Posts Tagged ‘Isolation’

Acclimation 10-13-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 17:11-19, I explore the way that the church has grown acclimated to a sense of complacency instead of feeling empowered to be the body of Christ carrying the gospel into places of exclusion.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/acclimation-10-13-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
(Note that the text will differ in some small ways from the audio due to changes that happened in the moment of preaching. I went off script in several different spots)

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

Friday morning was one of those utterly blustery days.  And at one point, mid-morning, I watched the sky go from utterly cloud covered…to sunny…and back to cloudy again…all inside of about 5 minutes.

And in that moment, I remembered the time-honored phrase which we love here in Iowa…Don’t like the weather?  Wait 5 minutes…it’ll change. (pause) And wow…that’s been true the past couple of weeks hasn’t it?  We have reached the time of year when the weather is UTTERLY unpredictable.  We’ve had sun, we’ve had rain. We’ve had hot, we’ve had cold. We’ve had really nice moments…and we’ve had really cruddy ones…not to mention we’re in that part of the season when its not uncommon to turn on the heat in the morning, switch it to ac in the afternoon, and then back to heat again in the evening.

But if there’s one thing that I’ve come to expect around this time of year…and to be sure I’m guilty of it myself…is the observation that turns into a question…Why does 35-40 degrees feel SO cold in October…when it feels so warm in February? (pause)

In a word…Acclimation…its all about what our bodies are used to isn’t it?  Now that idea of acclimation is one that I think a lot about…I run into it every summer when I trek out to Colorado and spend the first few days heaving as my 1000 ft-lung capacity struggles with 8500 foot atmosphere…and of course…we see it here in the acclimation to temperature trends…since we’ve had a lot of 70s and 80s and even 90s not too long ago…these 35 degree temps feel pretty cold…but in about 4 months when we’ve been enduring sub-zero temperatures and get the rare warm day…40 will pretty nice won’t it. (pause)

Its funny what we acclimate to isn’t it? Because its not just weather…we can get used to a lot of different things…even a state of mind…or a condition…like exclusion or isolation…and that’s where we’re gonna jump into the gospel for today.

Because today, we’ve got Jesus on the move…encountering 10 people who have done just that…they’ve gotten used to something…they’ve acclimated to the sense of exclusion…As Jesus picks up his travels towards Jerusalem once more…we hear that he’s moving in between two territories…Galilee in the north, and Samaria…smack dab between Galilee and Judea…the region where Jerusalem is located.

Now maybe it goes without saying by this point…but if you’re not familiar, just know this. Galilee is Jewish territory…itself considered a little on the backwater side…but Jewish none the less…but Samaria…not so much.  The residents of that region have long been at odds with Jewish folk by Jesus’ day.  There was history of the divided kingdom about 900 years prior, not to mention the intermingling with foreigners during the period of the Assyrian rule a couple years after that.

And so these people have a lot of similarities…but there’s also a lot of differences…imagine cousins who live in neighboring towns and find themselves on opposite sides of a football game…and then multiply that by about a million…and that’s the sense of angst between these two cultures.

And in the gray area that lies between the two…that’s where we find Jesus today…so he’s really out in the middle of nowhere…and as he moves about…he encounters these 10 lepers…a batch of people who yell at him from a distance…something they were required to do…and they ask for mercy. (Pause)

Now, what’s going on here? Leprosy was terrifying in those days…its bad enough now with modern medicine but in Jesus’ time calling something leprosy covered the gambit of unknown skin ailments.  And if someone said you had it…you got kicked out of town…and you had to stay out of town until it cleared up…or you died.

Scary to be sure…but leprosy was scary…and really contagious, so they kicked people out of their communities in order to save the community…but, if the ailment cleared up…which it often did because sometimes it just a random infection…then you traipsed off to the local priest…he announced you clean…and you could join your community again…no harm, no foul.

But until that time, you were out…and the only people you could interact with…was another leper…and so seeing them grouped up like this…not that uncommon…they were unified by mutual exclusion…mutual isolation…except for maybe 1 of the 10…who ALSO happened to be Samaritan. (pause)

Think about this…we don’t know for sure…but Jesus instruction to go show themselves to the priests indicates that the other 9 are probably Jewish…so at least they’ve got that in common…but then there’s this 10th guy that isn’t…and you can bet, that even among this group of the marginalized…this guy gets shoved even farther to the outskirts…an outcast among outcasts.

