Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Who To Blame? 3-22-20

Here’s the sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent, based on John 9:1-41. Jesus encounters and heals a man born blind, then promptly disappears while the man endures ongoing controversy.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-018-who-to-blame-3-22-20

An Unspoken Truth 2-26-20

Tonight’s Ash Wednesday sermon, based on 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, reveals a sense of urgency in our invitation to be reconciled to God. Christ has made it possible, and he has given us tangible signs that we are able to hold on to that give us God’s grace.  This partnered with the ashes we receive on our foreheads speak a truth into confession and forgiveness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-014-an-unspoken-truth-2-26-20

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

May God’s grace bring you comfort and peace on this night. Amen

About a week and a half ago I was able to not only attend, but also to participate in a service of ordination for a fellow pastor down in Council Bluffs.  After many years of serving as a minister and slowly working his way through the educational piece, James Rut was ordained into the office of word and sacrament.

Now James is a native of South Sudan…and the congregation that he serves is made up of members of the South Sudanese community from around the Metro area…and his ordination was a celebration, not only for that individual congregation…but really for the entire South Sudanese population around the upper Midwest…and there were visitors from as far north as St Cloud, MN and as far south as Kansas City for what was…in EVERY way…a celebration.

Now I’ve been to ordinations before…and for the most part, they follow a pretty set liturgical flow…there are personal embellishments of course, but the general flow is pretty common.  But that was not the case for James’ ordination…it was a glorious mix of cultures, with MANY aspects coming out of nowhere in comparison with the very general order of service that had been prepared.

The other aspect that made this interesting for me personally, was the invitation to serve as assisting minister to the Bishop…pretty much right before the service started…in this capacity I ended up leading a fair bit of the service, but I had to be on my toes because we never knew just when one of the Sudanese embellishments was going to pop up.

Now it all went fine, but it really made me aware that I’ve grown comfortable with worship not always going according to plan…but that wasn’t always the case…back in my earliest days of preaching and leading worship, even before I’d begun seminary…I would provide monthly pulpit supply to a small country congregation where 10 people on a Sunday was a good crowd.

They were a fun bunch who graciously put up with my lack of experience…and we also joked around that if I skipped something in the liturgy, they should throw a hymnal at me…a joke that was all well and good…until the day it actually happened. (pause)

On this particular Sunday…we wrapped up the opening hymn and I jumped right into the Kyrie…something we really only do here in Underwood on Maundy Thursday but it’s the part where I chant “In peace let us pray to the Lord” and go back and forth with the congregation.

About midway through the Kyrie…one of the guys raised his hand and interrupted me…Scott…you skipped the brief order…and sure enough I had.  We always started with the Brief order of confession and forgiveness…and I had missed it.

Now this threw me for a loop to be sure…and my mind was racing in that instant…and admittedly, my first thought was “oh well…we do that every week…what’s it going to hurt.” But I could also tell that it was important…that this aspect of worship…of the flow of the service…this was something that was vital to them…and in the years since then…I’ve come to recognize that importance as well…to feel the necessity of coming before God…of confessing our brokenness and sinfulness and need for a savior…to admit these thing to one another and with one another…and then to immediate hear those words of absolution…the announcement of God’s grace and forgiveness for each of us.

I can’t help but think that this is something that is absolutely central to our Lutheran heritage…to our understanding of faith…and the vital sense that WE bring into worship as well…certainly our liturgy or order of worship is different here at Underwood than in other Lutheran congregations…but we’ve got that same bit don’t we…as we turn to page 56 in our hymnals every Sunday morning to share in this practice together.

But tonight we don’t do that do we? (pause) Tonight’s worship is different…and even though we will share in a time of mutual confession together a little later in the service…we’re not using the brief order…and you might notice…we won’t have the usual announcement of forgiveness that typically comes with confession. (pause)  And this is because of the setting…of the day that we find ourselves in today…Ash Wednesday. (pause)

Today, as we kick off the season of Lent…as we begin moving towards Holy Week…and the culmination of Jesus’ ministry, not to mention the culmination of the Christ event itself…as he is betrayed and tortured and ultimately killed on the cross…but as we start off this season, it is good for us to reflect on our part in it.

