Posts Tagged ‘Invitation’

The Lord’s Prayer 7-28-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 11:1-13, I explore the subtle differences that exist between Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer and the more familiar version found in Matthew.  These differences begin to reveal important truth and invitations for us all.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-lords-prayer-7-28-19

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

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

I have a friend and classmate from seminary from a pretty decent sized community in Wisconsin. He’s a pastor like me…but I think its safe to say that he’s got a pretty decent side-hustle as a wedding officiant.  Every year, typically sometime in mid-late spring, he’ll start posting pictures of himself along with couples that he has married…and I swear he’s posting a new picture at least every other week, if not more.  This lasts all the way into the late fall when the weather stops cooperating…and upper mid-west weddings go on hold for the winter.

I can’t say for sure…but I think he probably performs more weddings in a single year that I have in the entirety of my 6 years here at Underwood. I just don’t have that many weddings…its been 9 total, though I do also have number 10 in the works right now, so I’ll be able to claim double digits in another couple months.

But weddings are fun…and while they all have some things in common, they all have differences as well…little things that make an individual ceremony and couple memorable. Sometimes it’s a song from the ceremony…or a speech at the reception…sometimes it’s the location.  Now of the 9 weddings that I’ve presided over to this point, 5 of them were here at the church.  1 was at slightly larger Lutheran church down in Council Bluffs.  1 was in the backyard of a farmstead just outside of Underwood…1 was in an old historical building down in town…but the one most memorable from a location standpoint…that one occurred over in Omaha at the Performing Arts Center…and specifically at the base of a huge ornate grand staircase that opens out into a large lobby space. (pause)

Now this location was really something…but for me as the officiant…the most memorable part was the logistics of where people were standing.  I was at the very base of the steps…the couple in front of me…but the wedding party…they remained on the stairs…flowing up behind me…and that’s what threw me off…because I’m not used to having people behind me in these situations.

Granted, for most of the ceremony…they were silent…no one passed out and came crashing down the steps, which was good, but there was one moment when they caught my attention…when we reached the portion of the ceremony featuring the Lord’s Prayer.

Everyone present had joined together…including the wedding party behind me…and here’s the kicker…the best man…who was in the closest proximately to me…was Catholic…and of course when we got the ending portion of the prayer…he stopped, though not alone…all the other Catholics did too…but as all of us Protestants kept going I heard “oop.” Which made me laugh.

But it brings up an important point tied in with today’s lesson…there are different versions of the Lord’s Prayer aren’t there?  We tack on the conclusion to the prayer at the end.  In recent years, there has been slight rewordings of various phrases leading to the “new version” verses the old one.

And as we’ve seen today…there’s even some differences in the source material. (pause) The version of the Lord’s Prayer that we are most familiar with is actually found in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus teaches it in the midst of a LONG period of teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount. He’s busy teaching about the importance of sincerity within our prayers…and then instructs his audience…pray then in this way…and out comes the prayer that we’ll share together a little later in today’s worship service.

But today…we’re hearing of the same moment of teaching out of Luke’s account…and I’m guessing that when I read the gospel a moment ago…you probably picked up on the subtle differences as Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray…the petitions are a little shorter…they’re worded slightly differently…but essentially it’s the same right? (pause)

But what if I told you…that there’s another subtle difference that this particular translation glosses over? Because there is. I picked up on it when I was working with the original language, which I often due…so listen in and see if you catch the difference here.

Father, your name is sanctified…Your kingdom come…you give us today’s bread each day, and you forgive our sins, for we forgive all the ones who owe us, and you do not bring us into temptation…now think about that for a sec. (Pause) Did you catch the subtle difference? Where Matthew’s version…the one we are all so familiar with, does present each petition as a request…here in Luke, Jesus seems to be acknowledging action that God has already or is currently taking. (pause)

Now that’s a little weird isn’t it?  This idea of praying in a way that acknowledges what God is up to as opposed to asking for what we need or want or desire?  And yet there it is…and so what are we to take from this?  What are we to learn? (pause)

That seems to be the question that Jesus goes on to discuss in the next couple of portions of this text from today.  Admittedly, its an odd batch of verses…and in many ways it seems like three different moments that all got smashed in together…but they are all connected with the common theme of prayer. (pause)

We’ve got this oddball little micro-parable that Jesus shares about a guy who gets a random visitor in the middle of the night…and due to his surprise he’s got no food to place in front of his guest…a HUGE issue in a culture that places hospitality above everything else.  And so, the guy does the only thing he can…he runs next door and starts pounding on the door.