This is the group that encounters Jesus…and to their credit…they go right to source…Jesus…Master…have mercy on us…and he does…just not quite in the way we might expect.  He tells them…Go show yourselves to the priests…which if you recall…is exactly what they are supposed to do…Jesus its telling them “hey guys, follow the rules.”  And they do…and its in the going that they are healed…on the way…its not instant.

Now the 9 guys…we don’t know what happens to them…but it stands to reason that they went to the priest like Jesus said…were announced to be clean…and then they all went off to their respective homes…rejoining their communities…which is great…but the one extra guy…the Samaritan…the one who couldn’t actually go to a priest in the first place due to his religious affiliation…he returns…he goes back out into the wilderness…back out into isolation and the place of exclusion…in short he goes right back to the place where Jesus found him in order to show gratitude…Jesus comments on his faith…throws a bit of shade on the 9 who didn’t think to show gratitude…perhaps indicating a group of people that thought they deserved the healing because of who they are…and then Jesus tells him to get up and go, because his faith has saved him.  (pause)

Now there’s a lot going on here…but its worth noting what Jesus has done…he’s intentionally gone into a place of exclusion…and he’s freed a bunch of people, including the one that the rules dictate shouldn’t be eligible…and Jesus brings the kingdom of heaven with him….offering freedom from exclusion…freedom from marginalization…freedom from isolation…and its given to everyone.

The only difference here…9 go on to the priests because they need someone else to announce…to tell them what God has done for them…and the other 1 is able to see for himself and give praise where praise is due. (pause) But all 10 were healed weren’t they? All 10 were freed and were invited back into community…and maybe, just maybe…that’s what the kingdom of heaven is all about…freedom from isolation…freedom from exclusion…and what else can we call that besides acceptance and community? (pause)

Now what’s this got to do with us today?  Maybe a lot more than we realize…because despite the fact that almost all of us have a device in our pocket that gives us access to the vast majority of all human knowledge…and not only that but connects with other people in every corner of the globe…not to mention, you can phone calls on it…but despite the fact that this is the single most CONNECTED time in human history…all studies indicate that we as individuals are feeling more isolated…more excluded…more lonely than ever…so much so that the British government has recently established a Minister for Loneliness in order to combat this problem.

We know isolation and exclusion don’t we?  It happens in so many ways…sometimes at our expense…and often times at the expense of others…just think about the various gates that we’ve built to keep people out.  We exclude based on race, economic status, gender, identity, sexual orientation, different faith tradition, even denominational differences…we exclude because of past criminal backgrounds or even odd behavior. These are just a few…

Now there are times when we’re the ones who get excluded…but I gotta say it…here in the church we’ve been so busy building the gates…putting up those fences or walls to keep people out because we say they are unworthy…we’ve been so busy doing that over the course of centuries…and we cite long standing tradition, rather than owning up and blaming our biases…for far too long the church has been so busy guarding the gates that we’ve missed the work that Christ has been doing…we’ve missed the ways that Christ has called us to carry the message of the kingdom out into those place of exclusion…to offer freedom to those who have grown acclimated to living in isolation…and in fact we’ve gotten so good at that, that the church has long become known for what we hate rather than the message of all in-sacrificial…UTTERLY grace-filled love and acceptance that Christ made possible on the cross.

We love to claim God’s grace for ourselves…and we should…because we broken too…but in hording it for ourselves we forget that it is freely offered to all people…because ALL people bear the divine image…and ALL people are loved right now…as they are…fully themselves, whether we like it or not. (pause)

Yes…God’s grace is for you…and we gather every week to hear that word of love and acceptance and grace…and often we partner that with the action of gathering around a table and receiving the body and blood of Christ which is given for you and for all people freely…but what do we do first? Before we do either of those things…we confess to our brokenness…we confess to the ways that we have failed our God and our neighbors.

And I think that’s something we need take note of…not just today when a story about a grateful foreigner smacks us upside the head and reminds us that all too often we’re among the 9 who needed someone else to point out what God has done among us…but we need to take note of this every day…

Because we are the church…and that means we are the body of Christ here on earth…and that means that WE are the ones called to carry the good news of the kingdom out into those places of isolation and exclusion…all of us…not just the ones wearing collars…not just the ones elected to a council or committee…all of us. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve done a really lousy job of that.

