV life that God desires for you. YOU know it. You see it…even if no else does…but you are not alone in it…because God sees it too. (pause)
Now let’s jump back into the text for a moment. We find this man, overcome by something…and whatever it is, it sees Jesus and it recognizes his authority…the authority to do something about it…even to the point of destroying it…this spirit, whatever it is sees Jesus and recognizes the power of God…and it starts screaming.

But Jesus isn’t having it…BE SILENT and come out of him. Be quiet…we can even say be muzzled…or maybe we can picture my old teacher Worley pointing with a gesture that says Your done, shut up and get out. (pause) Now the spirit doesn’t go easy does it? It shakes the man and screams as it goes…but it goes.

Whatever the forces of darkness are that you sense within your life…whatever it is that’s there behind the scenes hindering your good life that God has intended…its not gonna go down easy…and we know that don’t we…when we’re honest with ourselves.

But as we consider this story from today the good news is this. Whatever it is that is hindering you…the power of God active in the world through Christ, WILL overcome it…because it recognizes the authority that is greater than it is…and God will give you this gift of freedom somehow someway…because God loves you…and God loves you because you are his child. (pause)

There’s a phrase that get’s thrown around sometimes…describing a parent who’s standing up for their kid…you’ve heard it. I went all Momma Bear…My Pappa bear came out…because you would do anything for your child to protect them. And I believe that Jesus is doing just that today….giving us a reminder that when it comes to the things that hinder your TOV…God’s bear comes out.

This is what we see in Jesus’ divine action today. He looks this unclean spirit right in the face, whatever it is…and he says “That’s my kid, you’re done…shut up and get out.”

And somehow, someway God will do the same for you. We don’t know exactly how it’ll happen…and often times it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense…and we know that those forces aren’t gonna go down easy…sometimes we’ve even got to go through death before that power can be put down.  But EVERY SINGLE TIME…God gets the last word…and that’s a word that is for you. Amen.

We Get To Work 6-18-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 9:35-10:8, I explore the work that Jesus is up to in the world. He’s bringing about the reality of the kingdom of Heaven, and as his followers, we are invited into the very same work.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-get-to-work-6-18-17

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

The phrase “mountain-top experience” has become synonymous with those events in our lives that are just big…those things that are rare or deeply meaningful…those times that sear themselves in our memory. I’ve had several in my lifetime. My wedding day and the birth of my kids are great examples. Another one was sharing in holy communion, quite literally on top of a mountain during one my annual trips to Colorado. My graduation from seminary was a big one…and one more…my ordination day on June 16th 2013…this past Friday marked the 4-year anniversary of that day…truly a mountaintop experience for me.

That was a wonderful day, but it preceded my start date here in Underwood by a couple of weeks…and immediately following my ordination, we actually headed back up to the Twin Cities, where we were still living…and interestingly enough, since school was already done and I had some free time on my hands prior to moving, I spent the next week after my ordination volunteering at our church in the Cities…helping out with the opening and closing assembly for their Vacation Bible School. VBS had a kingdom theme that year and so I was portraying a character known as King Humperdink…but since Humperdink is kind of a difficult name for small kids to remember, over the course of the week my name morphed slowly into King Hobodog Dude. (pause)
Now interestingly enough, on the first morning, I can remember having a conversation with the other guy that I was working with. We didn’t know each other at all prior to that day, so as we talked he discovered that I had just been ordained the previous day…and he said “Oh wow…so I guess its ‘Pastor Scott’ isn’t it?” (pause) And thinking back on that, I realize that my first ministry work as “Pastor Scott” was volunteering to make kids laugh as King Hobodog Dude…but more importantly, that the 2 weeks that I thought I had between that mountaintop experience of my ordination and the beginning of my work in ministry were non-existent…and the work was starting as soon as I came down off that mountain.