Get up…I need 3 loaves…my friend is here and I’ve got nothing to give them.  (Pause) Now imagine your reaction if your neighbor starting pounding on your door looking for baked goods at 2am…probably wouldn’t be very happy would you…you’d probably have a few choice words uttered under your breath.   How dare he…does he know what time it is? Doesn’t he know he’s gonna wake my kids up? The dogs going crazy…all so he can feed someone else.  Has he no shame? (pause)

And here’s the thing…no…he doesn’t have any shame…here’s another language issue.  Persistence isn’t the right to put this…as he continues to knock on the door and ask for help…he’s doing so SHAMELESSLY…because the need to show hospitality to his friend…to honor the depths of relationship…that goes beyond the neighborly faux-pa of waking up the guy next door. (pause)

Now Jesus tells us this parable in response to the prayer…and that’s fascinating…to me…and it makes me wonder…is he telling us that we should be shameless as we approach in God in prayer?  Or is he telling us…ever so subtly…that as we come before God…our requests…our petitions…our prayers shouldn’t even be about us…but about how we serve others.

That the needs we see in the world that we share with our maker in prayer are brought forth without shame…without hindrance…that we should be so moved by the needs we witness that we will do anything to overcome them. Is that what Jesus is suggesting?

That maybe, he is giving us an example of a way to pray that acknowledges the ways God cares for our daily needs…that God has already forgiven us with the expectation that this same forgiveness will radiate out from us to others…that he is telling us how to pray in a way that acknowledges that the kingdom has come near.

Now that’s an interesting point to ponder…because if Jesus has had a recurring theme…a repeating message throughout his ministry as recorded by Luke…it’s the message that the kingdom has come near to you. Not because of anything that we have done or because we have simply prayed for it…the kingdom of heaven comes on its own…but we ask in the prayer that it may also come to us…so that we might be a part of it.

I believe that the power behind this prayer comes from the Holy Spirit…because it is only by the power of God within us that we are able to see past the brokenness of this world and one another and even ourselves to bear witness to the ways that we participate in that kingdom right now. (pause)
Maybe that’s what Jesus is modeling for us in this prayer…an acknowledgment of the good gifts that God is already bestowing upon us…the gifts of our daily needs being met…the gifts of God’s grace and forgiveness for the times when we fail…for the invitation to share that grace with one another…and the knowledge that God does not desire evil for us…but that God desires that we will participate in that which is good within this kingdom that has already come near to us. (pause)

Today Luke’s version reveals a tension…within the prayer that our Lord has taught us to pray, we find both petitions to be asked…and statements to be acknowledged…a tension which is fitting within our lives of faith…as we recognize the promise of God, that we are already claimed as beloved children…and that we feel the effects of this promise in the joy and hope and peace that we experience now…knowing that it is incomplete in this present reality…recognizing that God has also promised will be ours in eternity.

And so…we acknowledge that its done…and yet we ask that it would be so. 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.

We Are Even 2-24-19

In this sermon, taken from Luke 6:27-38 (along with earlier verses from the story), I continue to explore Jesus’ important words and inherent invitation for us to respond to the free gift of grace and salvation by acting in a way that reflects the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. As we do so, we are joining with God in bringing that reality into being.

This sermon is a pretty direct continuation of last week’s sermon…with many similar themes and ideas.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-are-even-2-24-19

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

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

Mother Nature played a mean trick on us a week ago didn’t she? No worship thanks to winter weather.  And due to the fact that we didn’t have worship…I didn’t preach the sermon that I prepared…though admittedly I did still post it online, so perhaps a few of you did check it out…and if so…this opening bit is gonna sound a little familiar…if, on the other hand, you did not find it online…then disregard my disclaimer.

My older brother, while pretty decent to me as a younger brother…did often take advantage of the size difference inherent with a 4.5 year age difference…especially considering that I was a pretty small kid as I was growing up.  But then…one day when I was about 15 or 16…things changed. My brother came up behind and put me in a headlock…and without even thinking about it…I grabbed his arm and pitched him over my shoulder on the couch…and it was in this moment that my brother realized…we’re on the same level.

Rest assured, I viewed this as a moment of victory…but life has a funny way of turning the tables on you…and now 25 years later…my 15 year old son can pretty much look me straight in the eye…and in the instances when we get started wrestling…sooner or later I run out of steam and he gets me in a headlock…forcing me to admit defeat and tap out.  And let me tell you something…that moment of realization that now I’m not the top dog…and that my son is on the same level…that’s humbling.

Now in both of these cases…the level that we’re talking about…its physical…but as we all know there are a lot of different categories that we could name where people tend to fall in different places on the respective ladder.  Physical size. Economic status…age…social standing…just to name a few…but this idea of a ladder…of someone ranking higher or lower than another…that’s what catches my attention as I consider the scripture lesson for today.

Now again…a lot of what I’m talking about today builds off the message and lesson from last week…I even including the opening portion of last week’s because its all the same setting. Jesus has come down off the mountain…been surrounded by great crowds from all over the region…a mixed bag of cultural background, Jews and Gentiles…all seeking something from him.