Is their forgiveness for our complacency? You bet…but we need to repent of it first…and then we need to take action, because that’s repentance means…to turn away…and the only way to turn away from complacency is to get off our butts and to go BE the church…instead of sitting around wringing our hands and wondering why it can’t be 1952 again. (pause)

Now is this a little harsh…yah probably…but look around…we need to hear it…because we need to be better…not to earn anything from God…but because we’ve already received it…and since we have, we’ve been entrusted with the most amazing…most wonderful…the flat-out best news in the world…this news that God has claimed everyone as children…and we are tasked with proclaiming it…but not just paying lip service to this good news…we are also called to be changed by it.
Because the mind blowing grace of God is way more life-altering that we give it credit for.  And if we start living THAT reality…well who knows what might happen…but I’d like to find out…because I’ve seen what the grace of God can do when its unleashed among those who have been excluded for one reason or another…and not only that but I’ve experienced it for myself.

Now some might say that living and proclaiming this type of radical inclusion that we are talking about is giving in to the pressures of the world…but I disagree…I believe that it expresses an openness to come alongside the work that the Holy Spirit…that GOD…is already up to out there in the world.

Now we can do that…Or we can just sit here on our laurels…show up on Sundays, hear a word of forgiveness…get our little Jesus snack and call it good.  But if we stay here I guarantee that’s not gonna change the world…because that’s a church that is either dying or its already dead and just doesn’t know it yet. Unfortunately here in the US that’s what the church has been doing for WAY too long now. We’ve done it for so long we’ve just gotten used to it…we don’t seem to know any other way…you could even say we’ve acclimated to it. (pause)

But if the scriptures show us anything…its that God is full of surprises…God’s even been known to raise the dead…and maybe, just maybe, God can lift us up too. Amen.

Barn Guy 7-31-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 12:13-21 I explore the parable of the barn guy, as Jesus warns us against greed and coveting.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/barn-guy-7-31-16

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
It is my hope and intention…that I never do anything foolish enough to land myself in prison….However…if, heaven forbid, I do ever end up there…I have often said that my plan would be to get myself put in solitary confinement…because I can just sit there and play various movies in my head…and not only that, but I can have meaningful conversation with myself…and therefore I could keep myself entertained…but of course…that’s just a joke…and the reality of this hypothetical situation is quite a bit different.

About midway through my seminary education, I took the first of two ethics courses…and one of the writing assignments that we had in that particular class was to identify a social issue and write on it from a theological standpoint. I ended up choosing the topic of solitary confinement and whether or not it is an ethical punishment from a theological standpoint.

I won’t bore you with the full extent of my theological or ethical conclusions…other than way back in the beginning, God himself said “it is not good for the man to be alone.” So let’s just say in the long run, IF I ever ended up in solitary confinement, I think its safe to say that this is not good. (pause)

Humanity is not intended to be alone…we crave relationship, we desire it within our very nature…and I believe that this is all because we bear the divine image of God…the divine image of the one who exists in three persons…father, son, and holy spirit…and yes this goes beyond our ability to comprehend…and yet we confess it to be true.

And our Lord…the triune God…the one who exists in relationship, desires this same sort of relationship, both with us…as well as for us…but since this crafty thing known as sin came into the picture and skewed our reality…hindering our ability to exist with one another in harmony…well then the 10 commandments came along…several of which are aimed at how we live in relationship with God, honoring and loving him…and the rest aimed at how we live in relationship with one another, honoring and loving our neighbors.

Now one of the 10 commandments…one of the things that God warns us about…is on display here in today’s gospel lesson…Teacher…tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me…a request that Jesus immediately sidesteps…Dude, who made me judge over you and your brother? (pause) What’s interesting is that this is one of only two times in Luke’s gospel when someone demands that Jesus intervene to make a judgement call…the other one, we heard it a few weeks ago when Martha told Jesus to step in and get Mary to pull her weight in the house work, and perhaps you recall how that one turned out for Martha…but now this random guy wants Jesus to use his apparent authority…in order to put some green in his pocket. (pause)

But as Jesus sidesteps this random request…he jumps into a teaching moment…be on your guard from all kinds of greed…Now granted, we don’t know what’s going on in this situation…we don’t know the details…maybe the random guy was actually justified in his request…but if Jesus’ statement shows us anything…its that this guy just wanted to improve his situation…and he didn’t care who got hurt in the process.

Because isn’t that what greed does? It sets us up as number one…I want more…more…more…I want this, I want that.  And this need for more consumes us…and we don’t care who gets hurt in the process because our focus has turned inwards.

