Posts Tagged ‘holy spirit’

A Long Long Time Ago 12-24-19

In this sermon for Christmas Eve, based on the normal text of Luke 2:1-20, I explore the action of God in the birth of Jesus. We dive into divine mysteries of faith, and not understanding what God is up to, but being assured of the promise that it is for us…and there’s a healthy amount of Star Wars excitement.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-005-a-long-long-time-ago-12-24-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Savior be yours tonight. Amen

When I was in high school and college, I went to a lot of movies. Rarely would a week go by that I didn’t take in at least one…and since I watched a lot of movies…I also watched A LOT…of previews.  And I enjoyed it…it was one of my favorite parts of the experience in those days…to see a small piece of an upcoming movie…and to get that sense of wonder and anticipation about something coming your way in the future.

Now there was one in particular that I can remember…showed up late 1996…it opened with an image of a small square boxy television set, placed in the middle of the large theater screen…and as images of a space battle played on that small tv screen, a voiceover told us “For a generation, THIS, has been the only way to watch Star Wars.”  And you see a X-wing fighter flying straight at the screen…and you hear “UNTIL NOW” and that X-wing comes through the tv screen…straight at you, filling the entire theater screen.

This was how they announced the Special Edition theater release of the original Star Wars trilogy…and I was ecstatic…All three of the original movies came out by the time I was 5 years old and so I was part of that generation who had only seen them on television…and so the excitement to be able to sit in a theater a few months later…and see that blue text…a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…followed by a second of silence before the giant STAR WARS emblem flashed across the screen at the same time as that amazing musical fan fare begins…it was thrilling.

A couple years later, beginning in 1999, it happened again…and this time, with the release of the prequel trilogy…I was able to sit in the theatre and have that same excitement and thrill…to know that I was seeing part of a larger and familiar story…and yet to experience an unknown chapter.

2015…it started again…with the release of episode 7, the Force Awakens…and that time I was able to sit next to my son for his FIRST experience of Star Wars in the theater…and finally, this past weekend…in what has been billed as the FINAL chapter in the Skywalker Saga…episode 9…and sure enough…as I sat there in that brief second of quiet and dark, and then felt the thrill of STAR WARS along with the music…and I don’t know if was nostalgia or excitement or anticipation…or maybe a mixture of all three, but I had a little grin on my face as we entered back into this familiar LARGER story…maybe for the last time…in order to experience it new. (pause)

It seems to me that through 42 years of Star Wars…the way that we continue to revisit that larger story…connecting with the familiar…sharing it with a new generation…and even those moments of anticipation for something new…that whole thing seems to have a great deal in common with the sense that we bring tonight.

Christmas…such a vitally important part of the church year…of the overarching story of what God is up to in our reality…a night in which we join together in the familiar to celebrate something that is worth remembering.

Some of us bring many years of experience to this night…a sense of tradition…memories of year’s past and in our minds “the perfect” Christmas conditions.  Some might be here for the very time…hearing this story, experiencing this worship with brand new eyes.

For some…events have happened in the past year that give you new perspective…you are bringing something different tonight…and because of that, whatever it is…good, bad, or otherwise…this night feels different…and you hear that same old story in a new way…and this is a truth that we all bring into our lives of faith…that OUR existence shapes our experience of the scriptures…and of worship and tradition…that our lives up to this point, shape how we experience the divine. (pause)

It seems to me that this is also the case for the individuals who are involved within the Christmas narrative…the story of the Nativity…the story of Jesus’ birth…so let’s think about the different people that we hear about.

First off, a couple of big-wigs in the historical and political realm. Ceasar Augustus…emperor of the Roman Empire…and Quirinius, the Syrian governor who overseas the area we know as the Holy Land.  Two important people…who beyond a name drop, and an order given for a Roman Census…we never hear from again. Logic would say that these two would play a bigger part in this reality altering moment…but beyond the census giving the Holy Family a reason to be Bethlehem…they play no other part…because apparently God doesn’t put a whole of stock in status and political power. (pause)
Who else do we hear about?  Well, we’ve got Mary and Joseph…who have followed the rules and headed off to be registered…and they’re in a tough spot aren’t they? As we hear, the time comes for Mary to have her baby…because those two political bigwigs don’t give a hoot about the biological situation of these commoners from backwater Palestine…and biology doesn’t care that they are in a strange city, surrounded by strangers in the dwelling of some random house in Bethlehem.

Mary…is probably scared out of her mind…not only is she in unfamiliar surroundings…but she’s about to go through labor and birth for the first time…and remember she’s like 13 or 14. Granted, the angel of the Lord had shown up and relayed this whole deal to her 9 months earlier…but now she’s in the midst of it.  (pause) Joseph…he’s there too…and though we don’t hear much from him, I imagine he’s stressing out as well.  But in the end, the baby is born…they wrap him up and lay him a manger…which, despite any expectations you might have of a barn connected to a hotel…would have actually been a normal aspect of the structure of houses in those days…everyone had a corner where you’d keep your animals in the cold of winter…and so you also had a manger to feed your animals…and lacking any other available space…that’s where they laid the baby. (pause)

Now we have one other batch of people to consider…the shepherds…a ratty, stinky, batch of guys hanging around outside of town…pretty much the lowest of the low from a social standpoint…polar opposite of those first two individuals that we heard about in the emperor and governor…and yet these shifty characters are the ones with the dynamic, downright shocking part to play in this story.

It was nighttime…the sheep were bedded down…and while they were keeping watch, I imagine not much was really happening…I bet that guy was totally nodding off…when suddenly…out of nowhere…brightness and divine glory and booming angelic voices surround them. This was their Star Wars fanfare moment…and they are given the divine message. Born to you this day, a savior, who is Christ the Lord…and then a heavenly choir shows up…adding to the experience…but then just as quick as its begins, its over…the angels depart…the shepherd blink at each other for a moment before deciding…well, let’s go check it out.

And they do…and they find the baby laying there just like the angel said…and they share the divine news that was given to them…and then they haul off, still praising God and telling everyone they encounter…which is great…and Joseph’s over here doing who knows what…and Mary…she hears all this stuff…and sorta takes it all in…and then treasures it. (pause)

Different people…all of whom bring their own perspectives…their own experiences into this DIVINE moment in history…and that shapes HOW they experience this divine encounter…and same is true for us.  Consider what has happened…consider what we profess to be true…consider what we celebrate every year at this time.

The divine creator of EVERYTHING…God who is ultimately bigger…larger…grander…greater…the one who is completely and utterly MORE than we are…through the power of divine Holy Spirit…which is still the same God but is somehow also different…that Spirit of God SOMEHOW has begotten a baby into the womb of very young woman. A baby who is somehow both human and divine…who is the Son of God and yet IS GOD. (pause)

This truth which we profess…this concept of one God in three persons…it defies all logic…and when we bump into things like that…we default to calling it a divine mystery…and there’s nothing wrong with that…but its doesn’t explain things.

