Posts Tagged ‘Identity’

To Be Remembered 11-24-19

This sermon for Christ the King Sunday is based on Luke 23:33-43. It is perhaps strange to consider a passage in which we hear of Jesus on the cross as the basis for his kingship in the kingdom of heaven, and yet that is precisely what we find.  Christ’s example reminds us that true power and authority is not found in strength or military might, but in weakness.

You can list to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/to-be-remembered-11-24-19

Note that this was another extemporaneous sermon, so there is no text to follow along with.  Likewise, the audio is weak, so you’ll need to turn up your volume about the 1:26 mark.
(As I continue with this experimental style of preaching, I’ll be exploring alternate audio recording options to overcome this current situation.)

The End is Not the End 11-17-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 21:5-19, Jesus offers some “end timesy” type teaching, and so we explore how the promise of the Gospel offers us something to hold on to when it feels like the world is ending.

As this sermon was preached extemporaneously, I have not included the text.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-end-is-not-the-end-11-17-19

(note that the audio was recorded without a mic, so the audio is low quality)

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble 10-20-19

In this sermon, based on Genesis 32:22-31, I explore the story of Jacob. Specifically we look at the brief story of his all-night divine wrestling match that results in a change in his identity to Israel.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lets-get-ready-to-rumble-10-20-19

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

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

I always wanted to develop my own catch-phrase…I have yet to accomplish this feat…but I still want to…because a great catch phrase is amazing.  I’ve heard a lot of them over the years…those simple phrases that immediately key you into something specific…and if the phrase is good enough, it always works.

Think about it…I’m gonna lay down a phrase, and see if you can name the product its associated with. (Tony the Tiger) “They’re GREAAAAT!” (pause)…Frosted Flakes. See how well that works? It just sticks in our minds doesn’t it?

Now there’s another catch phrase…it’s a little bit longer…but I’ve heard it SO many times…it is utterly engrained…and the second it begins I both picture the specific person…and I know exactly what coming next.  Now if I say the name Michael Buffer…a lot of you know what’s coming next don’t you?  But don’t worry if you don’t know the name, because you’ll probably recognize the phrase.

He walks out to the middle of the venue…and begins “Are You Ready?” And the crowd cheers…then after a pause, he repeats himself, a little stronger this time “ARE YOU READY?” And the crowd goes nuts…and then he really goes for the gusto… “To the thousands in attendance…and the MILLIONS watching…around the world…Ladies and Gentlemen…LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!!!!” (pause)

Don’t you just love that? Its exciting…and it’s the perfect opening to what comes next.  This phrase has been everywhere…its in movies and tv shows…but most commonly it happens at the beginning of sporting events…events like boxing, or MMA…and the one where it happens most frequently…and the one place where I actually heard it in person once…at the beginning of wrestling matches.

I don’t know quite why…but its perfect for this type of event…because it implies that the people involved…the opponents…they are gonna throw down…they’re going to battle…they are going to contend with each other for dominance.

And that my friends…is the perfect segue into today’s scripture lesson, the Old Testament reading of course…and the story of Jacob’s divine wrestling match…that’s our focus…but before we get into this oddball hours long, overnight main event…let’s get a little history about Jacob.

He’s one of the individuals that we tend call the Patriarchs…and that distinction starts 2 generations before Jacob with Abraham…you remember him…random dude, hanging out in Genesis…God tells him “hey, go somewhere, I’ll tell you when you get there…also, you’re gonna have tons of offspring.”  Abraham nods…years pass…he has a kid with his wife’s slave…weird I know…and then more years pass and he finally has a child of the promise in Isaac…but what’s weird is the way inheritance works in those days. The oldest son is the heir and gets everything…So Isaac should be out of luck…but God chooses him anyway.

The story sorta repeats, or at least has a lot of similarities. Isaac eventually gets married…he and his wife ALSO wait a long time for kids, but then finally have twin boys.  The first one is born all red and hairy…so they name him Esau, which is Hebrew for…anyone know? Red and hairy…keep in mind Hebrew names are usually pretty on the nose.

But when Esau is born, his twin brother is holding his heel…so when HE’s born a moment later…they name him Jacob…anyone know what it means? Yah, it literally means “He grabs the heel.” I know, Hebrew is weird but we’ll go with it.

Now Jacob…from the get-go, he’s crafty.  He cheats his brother out of his birthright…and later, when Isaac is about to die and he’s too blind to see the difference, Jacob tricks him into thinking he’s Esau, and so he gets the blessing of the heir.  Once again…God has shined a light on the younger brother…the one we wouldn’t expect…especially not this trickster.

But you know, it doesn’t stop there.  Esau is so mad at Jacob that Jacob hightails it off to his uncle Laban…promptly falls in love with Laban’s younger daughter…promises to work for him for 7 years so he can marry her…then Karma catches him ever so slightly as Laban tricks HIM into marrying his other daughter…then Jacob works another 7 years to marry the daughter he loved in the first place.

Once that’s done, he uses some sort of divine inspiration to start earning great numbers of livestock from his father in law…and even though Laban keeps changing his wages, it still works out pretty good for Jacob…but after a batch of years…he’s grown rich…he’s got 2 wives…he’s also got 2 concubines, weird but he did…he’s got a dozen sons and bunch of daughters…he’s got tons of servants…dude is doing well…

But always the fickle one, he decides to go home…pretty much running away from Laban in the process…Now Jacob remembers that Esau, his big brother…was REALLY mad at him and wanted him dead…and as they approach Esua’s land, Jacob finds out he’s on his way, along with 400 of His men…and Jacob gets scared…and he starts taking steps to outsmart his brother.