He heals diseases…he casts out demons…he frees everyone from whatever it is that has them hindered…and it would seem that within this particular crowd…that same sense is pretty universal…it doesn’t matter who you are…Jesus frees you…and only then does he begin teaching.

I like this teaching…or sermon…its one that is probably familiar…though we tend to hear Matthew’s version up on the mountain a little more often…but Luke reverses things…literally bringing Jesus down off the mountain…to a level place…and I don’t think that Luke does this to metaphorical…I think he wanted us to see that Jesus…God in the flesh…was willing to come down on the same level as all these people…people from all walks and backgrounds…effectively placing everyone on the same level…making everyone even. (pause)

His sermon…well it does more of the same.  In the portion that we skipped over…commonly known as the Beatitudes…Jesus speaks about those who are blessed, even if their situation seems to be the polar opposite of the world would expect given that label…blessed…and then…having done that, Jesus turns the coin over telling us woe to you have it good…who are comfortable…because things will change.

Seems to me that Jesus is reminding us that the world and our reality is a fickle thing…and that our circumstances can get turned on their ear in the blink of an eye…and it begs the question…what do we put our faith it? (pause)  But that said…the awesome thing is that Jesus doesn’t stop there…he carries on quite a bit longer…and he really start to flush out this whole idea of an even playing field…despite the reality of social standings in his day and age.

Make no mistake…in Jesus’ time…there was a very rigid social ladder…and there was zero question where you fell on that ladder…everyone knew their place…and honestly…if you encountered someone higher up that particular food chain from you…you were pretty much at their mercy…and they could treat you any way they wanted…now we can call this a lot of things…some might call it persecution…especially in the first century where persecution on religious grounds was a very present reality.

But when Jesus starts talking about turning the other cheek…or offering your shirt along with your coat…I don’t think that’s what Jesus is really talking about…I think he was a being a little bit on the subversive and sneaky side.

Think about it this way…if someone got a little cheeky with you and you wanted to put them in their place…you always used your right hand…don’t ask me why but you did…and depending on the social standing of the other person…that determined how you hit them.  If they are your subordinate…you back hand them…but if they happened to be on the same social level as you…well then you balled up your fist and punched them…a slap says I’m better than you…a punch says we’re even…I’m just really ticked at you.

So when Jesus says that if someone strikes you on the cheek…he’s talking about that backhand…so you turn your other cheek to them…and the only way for them to hit you again is with the punch…and you have placed yourself on the same social standing…and if they throw that punch, they’ve just confirmed it.

The whole coat and shirt thing…same type of deal. Because if someone tried to sue you for your cloak…its an insult…basically saying that you are so worthless than your cloak is the only thing of value…but if you give it up, you’ve got another layer before you get to your birthday suit right?  But here’s the thing on this one…in Jesus day…nakedness was not a matter of shame for the individual…it’s the opposite…it’s a matter of shame for the person who view it…and so Jesus is saying that if someone attempts to shame your inferior status by taking your cloak, get naked…because that returns the shame on them… (pause)

Now these are some weird cultural things aren’t they? But they do speak into that idea…that we are all on the same level.  It probably goes without saying that society would disagree on that…both back in Jesus day as well as today right?  But when we are honest with ourselves…I think there’s a lot more truth to that than we want to admit…and the example that makes this blaringly apparent…is found in the two points of life that we have zero control over…and they are found on opposite ends of our life span.

Every single person….ever…comes into this world helpless and naked…and then, no matter how long or how short their life is…no matter how well they did socially or spiritually or economically…it all ends up the same way doesn’t it?

And so…as we begin to see and to realize that we’re all even in this crazy game of life…maybe we begin to see one another as God sees us…equal…on a level playing field…even in every single aspect. Broken…flawed…and yet…utterly and completely loved by the one who made us in the first place.

What would life be like if we all started treating one another like that? If we started acting in a way that reflects the enormous gift of salvation that God has granted each one of us…remember when Jesus came down off the mountain? First he freed everyone of what hinders them…then he started talking about how to respond to things.

Likewise…we have been freed…out God’s loving Grace…and Jesus is telling us how to respond to that.  There’s a little trick in the original language…and our translation that asks “What credit is that to you?” Well, it’s a little off.  Jesus actually says “if you love those who love you…what sort of grace is that to you?”

What sort of grace?  Jesus seems to be talking about the idea of reciprocal generosity…that too often we give to others thinking we’re going to get something in return…or we lend in order to make money of the repayment…or we only care about those who care about us in return…but if everything we do has a catch…then that’s not grace is it?  No more than if we’ve got to do something to repay the free gift of God’s grace for us.

And that…right there…that’s where we find the basis for the golden rule…do to others as you would have them do to you…and that goes way past being nice doesn’t it?  It filters into every aspect of our relationships and interactions…and we do this…we are aware of this in response to the gifts that God has given us.