This is a concept that comes up in Confirmation Class all the time…and this year’s class has really grabbed onto that question.  “Wait…so Jesus is God?” “Yes.” “But Jesus prays to God right?” “Yes.” “And Jesus calls God, Father right?” “Yes.”  “So…Jesus is his own dad?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love it that our young people are thinking about this…that they are wrestling with it…because it doesn’t make sense does it…and yet…that the gospel…that we have a God who desires to be with us so much, that this DIVINE entity would become one of us and dwell among us…and not only that…but in order to somehow overcome every aspect of this broken reality that hinders our relationships with God and with one another…this same divine made flesh would grow up…spend 3 years embodying the freedom from what hinders as he heals, and teaches, and raises the dead, and constantly reaches across the margins to those pushed to the outside…and then when the powers of this world push back against this new thing that God is bringing into the world…his body is broken and his blood is poured out…and he PROMISES us that whatever is going on in THAT moment is FOR you…and we will remember that…we will celebrate THAT tonight as well…even though we don’t understand it…even though it is a mystery on how or why it works. (pause)

People of God…it is my great joy to stand up before you when we gather for worship…and especially in times like this one when we gather specifically for the purpose of remembering the action that God has taken in our reality…it is my joy to speak about the divine mysteries of our faith…the mysteries of things we cannot explain…but to be able to share the truth and the promise that whatever it is that God is up to…that it is for you…a promise spoken by the angel to the shepherds…that this good news of great joy IS for ALL people…even if we do not understand it.

The birth of Christ…which we celebrate tonight…it may have happened A long long time ago…somewhere far far away…but it is for you…and just like the shepherds…you are invited to go forth from this place…from this experience…glorifying God and telling all who you encounter…about this mysterious thing that God has done.

This is the promise of the Gospel…that it is for you…and this is the challenge of the Gospel…that now YOU…are empowered by that same Spirit…to carry the good news out into this world that is so desperate for it…a world SO desperate for news of joy and love.

I gotta reference Star Wars one more time…not the brand new one because that would be spoilers and that’s not cool…but episode 8 that came out 2 years ago. There’s a line in THAT film that embodies the mystery of what God is up to in our reality…the mystery of Divine love for this world.  “This is how we win…not by fighting what we hate…by saving what we love.”

I don’t know how it works…but I profess to you…THIS…is what Jesus…has done. Amen.

How Revolting 5-19-19

In this sermon, based on Acts 11:1-18, I explore the mind-blowing action of the Holy Spirit moving across cultural boundaries in the expansion of the church. This action is still going on as we are invited into deeper levels of inclusion.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/how-revolting-5-19-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord be yours, now and forever. Amen

There is a scene from the movie Highlander that I love.  In a flashback to the mid-1500’s the main character, who is Scottish by the way…is trying to learn proper balance by standing up in a row boat…and when his mentor shakes the boat he cries out “You stupid haggis!”  “Haggis…what is haggis?”  “Sheep stomach stuffed with meat and barley.” “And what do you do with it?”  “You eat it.”  “How revolting.” (pause)

Its kind of a silly thing…but it reveals a certain truth. There are some things that might seem quite common to one person…but because of countless differences between individuals…that same thing might seem utterly crazy…disgusting…revolting even.

Based on that example…we’re probably thinking of odd or exotic foods…like haggis…or lutefisk for us Scandanavians…but this idea can certainly expand into a lot of different realms as well…like jobs or tasks that an individual might take on…even be used to it…but to someone who is unfamiliar it turns the stomach…like someone who works in a sewer treatment plant…or a caretaker in a big industrial chicken farm…or the poor guy who has to drive the rendering truck around and pick up dead animals. (pause) I’m sure we can all think of those types of things…something that just seems utterly wrong…so wrong that our reaction is revulsion. (pause)

Now “revulsion,” that’s a strong word isn’t it? One that we probably don’t really use that often…but it’s a good one…and I think it expresses an extreme reaction…not just dislike…but the sense of being completely repulsed by something…or even someone.

And that sense right there…I want you to hold onto that…because this very sense helps explain the mentality that Peter was facing in today’s story that we heard out of Acts. (pause)

Now at this point…the Jesus movement…or the way of Christ, or the church, or Christianity…whatever we want to call it…its pretty well been limited within the confines of the Jewish faith up to this point.  Jesus’ own action and ministry, with a few notable exceptions, has been aimed at the lost sheep of Israel.

Following his ascension right at the beginning of Acts, the tiny group of his followers are empowered by the Holy Spirit during the festival of Pentecost…and following an impassioned sermon from Peter, 3000 Jewish people became believers.  A couple chapters later we hear about 5000 more…but up to this point…we’ve yet to see the Gospel REALLY cross those cultural boundaries and reach the Gentiles…

That is, until Acts chapter 10…when Peter has a vision regarding Jewish dietary restrictions that repeats itself a few times until he starts to get the bigger picture…and then he’s summoned off to Caesarea and the home of Cornelius…a Gentile and Centurion in the Roman Army…Peter enters his home…having learned in his repeating vision that God shows no partiality and that the “unclean nature” of Gentiles should not stop him…he shares the gospel…the entire household believes…the Holy Spirit shows up just as it did to the disciples at Pentecost…and moved by the Spirit, Peter baptizes the entire household…all that happens in chapter 10.

But hold on a sec. Look back at your bulletins…doesn’t it also happen in chapter 11?  Didn’t we read pretty much that exact thing in chapter 11? Yah we did…so why the repeat?  Why, when Luke was putting all this together did he feel the need to tell the story, and then have Peter turn around and tell it again? Why the repeat? (pause)

Well…when someone repeats themselves in scripture, its usually important right? And as we hear today…Peter is telling this story to the believers in Jerusalem…and especially to his critics…who we hear are the circumcised believers. (pause)

Let’s take a second here.  Circumcise believers…Jewish believers…those who follow the Law…those who cling to the idea that followers of Christ, must be Jewish…that its open to anyone, as long as they’ve first fulfilled the law…and you know what part of that Law says?  That you should not break bread with Gentiles…you should not even enter their house…because to do so makes YOU unclean…and therefore unfit to come before God. (pause)  And did you notice…that’s their complaint…as Peter shares the news of this AMAZING new development empowered by the Holy Spirit and the shared gift of the Spirit beyond cultural boundaries…the only thing they pick up on is the revolting reality that Peter entered the house of a Gentile.  (pause)
Can you believe that…that these guys are SO caught up in “the rules” and proper order or whatever we want to call it that they seem to completely miss the enormity of what Peter is telling them.

But you know what…its not just “the rules.” It seems to go deeper than that…these guys seem to be utterly disgusted…revolted at the very idea of sharing space and time and food with Gentiles…it just does not compute as even being possible…and yet…as Peter shares his experience…as he shares what he witnessed…how the hearing of the good news of Christ brought the Spirit and the gift of faith upon this household, regardless of their culture or nationality…regardless of their background…and Peter shares the mind-blowing insight that he has learned…I know that God shows no partiality.

I can only imagine how amazing this was for Peter and the fellow believers who were with him…for the gift of the Holy Spirit comes upon Cornelius and his family in exactly the same way as it had for Peter and the others…no differences…we find that in the first account of this story…and in his own joyous astonishment, Peter says “If God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God.” (pause)

Who are we to hinder that which God is up to? (pause) I think that’s a question that we all need to be asking ourselves…because the Spirit blows where it will…bringing the gift of faith into countless places and people that we think are lost causes…over and over again we hear in the scriptures…and sometimes we see with our own eyes…the way that God shows up where we least expect it…even among those who we think are unworthy…even those who we have no desire to associate with…even those who we might find revolting if we are honest with ourselves. (pause)

So who is that?  Who might the Holy Spirit be working among…having brought the gift of faith…who might God be calling even if we think it breaks the rules?  That’s a question that the church has long wrestled with in countless different situations…some of which seem to have settled…and some of which are still ongoing.