He divides his whole household into two camps…he then sends tons of bribes to his brother ahead of him…then he sends his wives and children out in front of him…all the while thinking that if Esau is out for blood, Jacob will be able to figure it out and get away.  Nice guy huh?

And yet, this is the one that God has chosen to carry on the ultimate blessing that originated with Abraham. This crafty trickster who has taken every advantage he could finagle his way into to bring him right up to this particular moment.  A moment in which he’s tried to utterly separate himself as much as possible in order to ensure his own personal safety…right down to sending his family and property across a river towards his brother…and he’s gonna the spend the night on the far side.

But as soon as night falls…Michael Buffer shows up with the divine announcement “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE” and Jacob finds himself in an overnight test of wills…in what the scripture describes as wrestling match.

Now all thoughts of Professional Wrestling with its light shows and pyro technics, not to mention high flying aerial acrobatics between contenders aside…this wrestling match seems to be a little different. They aren’t try to pin each other…they aren’t going for the coveted 3 count or a tap out due to a submission hold.

It actually seems like they are scrounging around, trying to maintain a grip on one another…and it lasts all night.  To be honest, I can kinda relate…my son is every bit as big as me now…and in the rare moments when we get into a wrestling match, I’m to the point of simply trying to hold him off as long as possible because eventually I’ll get tired, he’ll get me in some sort of a choke hold and its over…I just try to last as long as possible.

Jacob and this divine being…seems to be the same thing…and somehow, they appear to be evenly matched.  It must be a pretty violent struggle, as we hear Jacob’s hip gets wrenched out of place…but as it goes on, neither can get away from the other…and as day begins to break…its time to be done and this divine being begs him to be let go.

Jacob refuses…because he wants another blessing…apparently every other blessing that he’s finagled his way into, all the tricks that he’s pulled off, or the mental battles he’s won and benefited from…those weren’t enough…and he wants this one to.

But before he gets the blessing, this divine being asks his name.  Jacob…the one who grasps the heel…the trickster…And now here’s the thing…he gets a new name…before he is blessed…there’s a change in identity…and Jacob becomes Israel. (pause)

Now, what have we already established about Hebrew names?  They mean something right?  Israel is no exception…this name means “he who contends” or “he who wrestles” And specifically…he who wrestles with God. (pause)

Now of course, Israel is also the name of the culture and the eventual kingdom that his descendants will ultimately become…and just like the man Israel who has contended with everyone including the divine…we later hear that the entire culture continues to wrestle with God in one way or another…and so this name is fitting.

But…what do we take from this whole deal?  Is it just some story? Some oddball little moment that the author decided to stick in there?  Or is there something for us to learn?  And I think there is.

Nowhere in Jacob’s story, do we hear him condemned by God because of his behavior…as we’ve already mentioned, he’s just one of the line of recipients of God’s ultimate blessing…even if he’s the unlikely choice.  And so maybe, just maybe as we hear that God GIVES him this identity as one who contends with God, maybe God is actually in favor of this type of thing.  Not the cheating…not the swindling…not the craftiness…but the actually wrestling…the contending.

And so what does that mean? (Pause) I think it means that in our encounters with the divine…wrestling…contending…questioning, seeking, wondering…battling…these are not bad things…but rather, we are encouraged to do just that.  These are not signs of weak faith. These are not indicators of issues in your spirituality…doubt, fear, questions…they are indications that you are paying attention to the reality you are a part of…and that you care enough to go to the source with it.

And you know what, you’re not alone in this…and we find this in the biggest batch of prayers that we have in our faith tradition…the psalms. The psalms are prayers and they cover the gambit. Joy, celebration, praise, questions, concerns…laments…and the laments…are the biggest batch of them. So if we find the psalms pointing out the legitimate nature of questioning God…and we find Jacob rewarded with an identity that LITERALLY means he battles with God…maybe we see that its okay when we need to do it to…and those moments happen in our lives and for some of you, I know these moments are happening right now.

But there’s one more thing we need to take note of…this encounter with the divine…this moment that results in a new identity…it leaves a mark on Jacob. And he limped for the rest of his days.

Likewise, we cannot expect to wrestle with God, in the good stuff and the hard stuff…and not be changed by it.  These divine encounters do leave their marks upon us in one way or another…but thanks be to God that they also result in a new identity…one given by the divine.

Jacob ceased to be the one who grabs the heel, and he became the one who contends with God.  And in our encounter with the divine, we are claimed as God’s beloved child…and this is made possible through the ULTIMATE divine wrestling match…when God became flesh…and took on death itself…

That encounter left its marks too…which we know because Jesus himself told his followers to put their fingers in the nail marks and their hands in his side.  Not even God can escape being marked by divine encounters…but thanks be to God…that this has all been done for us.

And so, today and every day…don’t be afraid to contend with God…God’s got broad shoulders…God’ll take it…but don’t be surprised…if you ultimately…end up changed by it.

What do you think everyone?   Let’s get ready to rumble. Amen.

Shine 3-3-19

In this sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, I explore this amazing and yet confusing story from Luke 9:28-36. The identity of Jesus is on display, and we are reminded of the promise that we have been made heirs of that same identity.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/shine-3-3-19

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

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

It is good to be back to normal.  After cancellation of all services the past 2 weeks, not to mention education canceling and worship being a bit more on-the-fly than normal the week before that…I think its safe to say that we’ve had our share of winter weather lately haven’t we?

