Posts Tagged ‘humanity’

Jesus and Silent Joe 12-22-19

In this sermon, based on Matthew 1:18-25, I explore the divine announcement of Jesus’ pending birth as well as the birth itself. Matthew aims the action at Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. His actions reveal a great deal about the connections that humanity holds with the Messiah.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-004-jesus-and-silent-joe-12-22-19

(Note that sermons will now feed into my Podcast, The Rambling Rev, available on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify. Subscribing on any of those feeds will automatically bring you the audio of my future sermons as they become available.)

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

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen.

As someone who has a background in acting, not to mention a fair amount of public speaking…I’ve got an appreciation for skills related to this type of thing…and in particular, I’m thinking about the skills needed for non-verbal communication.

It goes without saying that this takes on a lot of different forms, but I’ve always appreciated individuals who can convey a message without words…they use expression and mannerisms, and of course their actions to convey what’s going on with their character.

I’m sure there are a lot of examples of this type of thing, and a couple come to mind for me…and in both of them…the non-speaker is part of a duo…now the first set are entertainers in the realm of illusion…Penn and Teller…Penn talks constantly during their act…and in the midst of it all…Teller is busy doing the magic…and his expressions and actions make up his side of the show.

The second example actually comes out of a series of movies that came out back in the 90’s and early 2000’s…humorous but REALLY lowbrow…a pair of characters known as Jay and Silent Bob.  They’ve got a lot in common with Penn and Teller…Jay talks A LOT…but Silent Bob…well its right there in his name isn’t it? He’s silent…and its his expressions and actions that tell his side of the story in whatever scene they pop up in.

This idea of a silent character is where I’m connecting into today’s gospel story…Matthew’s account of the divine announcement of Jesus’ pending birth, relayed angelically to one of his parents…not to mention, in an almost throw away comment…we hear of the birth of Jesus as well.

Now Matthew’s account, this passage which we have just shared, is unique within the three year cycle of the lectionary and the passages that come up here on the final Sunday of Advent…its unique because of the presence of Jesus’ birth within the passage. Granted, most of it is still anticipatory in nature…looking forward to the birth…which it should be as we are still in Advent for a couple more days…but with Christmas coming right up on us in a couple more days…I don’t think it’s a bad thing…in many ways today is a transition from a sense of anticipation into celebration of the Messiah’s birth. (pause)

But that being said…the unique aspect of Matthew’s account of this story and the focal point did grab my attention.  Perhaps its because we’ve just come out of year highlight Luke’s gospel…one in which there is a stronger emphasis on the Good News and its effect on the marginalized. We see this in many moments, but one of the earliest happens when the angel of the Lord shows up to announce the pending Messiah and interacts with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In Luke’s account they have a conversation…Mary is given some agency…even a choice in the matter…but Matthew presents things a little differently doesn’t he…and that was blaringly obvious to me as I started working towards today’s message….the angel shows up to Joseph.  Joseph is given direction…Joseph is given divine assurance of what’s happening…and even though as “righteous man” he’s determined to follow the law in regards to his now-pregnant fiancé, Joseph receives divinely inspired direction aimed at taking the unexpected action in this story.

Its all about Joseph isn’t it…and where’s Mary?  She’s in the background…completely passive…she’s got no choice in this matter, She’s powerless…and like Teller on stage, and Silent Bob in the movies…she’s given no voice in this VITAL moment of history.

And I’ll be honest…that REALLY bugs me…because while Luke reveals her choice and her agency in this whole deal…Matthew glosses over it…she’s lucky she even gets called by name…and I wonder what she was thinking…is she standing there in the background wanting to smack Joseph upside the head. What makes him so special that all of the focus falls in his court? (pause)

That was my first thought, one that I wrestled with as I explore Joseph’s role in this story…and not just within this immediate passage.  I took a look at the different times that Joseph pops up…because he does fill an important role in the early life of the baby and then child Jesus.