Here in the Lutheran church…or at least our branch of it…we’ve been ordaining women for almost 50 years…and that’s a good thing…because they are called and they are empowered by that same Spirit…and yet there are many, both individuals and groups, who still deny their legitimacy…who try to make them somehow less because of their gender. And what’s worse, they use scripture as a weapon to do it.

That’s just one example…there are countless more…and I can only think that when we fall in this trap, we are somehow denying the very personhood…the true identity of the individual…denying their mutual humanity and the truth that they are bearers of the divine image.

Who is God calling that we don’t agree with?  Who is God empowering that we just can’t wrap our heads around…because its been drilled into us by tradition that “it doesn’t work that way.” Or because our own personal prejudice or more often fear of the unknown whispers a lie in our ear to make us believe that they are somehow less…or unacceptable…or maybe Christianity’s favorite trope…that they are too sinful. (pause)

Over and over again, the story of scripture reveals mind-blowing ways that God continues to invite us forward…and this tends to reveal itself with ever increases examples of inclusion that crosses the boundaries created by society…and each and every time a line is drawn in the sand about who is in and who is out…we find Jesus on the other side. (pause)

Peter says “who am I that I could hinder God?” God will not be hindered…the Holy Spirit will not be limited because of our narrowmindedness, whether we like it or not…because the Gospel of Christ is WAY TOO big for our petty limitations to keep under control, and we find this in the very end of the book of Acts, as the Gospel of Christ and the kingdom of God is proclaimed with all boldness and WITHOUT…HINDRANCE.

Here’s the thing folks…the Spirit’s not done yet either…whatever was going on when Peter interacted with Cornelius…you better believe it was mind-blowing…Peter himself had to experience this vision 3 different times before he finally started opening up to it.  Then his critics in Jerusalem had to hear evidence, not only from him, but from 6 other people that the Spirit had in fact acted across racial and cultural boundaries before they could accept it…this was no easy thing…and I’m guessing it wasn’t just cut and dry…easy peasy…for any of them.

But that’s the radical nature of God’s amazing Grace made manifest through Jesus Christ…it goes beyond all logic…it goes beyond all understanding…and it breaks EVERY barrier…it has to, or its not grace.

So who might be our Cornelius?  Who might God be calling US into faithful relationship with…into shared communion…into this ONE body of Christ on earth?  That’s something we always need to be paying attention to…because the moment we wrap our heads around one mind-blowing situation on inclusion, God’s probably starting to prep the next one for us.

And you know what, that’s a good thing…because if God’s grace is really THAT big…well that means that its big enough for me…no matter how revolting that might have been for someone else, that God would chose to love me. That’s the amazing grace of God folks…and it really is THAT big.   Amen.

As You Hear It 1-27-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 4:14-21, I explore Jesus’ first public proclamation in Luke’s Gospel. We find a heavy emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, which guides the ministry that Jesus will do. We are connected to this same ministry by that same Spirit.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/as-you-hear-it-1-27-19

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

The Grace and Peace of our Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Many of you have heard me talk about my fascination with plants…and how amazing I think they are…and how different species of plants do some amazing things.

One of the things that I appreciate about plants…is the way that they tell you when they need water. If you are a gardener you’ve probably noticed this before…when plants get thirsty…they get all wilted.  Granted, some species are better at this than others…but it happens.

There is a scientific reason behind this…something called Turgor Pressure…basically, if the plant has enough water, the fluid inside each cell keeps it nice and rigid…resulting in the plant, and specifically the leaves upright and perky…but on the other hand, if the plant is lacking water…that fluid pressure inside the cells drops, and it flops over.

This happened part way through last week with one of the plants back in my office. I walked in after lunch and noticed the leaves all wilted over and realized it needed water…which I did…and since I had the thought of turgor pressure in the back of my head…I did a little experiment.

I knew I’d be sitting at my desk working for a while, so I pulled out my phone and started a time lapse video that covered roughly 30 minutes’ worth of time over the course of a 20 second video. If you’re interested let me know, because I can show it to you…and its fascinating.

As soon as I turned the camera off I watched the video and plain as day you can see the leaves starting to perk up as the water was drawn up into them.  It was so cool, at least to my plant-nerd brain, that I watched it a couple more times…but the more often I watched it, the more I started seeing other stuff happening in the video…like the clouds moving across the sky in the background…or shadows lengthening and sunlight shifting as the sun moved across the sky…something really clear during one brief portion where my knee is visible in the video.

It was really amazing to see the passage of time sped up like this…and eye opening to realize how our perception of time affects us…things that we don’t even notice are moving…and changing…and its only when we see time as we know it sped up, that we can begin to witness this movement and action.

And its right there that I start to connect into our scripture for today…because there are times when we struggle to notice or see the way that God is working in the world…and perhaps more specifically…that we fail to see the action of the Holy Spirit.

Now maybe it goes without saying…but it seems like the Holy Spirit is the toughest part of our Triune God to figure out.  We hear about it…we think about the Spirit of God in the world…but more often than not we don’t see it…its only shows up physically a couple of times in the scriptures…one of them quite recently in our gospel lessons…and yet, throughout all of this…the Spirit is there.

And I think its safe to say that of the gospels…Luke, not to mention Luke’s follow up of the book of Acts, does the best job of putting the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit’s action on display…and we’ve already seen that through the opening few chapters of Luke.  We hear about the Spirit coming upon the parents of both John the Baptist and Jesus.  We hear about how John is empowered by the Spirit even before he’s born…we hear the Spirit flowing into Elizabeth and Mary…we hear of two faithful witness led by the Spirit into the temple to witness the baby Jesus…we hear of the Spirit physically showing up at Jesus’ baptism…about how it leads him into the wilderness for 40 days…and that following that event, Jesus is still full of the Spirit as he begins his ministry around Galilee…we even hear it quoted from the Prophet Isaiah as Jesus reads in the synagogue…and that’s just the first 4 chapters.

So I think its safe to say…that whatever it is that’s going on here…the Holy Spirit…the Spirit of God…its at work, whether we take notice of it or not.

Now today’s story is an interesting one.  As we continue through Epiphany, focusing in on the ways that Jesus is revealed to the world…here we have Luke’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ intentional public ministry…as he travels around Galilee, preaching and teaching in the synagogues…and that news spreads around…and that he is praised…glorified even…by everyone. Granted we don’t get much in the way of detail here in the first couple of verses…at least until Jesus walks back into his hometown of Nazareth…and apparently continues in the same trend.

It raises the question…what’s so important about this particular situation…Did he volunteer to read and teach, or was he picked…we don’t know…is he preaching about the same passage as in the previous communities…or is Isaiah unique this time around? We don’t know…did he chose Isaiah, or was luck of the draw…again we don’t know. But what we do know is that he chose the specific passage in Isaiah…because he turned to the place where it is written…and what a passage…

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

With that Jesus rolls up the scroll, hands it back, and sits down to start teaching…might seem a little odd but that’s how they did it…and as we hear…every eye is upon him. (pause)
Let me set the stage for you here…because I’ve been to one of these small town synagogues in Galilee.  Its in a big square…with benches lining the walls as well an inner row…Jesus would have been standing in the middle as he read…and then he would have sat on one of those benches…and everyone could see him…the whole structure was maybe 25 or 30 feet across…and he could look everyone in the eye.