Now in similar fashion…the narrative that we have of Jesus’ life and ministry in the gospels is full of mountaintop experiences as well…and in his case…pretty much all of them occurred when he was, quite literally, on a mountain. The sermon on the mount…that one is right there in the name…the long sermon that begins with the familiar passage of the beatitudes and his words about those who are downtrodden…those who are broken and suffering, and how they will be somehow lifted up.

There’s other mountaintops for Jesus as well…the transfiguration…his night of prayer and betrayal in the garden was on top of the mount of olives. The great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel is on a mountaintop…and even the crucifixion took place on the pinnacle of a small mountain outside the city of Jerusalem.

All of these big momentous events that are so memorable out of the gospel narrative…but interestingly enough, we don’t see a whole lot of Jesus’ ministry work happening in those spots do we? (pause) The ministry…the work, that happens in the valleys between the mountains…and with just a little bit of searching, we see that work typically kicks in as soon as he comes down.

Take for instance, the rather lengthy Sermon on the Mount…no sooner does he come down off the mountain, then he encounters a man with leprosy…and the man is cleansed…and then a Roman officer comes to him, speaking of a beloved servant that is sick, and the servant is healed…and then Jesus ends up in Peter’s house where he restores Peter’s mother in law to health…and he casts out demons from 2 men, sending them into a herd of swine, and then the lame are made to walk, and to top it all off, Jesus raises a little girl from death…and throughout all of this that has been going on since Jesus walked down off that mountaintop experience, he’s been sharing the good news that the kingdom has come near.  That’s what he’s been up to in the early days of his ministry.

And this is exactly where today’s story starts isn’t it? Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. (pause) And as we hear, he’s attracting quite the crowds…and when he looks upon them, he is moved to compassion for they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd to guide them and protect them. (pause)

Now that’s an interesting way to describe the people in the crowds isn’t it? Harassed and helpless…you might also call them troubled…or wounded…or lost…and to say that are with a shepherd is to compare the people to a sheep who is wounded and helpless and afraid…just waiting for a predator to come in for the kill…it seems that they are in a state of brokenness…that whatever it is that troubles them…whatever it is that has them downtrodden and oppressed…whatever their individual situation is, they are broken and lost…they are in need of liberation from what hinders them…they are in need of healing of whatever ails them.

And Jesus…God in human form…looks upon them with compassion. Not distain…not irritation…but compassion and love. And when I consider this state of compassion that Jesus experiences for the lost sheep of the world I am reminded of the words of our most famous Psalm…the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Jesus sees sheep without a shepherd…and Jesus…God…gets to work…and this work…this ministry begins with the proclamation that the kingdom has come near…but then Jesus goes another step to show us just what that looks like…liberation from what enslaves us…and healing from what ails us…whatever the brokenness is, Jesus enters into it, and somehow, someway…in ways that go far beyond our ability to understand, Jesus…God…does something about it. (pause) And the same promise is made for us…for like the people that day, we all experience brokenness…and it manifests itself in so many different ways…but make no mistake, its there in the lives of all of us, and to claim otherwise is to deceive yourself…but remember that God sees your brokenness…God meets you there…and God works to free you from it, to heal you from it. (pause)

But here’s the thing…it’s a great big world out there isn’t it? And its full of broken people in need of the good news…in need of news that liberates and heals…and Jesus knows it…and so what does he do? Well, he brings in reinforcements…calling the 12 disciples by name…he empowers them and sends them out with a mission. (Pause) Did you catch what that mission is?

As you go, proclaim the good news that the kingdom has come near. If they are sick, YOU heal them. If they are dead, YOU raise them. If they are lepers, YOU cleanse them. If there are demons, YOU cast them out.

Jesus calls his followers by name, he empowers them, and he sends them out to do exactly the same thing he’s already been doing. The mission of the disciples is to multiply the work of the kingdom that Jesus…that God in human form is already up to. (pause)
Now here’s the cool part. Keep in mind that Jesus summons the 12…he calls them to him…and they are called by name…and as he calls them he empowers them…now does that sound familiar? I don’t know about you but it sounds an awful lot like baptism doesn’t it? A time when we as individuals are called by name, are claimed by God, and are empowered with the Holy Spirit to join in the body of Christ…to join in the work that God is up to in the world.