While Joseph had seemingly died by the time that Jesus’ ministry begins in his adulthood, Joseph is still around during each moment we’re given while Jesus is growing up…filling that role of parent…of provider and protector…and we find evidence of THAT specific role of parental protector of the baby Jesus…when his divine dream radar just keeps going off.

The angel of the Lord just KEEPS showing up in Joseph’s dream…we’ve got today’s passage.  And then after the birth of Jesus, when the king is trying to kill him off, Joseph gets a dream warning to haul the family off to Egypt.  Then after the king dies, another dream pops up telling Joseph to come on home…but then upon their arrival back in Palestine, another dream comes up warning of the king’s son who is now in charge and is just as dangerous, and Joseph takes the family north to Galilee. 4 times within 1 chapter of the gospel in which Joseph’s dream radar provides divine direction.

And each time, Joseph takes action…and good for him…We’re proud of you Joseph…but still…why’s the focus on you and not Mary…why doesn’t she get a voice in the matter and you do? (pause)  Or does he?

Here’s the mind-blowing thing that I realized after fitting and stewing on this most of the week.  Joseph…while he receives divine direction…he’s given divine assurances…and he takes action…throughout his ENTIRE story, in ANY of the gospels, Joseph…never…speaks.  Not one time…as we look at the larger story we might call them Jesus and Silent Joe, because JUST LIKE that character…its not words…its his actions that matter. (pause) So What does Joseph do?

He defies social decorum, not to mention religious regulations to accept Mary as his wife…despite logic saying that she’s committed adultery. He takes her into his home, no doubt facing public shame and ridicule…and then, when her pregnancy comes to a close and the baby is born…we hear that Joseph…named him Jesus.

Now for us…that seems like an throw away comment, one that we take for granted…BUT the significance of Joseph taking this action cannot be understated. In this time…it was the role of the father to name the child…ESPECIALLY if the child is a boy…something that we find in a few different scriptural stories as well.

And so…for Joseph to claim this responsibility…to give the name to the baby…Joseph is, for all intents and purposes…claiming this child as his own…he’s essentially Adopting the child that he knows is not his…this baby that is born of both flesh and spirit…human and divine in nature.  When Joseph says “I give him the name Jesus,” he is claiming Jesus as his child.

Now I can’t help but think of how HUGELY significant that fact is as we consider the overarching story of the gospel…a story which is hinted at as we consider the names given to the child. Jesus is the Greek version of Joshua…in fact it would be have been pronounced Yay-shua…and that literally means God saves…and not only but that but we also hear the prophet Isaiah referenced as the child is called Emmanuel…God with us.

And that’s the gospel isn’t it? The God who saves is with us. The divine will be found in the midst of us. The God who knows we are unable to save ourselves will dwell among us in order to accomplish that which we cannot. And this same God who took on flesh…while utterly different…is ALSO far more like us than we realize.

The savior of the world…the word made flesh…Emmanuel, is claimed by his earthly father…he is adopted into the family of Joseph…he is given a name by one who claims him as his own…you see where I’m going with this?  We are given the promise in the waters of baptism…that we too are claimed by a parent…we are adopted…made heirs to the promise as beloved children of God.

But the similarity doesn’t stop there either…there’s another that we find in this story…when Joseph is told that the child in Mary’s womb is begotten of the Holy Spirit…somehow, in ways that go beyond our ability to comprehend, and beyond my ability to explain…the humanity of Jesus is created out of the presence of the Holy Spirit…the Spirit which we hear dwells within him at his baptism…and the same Spirit which has promised to dwell within us through the waters of our baptism.

This same Holy Spirit empowers us as followers of Christ…and it unites us together into the one body of Christ here on earth…we REMEMBER that the very spirit of God which somehow incarnated the living word of God in the first place…resides within us.