Now keep in mind…this was Nazareth…this was his hometown…a tiny backwater community of maybe a couple hundred people…everyone knew everyone…and I can only imagine what was going through their minds as they listened to Jesus…these people who remembered him as a baby and young boy…individuals who were in the caravan when he was 12 and got left in Jerusalem.  People who knew Mary and Joseph…childhood friends of his family. Some who could probably say “dude I changed your diaper 30 years ago” which is a weird thought…but its true.

This is the setting where Jesus talks about the Spirit of the Lord being upon him…and anointing him…empowering him to bring good news of a great reversal…something that sounds an awful lot like what we call the kingdom of heaven.

And initially…everyone seems to like what they hear…as Jesus wraps up the reading and kicks off his teaching by announcing “Today the scripture is fulfilled as you hear it.”  If you’re familiar with the story…his sermon actually stirs up issues and everyone here in his hometown gets cranky to the point of trying to throw him off a cliff…but we’ll save that for next week…and today…we stop with this announcement…this reveal…this epiphany even…that the scriptures have been fulfilled as we hear it. (pause)

Here’s the thing…here in Luke’s gospel…this is the first action of Jesus’ ministry…the other gospels place it a little later…but Luke puts it here…and while these aren’t the first words that Jesus speaks in Luke…they are the first words of his ministry…might as well be his inaugural address…because they line out a pretty solid overview of what his ministry is going to look like.

Good news to the poor…sight to the blind…release to the captives…and even a hint at something they would call the Year of Jubilee…that’s the year of the Lord’s favor that he mentions…and you want to talk about a great reversal…the Jubilee was epitome.

Every 50 years, debts were forgiven.  Land that had been sold or acquired were transferred back to the family of origin. Slaves were freed…which is great news if you’re on the receiving end…but maybe not such great news for those on the other side of it…what if you’re the lender…or the new land owner…or the owner of the slave? Then this news…this reversal…it is going to cost you something isn’t it?

And I can’t help but think that’s important for us to hear…because sometimes the gospel sounds like good news…because we’re the ones who have been oppressed or shoved to the margins…but sometimes we’re also the ones who have benefitted from it…and maybe that good news begins to reveal the cost to us….but you know what, we need to hear that too.

Make no mistake…we are connected to this event as well…it wasn’t a simple proclamation that Jesus made once in his hometown, only to be abandoned and forgotten when he walked away that day…we are connected through the power of the same Holy Spirit which was so active in the background of the gospel…the same spirit which anointed and empowered Jesus in his baptism has done the same for us in ours.

The Spirit is still at work here in the world, even if our perception fails to notice it…and this same spirit connects us all together into the one body of Christ on earth…one body with many members as we hear in 1 Corinthians…we are all gifted and empowered in different ways…both as individuals as well as different congregations and churches and even denominations.  None of us are wired to ministry in the same way…but we are all part of that greater ministry of the church. (pause)

Jesus made this proclamation at the beginning of his ministry…being very clear that in his presence, empowered the Spirit…the scripture is fulfilled…and I believe that today…in our hearing…the same thing is going on…it may go beyond our ability to comprehend…but somehow someway…right now as we hear this…it is being fulfilled and WE are a part of that.

I can’t help but think that with the emphasis on TODAY…we find a sense of urgency…or at least we should…an urgency to follow the guidance…the power…the whisper of the Holy Spirit to us. Now maybe that leads us into the wilderness…or maybe it leads us into Galilee…but it would seem safe to say that the Spirit is leading us join in the same mission of bringing about the great reversal of the Kingdom of Heaven, just as Jesus did through his ministry…through his life…and through his death and resurrection.

Now this is fitting for us to hear today…knowing that in a few minutes many of us will join together in the work of the Annual meeting…as we consider the year that has been and the year that will be…as we consider our budget and how we support the operation of this place…as well as the ministry that we do out there in the community and the world.

And so I pose this question…Where is the Spirit leading us today?  I can’t answer that for you…but it is my prayer that we are listening together…and that we recognize that we are connected into something much larger than we are…and that we will be brave enough, not only to listen…but then to join in and follow…this is our mission as followers of Christ…because as Jesus tells us…The Spirit of the Lord is upon US…because he has anointed US to bring good news…

Today, this is fulfilled as YOU hear it. Amen

Because I Said So 1-13-19

In this sermon for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, based on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, I explore the vital importance of Jesus’ baptism, and the way that the proclamation of God is a life-altering moment in our existence and identity.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/because-i-said-so-1-13-19

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

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

Disagreements are odd things. Now, I’m not talking about knockdown, drag-out fights. But rather those times when we have a difference of opinion on something.

Granted, most of the time I think we as people are able to talk our way through them. We might look at things from a different angle, but more often than not, we are able to find some way to meet in the middle.

But there are times when the two parties in the disagreement are not really on equal footing status-wise. Maybe it’s a boss-employee dynamic…or a ranking officer over a sub-ordinate in the military…or one that I’ve gained a fair amount of experience with…a parent and child. (pause) Now as we all know…the scales aren’t balanced in those relationships…one has authority over the other…and so, inevitably…at some point…its gonna happen.  Its happened to me, and its probably happened to you…that moment when one person gives a command or an order or instruction…and the other responds “Why?” (pause) “Because I said so.” (pause)

That’s a loaded phrase isn’t it? Because I said so…it’s a powerful statement…one that doesn’t really indicate any specific meaning…but in itself reveals something utterly final…utterly specific…it’s a declaration…or proclamation that this matter is now settled…and that in the voicing of the statement, this is now reality. (pause)

Think about some of the different examples of proclamations that we encounter.  There are probably many…but the ones that come to mind tend to be tied into some really big important moments…maybe you’ve experienced some of these…and the way its changed how you think or view a given situation…how it makes something more real.

Moments like hearing the words “I’m pregnant” or “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl.”  Or moments like “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Or “You’re hired.” Or “You’re fired.” Or “I’m sorry, its cancer.” Or even “Time of death is…”  These proclamations change everything…and to hear them declared in our direction…these statements alter our reality don’t they.

Now admittedly…I got a little heavy right away…but I think its important to recognize this truth about proclamation…and it’s the idea of proclamation that brings us around to today’s gospel lesson.  Today is Baptism of our Lord Sunday…always the first Sunday after the day of Epiphany…here at the beginning of the Epiphany season…and as we’ve said before…the theme throughout Epiphany centers in on different ways that Jesus is revealed to the world.

Now the Baptism of Jesus is an important story…one of only a few that we hear every single year…and one of precious few that has the distinction of being featured in all four gospels…and with that distinction, its certainly worth paying attention to.

Interestingly enough, in all four gospels…we actually find the action kicking off centered around John the Baptist rather than Jesus…today is no exception…and you’ve probably all heard the story often enough that you know the basics.

John’s out in the wilderness…enthusiastically doing his John the Baptist thing.  Long crazy hair…weird wardrobe…crazy diet…hollering about repentance and calling people vipers. Throwing water around…and generally attracting a great big crowd that compares him with the prophets of old…and at the same time they are generally perplexed by this dude and his message.