And I find myself thinking…isn’t that what it means to covet? We’ve got 2 commandments about this…don’t covet your neighbors house…and don’t covet his wife or servants or animals…pretty well covers the bases…don’t covet that which is your neighbors…because if you do, then you are falling in the greed trap…seeing yourself as more deserving of it than your neighbor…in short…greed…or coveting…like pretty much every single one of the commandments…places us on the pedestal…and embodies that old saying “Look out for number 1.” And in doing do…aren’t we creating an idol? Something that we are putting all of our stock in…something that commands our attention…

Idols take a lot of forms…and in this case…when greed rears its ugly head…well then the idol takes the form of the face looking back in the mirror. (pause)
And you know what…sometimes that face looking back at us from the mirror…sometimes he really seems to know what he’s talking about…You ever have that conversation with yourself…talking yourself into something…or maybe out of something…listening to that voice…listening only to that voice?
That’s what happens in the parable…and I gotta say, as parables go, this is a pretty good one…pretty well known…one that I’ve heard call the parable of the barn guy.  Here’s this rich farmer…who has a particularly good year…so much so that his, normally adequate barns and storehouses aren’t gonna cut it…What to do? What to do? What to do?

That’s the question…and rather than seeking advice…barn guy looks in the mirror…first with the question “What will I do?” And then with quite the plan.  This is what I will do. I…will pull down my barns…and I…will build bigger ones…and there I…will store my grain and my goods…and once I…have done this I…will tell myself….SELF…you are good to go…you have done all this work and now you will reap the rewards…Rest…eat…drink…and be merry.”

Sounds like barn guy is having quite the lively conversation with himself…going back and forth…talking to the guy in the mirror…but here’s the tripping point…all the while, he is only thinking of himself…that’s the tension about this parable…all too often its seen as a critique of wealth…as taking a shot at the rich…and it makes us question the way we go about things in our society today…should I save for the future? Or is this asking me to just give it all away.

But that’s not really the case here…the problem is that greed…the desire for more…and the faith that barn guy finds in having accounted for the future…it all stops right there…and because of this…he is completely self centered…there is no thought of anyone else…no one else’s voice in the conversation…the entire world of barn guy is population 1…just him. (pause)
Now I’ve had this thought before…this isn’t the first time I’ve come across this passage after all…and I’ll be honest…when I read it…it hits close to home…Barn guy seems to be asking the question of How can I take advantage of this windfall? How do I look out for the future? But maybe we can boil it down to the question of “how much is enough?” And I don’t know about you, but I fall in that trap with a fair bit of regularity.

But as I was reading through it this time around, something caught my attention…and its God’s response to the man…You know how it goes. Just when he thinks he’s got it all figured out…God calls him on the carpet. You FOOL…tonight you die…and who will have all that you have prepared for yourself?”

Now every other time I’ve read this passage, I took that as God saying that “someone else will have the fruits of all your work and scheming.” And while that might be true…this time around I was struck by the isolated nature of the man…his greed has isolated him to the point where there is no one around him…he can’t even pass on all of his accumulated goods to anyone else…because there’s no one there.

And so it seems that his barns are going to rot and fall to pieces…and all his grain will spoil…and no one…absolutely no one…will benefit from all this. (pause)

It is not good to be alone. God said this at the beginning of humanities existence…but because of the isolating nature of sin in our lives…we end up alone…but thanks be to God that through Jesus Christ, God has overcome that which isolates us…sin is overcome…relationship with God and with one another IS possible…despite our failings and the ongoing presence of sin in this flawed reality.

Now there are many signs of community and relationship within our lives…families, friends, neighbors, communities, schools, workplaces…and on and on and on…but one of the most important communities that God has given us is a community of faith.

When we gather here for worship, we join together, not only with one another, but with fellow believers all over the world…and across time…together we make up the one body…but we are also reminded that individuals parts of the body can, and will, become isolated…it still happens. We see it as individual people…and we see it within congregations.

And perhaps it is there that we find a touch of critique from this parable…I’m guessing I’m not the only one who hears this passage and feels that slight twinge of discomfort because we recognize that it hits close to home.

And I fear that we as a congregation need to listen to this word of critique…for we have been blessed beyond measure…and we reap the ongoing benefits of this blessing…yet this does not give us an excuse to simply eat, drink, and be merry…resting on our laurels because of the financial surplus that we are experiencing.