And tonight’s focus…tonight’s service…and especially the action which we all join in a few moments from now…all of this serves as a tangible reminder of our brokenness…our sinfulness…the part that we play in whatever it is that God is up to through Jesus.

Tonight we use ashes…and tonight we hear words that remind us of our mortality…that we are made up of dust…that the building blocks of our physical bodies are quite literally the dust of the earth…which is also quite literally star dust…we remember…perhaps with a great deal of humility…that as God made EVERYTHING in our reality…the same materials went into making you…and as amazing as that is…we are also reminded that when this life is over…when the spark that makes you…you. When it runs out, then we will return to the dust that we came from.

And in addition to that, we are reminded of the cause of this cycle…the brokenness that we are a part of…and that is also a part of us. (pause) Now I’ve got a love/hate relationship with this particular worship service every year.  On one hand, I am blessed to look each of you in the eye and for just that brief instance…to be aware of the relationship that we have formed and we share…I think about the history we have in common…the highs and the lows…the good stuff and the hard stuff…and that is wonderful…but at the same time that those thoughts are running through my mind, I’m also hyper aware that I am saying words and taking action that refers to your death.

And as we think about the reality of death…we are also aware of how little control we have over it…which, when we’re honest with ourselves…we know is actually zero…we have no control…and death comes for us all…and as we know…as we have seen time and time again in our community…it can, and often does strike without warning.

And that sense of the unknown…that recognition that tomorrow, while expected…is not guaranteed…THAT keys us into the sense of urgency present within Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we have shared tonight.  This brief portion of the letter reveals a great deal about Paul’s experience in ministry…the hardships and the persecutions that he was familiar with…while at the same time the hope and the joy and the benefits that he regarded in the eternal sense…but even in the midst of all that which we can find in this short passage…there are two phrases that really jump at me as we consider all of this tonight.

Now is the time…now is the day…right now…in this moment…and what are we called to do?  He lines it out in the very first verse…be reconciled to God. (pause) Now before you think I’m going all fire and brimstoney on you…let me clarify.

I do not believe that this call to be reconciled…this call to turn away from our brokenness…this call to repentance…I don’t believe that its fear based…or that we should hear it from the perspective that “you might die tomorrow, and aren’t you afraid you’ll go to hell?” I don’t buy that because I believe with EVERY atom of my being…every bit of dust that somehow forms me…I believe that the spark that makes me me, and that makes you you…I believe that originated from the one who made us in the first place…the one who made us bearing the divine image…the one who calls us very good in the first place…I believe all of that which makes us individuals and yet unites us in our common humanity…I believe that reveals an inherent need for relationship with one another and with the one who made us in the first place.

And yet I also recognize that the brokenness of this reality and of me, hinders that relationship…and yet…despite this…that same God has made it possible through Christ to be reconciled…and that happens as we give voice to the sin that resides right here. As we turn from it and turn back to the one who has promised us to always receive us back.

This is the promise of the gospel…this is the truth revealed in the parable of the prodigal son…that no matter where we are and what is standing in the way, our perfect parent is always seeking us out.  (pause)
And thanks be to God, that this is not just some batch of words that we say…but that Christ has also given us tangible signs of this promise.  Through the waters of baptism…we are claimed by God as beloved children…heirs of the promise of grace and love and forgiveness…and then as we gather around this table, united in our common brokenness…and tonight literally bearing a mark on foreheads…we hear those words, and we receive the body and the blood of Christ which is broken and poured out for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.

This happens tonight and I love how they are paired up together. We hear the words of our mortality and limitations, and then we receive the elements of forgiveness.  Keep that in mind tonight, as our liturgy lacks the announcement of forgiveness…because tonight…God is literally handing it to you for you to receive.  Amen

Be Salty 2-9-20

In this sermon, based on Matthew 5:13-20, I explore Jesus’ statements that we are both salt and light…things which can be both a benefit as well as destructive. We explore what that means for us as the body of Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven which is here now in the midst of the brokenness of the world.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-011-be-salty-2-9-20

(As this sermon was preached non-scripted, there is no available text to read)

The Sun Will Come Out 2-2-20

After a period of not posting my sermons due to travel as well as a non-scripted approach, today I’m sharing one again.