Low and behold Jesus comes walking up…and since these 2 guys are relatives, I can only imagine the conversation going a little like this. “YOU BROOD OF VIPERS…WHO WARNED YOU TO FLEE…OH…Jesus…hey cuz…sup?”
“Not much John…sup with you?” “Ah you know how it is…just doin my thing…how’s your mom? She good?” “Yah she’s good…you coming to the big reunion at the temple this year?” “I dunno…word on the street is King Herod’s getting a little cranky with me…I’ll probably end up getting arrested or something.”  “Crazy man…but anyway…I see you’re doing this whole baptism thing…let’s do that.”

And they go back and forth for a bit and Jesus is baptized and the heavens open up and the Spirit descends like a dove and a big booming voice announces his identity as the Beloved Son of God….probably with choir of angels singing back up like (Heavenly Singing) “AHHHHHHHH.” (pause) Okay so I embellish…but I like to think that’s how it happened.

But as we consider this important story, recognizing that its presence in each of the gospels, we must also take note of the differences that lie between them…and today, we think specifically about Luke’s version featured in the brief batch of verses which we shared a moment ago.

Now when I sat down with this text early this past week…my initial reaction was “Man, John’s busy here isn’t he?  Where’s Jesus during all this?”  And I can’t help but think its true…most of what we hear is the message of John…every bit of it pointing away from himself.

Humor and joking aside…John was a pretty big deal…in that time, he’s the first “voice from God”…think prophet…that they’ve heard in 400 years…and he’s got some pedigree…he’s the son of priest…one important enough to serve in the temple…he’s been empowered by the Holy Spirit since before he was born…and he’s got a message…and all of this starts making the people wonder if maybe, just maybe John might be the long awaited Messiah.

But John knows who he is…and more importantly…John knows who he is not…One more powerful that I am is coming. I’m not even worthy to untie his shoes. I baptize you with water…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire…You might think I’m it…but you haven’t seen anything yet.

John goes on and on…and with everything he says, he’s pointing this audience to another…he’s pointing out the one who IS the Messiah…the one, who is ultimately standing among them…and in an almost throw away comment…completely passive here in Luke’s account we hear “when the people were baptized and Jesus was baptized with them.” (pause)  That’s it…that’s the only detail we get about Jesus this time around…that he’s just one of the people in line to be baptized together.

And yet…this simple passive statement reveals something important…that for whatever reason Jesus needed to be baptized…a age-old question without any really great answers…but for whatever reason…Jesus experiences the same action…the same baptism as we do…but of course…as we know…the aftermath was a little more dramatic than what we tend to see when we gather around this particular font.

The heaven’s open up…the Spirit comes down…and God makes a declaration…You are my son the beloved, with you I am well pleased…can’t help but think that’s about the most dramatic reveal that you could hope every hope for right?

But now let’s think about it.  In this moment…All three members of the trinity are present…a unique moment in all of scripture when we find Father, Son, and Holy Spirit present and accounted for…and in fact the only other time they are mentioned together is in Jesus’ command at the end of Matthew’s gospel when he instructs his followers to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The only two times are in the context of Baptism.

When we realize this…perhaps we begin to see just why our Baptismal identity is so vital in our Lutheran expression and understanding of our faith in Christ. The divinely mysterious 3 in 1 God is expressed through this divine act which we share with Jesus.

Now I’ll admit…there are moments when I get a little jealous…because as amazing as baptism is…and it is…we don’t have Jesus physically standing here…and we don’t get a bird flapping around…or the roof tearing off and the sky ripping in 2…it would be pretty amazing…and probably pretty scary if we did…but that doesn’t really happen does it?

But you know what…our Triune God is still present when we celebrate a baptism…Jesus is here…because we are the body of Christ here on Earth…and the newly baptized joins in that community, becoming part of the body. (pause) We have the gift of the Holy Spirit, promised through the scriptures…even if we can’t see it…and finally we have the presence of God among us through proclamation. (pause)

Jesus heard those words…you are my beloved Son…and that same proclamation…that same statement of identity is declared over the newly baptized…its not me saying it, its not the parents or the sponsors or anyone else…it is the proclamation of God who makes the claim…the proclamation…the declaration that “YOU…are my child.”  That’s how God shows up when we celebrate baptism…through that proclamation.

And just like the different life-shaking proclamations that we mentioned before…the authority present in this declaration over you means that things will never be the same…because that identity Beloved Child of God is one that nothing can overcome…not even death, which logic tells us should be the end of the line and the last word in the story…but the promise of Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection is that death doesn’t get the last word…God does…and that word assures us…declares to us….that I love you and you…are…mine. (pause)

Sometimes this news seems too good to be true…but it is true…and we declare it…we proclaim it…that is our calling as followers of Christ…to share that news with one another and with the world…

And isn’t it wonderful to know that even in those times when it seems hard to believe…and we respond like an unhappy teenager with the question of “Why?” We have the answer in the proclamation of God “Because I said so.” Amen

The Spirit Groans 5-20-18

*these two images are referenced in the sermon*

In this sermon for the Day of Pentecost, I explore the action of the Holy Spirit in the world, based on Acts 2:1-21 and Romans 8:22-27.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-spirit-groans-5-20-18

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.

Earlier this week, I was chatting with a few of our High School students…and we got started talking about Pentecost.  And since its one of those pretty well known stories from the Bible, I thought I’d give them a little quiz and see what they remember from their Confirmation Days.

You guys remember Pentecost? Yah I think so.  Was that before or after Jesus died?  After…and its after the Resurrection and Ascension too. Okay…so Jesus is alive again but he’s not around anymore right? Right. Is it the Gospels? No its after the gospels…but right after the gospels. Umm…is that when the Holy Spirit shows up?  YES!!!!

Now at this point I was doing mental jumping jacks because it seemed like they remembered the story…and so I asked one more question.  Do you remember how the Spirit showed up? And after a moment of thought, one of them said.  Wasn’t it, like a big flaming bird? And one of the other kids said Ooo…like a Phoenix? And with that, our conversation went a little off the rails…but as I think back on the conversation…I realized that the kids were a little more on top of things than it might initially seem.

Because the Holy Spirit, while present in many different ways throughout the course of Scripture, only shows up twice in some sort of physical form…and it would seem that as we were talking, the kids just combined those two stories together.

Interestingly enough…we’ve got pictures or emblems or symbols, whatever you want to call them, right here in the sanctuary of these two times.  The first one is located at the back of the sanctuary, if you swing around and look you’ll see the large wood carving of the dove, representing the time when the Holy Spirit appeared in this form, coming from heaven and resting upon Jesus at his baptism.

And the second one is up here in the front…represented right up behind me and over my head in the red parament…depicting the tongues of fire that show up on the day of Pentecost….which is, of course, today. (pause)
Now the story of Pentecost is fascinating as all kinds of crazy stuff occurs…and we’ve been talking about this event off and on over the past couple of weeks as we’ve encountered some of the earliest situations faced by the church in the absence of Jesus…and it would seem that it all originates right here as the Spirit shows up in dramatically unexpected fashion.