And this promise opens up a whole new understanding of what Emmanuel means, what God with us…means…that not only do we have a God who walked among us. But that which is divine is found WITHIN us…within those who created bearing the divine image of God in the first place…and in whom God delights to be found in the presence of the Spirit. (pause)

As we move from this season of expectation into the season of celebration, remembering once more that God has dwelled among us…may we all remember in the midst of dark times, both literally as we consider the dark season of winter which is upon us…as well as metaphorically as we consider the darkness still present within this broken world that we live in…may we remember that to look in the face of one another is to see the presence of God IN one another.

And as this is true for you as you look at another…know that it is ALSO true as they look back at you.  This is the glory of the gospel that goes beyond all understanding…that the ultimate creator and sustainer of everything, everything which is seen and unseen…this God has chosen to dwell…in…you. Amen.

What Direction Are We Going? 6-11-17

In this sermon I explore the first account of Creation found in Genesis 1:1-2:3. This is quite fitting on this Holy Trinity Sunday as we worshiped outdoors in the midst of God’s creation. Amazingly enough, God invites us to join in the ongoing work.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-direction-are-we-going-6-11-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. Note that there are a few deviations from the audio version.

On this Holy Trinity Sunday I say to you, grace and peace in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Just out of curiosity, how many of you out there are cat people? (Pause) Okay…cats are interesting creatures aren’t they? They can be incredibly loving, and incredibly arrogant. They can show amazing laziness, and unbridled chaotic energy. And they are incredibly fickle…and maybe even arrogant…aren’t they?

Our cat often looks at me, and I think I can pretty much read her mind. “You, human. Do not disturb my sleep. But go downstairs and scoop my box. You will also feed me, because seeing the bottom of my food dish uncovered is unacceptable…Now, I have decided that you will pet me…this is how you will pet me, front to back from the base of my neck to a spot 2 inches in front of my tail. You will not deviate from this…You will pet me precisely 7 times, and then I bite you.” (pause) Sound about right?

This strange nature of cats…this utter, mind of their own, is where the expression “trying to herd cats” comes from. Because it just doesn’t work…and if you try to manhandle even one cat, what happens? It goes…NUTS…biting, hissing, clawing. If you try to subdue it, it will fight you with every atom of its being. (Pause)
Now I bring up this craziness, because I think that it perfectly represents some truth that we see in the creation story that we’ve shared today. Its fitting that we hear this story today as we are out in creation…and as we look around, seeing all there is to see, we hear how God makes it.

But here’s the funny thing about the creation story…its just one of many possibilities isn’t it? There’s a second one that starts up right after this one, and while there’s a lot of similarities, there are some very stark differences as well. But this one, we’re familiar with…because we’ve heard it many times.

That’s the basis for how the Jewish culture passed on their stories…those stories that shaped who they were as a people. Parents and grandparents…those who came before would tell their stories to their children and grandchildren, and they in turn would share the same story, and it carried on generation after generation over the course of centuries.

Now the first account of creation wasn’t actually written down until pretty late in the history of the Jewish culture…about 600BC, the southern kingdom of Judea was conquered by the Babylonians, who were the dominant empire at that particular moment…and pretty much all of the Jewish people were hauled off into a foreign land where they had to keep their heads down and their cultural identity pretty much on the down low…and everything about the Babylonian culture was dominant…including their religious view on where the world came from.

The Babylonians believed in many different gods…and way back when, two of them got in a big fight…their main god named Marduk fought and killed another god named Tiamot…and then Marduk used Tiamot’s dead body to build the earth. Lovely huh? The dominant view at the time was that our world…our reality…only came about through death and destruction.

But in the middle of this, the Jewish culture kept on telling the story of our god…GOD…who created our reality in a much different way and out of much better motivation. God didn’t start with death…God started with delight…think about it. It begins as the Spirit of God is hovering over chaos…disorder.

And God says Let there be light…and there was…and from that point forward we see the chaos, the disorder begin to move towards something. First we’ve got a separation between the light and the dark, simply because God said let light be. And God took a look and called it good…do you remember the Hebrew word for good? (Pause) TOV.

