Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

What Do You Read There 7-14-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:25-37, I explore the exchange between Jesus and a lawyer that leads to the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. While the parable itself reveals some timely and important truth, the exchange itself reveals something important for each of our lives of faith.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-do-you-read-there-7-14-19

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

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

Every Christian denomination has a unique path towards ordination, or what we might call officially authorized pastoral ministry. In my opinion, here in the ELCA we’ve got one of the most intense processes…something called candidacy for ordination.  Its lengthy, typically beginning upwards of a year before the individual even begins seminary…and then it runs concurrently alongside seminary education through graduation and eventually ordination.

Now in the process, there are three separate interviews that the individual experiences…one at the beginning called Entrance…one at the end called Approval…and then one just a little past the halfway point called Endorsement, just prior to beginning their year of pastoral internship.  And of the three, I found Endorsement to be the least stressful…likely because while the first and last happen with a full committee of about a dozen people, Endorsement happens with two individuals from the candidacy committee and the students faculty advisor.

Now my Endorsement interview happened sometimes in the spring of 2011, so I don’t remember a whole lot about it…but I do recall one question…talk about how your theology has changed through your education up to this point…honestly I can’t remember much of my complete answer, but I do remember saying “Well, prior to beginning seminary I had no theology.”

Side note…theology is one of those big 50 cent seminary words…but it’s a combination of two Greek words that are squashed together that literally means “the study of God” or “the divine.” Just go ahead and tuck that in the back of your minds.

Now, regardless of whatever else I said in my answer…I remember, quite vividly my advisor laughing and saying “Scott…prior to seminary, had you ever read the Bible?” And when I said yes he said “Well then guess what, you had a theology…this process is just helping you refine it.”

I’ve thought a lot about that insight over the years…and I’ve also thought about the ways that seminary did serve to develop my theology…or my understanding of the divine and the scriptures…and while the classes and the lectures and the readings and the papers and everything else I endured through that 5 year process did do a lot…there was one other aspect that was absolutely vital…and I was reminded of that as I prepared for today’s message.

One of the last steps I do every week is reading…I read through a multitude of different commentaries written on the specific passage by a wide variety of individuals…one of which is produced online every week…and this particular week…I was excited to see the author…a professor in the Religion department of Valparaiso University in Indiana…known as the Rev. Dr. Amanda Brobst-Renaud…but who I have always known simply as Mandy.

When I made the transition from part-time distance learning to on-campus full time learning…Mandy was in several of my classes and small groups…and so she was one of the first people that I got to know pretty well from my larger class…and I can remember countless times between classes when we’d end up sitting in a lounge discussing something…a passage that we were working on for preaching class or an article assigned for lecture. And we’d just go back and forth…sharing insights…challenging interpretations…pointing out details that seemed significant. (pause) And as I think back to the entirety of my seminary education…that sense…that experience of sitting around with one or two other people probably helped shape me and my understanding of the word of God being living and active more than anything else. (pause)
Now when I say that…when I reference that bit of scripture…I think it is talking about the way that the scriptures themselves reveal widely different things to individuals based on their experience…and in the same way, the scriptures can reveal widely different things to an individual at different points in their lives…and because of this…I think its dangerous to assume that any passage, or individual book of the Bible or even the Bible as a whole has a single “correct interpretation.”

And I think we find evidence of this in today’s passage.  Now admittedly I’ve already been talking for a while without getting into today’s gospel…but as I read it…especially the opening narration about the back and forth that Jesus has with this lawyer…this expert in the Jewish Law code passed down from Moses back in the day…as I consider this exchange, I don’t envision some uppity dude looking down his nose at Jesus…thinking he’s got the education and credentials to put this upstart Galilean wanderer in his place.

I see a lively discussion, we might call it a debate…but I’m reminded of those times spent sitting on couches going back and forth over a passage…trying to get to the heart of it…trying to understand how its applicable into our lives as it is in this moment.

I don’t know what mental image you might have of this exchange…but I don’t think these two guys are butting heads…and I don’t think that either one of them are trying to set the other one straight…and we find this in a pretty simple…maybe even throw-away question from Jesus in the midst of the back and forth…see if you catch it.

Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?  What is written in the law, what do you read there?  Love God and love your neighbor.  You have answered rightly do this and live. (pause) Did you catch it?

Jesus…the literal embodiment of the divine…the Word of God made flesh…the epitome of “the authority” on this subject…Jesus asks the guy…what do you read there?  How do you read it?  What’s your take? (pause)

Admittedly, I dig this little back and forth…its present in a couple of the other gospels…but Luke is unique in the way the exchange goes down…and this is the only one when Jesus poses that important question.

Now when the lawyer answers…Jesus seems to agree…yes dude…love God, love you neighbor…that’s it man…do this and you’ll live.  It seems that the two have reached an agreement…but then the lawyer…being a lawyer…being himself…being true to who he is…well, he wants to dig a little deeper…and so he asks another question…if the law can interpreted as loving our neighbors…let’s get specific Jesus…I need to know just how far this goes…who is my neighbor?