Crazy violent wind…fire doing weird stuff…a bunch of random Galileans speaking in tongues…individuals from all over the known world hearing the proclamation of God’s deeds of power spoken in their native languages…accusations of public intoxication…Spirit inspired testimony from Peter which ultimately results in more than 3000 people becoming believers of the gospel…and as we hear everyone is amazed and perplexed asking the question “What does this mean?” (pause)

I can’t help but think that this sense of confusion…this wonder…this ultimate head scratcher is pretty telling when it comes to the action of the Holy Spirit in the world…and scripture goes a long way to show us the multitude of different things that Spirit is up to with different people in different situations at different times.

Today alone we have three different scripture lessons that reveal 3 different ways that the Spirit acts. We’ve got the empowerment of the believers to proclaim the gospel, not to mention the formation of new community across countless cultural boundaries here in the book of Acts.  The gospel lesson out of John reminds us of Jesus’ promise that the Spirit will continue to reveal God’s truth in the world. And then in Romans we hear how the Spirit intercedes for us, often in moments when we are unable to do so for ourselves…and its actually that passage that catches my attention today.

Here in the letter to the Romans, written 20 or 30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are reminded of the brokenness of the world…and how every aspect of creation has been effected by the presence of sin and brokenness within our reality…that the whole creation is groaning…and so are we while we wait for the fulfillment of the promises made by God through Jesus Christ.

We wait…we hope…in the midst of our weakness…and God knows this…and we are reminded that God does not leave us alone in this weakness…for the Spirit helps us…interceding for us and WITH us in those moments when we don’t know what to say…when we don’t know what to think or feel…in those times when life doesn’t make sense…or when its too painful…or when our expectations and dreams reach a point of being beyond our ability to control…in those times when we look backwards and see the pain or struggles of our past, or we look forward and see a haze of the unknown. (pause)

Perhaps its fitting that today is graduation day…and for a few of you sitting out there today…this tension might hold a lot of credence. And I wonder what it is that you are praying for…or perhaps what it is that the spirit is praying on your behalf as you contemplate receiving your diploma in just a few hours…and the unknown that lies beyond it….or for your parents and grandparents who have raised you…who have struggled with the tension of being fully invested in you and yet not holding on too tightly…and they dream for you…they hope for you…and yet they are scared for you as you face this unknown future.

I think that this is, perhaps, telling of the sense that many of us feel as we ponder on the world…as we think about the world that the next generation is inheriting…and the truth that no matter how much we care, there are forces at work that we just can’t protect you from.

This past Friday, once again, news broke of a school shooting, this time in the Houston area…and again, there are lives lost…there are families broken…and lives shattered…and as I heard that news Friday morning, I found myself unaware of what to think or do or say in the face of this evil…and I thought about how it could have been here…it could have been our young people…it could have been some of you…and I found myself at an utter loss of what to say…

But in the midst of this I began to see, in this moment, the truth of Paul’s words that all of creation is groaning…because there is something inherently wrong when we consider the truth of pain and brokenness and death…a reality that leaves us wondering “What are we to say about these things?”

Perhaps that question sounds familiar to you. I often use it to begin funeral sermons, and its found just a few verses after this reading from Romans 8.  And maybe just maybe the only thing that we can say as we lean on the presence of God who resides within us through the presence of the Holy Spirit…maybe the only thing we can do is remember that we’ve been given a promise that we have a God who will NEVER leave us alone…and that there is nothing in this world…nothing in this reality that can separate us from God…and that in this promise we find hope…and in hope we are saved.

We can not prove the promises of God to be true…because whatever it is that lies out there on the other side of this broken reality, we can’t see it yet…but we hope for it…and we look to one another for love and support in those times when we just can’t handle it alone…because one of the gifts of the Spirit is community…God has given us one another and together we are the body…when one is weak another is strong…when one falters, another is there to pick them up again…this is how we mirror the love of God which has been shown to us in Christ Jesus…and as we do this…let us hold on to words which end the 8th chapter of Romans…words that I hope will give you hope…words that I pray give you something to hang onto in these times when the Spirit groans within you and for you because you don’t know what to say or to think. (pause)
I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing…not even the powers of darkness that rage in this world. (pause)
I want draw your attention back to the two symbols of the Holy Spirit here in the sanctuary…the dove in the back and the flames here in the front…I actually like the separation between the two as it reminds us that the baptism of Jesus started at the beginning of the gospel…and the tongues of fire from Pentecost showed up at the end when the church was empowered to be the body of Christ…but if you look at both, you’ll see something that they have in common…both emblems have a cross don’t they?

Maybe these two symbols working together are actually the Spirit trying to remind us that both of these events are connected by what God did through the cross. (pause) Because in Christ, God tried to show the world that there was another way…and on the cross the world killed him for it…but the cross also reminds us that death doesn’t get the last word in all this…God does…and this is the promise that we cling to…even in those moments when we need the Spirit to utter some groans on our behalf, because trust me, we are not alone…and the Spirit groans. Amen

Knower of Hearts 5-13-18

In this sermon, based on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 I explore the appointment of Matthias as the 12th Apostle. This odd situation occurs in the significant pause between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/knower-of-hearts-5-13-18

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

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to realize that in any given situation or interaction, there are different perspectives that lie on opposite sides…something I never considered in my younger days…and its only as my own life experience has begun to place me on the opposite side of these various interactions that I’ve started learning this crazy truth. A truth that is only revealed when you find yourself “sitting on the other side of the table.”

For instance…When I was a kid, especially being the third kid in my family, I thought my folks had things pretty well figured out…but now I’ve learned that parenting does not come with a manual, and that about 99% of all parenting is simply making it up as you go along, regardless of which kid in the order you’re dealing with. (pause) I’ve discovered that while being interviewed can certainly be a little tedious…being the one that is conducting the interview is one of the most un-natural feelings ever. (pause) And finally, one that I learned about the time I was starting seminary and began helping out in my old congregation as one of the Confirmation teachers…when you are standing up in front of a class…you can see EVERYONE…including the ones who think they are being sneaky by looking at their phone under the table. (pause)
Now, on the flip side of the teaching thing…that does remind me of my various days as a student, particularly in college and later on, seminary…when we would all embody being creatures of habit, and sit in the same place time after time. I can only think it’s a common human trait to do this…and because of that common tendency, another perspective that I’ve gained since taking on the role of teacher is how easy it is to see when someone is gone because they aren’t sitting in their normal spot.  And it’s this idea of absence, or the lack of a person’s normal presence that shoots us over into the scripture for today.

Now we find ourselves in the midst of a brief portion of time in the church year…in the 10-day gap that lies between Ascension Day, when Jesus is taken up into heaven…which just occurred this past Thursday…and the day of Pentecost, when we celebrate the empowerment of the Church by the Holy Spirit with the great wind and tongues of fire resting on the believers, which is coming right up next Sunday.

Now I’ve heard this 10-day period called a significant pause in the life of the church…and I think that’s fitting. For we find ourselves…or perhaps its better to say that the earliest church found themselves in an unknown spot…taking a breath perhaps as they find themselves in the reality of a pretty major absence. The absence of Christ himself.

Now as the book of Acts picks up, we begin with Jesus taking the Apostles just outside Jerusalem. He gives them the task of being his witnesses radiating out from the city…and he tells them that they will be empowered from on high soon…and until then, they should just stay there and wait….with this, Jesus leaves their sight…ascending into Heaven.