Well then apparently there’s all this water swirling around, and God says let’s put that in order…let there be a separation…and there was water above and water below…TOV

Now God thinks we need to better down below…let the water be pushed back and let there be earth…and there was…TOV…but that earth seems pretty bare, so lets grow something on it…Let there be plants and grass and trees and fruit and all that stuff…yep, TOV.

And since plant life is so awesome, God thinks that we need another step of life…and so let there be birds and fish so that the air and the sea will be filled and that’s so TOV that God decides that life needs to join in this creation, in this move towards order, and so God instructs the birds and the fish to multiply, to do what they are intended to do…and then since they’re so TOV God decides that we need animals out on the land as well and says Let there be cattle and beasts and creeping things and there is and that’s TOV.

And now, God wants to top it all off…and God starts talking to himself, which is a bit weird right? But remember we’ve got the creator speaking this disorder into order…and we’ve got the Spirit that we heard was hovering over the chaos to begin with, and as we heard at the start of worship out of John, that reminder that the Word which would become flesh was there too and all things came into being through him…and so it would seem that the Holy Trinity which are one but three at the same time…namely, our God that exists in relationship.

And not only that, but the final bit of God’s TOV creation is us…humanity and we are made, male and female both, bearing this divine image…and image that I think instills in us this same need to be in relationship just like God is in relationship….and once we’re around, doing our thing…God calls everything…very good…very TOV…or TOV MIHOT. (pause)

So now we’ve got this amazing creation that God spoke into existence, not out of death destruction, but because God takes delight in everything that he makes…and that’s mind blowing. (pause) But here’s the thing, when God makes each thing, he doesn’t command it…he doesn’t say “this is how you will be.” God says “let there be…” Let light be…Let the world…be…let life…be. And I think that means that God gave each part of creation, each part of reality the freedom to BE, as it is…not perfect…but the world as we see it…and then to top it off, God looks at humanity and gives us a task. Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth…and…SUBDUE it. (pause) Subdue creation.

Think back to what we starting talking about…and trying to control a cat. It fights back right back? It follows its very nature to resist your domination of it…your attempts to subdue it. And I think the rest of creation does the very same thing doesn’t it? God allowed it to be as it is, and yet God instructs us to subdue it…now wonder our reality is so broken and flawed…because it is resisting our attempts to subdue it…our attempts to join with God in the work of bringing disorder into order…of bringing chaos to peace. (pause)

In the end, I think that’s what’s really going on here. God started with chaos, and very slowly God is at work to bring it towards order…towards peace…and he’s invited us into that work…and amazingly enough, God has done all of this out of love…out of delight…and we know this because God calls it GOOD.

One day, this work will be done…and all the disorder…all the chaos…all the brokenness that exists without our reality, and even within our very nature will achieve peace…that’s where this is all headed, and how amazing is it that we get to join in and be a part of it all. Amen

Love Wins 4-13-17 (Maundy Thursday)

In this sermon for Maundy Thursday, I explore the importance of the foot washing that Jesus provides for his disciples at the Last Supper.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/4-13-17-love-wins-maundy-thursday

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 we get older, I think its fair to say that bit of advice and wisdom that someone chose to share with us in our younger years tends to stick…and soon enough we find ourselves bestowing that very same wisdom or advice on to others.  I’ve certainly discovered that to be true within the various aspects of ministry that I am involved with.

Some of you have probably picked up on this. When I find myself in a situation that repeats, what comes out of my mouth probably sounds the same time after time. Its true in teaching…its true in preaching…I’ve found it to be true in the proclamation of the gospel in funerals…and I’ve found it to be true in the advice I give couples on their wedding day.

Now, perhaps this will come as no great surprise, but this wedding advice that I pass along was advice given to my wife and I during our wedding ceremony. It speaks to the patient nature of mutual love for one another…especially in situations when we start getting on one another’s nerves…those situations when we let one another down…those times when we just aren’t getting along.