I’ve lost track of the number of storms we’ve had…but we’ve gotten our share of ice and frost and snow haven’t we?  Its pretty crazy out there to take in the piles and the drifts…the build up on the roads and the corners…the depth in people’s yards…after several winters in a row of low key conditions…we’ve been in for this time haven’t we?

And I don’t know about you…but with the enormous amount of snow out there…its unbelievably bright isn’t it?  All that light reflecting around…its hard on the eyes…when the sun’s out its almost unbearable…I’m squinting even when its cloudy…and to be honest…its so stinking bright out there that I’m about the point of wearing my sunglasses when I go to bed at night…ok so that’s a stretch but you get my point…and you probably see where I’m going with this.

Because its not too difficult to make the jump from the blindingly bright conditions due to all of the snow outside to today’s gospel lesson and what is apparently an equally blindingly bright event known as the Transfiguration. (pause)

Its kind of hard to believe that we’ve made it around to Transfiguration Sunday again…here on the last Sunday of Epiphany before we kick off the season of Lent…and yet here we are…and as we do every year, we wrap up this season of Christ being revealed to the world with the story of Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up the mountain…where his face is somehow changed…and his clothes flash like the brightest lightning.

Honestly, this is a pretty amazing story…a moment that is perhaps, confusing to consider…I’m guessing it was pretty confusing for the 3 disciples who were along for the ride when it happened…evidenced by Peter’s impulsive words, not to mention the fact that he’s spouting off without knowing what he’s talking about.

But this is one of those times isn’t it? One of those moments in the story of the gospel when we just can’t quite put our finger on things can we…we can’t quite wrap our heads around the mystery of what’s going on. Imagine it.

Imagine that you’ve spent a pretty good chunk of time trudging up a mountain…and I can tell you it is pretty high…takes about 15-20 minutes to drive up it…now imagine walking up that…no wonder we hear the disciples were tired…they just climbed a mountain for pete’s sake. But once they get up there…and Jesus is engaged in prayer, as he often does. Suddenly things get crazy with a change in his appearance and his clothes flashing like we’ve mentioned.

Two random dudes are suddenly standing there talking to him…and I wonder if they were wearing nametags or something because it seems like the disciples immediately recognize them as Moses and Elijah…2 guys who had lived centuries before this…well apparently they’re all standing around talking about Jesus’ pending departure…ironically the original language calls it an exodus, maybe in a nod to Moses and his piece of Jewish history…

Now I wonder if maybe that particular subject caught Peter’s attention…because he and Jesus have some history on that subject. Shortly before this event happens, we have the exchange between the two men over the identity of Jesus and Peter’s declaration that he is the Messiah…an exchange that is followed up by Jesus’ words about his betrayal and arrest and death…all something that’s gonna happen in Jerusalem.

I wonder if Peter’s thinking about that…and in a wonderful and glorious moment that is blowing his mind…he thinks this might be an opportunity to side step Jesus’ earlier prediction….MASTER…it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up 3 tents…one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah…let’s do that and we’ll just stay up here on the mountain. (pause)

Now, maybe Peter had ulterior motives, or maybe he was just utterly confused…but we hear a rebuke…and its not from Elijah…and its not from Moses…its not from Jesus…its certainly not from James and John…this one comes from the top.

Out of nowhere a cloud overshadows them…and from within the cloud comes the voice of God….This is my son…the chosen one…listen to him…and the three disciples hit the floor…utterly terrified. Because not only has God shown up…but it would seem that Peter’s impulsive idea might have God a touch on the irritated side.

But then…just as suddenly as this whole deal began…its over…the extra 2 guys are gone…the cloud has disappeared…the booming voice from heaven is silent…and there’s only Jesus…and then, the moment being done, they start heading back down the mountain…and for whatever reason…the three men remain silent…perhaps feeling the sense of shame that comes with a rebuke. (pause)

That’s the story of the Transfiguration…one that is amazing…and yet is utterly beyond our ability to make heads or tails of.  And considering that point…sometimes I think that the description of a moment when the divine and the finite…the heavenly and the human are both on display in the same instant…that is so utterly beyond our human ability to describe or even comprehend…that this is the best we can do in terms of a description.

Of course, it goes without saying that countless scholars over the centuries have made attempts to explain what’s going on here…but maybe its okay just to sit in the enormity of the mystery.  A mystery that points towards an even bigger mystery…of whatever it is that God is up in constantly inviting our reality forward…and in connection to that…whatever it is that God is up to through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus.  (pause)

The apostle Paul talks about this mystery…saying that now we see as in a mirror dimly…but one day we will see face to face.  I’ll admit it…there are times when we call something a mystery that we can’t explain…or we answer a question with “I don’t know” and it almost seems like a copout…its frustrating…and yet…that’s the truth…that there are things about God and heaven and the kingdom and Jesus and that which is divine being found among that which is not that is simply too much.

And so maybe, just maybe as we consider this event…all we can say here is that somehow, the event of the Transfiguration is a moment that reveals something about the identity of Jesus…because we have a name that is given to him…the Son of God…the one who is chosen…but as we think about that heavenly proclamation that comes about as Jesus is in a moment of quiet prayer…maybe we’re reminded of another time when that happens.

I can’t help but think that this sounds a lot like Jesus baptism…which we hit back at the beginning of this season of Epiphany…as Jesus is praying, post baptism…the heaven’s are ripped open and that same voice declares an almost identical statement…You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.