Rather it seems that the lesson today is reminding us of the need to look outwards…our needs are meet for today…so who can we help…who else can benefit from the excess that we have blessed with…this is an ongoing question…one that we’ve discussed before…and a discussion that continues to be ongoing. May our collective eyes and ears be open to the voices of those outside our walls. (pause)

There’s a saying in my house…something have reminded ourselves of when faced with questions like this…4 walls and roof.  Today we have 4 walls around us and roof over our heads…today we have food in our stomach and clothes on our back…and today, that’s enough…and we will worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.

May we as a community of faith trust that our Lord will continue to provide for us in the future…and so in the present may we do our best to look outwards…to not allow ourselves to become isolated by the blessings that allow us to be comfortable today.

And above all…may we remember why we are a church in the first place…we exist to be the body of Christ in the world…to declare the good news of Jesus Christ in the world…and to care for those that we encounter…may we cling to that mission, so that one day…if heaven forbid…the life of this congregation is demanded of it…there will be someone else out there to benefit from the true treasure that we possess…the freedom which has been granted to us in Jesus Christ. Amen.

A Random Road Trip 6-19-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 8:26-39, I explore Jesus’ venture into Gentile territory in order to free one man possessed by demons. The fear that erupts around this event reminds us of how scary change can be, and yet we see how far God will go for those who are isolated. In light of Orlando, this is an important reminder.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-random-road-trip-6-19-16

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

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

Over the course of the past 3 years of living in the area, I’ve noticed several different landmarks. One of them has caught my eye on numerous occasions. It lies just off of 680, about a mile east of the intersection with I-29…a large lookout tower.

I’ve driven past that tower, looking at it from down on the interstate, over and over again…most recently about a month back as we headed that general direction for a baseball game…and my wife and I agreed that sometime, we should drive up and check it out.

Well about two weeks ago, we did just that. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and we were all a little stir-crazy…so we jumped in the car and drove on up there…we pulled off at the exit and parked the car at the base of the tower. We walked up the roughly 75 steps to the top, and spent a couple minutes looking out over the Missouri river valley, as well as back to the east over the rolling hillsides of Iowa. (pause)

And then we left. (pause) Now while we did end up doing some other random things while we were out and about that day…the whole point of the excursion…the only reason for leaving the house and driving clear up there, was to walk up those steps…and that…is…it. It was a random road trip with a singular purpose.

Today’s story…it features the exact same thing. A random trip…with a singular purpose…though of course it sits nicely within a larger portion of narrative about Jesus ministry…especially considering the relative regularity that he feels the need to cross the sea. Over and over again we hear of Jesus getting in a boat and traveling to the far side of the sea of Galilee…doing some sort of ministry in Jewish territory, and then crossing over into Gentile territory…back and forth.

And today’s story, is just one example…for just prior to the opening verse for today, Jesus says to the disciples “Let’s go to the other side of the sea.” And they get into the boat to do just that…interestingly enough…as they’re crossing, Jesus konks out and a great big storm comes up…freaking out the disciples, so they wake Jesus up…and he gives them a look before telling Mother Nature…HEY…KNOCK IT OFF…and amazingly enough…it does.

Following that little adventure, this random road trip…or perhaps boat trip would be a better name…brings them to the far side of the sea, in the area known as Gerasenes…and immediately Jesus encounters the demoniac.

Now just what he’s up to, we don’t really know…but it seems safe to say that he’s got a pretty lousy life going on…possessed of countless demons…driven out of town…driven out of his right mind…living day by day in the tombs…sometimes chained up, but most off trailing the broken chains along behind him…this man is the epitome of isolation…shunted to the side by the people of the city…out of sight and out of mind…and why? Well, because these demons, whatever they are, cause him to behave like a raving lunatic…the last person that civilized people want to have in their neighborhood. (pause)

Now you all know the story…you know what happens…Jesus recognizes the presence of evil spirits and commands them out…they talk back…seemingly in fear of Jesus, because they recognize that this man is God….that this man has power and authority over all kinds of stuff…diseases…death…nature…and yes, even demons…and so they beg him “DON’T CAST US INTO THE ABYSS!!!” There’s pigs over there? Can we go into them instead?

I can almost see Jesus get a little grin on his face…You don’t want to be cast into the bottomless void…but pigs are okay? Well sure Legion, head on over to those pigs…which they do…and the pigs FREAK out…and run into the sea where they drown…and whatever the heck demons are…if they require a living host, well then I guess they end up right where they don’t go in the first place don’t they?