Today’s sermon is based on the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12. We explore what it means to be blessed now, even when the world makes it feel like we aren’t.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-101-the-sun-will-come-out-eventually-2-2-20

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

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

The weather this time of year is pretty fickle…with all the back and forth in temperature…it snows one day and melts the next. We get fog, we get ice…but if there’s one thing I noticed through most of last week…there isn’t a whole lot of sun is there?  Sure, we get clear days here and there…but for the most part we are living the truth of that age-old hymn (sing) In…the bleak…mid…win…ter. (Pause) Admittedly, that’s the only line I know…but there’s some truth in it isn’t there?

It reminds of another song that I find myself singing sometimes…usually at this time of year when we don’t see very much of the sun…a little adaptation on a familiar song.  (sing) The sun’ll come out…eventually…least I hope so cuz if not its really bad…REAL…LY Bad… (pause)

Now I’m guessing that most of you recognize that tune and know the actual song that it references…the signature song from the musical Annie…come on everyone…sing it with me… “The sun’ll come out…tomorrow…bet your bottom dollar that…tomorrow…there’ll be sun…” (pause)

Isn’t that song just amazing?  It oozes optimism…like a recognition that today is hard…things just aren’t going my way today…but…regardless of how lousy it is…the sun WILL come up tomorrow…tomorrow’s a new day…and we can take all this hard stuff…and put it behind us. No matter how hard this moment is…we’re still okay because this is not the end…and all this junk that is going on…whatever it is…it does not define who I am (pause)

And that right there…that sense…that recognition that our lives…that our very identity is not defined by the haze that sometimes surrounds us…its not dictated by the gloom that sometimes dominates our attention…that sense RIGHT THERE…that’s where we’re gonna jump into the lesson for today. (pause)

Matthew 5…the Beatitudes…arguably one of the better-known pieces of Jesus’ teachings…the beginning of a much larger ministry moment known as the Sermon on the Mount…as Jesus sits down to teach these giant crowds who have already started to gather around him.

We’re still early in his ministry…last week, we heard about the opening portion…as he settled around the region of Galilee and started calling a few disciples to come along behind him…and since then not a whole lot has happened…honestly, its been more of the same…but his fame is spreading around Galilee and even over the borders…and we hear that people are bringing the sick to be healed…and that they’re coming from all directions…Galilee, Syria to the north…the cities of the Decapolis on the far side of the sea…up from the city of Jerusalem and the southern region of Judah…and even from the area to the east of the Jordan river. (pause)

Its worth noting the geography spelled out in this bit of narration…because these giant crowds aren’t all the same type of people…while we often think of Jesus’ earliest moments in ministry being centered around fellow Jewish folk…we find here that’s not the case…and he would have a giant mixture…Jews and Gentiles…people from a WIDE variety of cultures and nationalities…all matters of different faith and deities…you name it.

And so…as Jesus sits down and kicks off 3 chapters worth of teachings…a lot of his audience would probably be scratching their head…and even the phrasing that he uses in this earliest portion that we’re focusing on today…even that would have been foreign to many in the crowd.

Blessed…now that’s a loaded word isn’t it?  What does it really mean? Its probably safe to say that we would all define it a little differently wouldn’t we…and maybe its hard to articulate…maybe its hard to put into words…but…I think we all know it when feel it don’t we? The sense of blessing…the peace that comes with it…maybe the joy or happiness…I think those can all be associated with it. But still…its hard to define isn’t it?  Because “blessed” isn’t just something that happens when you sneeze in public and someone rattles off “bless you.” Its more than that isn’t it?

And so maybe…in order to REALLY wrap our heads around what this word means…we need to realize HOW Jesus is using it…because there’s a distinction…Jesus is NOT using it as a verb…its not like Peter inhales some mountain dust and blasts off a sneeze and JC goes “Bless you Pete.”

What Jesus is actually doing is using this word as a statement of identity…almost like a name…that these individuals…that these types of people…these folks who are having a specific type of experience…if they were wearing a name-tag it would say “Blessed one.” And that is the case throughout all 9 of the beatitudes that we have heard today.