In those times, as we look at each other, and we aren’t feeling a whole lot of warm fuzzies for each other…we need to remember this advice. Even though I don’t like you very much right now…I still love you.

I think that very sentiment reflects the truth about our relationships with one another…because we all fail…we all get selfish or moody…we all get frustrated and angry…and in one way or another we always end up hurting one another…I guess you could call that a true aspect of the human condition. (pause)
Now I was thinking along these very lines earlier this week as I pondered on tonight’s scripture and sermon. This is, of course a familiar passage…one featured every year here on Maundy Thursday…John’s account of the Last Supper, as Jesus gathers along with the 12 disciples to share one final meal…to share in a time of teaching and fellowship…and a time when Jesus will show his love for his disciples by setting aside the position of honor and authority as the host of the meal…and taking on the role of the lowliest servant to stoop down and wash the feet of these men that he loves. (pause)

Now admittedly…Holy Week is a time when I tend to think of all that God is doing…and because of this…when I think about Jesus…I tend to think about his divinity…that Jesus is the personification of God’s literal and physical action within our reality…and throw in the strong focus of John’s gospel on the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh…and for me…it becomes quite simple to forget that in addition to being fully divine…Jesus was also fully human.

Yes, this is God playing host to the disciples at the Last Supper…but at the very same time…this is also a Man.  And just like each one of us…Jesus…experienced the full gambit of emotions. We hear about that in various aspects of the gospels. He experiences joy. He experiences anger. He experiences sorrow and mourning…He experiences frustrations…just like us.  And even though we likely fail to realize…I think its safe to say that Jesus experienced his share of frustrations…even with those he cared about most…even the 12 disciples. (pause)

But despite that reality…Jesus invites them into the meal…and as we have heard, he serves them all.  But there’s one point that catches my attention right at the beginning of this passage. Jesus…knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands…all things. Jesus…knew…everything. (pause)

He knew what was coming. He knew the hearts and minds of those 12 men who sat at the table with him. He knew what they were going to do. (pause) If we look ahead in the story…knowing what’s coming over the course of the next 24 hours…Jesus looked at these guys and I can’t imagine the disappointment he must have felt.  Judas…well that’s a no brainer. Judas would utterly betray him. Judas would be responsible for leading the soldiers to arrest him.  He looks at Peter…knowing that even though Peter is his strongest supporter…he would ultimately deny even knowing Jesus not just once, but three times.  He looks into the face of each and every one of them…knowing that when things get ugly out there in the garden…every one of them is going to run away…every…single…one.

And I can only imagine that as Jesus sat there at the table with them…and then as he got up and filled the basin, and then knelt at the feet of each one of them…and gently washed their feet and dried off…looking each on in the face as he did so…I can only imagine the disappoint that he must have felt…knowing that he has poured his heart and soul into them…teaching them…guiding them…only to have them run away when things get darkest.  (pause) Maybe, just maybe in that instant, Jesus is thinking to himself…Right now I don’t like you very much…but, I still love you. (pause)
That’s the thing…that is what we need to remember…because that’s what this night is all about. Jesus has gathered with those closest to him…these men, who in a few short days, will take over as the core group of his body here on earth…and in spite of any negative human emotions that Jesus must have been experiencing…his love for them as individuals is on full display….and not just for one or two of them…but all 12.

He washes the feet of the men who will abandon him in the garden…He washes the feet of the 3 guys who fail to stay away and pray with him, even though he asks them more than once…He washes the feet of Peter, the one who will deny him…and he even washes the feet of Judas…the one who will betray him…he knows all of this is about to happen and he serves them anyway.

Why would he do that? I think its safe to say that is any of us were in his position….we’d probably err on the side of condemnation…or in the very least shooting a guilt trip at each person for the failure that they will ultimately endure…But Jesus doesn’t do it?