And if the work that Jesus gave the to the 12 that day was the same work that he’d already been doing, well then it stands to reason that our mission is the same. Where there is sickness, offer healing. Where there is bondage, bring liberation.

Now I can’t tell you just what that looks like…but I find myself wondering if that’s the work that we’re up to…if those two things are the driving force behind the work of the church…behind the work of our congregation? Behind the work of the kingdom that we as individuals are participating in…because if its not, then we better take a long hard look at just what our motivations are….and if we are off…if our motivations are selfish…then repentance is our next step…but praise be to God that where there is repentance of our own brokenness, there is also forgiveness…and we will hear that word spoken to us today as we share in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which was broken and poured out for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.

And that right there…that IS good news…that is news of liberation from what enslaves us…and that is news that brings healing beyond our physical bodies…and the work that God has begun in Christ Jesus…and that Jesus has invited us to participate in is to carry that news out in the world…to break down the barriers that exists that hinder…and to fight tooth and nail to overcome anything that stands in the way of God’s mercy reaching those that need it, even those who are so broken that they fail to recognize that need.

God has invited each on of us into this work…and in the midst of it we do experience those amazing moments…those mountaintop experiences that fill us with joy at this world and this life that we are blessed with…and those moments are important for us, but as we come back down from those mountains…may our eyes be opened to see the kingdom work that lies before us…and may we get to work. Amen.

Tell Your Story 3-26-17

This week’s sermon, taken from John 9:1-41, delves into the story of Jesus healing a man who had been blind from birth. Its a lengthy and rather odd story, where we find the man with a whole new life available to him, but the loss of community as he had known it before.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/tell-your-story-3-26-17

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.

Back in 1984, the confirmation class here at Underwood included a guy that many of you will remember. Jeff Montgomery…now while Jeff’s been gone from Underwood for a while now, his parents Gaylen and Karen were very active here in our community until just about a year ago when they relocated to the Branson area…but its Jeff that I want to focus for a moment.

Following his Confirmation in 1984, Jeff would go on to be a summer councilor up north at Ingham Okoboji…at it was there, during a week of camp in the summer of 1991, that Jeff first encountered a crazy little blond spaz case. They didn’t interact much during that week of camp, but they did cross paths.

Fast forward a few more years, and Jeff was the On-Site Director of the Ingham location, and in early 1996, he has a conversation with the local lumberyard deliveryman, and Jeff inquires if he might know anyone that wants to run a lawn mower part-time through the summer.  The deliveryman, who’s name was Rick Dalen…said, yah I know somebody…and his, then 17 year old son went out to meet with Jeff and got the job…only to decide a month later not to do it, because this crazy high schooler wasn’t a big fan of God, or of church, and was WAY too worried about what his friends would think when they found our he was working at a Bible Camp.

But then a year later, that crazy soon to be high school graduate thought about it again, and went out to talk to Jeff a second time…Jeff gave him a look, asked the question “Are you actually gonna do it this time?” And when the crazy kid nodded, Jeff laughed and said okay lets do this.  The crazy kid started that summer riding a lawn mower, but made a lot of relationships with faithful people that influenced him greatly.

Fast forward 20 years…and that crazy kid is now a pastor, nearly 4 years into his first call at the very congregation where Jeff was confirmed in 1984, and that pastor is sitting at the supper table when his son asks the question “Dad, if you hadn’t worked at camp, do you think you would believe it God?”  (pause) We never know the circumstances that God will use to get our attention…and that is precisely where we meet today’s gospel lesson of the man born blind.