Above all else…these two similar events point us towards a vital aspect of Jesus’ identity…the one who has been claimed as the Son of God…but as we dwell on that point…let us remember something else…though we fail to understand how it all works…we have been given a promise through the baptism that we share with Jesus…and that promise is that we have also inherited the same identity…beloved child of God.

That is an identity that trumps….EVERYTHING…it’s a promise that God is with us…that God has claimed us and dwells among us…even within us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  And that’s huge…because if there’s one angle that we can pull from the entirety of scripture…its that God desires to dwell among us…and be with us…and that we are with God.  God is together with humanity in the Garden…God dwells among the Israelites in the desert…God literally comes among us in the person of Christ…and in the end…the promise of Revelation says “Behold, the dwelling of the Lord is with his people.” That’s where this is going…not limited to any single instance…or any super exiting mountain top experience…God shows us over and over again that our existence begins from a place of divine delight…and whether we feel like it or not…whether the world confirms it or not…we are the pinnacle of God’s divine creative joy…both as individuals and as a species.

And the amazing thing about this…is that we are invited into the work of bringing this to fruition…over again Jesus offers this invitation…to live our lives in a way that reflects the Kingdom of Heaven being here now…because it is.

Now I know…life doesn’t always feel like it…and to live our lives this way is scary…its daunting…and that sense of doubt loves to squawk in the back of our minds doesn’t it…that voice that tells us we aren’t good enough…we aren’t smart enough…or savvy enough…or skilled enough…that lie that tells us “You aren’t enough” so that we’ll cower in fear from the work and from the very gifts that God has given us to benefit this world. Maybe that voice of fear is even louder than the voice of doubt…that voice that asks what might happen if follow that call? (pause) The potential that lies within every single one of us…the gifts and the talents that you were born with…maybe they scare you…because who knows what might happen if you turn your God-given potential lose in this world…

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are meant to shine as children do. Its not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” A brilliant author named Marianne Williamson wrote that…and I believe that if Jesus was standing here right now…he’d be nodding and cheering…because he said some of the very same things.

You are the light of the world…a city on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and places it under a basket…so shine.  Shine in this world that loves its darkness…be that light that reflects the perfect light that was shining through Jesus on that mountain. Shine in a way that reveals your identity as a beloved child of God.

We do that…and we’ll see some change in this world…because that’s the work that God has invited us into through the one who was shining in the first place.  Amen.

Who Am I 9-16-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 8:27-38, Jesus poses a question “Who do you say that I am?” Its a big question, and a difficult one to answer. And yet its worth pondering on.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here: (note this looks differently than simply listing the link as in past postings…listen by clicking the orange play button in the top left corner).

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

A few days back I had a conversation with an old friend…and we got to talking about the irony of cell phones.  Pretty much everyone walks around with a phone in their pocket these days…which means that it should be incredibly easy to get a hold of each other.

And yet…no one answers their phone do they? Maybe we can blame it on caller id…when the phone rings…if its not someone’s name, or a number that we recognize…we let it go to voice mail don’t we? This was what my friend and I were discussing…and in the midst of this discussion she said “You know, its probably the telemarketers fault.”

She said it in passing…but that statement stuck with me long after the conversation was over…and it made me think back to my younger years, before everyone had a cell phone…when we’d answer the old landline at the house…and that coupled with remembering countless conversations with telemarketers…calls that would go along these lines…Hello…a long pause while the robo-dialer connected on the other end…and then…Hello…is this Mr DaHlen? (cringe and hang up the phone).

It was in this moment that I recognized a pretty major pet-peeve…I hate it when names get mispronounced…an issue that happens with my last name with a LOT of regularity. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know why this bugs me so much…but it does…it feels like the person calling me by name really doesn’t know me…and vice-versa in the times when I’m the one doing the mispronunciation, it probably feels the same way to them……and I can only think that it points to a sense of unfamiliarity…a lack of understanding…or relationship…whether intentional or not…its just not a good feeling.

And I can’t help but think that this sense is present in our gospel for today…this lack of understanding or familiarity…and Jesus is still making the rounds during his ministry prior to his intentional turn towards Jerusalem and what will ultimately culminate in his death.

We are right about the half-way point of Mark’s gospel with where we pick things up today. And it would seem that Jesus thinks its about time to check in and see what people are saying…and so, as he walks around with his myriad of followers in tow, he asks the simple question.  Who do people say that I am?

The disciples respond with the various chatter that they’ve heard. Some call him John the Baptist…others Elijah or one of the prophets…and none of these are really out of line…his ministry and his message certainly have similarities with these different figures who came before in Israel’s history.

But Jesus apparently isn’t satisfied with this answer…because maybe its not enough to simply explore what people in general are saying…and so he gets a little more personal, particularly with the 12 disciples as he asks Who do YOU…say that I am?

I can’t help but think that this is a good question…an important one…and one that the disciples should really be able to answer by this point. They’ve been following Jesus for a while…clearly they’ve formed a solid connection and relationship…they’ve seen the miracles and listened to his teaching time after time after time…if anyone should have insight into just who Jesus is, its them.

And as we hear…Peter takes his normal role as spokesman with a divinely inspired response…you are the Messiah…the Christ…God’s anointed one. Peter is the first person to give Jesus this name…this identity…and Peters not wrong…but he is still in error.