Now I want your to bear with me…because in a lot of ways, we’re gonna have an English lesson today…because the specific language and tense…and sensibility within the Beatitudes is VITAL to understanding it.

For starters…every one of the statements starts the same doesn’t it…with that identity…that the person embodies…right now…present tense…across the board…BLESSED…ARE…the poor spirit…blessed are those who are mourning…blessed are the meek…and those hungering and thirsting for righteousness…blessed ARE…the merciful and the pure in heart…and the peace makers…and finally BLESSED ARE…those who are persecuted and singled out because of the name of Jesus…blessed ARE…right now.

Now, let’s move on within the very one…blessed are the poor in spirit…WHY? Because theirs IS…the kingdom of heaven.  Present tense…theirs is the kingdom now…because Jesus has already told us that the kingdom has come near hasn’t he?  Its already among us…and those who are blessed now, are blessed because its already here. (Pause)

And now let’s move on…the next batch…we see a now leading into the future don’t we? Blessed are those who mourn…for they WILL BE comforted….the meek…for they WILL inherit the earth. And that same trend continues…blessed now with a future result.

And as I think about it…I can’t help but think that Annie’s song has this whole thing figured out doesn’t it?  That sense that it might be lousy in this moment…that it seems like I can’t catch a break…that the world is ending…or that the world has it in for me…but (sing) the sun’ll come out…tomorrow…” (pause)

Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t just some self-help…buck up because its not that bad…feel good drivel…that’s not what Jesus is about.  He’s not denying that lousy stuff goes on…and that as we grow in our faith and get more outspoken about the brokenness in the world…as we follow the prompting of the Spirit within us to point out injustice and inequality…and ways that the powerful take advantage of the marginalized…and they start to potshots at us because of it. Jesus IS NOT saying all that stuff is going to go away…he’s simply saying that in the midst of all that junk that is a reality within our existence…this does not define you…and you ARE Blessed because we have a God who desires to be with us and who CONTINUALLY is found with those pushed to the margins…and even if its hard to see…I believe that it is possible to see these little glimmers of that kingdom that is already among us when individuals step out of their comfort zones and reach out to those experiencing life at the margins…lives that the world discounts or throws aside…those moments that we’ve talked about over and over again when we reflect the light of the one who took on flesh and dwelled among us.

Now the world might not like that…it might even strike out against those who are willing to live their lives in this way…but just think…Jesus reminds us that when we live out this NEW way of life…this NEW way of love and joy and acceptance…a life lived in the reality that we’re all on the same page…that despite wealth or prestige or power or authority or the car we drive or the clothes we wear or the restaurants we eat in or the number of likes on our latest Instagram picture, or retweets on Twitter…or shares on Facebook…all that stuff masks the truth that each one of us is broken…and flawed…we’re all sinful…we all fall short of the glory of God…and we constantly fail ourselves and each other…but thanks be to God that GOD KNOW IT…and this is why God took on flesh in the first place…to come near to us in a way that we can see.

To be with us as one of us so that we can hear and touch him…so that we can record his words and teachings…and remember the miracles of his healings…and that when the dark powers of this world lashed out and tried SO hard to snuff out that shining perfect light of God…not even death could accomplish it.

And as we consider THAT amazing aspect of the gospel…maybe Annie’s song needs a little tweak…because I imagine it was pretty gloomy on that Friday when Jesus died…but then… (sing) God’s light’ll come back…on Sunday…bet your bottom dollar that on Sunday…we see the SON… (pause)

Maybe Jesus even hinted at that very point today…blessed are the pure in heart…for they will see…God. (pause)

Life’s not perfect…and the gospel…the scripture…the Bible…its honest about that…God knows it…and Jesus professes it…but despite the brokenness of this world and of us…we are claimed by the one who NAMES us…blessed ones.  Amen.

The Incarnation 1-5-20

In this sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas, I explore John’s version of the Incarnation. God enters into the world as the Word became flesh to dwell among us…but we also are reminded that God’s fingerprints have been present since THE BEGINNING, as the light shines in the darkness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-007-the-incarnation-1-5-20

The Innocents 12-29-19

This sermon is utterly off the cuff and unplanned. Due to the news of an antisemitic hate crime the night before this sermon, I punted my original plan of a hymn sing with accompanying reflections on the hymns.  The news mixed with the assigned gospel text of the Slaughter of the Innocents, found in Matthew 2:13-23, seemed far to timely to ignore.