Now as a blind man, his regular day to day activities probably involved sitting alongside the road…just trying to stay out of the way…and hoping for the kindness of those around him as he would sit begging day after day. And this day was a day like any other…when an amazing interruption happened…unexpected and out of the blue…an interruption that changed his life forever. (pause) Because on this day…Jesus came walking by.

As I think about this scene I find myself wondering exactly what happened as Jesus and the disciples happened upon this blind stranger. We hear that Jesus notices him first, but that’s about it. But then we don’t know what happened. Did the man ask them for some money…or was he just sitting there silently? We really don’t know the full details…but apparently something about his situation caught the attention of the disciples…and they ask Jesus a question centered around an old understanding that physical ailments or impairments…his blindness in this case…is the result of sin. (pause) But that’s not what Jesus tells them is it?

And in a truly…odd situation, we find Jesus setting the disciples straight with a statement punctuated by hacking a loogy on the ground. (pause) Just imagine it…imagine Jesus calmly professing “I am the light of the world” (hack a loogy)…and then not only that, bending down, mixing up some mud with said loogy…and smearing it on this blind man’s eyes. (pause)  Think about how crazy that would look…and now think about how crazy it must have sounded to this random blind guy as he sits there listening…You hear conversation…you hear a slight rebuke…you hear a guy spitting, which unfortunately would be a sound that this man probably heard fairly regularly…But then you feel a set of hands smearing cool mud over your eyes…something that would have probably been very unwelcome for this blind man…until he hears a gentle voice tell him Go…wash your eyes in the pool…

And then the stranger stands up and walks away, taking his followers with him…leaving this blind man alone with mud all over his face. (pause). But then…imagine what it must have been like after he made his way to the pool…and washed his face clean…and for the first time ever, opened his eyes to see the world. (pause) It’s not enough to say that this was life changing for him…though it certainly was…but I’d say its safe to call this an earth-shattering thing…and the crazy part is…he have no idea who did this for him. (pause) Think about that for a moment…because that is exactly the situation that this guy is facing now. Blind his whole life…some random stranger comes by, smears some mud and leaves before the man can see who helped him.

And that is an interesting point right there…because for the next 27 verses…Jesus is gone…right in the middle of the gospel…which we usually expect to feature Jesus pretty heavily…right here we discover that the LORD HIMSELF…disappears…and this is precisely the time that the man, once blind but now able to see…could have used a little divine backup.

Because this encounter with Jesus…as much of a blessing as it must have been for this guy to go from being blind as a bat to being able to see and care for himself…as great as that must have been…things get a little rough for him.

As the man is walking back home, he begins to encounter his neighbors…people who have known him his entire life…but they can’t recognize him… “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” He looks familiar but that man was blind…this cannot be the same man…and we see a sort of isolation begin to occur around the newly healed individual…as those around him fail to see past one physical trait that has defined him throughout his lifetime…they just can’t see past it…despite his continued assurances “hey guys…really, its me.”

And as bad as that must have been for this man…to not even have the ability to celebrate with is neighbors…we see him essentially put on trial. “What happened?” (pause) I don’t know…this guy put mud on my eyes, told me to wash them, and I could see…but I don’t know who he was.”

And things escalate…and now the people are bickering and they ask him again “WHAT HAPPENED?” (Pause) Mud on my eyes, he told me to wash. I did, I could see…But they still aren’t convinced…and he’s taken before the Pharisees who look down their nose at the fact that this all happened on the Sabbath…WHAT? HE MADE MUD ON THE SABBATH…HE PERFORMED A HEALING ON THE SABBATH…Surely not…he must be a sinner…Quickly now…tell us how this happened.
And the guy has to explain…again. (Pause, take a breath) Mud, eyes, wash…not blind anymore…and they bicker amongst themselves…some being swayed and others not…and they ask him again…HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? (pause…take a deep annoyed breath). Blind, mud, eyes, wash, not blind…yes we got that but who is the man…he’s a prophet…can I go now?