Because as soon as Jesus starts to reveal to them what it means to be THE Messiah, Peter starts squawking…rebuking Jesus…which leads Jesus to start some pretty major rebuking of his own…Get behind me Satan…you have your mind set not on divine things…but on human things. (pause)

Here’s the rub. Sometimes I sorta feel bad for Peter when I come across this story…of course he’s got his mind on human things…he’s human…just like we are. So come on Jesus…maybe tone it down with calling him Satan…that seems a little on the harsh side. (pause)
And yet…its worth noting that Peter’s expectations of the Messiah, whatever they point to…are off.  It stands to reason that his expectation is more of a political figure.  The kings of old were anointed to be rulers…and prophecy had stated that the Messiah would again sit on David’s throne.  All signs probably pointed him in this direction…and Peter’s own experience with Jesus might have pointed that way too…somehow he’s made this assumption…although it would seem, based on Jesus’ response…that Peter is unfamiliar with just what the truth is of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.

Now, all else aside…I can’t help but think of the magnitude of this question from Jesus in the first place. Who do you say that I am? (pause) I don’t think he’s merely posing this question to 12 dudes who followed him around for 3 years prior to his execution on the cross…but I think this is a question that Jesus poses to each one of us…and it’s a hard question.  Who do you say that I am?

I think this is a hard question because our answer not only reveals something about how we think of God…but it also reveals something about us doesn’t it? Think about that question and how you would answer it.  Is Jesus just some wise 1st century Jewish rabbi?

Is he someone who showed up to tell the religious elite that they were doing it wrong?  Is he just some nice guy in a story that may or may not be true? (pause) Or if we go with the title assigned to him today…what does it mean that he’s the Messiah? What does the anointed one of God mean?

What are some of the other names or titles that we use when we think of Jesus? Lord…the lamb?  Emmanuel. God…the Son…savior, teacher, friend?  These are just a few of the various titles that we can and do apply to the one who our faith is named after. But I wonder, do any of them really do justice…or is Jesus, God in human form…the all-powerful creator of the universe made man…simply too big for any of us to wrap our limited understanding around…even though we try to do just that on a pretty regular basis.

The thing is…every time we try to assign meaning or identity or whatever we want to call it…all we pretty much end up doing is placing God in a box…even if that particular box might be an aspect that’s true…we can not begin to limit God to anything that we can come up with…because our assumptions, no matter how good our intentions…will always…fall…short.

I really doubt that Peter had poor intentions when he pulled Jesus aside to dispute the very notion that the Messiah would suffer and die at the hands of the religious and politically powerful…much less to suffer the utter indignity of the cross…a cursed death intended to be a brutal example of what would happen to you if you opposed the Roman government.

And yet…this is the reality of Jesus…and what does that reveal to us? That maybe, just maybe the Messiah is one who will ALWAYS align himself with those who are marginalized…those who the powerful say are unacceptable or even less than human…and that not only will Jesus be found with them…he will love them…and will show us, time and time again that there is another way to live in this broken and yet wonderful world that we have been given.

Maybe the Messiah is the one to show us that there is a way that we can chose to love one another and treat everyone as a fellow human being, regardless of social standing or status…but that’s a challenge to those whom society deems to be the powerful…and those with the illusion of power will often do anything to hold onto it…and this is why Jesus died.

Because in the life of Jesus, the one called the Messiah, God was showing us that there is another way…and that we can live in harmony with the world around us…and those that we share it with…and even with the one who made it…and the world…said…no. The cross, tame as it has become for us over the course of 2000 years of history and separation…the cross was a BRUTAL answer to the new way of life that God was showing us, something we call the kingdom of heaven…but the cross wasn’t the last word…because 3 days later he rose again to show us that not even death can silence the love of God that is actively breaking through into our reality. (pause)

Now I need to back up just a bit…and come back around to Peter…because I still think its harsh to consider Jesus’ response…Get behind me Satan…but its worth noting that Jesus doesn’t say Get away from me…he simply says get back in line behind me…and Satan is simply a Greek word for an adversary…so he isn’t actually calling Peter the devil here…Jesus is telling Peter that he needs to come back behind Jesus…and keep following him…even if that leads to the torment and torture of the cross.

Peter didn’t have the whole story yet…because he hadn’t seen the resurrected Lord…the living Lord who is a physical example that not even death can beat the good news that God has brought into our realty. Maybe Peter was singing a different tune once Easter rolled around and he saw things first hand.

And here’s the thing that we have in common with Peter…even with the benefit of hindsight…we don’t have the full picture yet either. Yes Jesus is alive…yes the tomb is empty…yes it is finished…and yet, we still view all of this through our limited human understanding.

But there will come a day when we will see these things clearly…a day which has been promised by the very one who lived and died and rose again in the first place…and in the meantime we live in hope and expectation of that day, and not only that…but we live out each day as if it is true…whether we can wrap our heads around it or not.

Jesus asks us…Who do you say that I am? (pause) It’s a big question that we need to continue to ask ourselves…and as we do so, let us each continue to follow the one who makes the promises to us…for that is our place in our identity as followers of Christ…we follow behind him, whether we really get it or not. Amen

Its About You But Not Just You 2-25-18

In this sermon, based on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, I explore God’s ongoing covenant with Abraham. This promise continues to build on each step that God has laid out before, eventually going on to bless the entire world.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-about-you-but-not-just-you-2-25-18

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 continue to get older, I’m constantly being reminded that I am a creature of habit…and perhaps the greatest evidence of this happens when I’m driving my wife’s car. Now, many of you are likely aware of where I park. My maroon car sits on the other side of the parking lot, and has ever since we moved to town…and so its utter habit for me as I’m coming home to roll right past the driveway and swing into the parking lot…and in those instances when I’m in my wife’s car, its always right AFTER I pull into the parking lot that I realize my folly and I have to swing it around and pull into the garage.