And this question prompts one of the most familiar parables in the scriptures…commonly known as the Good Samaritan…although I really think we should change the name to the parable of the dude who got beat up because nowhere in any language does Jesus ever say the Samaritan is good…but that’s just another side note for you. (Pause)

You know the parable…guys going down the road…robbers jump him…beat him up, leave him for dead.  The two guys who REALLY should know better, chose to ignore him and leave him laying when they walk by…then the Samaritan…the foreigner…the last person who should be hero…is the hero…a fact so shocking to this Jewish lawyer that he can’t even bring himself to say “Samaritan” when Jesus asks “who was the neighbor to the man?” And his answer reveals the reversal that is often present within a parable.  “The one to offer him mercy.”

Now here’s the next thing…the parable doesn’t answer the question “who do I have to be a neighbor to?”  It flips it around to address the issue that this particular guy can’t seem to get past…who can I not even fathom the possibility might be a neighbor to me?  (pause)

I don’t want to dive to deep into this…to be perfectly honest the parable itself doesn’t interest me that much…but if it catches your attention I’ll ask the question before I move on…who is it that you can’t fathom being a neighbor to you?  What identity would make you bristle at the idea of accepting help or mercy?  What differences?  Because that seems to be at the heart of this parable.  Is it racial?  Is it cultural? Economic?  Nationality? Legal status?  Sexual Orientation?   What’s your trigger?  (pause) If the parable itself catches your attention, then ponder on that…and the possibility that maybe just maybe the kingdom of God, and the Holy Spirit inspired gift of love and mercy and compassion shown on the part of the Samaritan might just be coming your way across that boundary that today you just can’t wrap your head around…and maybe the Spirit is calling you to offer that same compassion and mercy the opposite direction. (pause)

But now that being said…I want to circle back around. And pick back up with the way that this honest back and forth encounter with Jesus and the individual seems to reveal a tripping point in his faith…and the parable is simply an illustration tool that Jesus uses to reveal it to him.

I wonder if you’ve had moments like this in your life…and in your faith…moments when an honest back and forth with another person resulted in an ah-ha…or in a feeling of conviction…or in a moment of joy…I hope so…because in my experience, that’s where the real miraculous moments of faithful revelation happen.

As much as I love standing up here preaching every week…I do sometimes wonder how effective it is…but I’ve seen moments when the lightbulb turns on…when the Spirit reveals something and it clicks…and more often than not…it happens in honest back and forth conversation among 2 or 3 people.  That’s why the relationships that we form together are so important…that’s why I think small group study is so important…and that’s why I think that family conversations around matters of faith are so vital…because that’s where faithful learning happens…as we grow together and let our shared experience shape the growth that we go through over the course of our lives lived together.

Now today…we have a new individual who is taking a first step in this whole process…as Lindy is brought forward to the font by her parents…and she’ll be washed in the waters of baptism…claimed by God as a beloved child…and as I say every time, she’s going to be watching us…but soon she’ll also be engaging with us…learning from us and with us, and God willing, she’ll be teaching us…as the Spirit empowers her and every one of us to learn and share in the faith…we might even call it a shared study of the divine…which as you recall has a name…theology.

You all have it…you don’t need someone else to tell you how your experience shapes your encounter with the divine and the scriptures…and so, just as Jesus asked the lawyer that day…I’ll leave you with this simple question…when you ponder on the action and the presence of God in the world around you…and when you crack the Bible…what do you read there? Amen

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Urgency 7-7-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, I explore Jesus empowerment and instructions for his follower as he sends them out 2 by 2 with the message that the kingdom of God has come near.

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

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

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

While there have probably been a multitude of times in my life where a sense of urgency was present…I can think of two specific moments…and as I consider them in hindsight…one was legitimate…and the other one…not so much.

The first…late summer 2004. Approximately 30 hours after a little debacle known as Hurricane Charlie came blasting through the city of Orlando…I stepped up to the gate of a plane that had just started boarding for Minneapolis, accompanied by my wife and then 8-month old son…only to be told “Oh you transferred from another airline…no problem but you need to get us paper tickets from the check in agent.”

This required me to return to the ticket counter…which was on the other end of a tram between terminals, and on the other side of the security line…all while the plane itself…was already in the process of boarding.  I skipped the ticket line and apparently had a look on my face that said “You will help me now or I will go full Godzilla destruction mode on what’s left of this airport post-hurricane.” (pause)

Now the second situation actually happened when I was quite a bit younger…in the midst of third grade…I impressed myself one day by very intentionally staring at the clock on the wall of the classroom for a period of 15 minutes…a feat that, in my mind anyway…was SO impressive…that I was compelled to share it…and with a sense of urgency…I raised my hand, interrupting the lesson currently being taught…to share with everyone this amazing feat that I had just accomplished. (pause)

Now for the record…yes we did get back to the plane in time…but just barely…but my third grade teacher was less than impressed with my feat of staring at a clock instead of paying attention to what she was teaching us. (Pause)

True urgency in one case…not so much in the other right? (pause)  I can’t help but think that this is human nature though…that there are moments or situations that we end up in where we might feel that sense of urgency…or importance for something…and we set our sights on it as the thing that needs to happen before anything else can be attended to.