Now here’s the really exciting thing about all this.  Jesus comes down…God comes down and gets on our level…and shows us that WE ARE ALL ON THAT SAME LEVEL…and then…having freed us from what hinders us…we are invited to live in this new reality…one that reflects the kingdom of Heaven that God is somehow bringing into reality…we like to call it both now and not yet…and that’s true…but I’m pretty sure that when we start treating one another with dignity and respect…not to get anything out of it…but simply because we recognize that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US bears the same divine image of God…when we start living out our lives in that reality…we are living as if the kingdom is already here…and maybe just maybe…that’s how God is bringing that reality into fruition…one person…one interaction…one loving moment after another.

Isn’t it amazing to realize that out of divine love and delight in you, God has offered you grace and mercy…making you a new creation…and in doing so God is inviting you into this amazing work of making all things new…that’s exciting…that’s worth jumping up out of our seats…to know that God wants you to be a part of this work of literally changing the world.

Now we’re even…whether the world tells us that or not…but its true…and we know it because we have a God who’s just sneaky enough…who’s just subversive enough to do what no one would ever think a god would do…to come to our level…and free us all…to show us the depth of mercy and grace…and then to invite us to share that same gift with one another. Amen.

What Is It Worth To You 10-14-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:17-31, Jesus encounters a man (who we know as the rich young ruler), and offers an invitation to discipleship.  The odd thing is that we don’t know if it works or not.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-is-it-worth-to-you-10-14-18

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

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

There’s an exchange that goes on at my house with a pretty fair bit of regularity. I’ll be in the living room or sitting at the table, and my wife, who many of you know is a bit…vertically challenged…will say “Hey, can you come in here at help me with something?” Typically she means “There’s something on the top shelf and I don’t want to climb on the counters and you are just sitting there not doing anything anyway, so come get this thing from up there for me.”

More often than not…my response… “Maybe…what’s it worth to you?” Now she quickly puts me in my place, but you get the idea.  That things are often transactional…that if you want something, is there something you can offer for it.

This is an idea that I latched onto during my senior year of high school. As a senior, I had open campus during study halls, and could come and go from the school…and I pretty quickly discovered that many of the underclassmen wanted me to run to the store for them…to pick up a snack while they were languishing at school…it took me about 3 trips to figure something out.  That I was carrying an awful lot of change back to the school after 3 or 4 separate transactions…and so I told them, I’ll make the run for you, and I’ll bring back any paper money as change…but the loose change stays with me.  And let me tell you something…this transaction worked out pretty well. I’d drive the 3 blocks to the store, and I’d usually end up with 3 or 4 bucks worth of loose change by the end of the day.  They got something out of it…and I got something out of it. (pause)

Now I can’t help but think that this is the attitude…or perhaps it would be better to say, the expectation…of the man who approaches Jesus today. (pause)  Now Jesus is just setting out on a journey…he’s just been in a house, bear hugging children and blessing them…reminding his disciples that to receive the kingdom of God…to enter into it…one must be like a child. And with that he steps outside to continue along the way, when this random guy that we know virtually nothing about, kneels before him…calls him teacher…and asks what really seems to be…an honest question about the kingdom of God.

Teacher…what must I do to inherit eternal life? Again, we don’t know anything about this guy. Has he been following…listening…hearing the teachings and seeing the miracles…maybe, we don’t know.  Has he simply heard about Jesus and the general ideas of the gospel which Jesus is proclaiming…maybe, we don’t know.  In truth, as this random guy enters the scene…we literally know NOTHING about him. (pause)

But as we hear…Jesus begins to engage with the guy…now I can only think that there are some cultural expectations at play here. The guy must be Jewish…because Jesus turns the commandments on him. “You know the commandments.” And then he begins to list off the back half of the 10 commandments which are aimed at our relationships with others. Don’t murder, no adultery, don’t steal, honor your parents, and so on.

And the guy seems to indicate that he’s got those bases covered…oh yes Lord, I have kept these since my youth…I know that…I’ve done that…I’m good on that front…so what else must I do? (pause)
Now with a bit more back and forth, Jesus lovingly lays another stipulation on him. Sell your processions, give it to the poor, and come follow me.” And it is only at this point that we learn this guys apparent economic status…that he has great possessions…as he walks away downcast and sad…grieving even.

With this Jesus turns to the disciples, and starts in on a bit more teaching…which at face value seems to be taking a shot at the rich…particularly as we hear him say “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”  And then since the disciples are so confused…likely do to a cultural expectation that those with great wealth are the ones who have blessed by God…he says it again…”Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.”

Did you catch the difference?  There’s no mention of wealth in this second statement…simply an honest statement from Jesus on the difficulty of entering the kingdom…and the disciples pick up on it with their exasperated question “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus responds, for humanity its impossible, but for God, all things are possible. (pause)

Here’s the thing…there’s a subtle thread running underneath this whole story…and it all begins with the question that the man asks in the first place. What must I do to inherit eternal life?  If you know anything about inheritance, you know how it works…and that to inherit anything, you don’t do anything…but someone else has to die.