As this was not scripted, there is no accompanying text.  Also please note in the audio, the scripture passage at the beginning is substantially louder than the sermon itself. A mic-issue during the reading of the passage resulted in splicing in a separate recording of the scripture.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-006-the-innocents-12-29-19

A Long Long Time Ago 12-24-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus and Silent Joe 12-22-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End is Not the End 11-17-19

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

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

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

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

Ongoing Identity 11-10-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 20:27-38, I explore an encounter between Jesus and the Sadducees, members of a Jewish denomination, as they debate over the Resurrection. In the end, its our identity as claimed Children of God that is important.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/ongoing-identity-11-10-19

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

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

I’ve often joked around that in the denominational sense, my family balanced itself out.  My dad was born and raised Lutheran by his VERY Norwegian parents…where as my mom was raised Catholic. And as they moved towards marriage, they went back and forth as to which denomination they would ultimately agree on…eventually deciding that Mom would change lanes and become Lutheran.

This continued on into the next generation, as my brother and sister and I were raised in the Lutheran tradition…that is, until my sister got engaged to a Catholic…just like my parents a generation before…she had the same discussion with her fiancé…and in the end, my sister made the switch and was confirmed Catholic shortly before their wedding…and it probably goes without saying that they are passing on the Catholic faith to my 3 nieces.

Now full disclosure…this doesn’t bother me at all…as far as denomination differences go…we’ve got a lot in common with our Catholic brothers and sisters out there…but on occasion the differences that are there come to light…and I remember it happening about 5 or 6 years ago when we were at Mass with my sisters family.

I often joke about the Christian Calisthenics that we do in worship…with our constant standing and sitting for the various aspects…but if you’ve attended Catholic Mass before, you know that they add one more aspect into the mix…as they kneel for various portions…and I always chuckle in these moments…because you can take one quick look around the room and identify all the fellow non-Catholics in attendance…as they are the ones still sitting in the pew as the Catholics take up residence on the kneelers.

On this particular instance, my son was about 9 or 10…and he was sitting in the pew next to me, when the lady positioned in the pew directly behind him popped up on the kneeler…and so they found themselves in pretty close proximity…and I heard her say to him “young man, you need to kneel.”  And he looked at her…and calmly responded “No I don’t,” and turned his attention back to the front.

Now I remember being impressed with two different things in that particular instance…first I was proud of my son who recognized a difference in tradition…and was aware that his own tradition was valid even in a different setting…and second, I was reminded in this little exchange that our different traditions, or understandings or interpretations…all these things can respectfully coexist…and in fact they are actually a good thing as they reveal the wondrous variety that exists among the entirety of the body of Christ on earth….these different denominations that all come together in what we call “THE church.” (pause)

Now interestingly enough…this same type of thing is on display within today’s scripture…and it reveals something that the Christian faith has in common with the Jewish faith…that there are different branches…different traditions…something we call denominations…all within the greater umbrella of a single faith.  This is true for the Jewish faith now…as there are countless different branches in present day Judaism…and, that was also the case in Jesus’ time…with different Jewish traditions in existence and well-established among the people.

And we find this at work right away with the group that Jesus encounters…the Sadducees. (pause) Often times, we have the tendency to lump the Sadducees in with another group, the Pharisees…and honestly both groups tend to get a bad rap in the understanding of many of us…but there were very prominent distinctions between the two branches in the time of the Gospels…and its also worth noting that these were not the only two branches of Judaism at that time.

Each branch had their different traditions and interpretations…but they also had similarities and teachings that were central to their Jewish faith…each had their own following…each had prominent individuals within their ranks. And that’s important for us to remember…particularly as we consider our tendency to demonize the Pharisees and the Sadducees as the bad guys of the gospel.