This habit…and this tendency to always park in the same place goes way back for me…it’s a habit that I’ve had ever since I started driving. And my parking spot when I was a teenager was right alongside the garage at my parent’s place…a detached garage about 75 feet away from the front door…and just like my habit of pulling into the parking lot now…I would come driving into the yard and swing right up next the garage before throwing it in park and walking into the house.

Now I can remember doing that very thing countless times while I still lived with my parents…and more often than not it was after dark….because of course I was a teenager and I stayed out late…and I can remember, more often than not…of seeing the beautiful stars as I walked through the yard…and I can remember one time in particular…as I stepped out of the car and walked towards the door…of how amazingly bright and clear the stars were…even more vivid than normal…and it wasn’t until I walked inside to find candles lit that I realized the power was off and so the yard light was off.

Now this raises the question…have you ever seen the stars in the absence of light pollution…because it is utterly breathtaking…the clarity…and perhaps even more amazing…the magnitude of the stars in the night sky…a number that is beyond counting. (Pause)
Now perhaps you see where I’m going with this. Today’s scripture features Abraham…or Abram as he’s known on the front of end of today’s story…a man known as the first of the Old Testament patriarchs…a figure from the Old Testament who is arguably one of the most important and well known…probably right on par with Moses who’ll pop up in the book of Exodus a few centuries later.

A man…seemingly plucked from obscurity…chosen by God…and told…promised…that he would be blessed…that his name would become great…and that he would be the father of many nations…a promise which was illustrated by God telling him to go outside and look at the night sky…look and see the stars in their multitude…so shall your descendants be. (pause)
But Abram…his whole story is pretty incredible. For starters he’s a direct descendent of Noah, who we heard about last week…he was born about 10 or 11 generations after Noah, and Abram falls in the line of the oldest son of each respective generation…each father passing along the inheritance…the wealth…the power and influence to his oldest son…generation after generation until we get to Teran, Abram’s dad. Now over the course of these generations its thought that they amassed a fair amount of wealth and influence…and where they lived along the Euphrates river in present day Iraq, Abram’s family were the movers and the shakers…and then along comes God…telling Abram that he should leave the house of his father and go off into some unknown land that God will show him. And funny enough Abram says “Okay.”

Now here’s the thing…Abram is already 75 years old when this happens…no spring chicken by any means…though we do hear later that he lives another 100 years beyond this point so even though he’s well aged by this point, we could argue that Abram is still middle aged.

And Abram will go on variety of adventures during his time in the scriptures…his story covers a fair amount of Genesis, 20 or so odd chapters. There are some ups and downs…he prospers as God makes good on the promise to make his name great…but he also does some really dumb stuff like trying to pass off his wife Sarai as his sister for personal gain and saving his own skin…and not just once, but he does this twice.

Now for a few years…Abram and Sarai, along with their household travel around…before finally one night God appears to Abram again…and Abram has a question…Hey Lord…remember how you told me that I was going to be the father of many nations? Yah…umm…I don’t know if you noticed or not…but ummmm…I don’t have any kids…and my heir is just a dude that works for me…and you know I’m not getting any younger…and neither is Sarai…so you know umm…what should we do about that?

And God tells him to look at the stars once again…and God tells him the promise again…but this time God does something a little different…and God makes a covenant…but God does it in a really odd way. You see there was this custom that when two people made a covenant they’d take livestock…and they’d sacrifice them…and they’d cut the carcass in half and lay the pieces out on the ground…and then they’d walk between the pieces saying “If I don’t hold my end of the covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me.” But God does things a little different…he has Abram cut up the animals and lay them out…but then as Abram watches…God appears as a firey lamp that passes between the animals…and God promises to give the land where they are to the descendants of Abram….like Noah last week, Abram receives a one-sided promise…and all he has to do is continue to trust that God will do what God says He’ll do. (pause)
Now, we gotta fast forward a few more years…Abram is about 86 now…so its been 10 or 11 years since God started making these promises…one that builds upon the one before it. And Abram still believes that God is going to give him descendants…but again…he and Sarai aren’t getting any younger…and they decide to take matters into their own hands…and Sarai gives her slave Hagar to Abram saying “Have children for me through her.” Yes its odd…but it happened in those days…it was actually quite common…and it worked…Abram has a son named Ishmael…And now, this whole situation does cause some angst in the household. But for the most part…Abram…well, he’s kinda okay…he’s got his son…he’s got a descendent…so maybe just maybe God’s finally making good on this whole thing…and with that we fast forward another 13 years…13 years…almost 25 since God made the promise in the first place…and for those 13 years, I can only imagine that Abram felt like everything was as it was supposed to be. (pause)
But God wasn’t done yet…because when God makes a promise…or in this case a covenant…it seems to me that God means it, even if God’s timing doesn’t quite line up with ours…and finally when Abram has reached the impressive age of 99…God shows up again.

Now here’s the thing about what we hear today…we hear, once again…that God makes a covenant…that God repeats the promise…and just like we heard before…God takes that same promise and goes one step farther.  First it was…leave your father’s house…leave his realm…leave everything that is familiar and beneficial for you…and go and I’ll give you lots of descendants…then a few years and several wacky adventures later…the promise grew to include the land…and now the promise grows yet again…we still hear of descendants…but we also hear that the covenant is between God and Abram…but its also between God and his offspring throughout all of their generations…an everlasting covenant that goes far beyond this one guy.