And the really interesting part of all this is what he is asking for…eternal life…as opposed to what Jesus talks about…the kingdom of God. (pause) Now maybe we tend to think of these as the same thing…and yes there’s overlap…but there’s a distinction…because eternal life points us towards…the eternal…its right there in the name right…and so I think its safe to say that whatever eternal life is…it lies on the other side of death…the age to come, heaven, whatever you want to call it…but the kingdom of God…as we hear from Jesus at the beginning of the gospel…the kingdom has come near.  Its already here…even though its also in the age to come.

Yes I know that’s a little confusing…but the promise that we have received is that the kingdom is both now and not yet…and that’s a point that Jesus makes as he addresses Peter towards the end of today’s passage.  Peter asks, we have left everything to follow you…and Jesus says yes you have…he also called them children if you recall…and then he says that whatever or whoever you have left behind, you will receive again 100 fold…as well as persecutions…here in the kingdom…and then eternal life.

Anyone catch that? Jesus is speaking about this now and not yet reality of the kingdom of God…a realty that takes root in how we live our lives right here, right now…and this…is what Jesus is getting at in his invitation of discipleship offered to the rich man.

What must I do to inherit eternal life…Nothing…that’s up to God…you can’t DO anything…but fortunately through the life death and resurrection of Jesus, that’s already taken care of…its already done.

But in the case of the here and now…as Jesus addresses this man…sell your processions…free yourself of whatever it is that you trust in…and give it away….stop thinking about yourself and let your life benefit someone else for a change…and then…follow me. This invitation has implications in the present life that the man is leading…and since his possessions are so great, he walks away in grief. (pause)

Now I’ll be honest…I always thought about this event as a failed invitation to discipleship…but what if its not. What if the man walked away in grief because he realizes what this will cost him, and he’s already made the choice to do it?

Discipleship has cost…its different for everyone, but its there.  This invitation to follow Jesus might just cost us everything…and we wonder, just what do we get out of it? That’s the transactional nature at work within us.

Well, that’s hard to say…sometimes all we can do is follow along and see where it leads.  Keep in mind, we don’t know what happens this guy…and we usually think this invitation is a failure…but there’s a chance that its not…because there are 2 more times when a random young man shows up in Mark’s gospel with no indication of who he is.  When Jesus is arrested, there’s a follower…a young man wearing only a simple linen garment, who leaves it behind and flees…and then at the tomb…there’s a young man dressed in white that address the women.

Its probably not the same guy…but what if it is? (pause) What if this guy did what Jesus asked…and followed? Might be hard to believe…but remember that for God, all things are possible. (pause)

Jesus has invited all of us into a life of discipleship…of being a Christ follower…and maybe what we take away from today is remember that in this life…in the now of the kingdom of God, that looks like putting our own stuff aside and thinking about someone else as we follow him…we won’t be perfect, and we’ll mess it up…but the invitation is still there…and that whole eternal life thing…that whole aspect of the kingdom that’s not yet…well, maybe we just need to let God handle that end of things…(pause)

And one final thought…regardless of if the encounter with the man was a successful invitation to discipleship or not…even before the invitation to follow is given…Jesus loves him. Did you catch that…Jesus looked at him, Jesus loved him in that perfect, all in, sacrificial love…and then Jesus made the offer to follow.  This guy is the only person in Mark’s gospel that we hear “Jesus loves” and we don’t even know if he followed or not.

But the promise of the gospel, is that we don’t have to do anything to be on the receiving end of that perfect, all in love of God for all of humanity that has manifest itself in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…and yet through him, the kingdom is given to us anyway. Amen.

Next Verse Same As the First 2-19-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 5:38-48, I wrap up a series from a larger teaching of Jesus. After several weeks, it might seem redundant, but sometimes we need to hear the same thing over and over.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/next-verse-same-as-the-first-2-19-17

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

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

My oldest niece is 17…in the midst of her junior year of high school…and she’s got a boyfriend. As her uncle…I kinda obligated to hate this whole situation right? Isn’t that like the unwritten rule? (pause) All jokes aside…admittedly, I’ve never met the kid…and all reports from my sister is that he’s a pretty decent guy…so I guess I’ll begrudgingly allow it.

And to his credit…he tries hard. As they are both upperclassmen this year, they are eligible to go to prom…and as the trend has moved in recent years to include what’s known as “the big ask” he pulled out all the stops and put together a scavenger hunt around town…each clue leading to specific location, and another clue…and once they were all put together…the question was revealed…but she couldn’t miss any of the steps…each one leading somewhere specific…each one…inviting…her towards something different. (pause)

Now, what does this have to do with today’s gospel? Good question…why would I bring up a scavenger hunt, and each step serving as in invitation when we have a gospel lesson that sounds like a broken record?  If you’ve been around…this is now the 4th week in a row that our gospel lesson has come out of Matthew chapter 5…and as I mentioned a week ago…its starting to sound REALLY redundant.