But he can’t leave…because the elite aren’t satisfied…and they bring in his parents…and what happens there? Well, we see the man further isolated because of the fear his parents experience…they don’t want to be kicked out of the synagogue…and so all they’ll say is “well, yes that’s our son and he was blind…BUT WE DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT…ASK HIM!”

This is getting ridiculous for the man…first he’s healed, but he’s alone when it happens…then his neighbors and friends fail him…then the religious leaders fail him…then his family fails him…and then to top it all off the religious leaders haul him back in for a second round.

Tell us again…how did this happen? (pause) After the day this guy is having, perhaps its understandable that he gets a little snarky with them. HEY…I already told you…why do you want to hear it again…planning on learning from him or something? And low and behold, he’s kicked out of the synagogue because of his situation…and then…only then…do we finally see Jesus come back on the scene…and for the first time, the formerly blind man is able to look in the face of the one who offered him this great gift…but he doesn’t know it…until Jesus asks the right questions…and gradually opens the man’s understanding of the truth…that this is the Son of Man…and he… believes. (pause)

Now take a moment to think about all this that’s happened. In the midst of the normal routine of his day, Jesus utterly changes his life…and that change causes two completely different things to happen to the man…as we’ve seen, it creates a brand new isolation from him as he loses the relationship with his neighbors…and then with his parents…and finally with his “church.”

And that can happen…for some…the radical change brought upon them by encountering Jesus can cause the loss of old relationships…because the light of Christ shining in their lives drives away darkness…perhaps you’ve experienced that in your own life…but in the midst of this growing isolation…we also find a change coming over the man…and this change has to do with his testimony about Jesus.

First, he’s just the man that smeared mud on my eyes and told me to wash…but I don’t know who he is…but then, as the man continues to speak about the truth of his own experience…he calls Jesus a prophet…and then he starts getting really bold in his testimony. We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, so if he were not from God he could do nothing…Yes, this man comes from God…and then finally, he comes to know and believe that Jesus is the son of God…Lord I believe.

And Jesus gives this man a new found relationship in the face of the loss of his old relationships…and this is the relationship with God himself…the one that send Jesus into the world…and that is a reality that we all face.

In one way or another, we encounter Jesus Christ through our experience with the Gospel…one way or another we have each heard the good news that God loved us enough to overcome the sin that stands in the way of our relationship with him by willingly coming to Earth to live and die a brutal death on the cross…so that in the end, we will not face the consequences of our sin…

But sometimes…often I think…our encounter with Jesus Christ puts us on a path that causes rifts in our old relationships while at the same time granting us the courage to speak truthfully about our own experience with Christ…that’s all this man did…throughout all the trials and the hounding…this simple man spoke a simple truth of his own experience….in short…he shared his story of what God did…even if he didn’t know that it was God who did it…not to mention that he had no idea how it worked.  He simply shared the truth.

GIVE GLORY TO GOD, We know that this man is a sinner. (Pause) I do not know whether he is a sinner…I only know that I was blind and now I see. (pause) For this one many who lived and died all those years ago…his encounter with Jesus brought physical sight to blind eyes. But for us today…our encounter with Jesus illuminates our eyes, blinded by the darkness of sin…darkened by the lack of understanding of the truth…but praise be to God that he has sent his Son so that we may be freed of this blindness…and we too may have the courage to testify “Lord, I believe.” And then, as time goes on…the courage to share our own stories…This is what happened to me. I don’t know how it works or why, but this is what God has done. Amen

Speak the Word Lord 5-29-16

This sermon is based on Luke 7:1-10. Jesus heals the slave of a Centurion, and we are reminded of the importance of authority, both recognizing it as well as believe in it.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/speak-the-word-lord-5-29-16

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 heard it said that some of the people that you grow closest to tend to be the parents of kids who do the same activities as your kids…and I’m starting to learn the truth of that statement…particularly now in the midst of baseball season.