Now there’s some different stuff going on here…Abram is probably thinking to himself…well yah God…I’ve got my son here with me…we’re all good…but God’s not done…and we see another step…a name change…and Abram, which means exalted father by the way…becomes Abraham, which means father of many.

He receives a new identity because of what God is doing in him and through him…because of the promises made by God on his behalf…he is not the same person that he was before…And God takes this theme…this new idea of a new identity a step beyond Abraham…and we find that Sarai receives a new name as well…a new name that reminds Abraham that this promise of God is NOT just about him…but that whatever it is that God is up to…this new thing that is coming about through this covenant…through these ongoing…building…promises…it involves more than just one person. For God’s promise…whether they had trouble living up to it or not…was going to occur through Abraham and Sarah…and that the generations to come would come through her.

And yet…there is also truth in the promise that Abraham was the father of different nations…for blessings passed to Ishmael who would become the Arab nation…and blessings would pass to Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, who would become the Jewish nation…and following the death of Sarah, Abraham remarried and had more children who would go to form other tribes and people…truly when God makes a promise, God makes good on it. (pause)We see this in the literal case for Abraham and his children…and we see it in the ongoing promise that God brings about through the covenant with Abraham and Sarah.
But what does all this mean for us today? That is, perhaps, the most important question…what can we learn…what truth can we take…what hope can we find in this story? (pause) Perhaps the truth that we find is in the reminder that the promises God makes on our behalf…they aren’t just limited to us. We are included in this original promise and covenant that God made with Abraham…we are included in the generations that came after him…we are heirs to this promise…but just as God continued to build on the promises he made each time to Abraham…God has continued to build upon the promises as they come to us…and through Christ…through what Christ has done…we are also given a new identity, just as Abraham was. We are given the identity, beloved child of God.

But we must also remember that this new identity given to us by God, goes beyond us as individuals.  The good news of Jesus Christ is meant to bless all the world…and in response to the grace that God has shown us when we are claimed…the blessing flows through us into others…and just as Sarai became Sarah through the promise made to Abraham…the promise that we are made God’s children flows through us and changes the identity of those who come after us. (pause)

Now I started this whole thing off by talking about the stars…and here’s the thing about the stars…about the amazingly vast cosmos out there.  When the lights are all off…we can see a mind-blowing number of stars…but the number of stars in the heavens that we can’t see…its beyond measure. And the same God who made them…who placed them in the cosmos has made a promise that we are all a part of…that his blessing is also beyond measure…its beyond measure in its magnitude for each of us as an individual…and its beyond measure in the scope of who its for…reaching far beyond what we can see or comprehend.

May you remember that the promises of God that are found in the scriptures…they’re about you…but not only you. May they pass through you to bless others as well. Amen.

Imagine What You’ll Know Tomorrow 8-27-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 16:13-23, I explore Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, followed up by his misconception of what that means.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/imagine-what-youll-know-tomorrow-8-27-17

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

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

There are a handful of actors who have made a solid career out of playing the same type of character over and over again. Tommy Lee Jones is one of these actors. Over the course of the past couple of decades, he’s pretty much played the role of the older, wiser guy who’s seen it all…and he’s perpetually annoyed as he teaches the new young guy the ropes.

And there is one example that perfectly captures this sense…Men in Black…the very first one…came out back in the late 90’s and tells the story about a secret organization of agents, dressed in black of course…that help police the presence of aliens on our planet.  Fairly early in the movie, his character sits on a bench next to the new guy talking about this strange reality.

Inevitably the question comes up “Why don’t you tell everyone…people are smart, they can handle it.”  Tommy replies with the fact that people in groups are foolish and dangerous…and that there are certain things that they simply cannot accept in their current experience…and I love what he has to say. (pause)

1500 years ago, everyone KNEW…the earth was the center of the universe.  500 years ago everyone KNEW…the earth was flat…15 minutes you KNEW…that humans were alone on this planet…imagine what you’ll KNOW…tomorrow. (pause)

Throughout the course of our history…human beings have learned a lot…but with every new discovery…we tend to find an old way of thinking has to give way…the old thought…the old “fact,” whatever it is that we used to KNOW.

And this theme is all over today’s gospel reading.  (pause) Now this is a fun passage…we find ourselves in the midst of a temporary breather during Jesus’ ministry. He’s been out teaching, healing, interacting with individuals and crowds…he’s bumped heads with the religious elite…he’s performed miracle after miracle…all the while proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near.

All this different stuff that Jesus has been doing is causing word to spread all over the place…and so it would seem that Jesus is ready to test the waters…he’s curious as to what the word on the street is as far as he’s concerned…and so he turns to the disciples to ask the big question…who do people say that the son of man is?

The disciples stand there…scratching their heads as they think for a moment…Well Jesus…some say that you’re John the Baptism…we’ve heard some call you Elijah…or Jeremiah or one of the prophets…and you know what…maybe that makes sense…with his history of pushback against the religious elite, Jesus certainly fits the mold of those well known prophets that came before him in Israel’s history…but to simply call Jesus a prophet…to simply place him among that batch of individals…clearly that’s only picking up a portion of the work that he’s up to…and so…with that…Jesus dives a little deeper.

Okay…so that’s what everyone else says…but I’m going to put you disciples on the spot…you’ve been around me long enough now…who do YOU…say that I am? (pause) Now honestly, that’s not a bad question to ask…and its one that we should probably consider.

After all, if Christianity relies on anything, it’s the proclamation of the Good News….that personal testimony of what we as individuals have witnessed God do in our own lives…and in the sharing of these thoughts…these testimonies…that’s how our story really begins to connect into God’s greater story in our reality.