We’ve heard Jesus talk about who is blessed in the kingdom of heaven…and it’s the unexpected person…the person who is the opposite of who the world would typically point out as “blessed.” Then, in the week’s following we heard Jesus give us a reminder that we are different in the world…and that we are called to be different…and then he starts talking about the law…and righteousness and justification…and we are given constant reminders of the way that sin has permeated every aspect of our existence…and that “the law” gets broken way more than we realize.

We’ve heard several week’s worth of statements from Jesus that I like to call the “yah but” statements.  By now the format has likely become quite familiar to you…you have heard it said this….yah, but I tell you its actually like this…and today’s lesson is more of the same.

You’ve heard it said and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say that if someone strikes you, don’t retaliate, turn the other cheek and give them a new target. (pause) You’ve heard it said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy….YAH…but you know what you need to love your enemy too…and not only that but pray for them. Someone wants your shirt…give them your coat too…someone makes you go one mile, double it. (pause)

I can’t help but wonder why? What is Jesus really telling us here…other than perhaps offering up continued examples of that first idea that we heard a few weeks back…that you are salt…so be salt…be different and make a difference in the world.

Isn’t that what all these statements seem to be saying? Over and over and over again?  Honestly…as I think back over the past few weeks’ worth of lessons and sermons its starting to seem like that old repeating song about Henry the 8th. (Sing) I’m Henry the 8th I am, Henry the 8th I am I am…I got married to the widow next door, she’s been married 7 times before and everyone was a Henry HENRY. Henry the 8th I am…next verse, same as the first….and it repeats over and over again. (pause)

Just what is Jesus up to here? I pose that question, because after today, we are stepping away from the Sermon on the Mount…but the sermon itself does go on…there are 2 more chapters of this continued theme from Jesus…and the big question is why? Why does Jesus think that this is so important? Why…are we called to be different? Why does he continue to extend this invitation for us to move away from the status quo and to be something different? (pause)
But before I really dive into an attempt to answer that question, I’ll pose another one…is this something new? (pause) Interestingly enough…this is really just one more step in a long history of God inviting humanity forward into something new…a new way of acting…a new way of thinking…a new way of interacting with one another…and we see that very thing on display if we back up to the very statements that Jesus keeps referencing as coming from ancient times.

Our first reading came out of Leviticus today…and it represents just a small portion of “the law” that God gave to Moses…a code for how the Israelites were to treat one another and not only that but how they were to treat other cultures that they came into contact with…Now most of what we heard from Leviticus today was aimed at those interactions within the community of the Israelites…and we don’t actually hear the direct statements that Jesus would reference…but rest assured those statements were in there too.

As Jesus reminds us…you have heard it said to those in ancient times, and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…and while that might seems a little on the barbaric side to consider yanking another person’s eye out…it was actually revolutionary at the time…if someone harms you…don’t seek ultimate retaliation…but let the punishment fit the crime.  God was inviting the people to recognize that punishment did not need to be an escalation of violence…and at the time…that was a huge step forward.

Now fast forward several thousand years to Jesus day…and that old saying switches to something new…and why? Because through Christ, the kingdom is here now and with that change, once more God is inviting us into something new…a new way of thinking…a new way of responding…because its no longer an eye for eye…but if someone takes a swing at you…offer up the other cheek as well. (pause)

Even today, 2000 years after Jesus posed this teaching…its hard…because every single atom of our being wants to strike back…that’s just the way we are wired isn’t it? If someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back…and all too often…we have the tendency to ramp things up…you hurt me, I’ll hurt you more so you’ll never try to hurt me again.

I can’t think about that without thinking about the last 15 years of conflict that our country has been involved in following 9-11…they hurt us, so we’ve been trying to strike back at them so hard that they’ll never dare raise a finger towards us again…and how’s that been working…we’re on our 3rd administration since that whole deal kicked off…and from where I’m standing there’s no end in site…and that’s not me being political…that’s me making an observation.

We’ve used violence to strike back against violence that was used to strike back against violence…and the cycle keep spiraling backwards through history…but it will never work…because violence can never drive out violence, only love can do that.

And maybe that’s precisely why Jesus gave us the moral imperative 2000 years back to try something different. The kingdom of Heaven is here now…but the world still looks pretty much the same because we can’t break ourselves of the habit of an eye for eye.

But Jesus told us to be salt…to be something that makes an actual difference in its environment…someone attacks you, don’t strike back…it might hurt…but it will sure as heck throw them off their game won’t it? And maybe…just maybe, our example which can only be inspired by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us…maybe it’ll make a difference in the life of one person.