And now, for the first time, these witnesses to the Christ event…those who seemingly have been around since John baptized Jesus in the Jordan…those who have traveled around with him…they’ve seen the miracles…they’ve heard the teaching…and now they’ve witnessed the mind-blowing reality of the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus…and now…having seen all this…and having been utterly reliant on Jesus for direction…they find themselves on their own…this small rag-tag batch of believers…numbering about 120…about the size of our Sunday morning gatherings.  That was the entire church.

And I can only imagine…Jesus has disappeared, they’ve walked back into the city…and now they’re just sorta sitting there staring at each other…and it would seem that after a day or two, they starting asking the question. “What do we do now?”

Now keep in mind that Pentecost hasn’t happened yet…so no Holy Spirit yet…but it would seem that the church is getting impatient…and so they decide that its time that they take action…Jesus is gone, so I guess its up to us.

And as they look around…considering all that has happened…it would seem that a council election is in order…because there’s a hole left in the ranks of the apostles. Jesus said there was supposed to be 12…but look, Judas is gone. And so Peter hops up with an idea…GUYS…I totally think we need to pick someone to take his spot…and so they do…now they lay out some criteria…and it would seem that there are 2 guys that fit the bill…one guy with 3 names, Joseph or Barsabbas or Justus, whatever you want to call him…and Matthias.  And then in one of the strangest election situations I’ve ever heard of…they decide who God has chosen by essentially throwing dice…Matthias is chosen…he is now “numbered” with the other apostles…seemingly placed into a position of leadership among the 120, poor Justus gets shunted to the side…and then, (long pause) we literally never hear about either one of them again.

I can’t help but think of the possibility that the earliest church jumped the gun here. Jesus told them to wait until they were empowered…and that hadn’t happened yet. And maybe, just maybe, the fact that we never hear Matthias named again, or beforehand for that matter, maybe this serves a reminder that God wasn’t quite ready for them to start moving yet.

But that being said, I don’t mean to minimalize Matthias or Justus or any of the other members of the earliest church. In fact, I’m jealous of them…we hear that these are the people who followed Jesus. This group of 120 odd people were literally Jesus’ disciples…they were followers, even if only 12 of them were considered to be “THE” disciples.

It probably goes without saying that both of these two guys made important contributions in the life of the body of Christ here in the first days….and honestly the rest of the people probably did to. Its possible, probable even, that all 120 were included on Pentecost when the Spirit empowered them, not just the 12.  They were all present through the earliest days, meeting together…breaking bread together…being devoted to the apostles teachings, and encountering every new believer that was added to their ranks…they were all important.

But here’s the question I want to pose.  Of that 120 people…how many do we know? How many can we identify…maybe 20 or so? The original 12…a handful of women who are named at various points…and now Matthias and Justus…and everyone else, is completely unknown to us.

And yet…they are the body…and as we mentioned these earliest believers…these members of the earliest church were vital…because without this entire group and the witness that each of them provided through their own gifts and stories…through their own encounters with others…the church as it exists today would be different.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the 100 that we don’t know…those individuals who now, 2000 years later, are nameless and faceless…its almost like they never existed. And there are COUNTLESS more brothers and sisters from across the centuries that fall in the same boat. Those individuals who each did their part for the body…which is one body with many members…and then once their small part of time was up, they faded from memory.

I think about how quickly this can happen…how fast our memory can fade from those we are known by…and I realize the truth of this when I think about how I can see everyone when I’m teaching.  Guess what…the same thing applies when I’m standing in this pulpit as well.

I look out at you all, week after week, and since we’re all creatures of habit, I know pretty much who I’m going to see depending on which direction I’m looking.  I know I’m going to see Phil if I look right here.  I know if I look back that direction I’m going to see Joyce…I know I’m going to see Arlon leaning against the wall right over there, and either Nancy or Judy sitting here in the front row next to the organ. And I pretty much know where the rest of you are sitting as well.

But today as I look around this sanctuary…I can also see the spots where someone’s missing. I look over there, where Jane Christiansen should be sitting.  Or I look up here where Bob and Marcia Hastings should be…or over there where Tom Emmi used to sit…and I note their absence…and I note quite a few others who are absent today as well.

But perhaps for some of you that are newer, I say those names and you don’t know who I’m talking about…because they’ve been gone longer than you’ve been a part of this particular community…and this is precisely the point I’m getting at.

Our time in this life is a blip in the cosmic sense…and while we are known and loved by those that we encounter as we live this life together, there will come a day when each of us fades from living memory.

But there is something in today’s passage, almost a throw away comment, that we need to recognize. When Peter proposes this lottery for a new Apostle, they pray…and our translation is just a little bit off…because they actually call on the Lord, who they describe as “the knower of every heart.”  God is the one that knows us far better than anyone else will ever know us.

God is the one who sees every aspect, who knows us better than we know ourselves…and who loves us unconditionally from the first moment of our existence…through every single breath of our life…God is the one who holds us through death…and brings us to new life in Christ, whatever that will look like in the promise of the resurrection.

God is the knower of hearts…God is the knower of souls…God is the knower of you…and long after your time in this life is done, and your memory has faded away from those still living…your place as a beloved member of the body of Christ will not be forgotten by the one who made you in the first place. Amen

Even These 5-6-18

In this sermon, based on Acts 10:44-48, I explore the utterly unexpected way that the Holy Spirit acts in bringing more and more marginalized people into fellowship.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/even-these-5-6-18

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

Ever heard the phrase “Truth is stranger than fiction?” There are times when this statement utterly spot-on.  Earlier this week I was scrolling through social media and found a picture of a book…And looking at the cover art may have temporarily broken my brain…Jesus, riding a rainbow unicorn, holding a machine gun in each hand, all while firing lasers out of his eyes.

It was like someone took My Little Pony, Superman, and Rambo…put it all in a blender…and then poured it on the gospels…and the biggest kicker was the name. The Bible, Part 2. (pause) I’m not making this up. Now, I don’t know what was actually in this book. I don’t know if it was satire, or a coloring book, or some weird comic…but it did get me wondering just what we would find if there actually was a sequel to the Bible. (pause)

Now, while we can’t answer that question, we can take a look at the theme of scriptural sequels and find some evidence…and that lies with the book of Acts…Now I can’t help but think that Acts, or Acts of the Apostles as its officially known, is one of the books of the Bible that tends to get glossed over more often than not…but when we take the time to really start digging into it, we find some pretty amazing, not to mention pretty mind blowing situations faced by the earliest church.

Now that right there…the earliest church, that’s what the book of Acts is really about. The 4 gospels highlight the Christ event…the story of God entering into our reality as a man named Jesus…his birth, his time in ministry…and of course his subsequent death and resurrection…all vital to the narrative of “THE GOSPEL” itself…and of course vital to our faith. But once the gospels are finished, it raises the question of what came next…and we find that in Luke’s second written volume of the Book of Acts.