This is something that we continue to see throughout the course of the Biblical Narrative, as God somehow crosses paths with a group or an individual and invites them forward into something new…over and over again…humanity continuous to be invited to join with God as things move forward.

And as the event of Jesus walking around Israel 2000 years ago is the physical embodiment of God’s divine action of invitation for humanity in the world…then its important to consider the question “Who do you say that I am?” (pause)
Now I think it goes without saying that Peter serves as a pretty solid connection point for us within the gospel narrative…he’s just SO DARN human isn’t he?  Impulsive, quick to speak…quick to jump to conclusions…but often unsure of himself.  I think Peter is one we can relate to isn’t he?

But today…in response to this important question of Jesus…this question of who we say Jesus is…Peter lays out the ultimate answer. You are the messiah…the son of the living God. (pause)

Jesus…is…pleased. I can almost picture the heavens opening up, music beginning to play, and bright light shining down upon Peter as Jesus smiles at him…YES!!! Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah…for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you…but my father in heaven.

This gives us an important reminder…the ability to understand the truth of just who Jesus is…comprehension of his identity is not something self-generated. Peter didn’t just make up his mind that Jesus is the Messiah…it was revealed to him…and in this we are reminded that faith is not of us…but it is a gift from our father in heaven. (pause)

Now at this point in the story, we have a wonderful exchange as Jesus seems to issue a name change…and Simon son of Jonah becomes Peter…the rock on which the church will be built…and then…just like that…the lectionary stops us short today…and it would seem, at first glance anyway that Peter has learned all he needs to know…and Jesus might as well just hand over control of the church right then and there. (pause)

But the story doesn’t stop there does it? This is why I included the extra couple of verses at the end today…even though we’re going to hear them again next week…it’s a mistake to leave them out today.  Think about what happens. Peter has just made this divinely inspire proclamation, calling Jesus the messiah…the Christ…and then Jesus begins to teach them just what that means.  (pause)
Yah, so, we’re gonna go to Jerusalem, and I’m going to be betrayed and handed over…and I’m gonna get beaten and tortured…and I’m even gonna die…but then after a few days I’ll come back again. (pause) And Peter, the one who just won the gold star…loses his mind over it. He begins to rebuke Jesus who in turn calls him a stumbling block…calls him Satan and tells him that he’s too focused on human things instead of divine things. (pause)

All of this is a little wonky…admittedly, I sorta think that Jesus is getting a little on the weird side here…especially if we throw in that side comment about his command to the disciples not to tell anyone that he’s the Messiah…and so maybe the big question here is just what is going on in this back and forth exchange.

But the truth that we need to remember is that Peter hasn’t learned everything yet has he? He knows about the messiah…but clearly he doesn’t get just what the messiah is now…Peter’s operating on old information, not realizing that Jesus is doing something different…something new.

He’s the MESSIAH RIGHT? He confirmed it…so everyone, what’s that mean…and to answer that question we’ve got to back up about 1000 years and remember who else is a messiah…now that word…messiah or christ,  same deal…it means God’s anointed one…and the anointed ones were the kings…the ones that God had chosen to lead the people…Saul…David…Solomon…they’re all anointed…they’re all messiahs.

And so for Peter…and not just him but for the whole Jewish culture…the long awaited Messiah is a political figure…the one who’s going to rise up…retakes the throne of David…bring Israel back to glory and kick out their oppressors…who in this particular instant happens to be the Romans. (pause) Anyone remember what the Romans tend to do when someone rises up against them?  Its not pretty…and since Jesus’ time hasn’t come yet…no wonder he doesn’t want anyone calling him the messiah…because if the people try to make him king that’s gonna end poorly for him, although of course it ultimately will anyway…but it’ll also end badly for the people he has come to save.

And so where do we go from here? What do we learn from Peter today? Well, we see that Peter still has a lot to learn…he’s made a faithful confession…and in the name change we see a new identity bestowed upon him by God…something that sounds pretty baptismal if you ask me…but we also see that he’s not finished yet.

His understanding of the messiah is incomplete…and will continue to be until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. For no one can truly comprehend just what it is to THE MESSIAH until after Jesus comes back from the dead…Peter included.

And so we are reminded today that our lives of faith are ongoing…and its not about a single expression of identity or faith or belief at one time that’s going to be the end all be all for us…because even once we are claimed by God…once we are giving that identity, God’s not done with us yet…and we still have more to learn…more to experience…more to be revealed by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Often when we are young, we are foolish enough to think that we’ve got it all figured out…but I continue to learn the truth that the older I get the more I realize the less I know…and that’s okay.  But God continues to reveal new things all the time…and that can, and should…and does change the way we think about things…the way we understand things.

None of us are the same person as we were 10 years ago…and we are not the same person that we will be 10 years from now…for we have a God who continues to invite us forward into something new…a new way of thinking…a new way of acting…a new way of interacting with those around us…and isn’t it wonderful to know that the basis for all of this…the motivation for God’s continued work, both in the world and in our lives…is because God takes delight in us.

Who do the people say that Jesus is? (pause) Who do you say that Jesus is? (pause) This is a question that we should answer differently today than we did in the past…and a question that we should answer differently in the future…all depending on what God reveals to us in the midst of our lives.

Think of that song that we all learn as children…Jesus loves me this I know. (pause) When you’re a child that’s enough…that’s what you believe…that’s what you understand…that’s what you’ll know, and its different from what you understand…what you know, now… and now   imagine…what you’ll know…tomorrow. Amen.