The world is ripe with individuals who are literally hurting for the gospel…they are hungry for a change in the ugliness of this world and how we treat one another…and sometimes…sometimes, all it takes is one small step to make a difference…that one small step can be the thing that opens their eyes and hearts to see the invitation that God is offering their direction through the life changing…earth shattering promise of the gospel…and that one small step can lead to the next thing, which can lead to the next thing…which can lead to the next thing…and the next thing you know…a life has change…and a heart has opened up…and I’ve seen it.

Last Tuesday night…a group of us were gathered downstairs in Bible Study…and we’ve been blessed over the past few weeks to have a new individual with us…a young woman named Brandy who’s been coming to church for a couple months now…drawn in because of a tragedy that our community experienced last fall. And as we sat there, having a discussion about sin and grace and brokenness and the love of God, something was at work in her…and as our discussion continued, focusing in on the truth that while we were sinners Christ died for us…Brandy got what I’ve called the spiritual 2×4 upside the head…and it clicked.  The glory of the gospel which seems like utter nonsense…right up until the moment that it doesn’t…caught her…and in that moment God invited her forward into something new…but it could not have happened if those different individuals that she’s been encountering since last fall hadn’t been doing something different…that’s why Jesus tells us to be different…to be salt…to go beyond what the world expects of us and to be something else…because Jesus knows that this world is not going change if we keep on doing the same old thing over and over again.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…the story of the gospel can be broken down into 4 sections. God made it, humanity messed it up, Jesus redeemed it, and we are invited into the work of reconciling the world back to God.  That’s the work that the body of Christ is charged with. He’s in heaven now…but we are here and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be different…so that others may see the change that Christ has made in our lives…and maybe, just maybe they’ll start taking those steps forward as well…that’s how this world is going to change…not by continuing the same old thing…not by sitting around sitting on our hands waiting for Christ to come back, but by actually getting up, and following the invitation to BE Christ in the world…because if we’re willing to do that…who knows what might happen? Anyone want to find out? Amen

What Does Cross Generational Ministry Look Like?

If you were asked to name 3 people that influenced your faith, 3 people who shaped you into the person you are today, who would you say?

I’m guessing that those 3 people come from a previous generation. Do you know why they stand out in your memory? I would venture a guess that they looked at you and saw someone of value, someone worth investing in, someone worth sharing with.

Maybe, just maybe, what they did was invite you into an opportunity. They worked alongside you, or they shared something with you. By doing this, a portion of your history, of your story, intersected with theirs.

This is Cross Generational Ministry. It isn’t a program, it is a way of life. When we are baptized, the Spirit brings us into the body of Christ and our story becomes part of God’s story. Sometimes that big scary word “discipleship” simply means embracing the example of Christ when he invited Andrew to “Come and See” (John 1:39).

Faith is not taught, it is caught. Often times it is caught from those individuals who are willing to invest, to encourage, and then to offer an opportunity to join in.

One of the small, yet utterly vital, aspects of ministry at Underwood Lutheran is the baking of bread for Holy Communion on the first Sunday of every month. In November, this lines up with our 5th graders going through Communion Education. Part of this educational process involves teaching. Part involves reading the scriptures to see what Jesus had to say about all this.

But there’s another part. Physically doing it. And so, one of our adults joined together with the students, talking about how they make the bread. She shared why we make the bread and why it is important for the entire congregation. That being said, its not enough to just talk about it. So she rolled up her sleeves, and so did the students. And together they made the bread that we will all share this Sunday.

image13    communion-bread

So when the pastor looks you in the eye and says “The Body of Christ, broken for you” and hands you a small piece of bread, it was was made by two different generations of Christ’s body, experiencing the wonder of faith together by serving side by side. And in that moment, their stories of faith overlap in the midst of God’s story.

Lenten Monologue-Apostle Andrew

On Wednesday March 26th,  we heard a reading from the perspective of the Apostle Andrew. This reading was based on John 1:35-42 and was based on the question “What are you looking for?” asked by Jesus.

This is the third in Underwood Lutheran’s series of Lenten worship services held on Wednesday evenings through the season. The overarching theme for Lent is the questions of Jesus. Each week we will hear a reading by a different Biblical character who was questioned by Jesus in their encounter.