Now Acts picks up with a tiny little overlap with the ending of Luke’s gospel…as the resurrected Jesus leads the apostles outside the city of Jerusalem. He tells them that they will be his witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit which will come upon them, and carrying the good news of the kingdom of Heaven…beginning in Jerusalem, then Samaria, and even to the ends of the Earth. With that, Jesus is taken up into heaven in the Ascension…an event which we’ll actually celebrate this coming Thursday…and with that the apostles head back into the city of Jerusalem where they hang out for 10 days…before the utterly mind-blowing event of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit come blowing in and empowered the apostles to speak in various tongues, proclaiming the greatness of God in the languages of countless Jewish people there for a festival…and with it, we begin to see the explosive growth of the early church…of the body of Christ, connected and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is really what the book of Acts entails. Early on we hear of the various exploits of the original Apostles…the places they end up, the people that they encounter and the miraculous events that occur, and then in the back half of the book we hear about the Apostle Paul, his conversion, his interactions with the original apostles and his subsequent ministry throughout much of the known world…as the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of the kingdom of Heaven continues moving outward, just like Jesus had said at the beginning, before Acts comes to a close by telling us that the gospel is being proclaimed in the world boldly and unhindered. (pause)

Jesus came into our reality to change it…to overcome the powers of sin and death and brokenness…and then he empowered his followers to carry that message forward…and that’s where we pick up today. With Peter…arguably the most relatable of the apostles because he’s just so human isn’t he?  He’s the one who constantly puts his foot in his mouth…the one who boldly makes divine proclamations about Jesus in one moment, and turns around and denies him in the next. And yet, he is the one who Jesus calls the rock.

Now Acts chapter 10 as a whole marks a transition for the church, and Peter is right at the heart of it.  Up to this point, while there has been explosive growth in the number of believers…its pretty well been limited to Jewish Christians…so much so that the earliest church was considered to be a Jewish sect…an offshoot of the same faith.

And because of this fact…this distinction, these earliest believers would have been followers of Jewish law…they would have been shaped by this cultural identity and with all of the rules and regulations that came along with it.  But now things are about to get shaky.

And it all starts as two different guys have visions. Now one of them is Peter and the other one is this random Gentile named Cornelius…a Roman centurion…and officer in their army, known and respected by the Jewish people around the city of Caesarea…one who even knows and fears God…but still a Gentile…and now he has a vision instructing him to send for Peter who’s hanging out in a nearby city…and so he does.

Now at the same time, Peter’s sitting on a rooftop having a vision of his own…as he sees a sheet descend from heaven, carrying pretty much every type of unclean animal…animals that Jewish law prevents them from eating…and as Peter sees all this he hears a voice saying “get up, kill and eat.”

Now in his vision Peter kinda freaks out, because he follows the dietary rules and always has…he won’t break them…he follows what can called ceremonial law…and he says “by no means, for I have never eaten anything profane.” And then the voice says “What God has called clean you are not to call profane.”

Now if the story stopped right there we could be thankful, because it allows us the joy of eating bacon, which I do believe is a gift from God…but joking aside that’s not where it stops…and Peter is told that there are Gentiles coming to find him and that he should go with them.

Now this leads Peter to the home of Cornelius, and he’s not alone…as we hear that there are circumcised believers with him…Jewish believers…probably numbering among the 3000 that were present and witnessed the Holy Spirit’s activity empowering the apostles at Pentecost….they’ve come along as well to see just what’s going on here.

Now as this group enters the home of Cornelius, he explains why he summoned them…and that in his vision he was instructed to listen to Peter and that his whole household is ready for Peter’s message., whatever it will be.

Now the pieces are starting to click into place for Peter, and he begins by acknowledging something vital…I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…and with this, Peter begins sharing the story…the message, the good news of Jesus Christ with all those who are present. (pause)
Now here’s the funny thing…as the lesson picks up today, we hear that the Holy Spirit interrupts Peter. Apparently his sermon is getting a little long winded and the Spirit doesn’t want to wait anymore…for “while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word…and these Gentiles…these non-Jewish people….these individuals who are not members of God’s chosen people, begin speaking in tongues and exalting God…which if memory serves me correctly is the EXACT SAME THING that happened to the apostles at Pentecost. And seeing that the Spirit had truly come upon them, Peter insists that they be baptized.

Now this event is not without repercussions…and as the narrative continues Peter starts catching some flack and has to explain himself…funny enough, not because he baptized these Gentile believers…but because he dared enter into the house of a Gentile.

And that right there…that’s telling of the problem that the early church was facing in this moment…because they all seemed to be stuck in that sense of ceremonial law that we mentioned earlier…that there are rules to admission…that you’ve gotta become Jewish…aka get circumcised, before you can become a Christ-follower.  Peter catches flack over this…later on Paul will butt heads over this…Paul even wrote the letter to the Galatians because of this exact situation.

Now its sorta funny. We read this today and think it’s a no-brainer…of course the gospel is for the Gentiles…it has to be or we wouldn’t be here would we? We’re not Jewish…so clearly that boundary was overcome…that line in the sand was crossed…and its because of this event involved Peter and Cornelius.

It’s a no-brainer for us…but at that time it was shocking…it was scandalous…offensive even…and we hear this if we pay attention to the astonished reaction of the Jewish believers who accompanied Peter…as they were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit, had been poured out…EVEN ON the Gentiles. (pause)

That simple little statement speaks volumes.  Its shocking to them that God would show favor to GENTILES…who’s next? Samaritans? Oh wait, Didn’t Jesus already do that? Well at least they’re half-Jewish…but Gentiles? No…surely not? But Jesus has already broken that barrier too hasn’t he?  And remember his instruction to the earliest church, that tiny handful of disciples. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.

Now I can’t help but think, the ends of the earth seems pretty all-encompassing doesn’t it? (pause)  It seems to be pretty inclusive…and that maybe, this whole situation…Jesus’ words mixed in with Peter’s vision, and the reality of the Holy Spirit coming upon these Gentiles serves to show us that when it comes to the Gospel, we can’t think its “us or them.” But rather it’s a question of “we.” Namely, humanity….because we have each been made bearing the divine image of God…we have each been called good by the one who made it…and we are all included when we hear that God so loved the world.

And so I pose the question today…who are those that fall on the other side of the line?  Who are those who tradition or society or whatever have pushed to the margins? Who are those that fail to follow the ceremonial law that we are all stuck in, whether we realize it or not…who are those that do things differently or think differently or talk differently or act differently than we do?

If the earliest believers struggled with anything here its that “the rules” that they had followed didn’t seem to apply where these newest believers were concerned…or perhaps more specifically they don’t apply where the Holy Spirit was concerned.

As members of the human race we are all really good at creating boundaries…now maybe we do so out of nefarious reasons or maybe we do so in order to give ourselves reassurance that we are, in fact, ok…but regardless, the scriptures show us time and time again that God seems to side with the marginalized…the ones pushed to other side of that line.

And so I ask the question…who are those that we have placed on the other side of the line? Who are the ones that our ceremonial law deems unacceptable that maybe just maybe the Holy Spirit is falling on anyway, whether we like it or not?

This is an important question that we in the church need to be asking ourselves…because if the gospel shows us anything…its that the grace of God is big enough…it is generous enough…it is so full of mercy, that it can overcome my brokenness (pause)…and it is given to me because of God’s perfect all-encompassing sacrificial love for me because I am made bearing the divine image. And the same is true for you. God’s grace is given to you because you are made bearing that same divine image. And if that’s the case then we better believe that same grace is given to everyone else bearing it too.

So ask yourselves…who is it? Who are you shocked to discover that the Holy Spirit has been poured out…even on these?  Amen