Because for Jesus…who is fully human in this moment…and yet is also fully God…love wins.  Love trumps everything.  We hear this…having loved his own…he loved them till the end…he loved them in the midst of their failures…he loved them through his own death and resurrection…and he still loves them…because we haven’t reached the end yet.

This is the amazing thing about the God that we serve…about the God that we worship…that ultimately…even though this world is dark and broken…and even though we ultimately end up failing one another with startling regularity…God still loves us. And just as he washed the feet of his disciples knowing what was in their hearts, he took the cross for all of us, knowing what is in our hearts.

Now there are times when that amazing news seems so clear…and its so easy to hold on to…to believe…but there are also times when it seems so unrealistic…but you know what…Jesus knew that too…and as he says to Peter…what I am doing you do not know now…but later you will understand.

This gospel that we profess is so utterly and completely mind blowing…that it should come as no great shock that we experience moments of doubt and disbelief. Likewise, it should come as no great shock to us that express this belief that there are many in the world who can’t wrap their heads around the gospel.

This is the reality that we live in…but there is a promise that we can cling to in the midst of all this. Remember the exchange between Jesus and Peter.  When Jesus offers something to Peter…at first he tries to refuse…and then in his lack of understanding he asks for more than he needs. But Jesus assures him in the end…Peter, you are clean…

The amazing thing that we need to remember from this night…is that salvation is not up to us…its not a choice that we make ourselves…because God offers it to us freely…and at the same time…its not difficult…and in the end…salvation is simply about what Jesus has said about you…and what he has said is that you are mine.  This action of action…and this declaration of Christ is not up to you…but it is for you.

And tonight, we begin the final journey that Jesus will endure in order to show you just how far he is willing to go to prove this amazing sacrificial love for you.  Despite any and all failings on our part…he still makes the choice to do this…because when it comes it comes to God…our failures don’t matter…and in the end, love wins.  Amen.

Confirmation Questions 4-13-14

The sermon from Sunday was based on Philippians 2:1-11 along with a smattering of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. You can find that sermon here.

The confirmation students posed some excellent questions on their sermon notes, and I will attempt to address them here.

-How can you (or in this case Jesus) be human yet still be God? Is it a 50/50 situation or something else?
This is an absolutely spectacular question, and one that has been hotly debated in scholarly circles since the first century. In fact, it was even being debated while Jesus was still alive. This is why the religious leaders of the day took such offense with Jesus, because he claimed to be God (particularly in John’s Gospel where Jesus repeatedly called himself “I am,” or often translated in English as “I am he.” This is the name of God given to Moses in Exodus).  To answer the second question, it is not a 50/50 situation. Jesus is fully God and fully human. Now just how this works is a great question. Admittedly, I’ll claim the divine mystery answer here. But this passage from Philippians does offer us a glimpse of an explanation. Jesus himself, who was equal with God…fully divine…chose to empty himself of that equality and become human. So during his time on Earth, we could possibly say that Jesus was less than God, because he was obedient to the Father…but I believe this is a mistake to say. I’ve heard it explained that Jesus was fully human “in time” (or while in our present reality) and he is fully God “outside of time” (meaning in the realm where God exists). That being said, I don’t really like that explanation.  I find it most helpful to consider the notion that as a human, Jesus suffered from self preservation and did not want to experience his passion (trial and death on the cross). We see this in the anguish he feels while praying in the garden. Yet, Jesus was obedient to the will of God the Father…a will that Jesus shared…and so he put aside his own desire for self preservation in order to accomplish the will of the Father, which reconciled mankind to God.

-What causes God to love us so much, because He doesn’t have to?
This is another great question…and honestly I don’t have a good answer for it. I can only say that I am humbled by God’s love for me…because He certainly doesn’t have to. Nothing that I (or anyone else) does can earn God’s love…that’s why His gift of forgiveness is grace, its a free gift. But while acknowledging that, I also recognize the incredible blessing that is God’s unconditional love offered to us anyway.