But I suppose it makes sense…over the course of 2 months, 2-3 times a week you sit on the sidelines for hours at a stretch with the same people. There’s friendly banter and conversation…and you get to know them.

This phenomenon was on display earlier this week. We were sitting at a game, our lawn chairs in line with a dozen or so other parents. And during the game, one of our kids hit an easy little pop up that should have been a routine catch for the other team…but low and behold…the kid trying to make the catch bobbled it…and in the end dropped it. All the parents on our side clapped for the successful hit…and then the dad sitting right next to me leaned over and asked “You have anything to do with that?” I chuckled, but then reported “Nope, couldn’t take credit for that one…it wasn’t in the air long enough to get a prayer out.” (pause)

I hear this sort of thing fairly often…whether it’s for a kid dropping a ball in this case…or prayers that the game will go our way…or asking that we either get the rain that we need, or avoid the storm that we don’t…because…apparently…I’ve got pull. (pause)

If only that were the case…In truth…the title Pastor before my name doesn’t actually authorize me to do that much. According to our denominational structure, being a pastor allows me to preside over the sacraments…though there are certain loopholes tied into that rule…and because of my ordination our state laws grant me the authority to legally bind two people together in marriage…and honestly…that’s about it…beyond these two things…pretty much everything that I do could be done by anyone…preaching, teaching, visitation, leading worship…anyone can do these things…offering invocations at events, funerals…those things too.

And yet, I am entrusted to do these things…I’m given the authority to do so…and its this notion of authority that catches my attention today…because we see discussion around this notion within the gospel. (pause)
Jesus comes into Capernaum…the small town of about 1000-1500 people…the small community on the northern shores of the sea of Galilee…a place marking the cross roads of a couple important travel routes through the region…and the place where Jesus has established his home base in the midst of his traveling time of ministry.

Now also present in Capernaum…the home of a Centurion…a man placed within the hierarchy of the Roman military…One rung on the ladder…not the low man on the totem pole…and certainly not the top dog either.

Why exactly this particular individual is here in Capernaum is unclear, though its likely that Rome has stationed a garrison there due to the importance of trade coming through the area…regardless this man, tasked with overseeing 100 soldiers appears to live in the community…and as we hear…he’s respected.

The Centurion has apparently contributed greatly to the building of the local synagogue…and he’s on friendly terms with the Jewish establishment…likewise, as a commander with men under him…he’s well versed in the authority granted to him. He gives orders to come and go…or to do this or that…and its done…because of the respect that his position gives him…because the people honor his authority. (pause)

And yet…in the midst of this…what do we really know about the man? Honestly…not much…We know his position…we hear that the Jewish elders seem to like him…and we know that he’s got slaves…and that’s about it. We never hear his name…nor does he physically appear on the scene. Everything we know about him, we know…second hand…as he speaks through others…not even approaching Jesus. (pause)
I think it is often the tendency that we think of this man as a good guy…and he certainly might have been…but we don’t know…he might have been a jerk…he’s got slaves…he’s part of the oppressive forces occupying Jewish territory…and even his supposed generosity in building the synagogue could have been nothing more than political savvy to keep the locals happy. (pause) Long story short, we really don’t know anything about this guy. Even his relationship with the sick slave is in question. We hear that the slave is highly valued…but does the Centurion value him as a person…or on the more likely side…was the slave simply worth a lot of money that the Centurion didn’t want to lose. (pause)
Now I bring all of this up…because first and foremost…its important that we not romanticize this guy…good, bad, or otherwise…he was just a man, flawed just like we all are…and as he is stationed in this small town, he’s caught wind of Jesus and he’s heard about the healings that Jesus has already performed…perhaps with his close ties to the Jewish Leadership, the Centurion has heard stories of Jesus’ teachings…and his reputation as one who acts with authority.