That’s the story…Jesus sees the man…sees the presence of evil…and takes care of it, leaving this poor soul…this wild man who has been shoved to the margins…whole again.

But what’s the response of those who witness it? Well, they freak out too…they run off to the city and bring everyone out…and they all see this man who they only know as a dangerous lunatic…as one to be feared and therefore controlled or cast out…they see him sane…and whole, just sitting there listening to Jesus…so changed that he desires to give up his life as he knows it…and his community even though it has cast him out…and follow after Jesus…but Jesus has other plans for this man…turning him into an Evangelist who returns to his home to tell everyone what God has done.

And once again, the response of the people who witness the results of God’s work through Christ…they’re afraid…and they ask him to leave…beg him even…and Jesus gets back in the boat…and together with the disciples, he sets sail back for Jewish territory…His whole purpose in coming all the way across the sea…braving the dangers of a storm…the whole point was to heal this man pushed beyond the margins…who lives among the dead…to free him of what oppresses him…and then he left. (pause)
Now all of that is amazing enough on its own…to consider that Jesus would go CLEAR out of his way for this one miracle…for this one act of mercy…but its even more amazing than that. Jesus broke just about every single cultural rule and boundary to do this. He’s a Jew and he enters into Gentile territory…the man himself, a Gentile…He’s naked, so for Jesus to engage with him breaks another cultural taboo…the fact that he lives in the tombs means that he literally lives in the midst of death…and guess what, dead bodies make you ritually unclean…there’s another rule that Jesus bypasses…heck even the presence of pigs which are an unclean animal creates another boundary.

And yet, Jesus doesn’t hesitate…in fact…despite all of these forces that stand in the way…his very purpose for going in the first place was to free this man from oppression…from isolation…to restore him to life in community.

Jesus shows us in this story that he willingly, and perhaps even intentionally crosses any and all barriers to bring ONE individual back from that which isolates him…to bring him back from life quite literally as a dead man….foreshadowing perhaps? A little glimpse into just how far Jesus is willing to go to reestablish life in relationship for any one person? Yah, I’d say so. (pause)

Now that’s all well and good…honestly that’s the gospel in a nutshell right there…but I’m drawn back to the response of the people who were there…fear. (pause) Now just what it is that they are afraid of is hard to tell…Perhaps they’re afraid to witness a supernatural power that is so much greater than they are…I’d say that’s fair…perhaps on the other hand they’re afraid that Jesus will continue to cost them their livelihood…after all, his actions cost them a great herd of pigs worth a great deal.

Or maybe, on the flip side…maybe they’re afraid of what it means that now this man is coming back into the community. For a long time, they’ve known this guy as the demoniac…a lunatic, dangerous…unacceptable and unpredictable…a danger to himself and to others…and so they cast him…tie him up and leave him chained in the tombs among the dead…but now…this guy…known only by his history, is going to be back in the neighborhood…living among them as one of them…and maybe, just maybe, they can’t get past that…maybe they can’t see him for what he is, a fellow human being…and they can only see the history that surrounds him…and the fact that the measures they have taken to contain him are no longer applicable…for his presence, clothed and in his right mind represents a total change from how they’ve dealt with the situation up to this point. (pause) And yah…that can be scary.

Now keep in mind, these are Gentiles…maybe they’ve heard of God, but it stands to reason that they’ve got their own gods…their own way of thinking about things…but despite their views or their theology, God acts in their midst anyway…and this really shouldn’t surprise us, because it seems like throughout scripture God…and especially God the Son…pretty much always ends up standing with the marginalized….whether everyone else approves of it or not. (pause)

Now what’s that mean for us today? Well, that’s the million dollar question. Usually at this point I’ll throw out something generic about recognizing the presence of the marginalized within our lives…how sometimes we are the ones pushed to the side…and that is true, I don’t dispute that…and yes the good news of the gospel IS for us.

But recent events have brought things to the point where I can’t just be generic anymore. Last Sunday, I had no more than wrapped up worship including a sermon about recognizing one another as people…as human…as individuals of worth…and I stepped into my office to do a little of the follow up work I do every Sunday…and that’s when I saw the news about Orlando…and the mass shooting…49 people dead at a nightclub.