To those that knew me, my name is Andrew, son of John…although for the most part, history simply remembers me as Peter’s brother. Throughout the ages, Peter has been better remembered. Name the first pope, people tell you Peter. Talk about miracles that happened with the disciples, they’ll tell you Peter walking on the water…its safe to say that history tends to remember my brother way more than me.
You could go a little farther along than that too. Ask anyone to name the disciples, and I’ll bet you money that the first three they call off will be Peter and James and John. The way the history books are written, you’d think they were the 3 most important.
But I’m not bitter about it. Really I’m not…because my worth is not found in the history books…or in being over shadowed by my more famous brother…I find my worth in Christ…though it wasn’t always like that.
My life, like those of my family and those I knew growing up, was quite simple. Like my brother Peter and our father John…and like our partners James and John the sons of Zebedee, I was a simple fisherman. I’d go out at night with my nets and try to catch as many fish as I could. In the morning, we’d haul those fish up on shore…keep what we needed for our own table…and then sell the rest…it got repetitive, day after day, night after night…but that was life in my time.
But you know, there were moments when things did go a little differently. For instance…for a time, I was a disciple of John the Baptist. I watched as he would preach out in the wilderness along the Jordan river…ranting and raving about repentance from sin. He told me about the amazing thing that happened when his cousin Jesus of Nazareth came to the river to be baptized…the heavens were torn open and the voice of God came booming out of the clouds exclaiming that this was His one and only Son.
John said that Jesus was the messiah…the one that would take away the sin of the world…One day, I was standing along with John when he pointed out a man and exclaimed “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” I knew right away that this was the incredible man that John had told me about…and so I followed him.
John had taught me much in the time I was his disciple. He taught me the importance of recognizing our sinfulness…and of repenting from it. He helped me realize that, try as I might, I would fail in my attempts to follow the law given to Moses, but that God would recognize and forgive a repented heart…but most importantly, John taught me that there was another coming that was far more important than he was…and now I had seen him…now I was following him…eager to know whatever he would share with me…simply eager to continue learning.
In my time, very few people were educated…the religious leaders and the scribes were, but for us common people, the most we could learn was at the feet of the traveling Rabbis…the teachers that would go from place to place. And so we learned very quickly as young men, that when we had the opportunity to learn, whether in the synagogues on the Sabbath day or in simple passing with a rabbi, we needed to take advantage of it…and this is why I followed Jesus when John pointed him out…because I wanted to learn…I wanted to find out all that I could from him about our Lord and His ways.
Its almost funny to me, as I think back on it now, how little I realized of the truth…the truth of who Jesus was. I thought he was just an important holy man…perhaps a prophet of greater significance than John…I failed to remember what John had said about his baptism, and that he was truly God’s son. But the reality of Jesus was so much simpler…and yet so much more complex than I could ever imagine.
As I followed him that day, he turned around and looked at me…and I have never experienced a gaze with as much love and caring as I did from Jesus. He asked me a very simple question…but one that would change my life forever. “What are you looking for?”
As I thought about it, I found I didn’t know. I couldn’t put into words all the questions I had…the truths that I was looking for. To be honest, I don’t even think I knew I was looking for them at that time, so I simply asked him “Teacher…where are you staying?” I asked him this, because I wanted to stay with him…to have as much time with him as I could.
The amazing thing about Jesus, he could make simple statement, or ask a simple question and reveal so much truth about a person. In his first question to me, he revealed my longing for understanding…but he did it in a way that allowed us the time together for me to begin to understand my own longing…my longing for something more…for more meaning in my life…for truth in my life.
And in that moment, he invited me to come and see…not just to see where he was staying…but to begin to see the truth of what I was seeking in my life…the truth of God’s love for me and for all people…and the truth that through Christ we could be forgiven…truly forgiven of our sinfulness.
After I spent the day with him…amazed at everything I had already learned…I knew that I needed to share this amazing experience with others. Just as John had shared the truth of Jesus with me, I needed to pass along that knowledge…I needed to point others towards Christ.
And who better for me to bring than my brother. I spent every day with him, and I loved him as all brothers do. How could I not care enough about him to pass up the chance to bring him to meet the Messiah…and so I ran and found him and told him what had happened…and I brought Peter to Jesus…perhaps this is why history remembers me as Andrew the bringer.
From that day forward, my brother and I, along with James and John and 8 other men, not to mention countless others…followed Jesus…we listened to him preach the truth of the kingdom of Heaven. We saw the miracles…we heard the parables. Jesus gave us power over unclean spirits and the ability to heal diseases. The experiences that I had over the three years that I followed Jesus are amazing and words cannot express the joy I experienced. But along with the joys, there were troubles as well. Sometimes Jesus’ teaching was difficult. Sometimes we failed to understand what he was telling us…and so, throughout that time, I was always looking for more answers…I would question Jesus, ask him to explain the truths of God…because I was always looking for more understanding.
Sometimes Jesus asks us a question that reveals more about us than we realize. For me, Jesus very first words to me fell in this category. “What are you looking for?” To this day, I still have not found everything I’m looking for, because I am always seeking more and more truth about God and the kingdom of Heaven…but I do know this much…the truth can be found through Jesus, for he is the way, the truth, and the life…No one comes to the Father except through him. And as he showed me that first day when I met him, if we are seeking, he will invite us…to come and see.