And its this notion of authority that the Centurion grabs hold of…as he hopes against hope that Jesus might just be willing and able to do something about this illness that threatens his slave…and so, the Centurion really seems to play his cards right…honoring the various cultural rules that might be in play…those things that could possibly stand in the way of Jesus lending his healing hand in this situation.

He starts off by sending the Jewish elders…a group that he’s got some sway with…to go and get Jesus…and they play their part perfectly…This man is worthy of having you do this…for he loves our nation and built the synagogue…but perhaps more important than their words…is the inherent authority that they possess as elders in the community. Surely Jesus will listen to them.

And then…as the story continues we see that Jesus is, in fact willing to go help out, for what ever reason…and then, in order to continue to save face…recognizing the cultural limitation that a Jewish rabbi would be unlikely to enter into the house of a Gentile and risk becoming ceremonially unclean…the Centurion sends another group…and whether his humbleness is genuine…or simply another sneaky ploy to make himself look good in front of the locals…his words carry an important message. (pause)
Lord…speak the word…and let it be done. (pause) This phrase…this request, regardless of the motivation…is given by the Centurion because he understands authority…and Jesus names this as faith…but I found myself wondering, just what was it that Jesus praises here…what is it about the Centurion’s words that Jesus is so impressed by?

Listen to them again. “Lord, do not trouble yourself…only speak the word and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one Go and he goes, and another come and he does.” (pause) The Centurion holds on to authority and what it means when someone who has this authority gives an order…he believes that when this authority manifests itself in a a command…that it WILL be done…and Jesus recognizes this…as…faith.

Believing in the word spoken by one with authority…Now of course this raises the question of just what the Centurion recognized as authority within Jesus…was it authority granted by humanity…or was it something different?

Because that’s the thing about the position he found himself in…or that any of us find ourselves in. Authority within humanity…must always be given. Perhaps its granted to an individual through an establishment…or by laws…or as in the case of the Centurion it is handed down from those higher up the ladder…but additionally…we also grant authority to those we perceive as being above us, by following what they say.  (pause) That’s the crazy thing about human authority…it can’t be taken, one way or another, it has to be given.

But when we start talking about Jesus…well that’s something altogether different…and whether the Centurion recognized it or not…he was appealing to divine authority…authority over disease…authority over nature…authority over creation itself…and that’s not something that is received from another…divine authority, which Jesus possesses…simply…IS. (pause)
Whether he realized it or not, the Centurion was appealing to the same authority that spoke the words and calmed a storm…he was speaking to the same authority that made up its mind that there should be light…and then said it…and sure enough, there was light. This same authority that literally spoke our reality into reality is present within this man…within the divine word of God made flesh.

And so today, the big question for us, is what does this authority…this divine authority, not that which is granted to anyone, but which simply is…what does it say about us? (pause)

That divine authority of Jesus Christ…the authority living word of God…the literal voice of the divine…SAYS…You are mine…I have chosen you…and there is nothing that will stand in the way of that…and I for one feel blessed that each and every week, we get to hear that…it’s a humbling thing to stand before you, not under my own authority, but under the authority of Christ, who declares to you that you are forgiven…that you are of worth…that you are chosen by God because of his perfect love for you…and just as the Centurion seemed to believe…that if Jesus says the words, then they are true…and Jesus has said these words to you…and if there is any doubt in your minds that God has accomplished this amazing work…this amazing thing that we are in no way capable of doing on our own…just remember the last things that Jesus said as he hung on that cross. It IS finished. (pause)

That work of redemption is already done for you, whether we realize it or not…because that’s the amazing thing about the divine authority of God which manifested in Jesus Christ…we don’t have to grant it…we don’t have to understand it…and in fact, we don’t even have to acknowledge it in order for it to be true…

But it is true, because Jesus has already said so…may this be our prayer today and every day…that when we recognize our own failings…our own shortcomings…our own unworthiness…that we also believe the words of our Lord who heals our brokenness anyway…
Speak the word Lord, and let us be healed…And then believe that this word…has already been spoken for you. Amen.