And all I could think was “AGAIN?” And I shook my head in disbelief…because these events are happening SO often that there’s nothing else I feel like I can do or so…and so I went on about my day…but I kept hearing the news…and more and more details emerged…and in the end, it has come light…that the nightclub was a gay bar…and the perpetrator used his beliefs to justify killing almost 50 people simply because of their orientation. (pause)

Now I’m not going to stand up here and tell you what you should think or feel…or tell you what’s the right theological understanding on what we always seem to label as the “Gay Issue.” That’s another conversation for another day…but what I am going to say is that NOTHING…NOT ONE THING…can possibly justify the senseless slaughter.

These were human lives…fellow human beings…and whether society wants to approve and condone their lifestyle or not…it doesn’t change the fact that they are human just like the rest of us…and as fellow members of the human race…they are made in the divine image of God…just like everyone else…we hear way back in Genesis 1…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them…

I’m pretty sure that male and female covers the gambit of humanity…we are all made in the image of God and God has called this Very Good. And yet we see fit to destroy one another simply because we are different…

Now I’m not going to try and change your mind…I know that many of you sitting out there disagree and I respect that…but what I am saying is that we MUST find a way to co-exist with one another…and to treat one another as equals. (pause)

I do not fool myself into thinking that this is easy, but I do believe that God is calling us to mutual respect for one another…for Christ himself commanded us to first love God, and then to love our neighbor…even going so far as to tell us that the world will know that we are His followers if we have love for another. (pause)

Life is messy…and life is complicated…and its hard…and we all fall along different points in terms of our views on this topic…I get that…but praise be to God that nothing in all creation, not our shortcomings nor our sin, nor our mistakes will separate us from His love…Jesus made the ultimate road trip for that purpose…to free us all from that which isolates us….and there was nothing random about that. (pause)

I know that this conversation…this topic…is emotionally charged…I know that its scary…maybe even dangerous to tread into these waters…But God entered our reality in order to bring about unity…and remember that unity does not equal conformity…but rather a mutual love and respect for those we encounter. It is my prayer that we can start there…and trust that God will ultimately lead us where He wants us to go….whatever that might ultimately look like. Amen

We Are Not Alone 5-4-14

Today’s sermon is based on Luke 24:13-35, the well known passage of the Road to Emmaus. You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-are-not-alone-5-4-14

This sermon combines not only the notion that God meets us on the road between the cross which is behind us and regular life that is before us. This sermon also brings in the notion of Confirmation, which we celebrated with 5 young people during worship.

You can follow along with the sermon text here….though note that there are a few differences between the text and what I actually said.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I do not often travel alone. In the rare instances when I go somewhere for more than a few hours, I’m usually with someone. Perhaps this comes as no great surprise to you. I’m married with two school aged kids…and as we all know, in most instances, families go along for the ride.

But not this weekend…this time around we were pulled in two different directions. You may notice that my family isn’t here this morning, because they have spent the weekend, and are still there right now, in Decorah helping my niece and God-daughter celebrate her first communion. But I, on the other hand, obviously didn’t head that direction, both because I needed to be here with you this morning, but also because of a prior engagement up in Sioux City…the Western Iowa Synod Assembly which has been in session since Friday, and will be wrapping up here quite shortly. As the pastor, attendance is pretty much mandatory, and so there was no skipping out to head to a family function.

And so last Friday I headed up to Sioux City, and I spent the night at a hotel…following the evening’s activities for assembly, I settled myself into my room, watched some tv…and one of the last thoughts that went through my head before I fell asleep was “Man it’s weird being here alone…its just weird…its weird traveling alone…” And then I konked out.

Early the next morning…6am to be exact…much too early for this self-professed night owl…I found out just how wrong I was to think that. I might have been the only person in the hotel room…but it quickly became clear that I was not…isolated.

The first thing I heard was water coming down through the pipes from upstairs…someone above me was either taking a shower, or flushing the toilet. (pause) Next, as I laid there trying to go back to sleep again, I realized just how thin the tissue paper walls were in my hotel, when my neighbor in the next room shut his door and walked past my room…I swear it sounded like he was walking right past the bed…And so between hearing things in the hallway and continuing to hear water in the pipes…and even the elevators 50 feet down the hallway…I realized that I was not…alone…Sometimes our perceptions are wrong aren’t they? I thought I was by myself…but I was…incorrect.

And that is precisely the situation that we find in today’s story. (pause) Here we are…the third week of Easter…in our reckoning Jesus was raised from the dead 14 days ago…but in today’s story, its still Easter Sunday…and truly, Easter has been a busy day…you know everything that’s happened…The women found the tomb empty…they heard from the angel…then Peter went and checked things out…and in the midst of all that, these two guys…Cleopas and his unnamed companion decide that its time to skip town.