Some scholars have expressed the opinion that Jesus himself was a member of the Pharisees, especially considering the label Rabbi which was often used to address him…and the way that the present day rabbinic tradition ties back to the tradition of the Pharisees in first-century Palestine. (pause)

Maybe what I’m suggesting today is that these lines that we have the tendency to draw…and the conclusions that we tend to make…they’re murky…and we need to be careful about making assumptions and grouping people together…now all that being said, we do know of an important distinction between the Pharisees and the Sadducees…something which the text reveals…and that is belief in the Resurrection…that there will be a day out there in the unknown future when those who have died will be raised to new life. While many in the Jewish faith believe that there will be a resurrection in one form or another…the Sadducees do not…and considering the various teachings of Jesus on this subject…we know that he is in disagreement with them on that front.

And it would seem that this is the topic of debate behind the scenes of today’s passage.  Admittedly, I find myself wondering just what the tone was in this exchange.  Were they attempting to trip him up…to discredit him in the eyes of the people…or on the other hand was this simply a debate between individuals of different perspectives in an attempt to learn from one another? (pause)

We don’t know…but what we can find is evidence of the Sadducees bias as they provide a hypothetical situation for Jesus. Now it starts off with referencing this old tradition dating back to Moses when a man dies, leaving behind a wife, but no children…it is the expectation of the man’s brother to marry the widow, so that they might have children in the name of the dead brother.

To us, this sounds strange…and admittedly I wonder what the widow has to say about this whole thing…but…the intention behind the tradition was aimed at the continuation of the original man’s name…that his family would continue on…that his identity would not be lost.

Now with that in mind…hey Jesus…what if there were 7 brothers…and one by one they all married the same woman and none of them had any kids…eventually they’re all dead…so (get snarky here) IN THE RESURRECTION…Who’s wife will she be? (pause)

I can only imagine the side-eye that Jesus throws at them here…like “Dudes…hypothetical situations that reveal truth…that’s sorta my gig…we call those parables…you’re over your head here.” But then he goes on to explain the truth of the resurrection…and I can’t help but think he’s blowing their understanding…their expectations…their belief about this whole deal right out of the water.

Because what this all seems to be aimed at…at the heart of this whole deal…there seems to be a question…one that I think we share, even if we come at it from a different direction…What’s the end gonna look like? (pause)

Think about it…whenever we start talking about the resurrection…or heaven…or eternity…maybe I could reference…Revelation…or the end times…whenever this subject comes up…I think we’re all curious aren’t we?  What’s it gonna be like…what’s it gonna look like?

And the Sadducees seem to be posing the same type of question to Jesus today…hey teacher…what’s the end gonna look like?”  And after a beat…Jesus reveals to them…and to us…that the promise of God tells us that there is no end…and that the crazy limitations and rules that we’ve assigned to ourselves in this present age aren’t going to matter anymore…because above all…there won’t be an end…there will just be something that is utterly…new…different…and its beyond our understanding.

But this also reveals something else…that the questions we have, while they reveal our limitations…they also reveal a connection…one that Jesus seems to pick up on.  (pause) The Sadducees were concerned about their tradition which ensures a man’s identity will carry on…but Jesus reveals that our ultimate identity has nothing to do with our family names…or our spouses or our children…but the identity which really counts is given to us by God…as we are claimed as Children of God.

This is an identity that nothing beats…Jesus tells us that…as he says “they can no longer die, for they are children of God, children of the Resurrection.” This is an identity which we share…not one that we have because of our place in a family or community…but one that we receive as a gift of God’s grace.

This identity is made real through Christ…through his life in which he taught us about it…and through his death and resurrection which somehow made it possible…not to mention through his command to engage in a physical act…a practice, in which this promise is given to us…and that is the sacrament of baptism.

It is in the sacraments that we receive a physical manifestation of God’s grace for each of us as the promises are spoken to us and we receive them in faith…this same faith connects each of us…regardless of our own personal knowledge or understanding or interpretation…we each bear the same identity…beloved Child of God…and today…Parish is going to join in this same community as he is washed in this font…and the claim of God upon him becomes tangible.

This promise is real for each of us today…and we hold onto it every day of our lives…we cling to it when we reach the point of death, and we move past the reality of this life into whatever it is that comes next…and we are held secure in that promise when the day of the resurrection occurs…whatever that’s gonna look like on that unknown day out there somewhere in the future. A promise, made by God…confirmed by Christ in the flesh…that to God, each of you…will forever live, because you are Children of God. Amen