We’re not exactly sure what has set them on their way, it could be fear as fellow disciples of Jesus that they might be caught and killed…it could also be quite simply because the Sabbath is over and they are free to walk the long distance home.

But regardless of the motivation that put them on the road, that is exactly where we find them…walking along the road, discussing the events that have been happening around Jesus…and it is quite depressing for them…and understandably so…they’ve been following Jesus…and now he’s dead…and even if the women have found the tomb empty, they themselves haven’t seen him…and as far as they know…its all over…everything they’ve been hoping for…everything they’ve been expecting is out the window.

And so they trudge along…and they are joined by a stranger who falls in with them and engages them in conversation….asking them just what’s got them so down in the dumps. (pause) Now we know who this stranger is don’t we? Jesus himself…but for whatever reason they don’t recognize him…we don’t know if their eyes are closed due to divine intervention…or because of the lack of evidence of his resurrection…or because Jesus looked different in his resurrected form…we just don’t know what causes it, but the reality of the situation is, Jesus meets them on the road…and he walks along with them…they are not alone, because God refuses to leave them alone. (pause)

This is a road that all walk…the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus…the road between the cross and our regular lives…that’s all Cleopus and the other guy were doing, moving from the cross of Jesus to their day to day lives, and God comes along side them…it doesn’t matter if they recognize him or not…because he’s there…walking with them…engaging them as they try to make sense of the cross…and as the try to understand how this new reality…this reality of a crucified Christ will affect their day to day life. (pause)

In preparation for today, which is of course a very special day in the lives of these 5 young people sitting in the front row…I gave them a task…to sit and think about their faith…to think about God and Jesus, and the commandments and the creed…to think about all the things that we’ve discussed this past year, and all the things that they’ve learned throughout the course of their lives…and then, I invited them to write about it…to create their own creed…their own statement of belief. (pause)

As I read through them, I was amazed by a trend that emerged, across the board…and that trend…that theme was the recognition that God is always with them…and that God will always be with them….not only in the times when they recognize his presence…but also when they aren’t looking…just like the two disciples in today’s story, God is walking along the road…the road between the cross and regular life with our Confirmands…and not just them…but for each and every one of us.

The day of confirmation is truly wonderful…when an individual stands before the congregation and more importantly before God to affirm the faith in which they were baptized…and I love the connection between the two…today, you will continuing the promises that were made on your behalf in your own baptism…and if you compare the two services, you’ll hear a lot of the same things. (pause)
Go ahead and pull out the insert for the service of confirmation…open it up and take a look at the promises listed there…and while you’re looking at that, listen to these words taken from the service of baptism… As you bring your child to receive the gift of baptism, you are entrusted with responsibilities: To live with them among God’s faithful people, bring them to the word of God and the holy supper, teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, place in their hands the holy scriptures, and nurture them in faith and prayer, so that your child may learn to trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace. (pause) Sound familiar? It should.

These are the promises made by parents during baptism…your parents made the same promises for you…and if you remember, the congregation joins together in those promises as well…and the within the congregation we find the fellowship modeled in today’s story…once everything has taken place, the walk with Jesus, his interpretation of the scriptures…and the sharing of the meal when their eyes are opened to recognize Jesus for who he really is…the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ…the two disciples go into fellowship with each other…and this is precisely what we are to do as well.

As we walk the road to Emmaus…the road between the cross and regular life, we can rest easy in the knowledge that Jesus himself walks with us, even in those times when we fail to recognize him…and at the same time, Jesus gives us an example of life together in fellowship. They read the scriptures, he interprets it, and they share a meal…through in a couple songs and offering and you’ve got worship don’t you?

In the breaking of the bread, Jesus identity is revealed…but he’s been there the whole time…even if they couldn’t see it. Likewise in our lives, lived together in fellowship with one another, we share in all these things…and just as the two men were compelled by the recognition of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ…we are also called to come together and proclaim our experience with those we encounter…and we never know just where it will be that we will encounter him as we walk that road…but we do…because he’s there.

And so today, on this special day, I want to share a story with you…perhaps you’ve heard it before…it is, after all very common…the story is called footprints in the sand.*

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

Today is simply one day…one step along the road between the cross and your lives…but as you walk through this day, know this…whether you recognize him or not…he’s there…and you are not alone. Amen.

 

*Story by Margaret Fishback Powers