And, I also can’t help but think that we’ve been in this sort of theme within our gospel lessons, both last week if you happened to be here, as well as today.  Now if you weren’t here last week, we heard how Jesus intentionally turned his face and his attention towards Jerusalem and all that would be accomplished there…we talked about how his mission…his ultimate life’s goal would culminate in his death and subsequent resurrection…and then…as he encountered potential followers…that this same urgency seemed to overshadow the immediate goals that each of them placed in front of the act of following along after Jesus.

It was odd to be sure…and yet, not unique…and this same sort of sense is also on display in today’s passage…which incidentally picks up right on the heels of that story from last week.

As Jesus moves towards Jerusalem…there are cities and villages where he plans to go…but apparently the way must be prepared for him…and so Jesus sends this random group of 70 followers out in pairs with some very specific instructions.

Travel light…take no purse, no bag…only the shoes on your feet…and here’s where we catch this sense of urgency…greet no one along the road. (pause)  Admittedly, that last one kinda catches me off guard…greet no one on the road? Why not Jesus? Can the message not even be delayed long enough to catch a bit of news from our fellow travelers as we move along?

Apparently the answer is no…and this same urgency that Jesus is now operating with…it is applied to this 2 by 2 mission. (pause) Now it seems that Jesus knows full well that the reaction of those in the various communities that the disciples are going to visit is going to be mixed…and we find that in his instructions as well.

As you enter…first offer peace to the house.  It may be accepted or it may not…if it is…GREAT!!!! Stay put…eat what they give you…and don’t go hopping from house to house. While you’re there…heal the sick…here’s (grand gesture) the ability to do that…and be sure to tell them the kingdom of God has come near. (pause)

Now…on the other hand, if you come into a village and they refuse your offer of peace…well step out in to the street…wipe off the dust, give a little wave, and as you go be sure to remind them…the kingdom of God has come near. (pause)

Now maybe…that’s the key the right there…because the message doesn’t change…regardless of the response…regardless of the apparent susceptibility of the people to the message…its always the same…the kingdom has come near. (pause)

It might seem odd…after all…Jesus has given these individuals power and authority over demons…over diseases…apparently over sinister powers like serpents and scorpions even…and in their apparent surprise that this power works for them…Jesus reminds them again that this power is secondary to the good news that their names are written in heaven. (pause)

So what does this all mean? What do we make of this message and the apparent urgency that Jesus places upon it? (pause)  That seems to be the big question…and perhaps a good one for us to consider here in the midst of summer…when things are definitely pretty low key here at the church…schools out…people are traveling…and maybe faith-stuff gets pushed to the back burner…and a sense of complacency settles in.

If that is the case…do we hear a plea from the Lord to wake up…to put on that sense of urgency…and to carry this message forward? What might that look like? How do we start to see this in real life terms…we might even ask, how does this mission outlined by Jesus in the days before his death and resurrection, how is fleshed out for us now in this day and age?

And you know there’s a word for that type of thing? Questions around faith and spirituality entering into our day to day reality in a way that puts flesh on…and that word is Incarnation…when the divine puts on flesh among us…and its not just limited to Jesus…but it takes shape in others ways as well.

Just think about the ones who carried this message…granted, we don’t know a ton about them…but we know that Jesus’ followers included men and women…they included lowly fishermen and tax collectors…we know some had means and others had nothing…there were individuals who served the Romans and there were religious zealots who violently opposed the empire…and yet this ragtag mixed bag of followers were chosen to carry the message…to literally embody the message of Christ…we could even say that they were bearers of Christ into the places that he desired to go…and as they went it was always the same…the kingdom of God has come near.

Now I don’t know about you…but as I consider this sense of urgency on the part of Christ for everyone to hear that the kingdom has come near I wonder who still needs to hear that?  Who are those that we encounter that need to know that the creator of the entire universe loves them so much that he became one of us…that which is divine has entered into that which is broken and flawed…we might even say profane and has made it holy.

This is good news for all the world…but sometimes the world isn’t ready for it…and those who find themselves in positions of power and authority by worldly standards will oppose this message…which is why, so often…we truly find the presence of God shared among the common experience of those in pain and suffering…because they are fully awake to the truth that this world is not as God has intended it to be. (pause)

Who are those in the world around us that need to hear this message? Perhaps it is us…and if so, once we have heard it…well then we too are empowered to carry this same message forward…because the gospel offers freedom…even if its not freedom in the way that our political system would have us believe.

The gospel tells us that the love of the one who made us in the first place frees us to be authentically and uniquely honest about ourselves…knowing that when that Good News strikes the heart of a person…that’s how Satan falls from heaven as Jesus says today.

And if that is, in fact, the mission empowered by Christ…then maybe we can begin to understand that urgency…because he has come to release all of humanity from that which hinders them…from whatever it is that holds them back…that keeps them down. Friends in Christ, we have a God who desires a life of ultimate fullness…of ultimate love for ourselves and who we are made to be…a love that we are then called to share with one another…and if we see one another caught in the lies that hinder that fullness…well then we too should feel that same sense of urgency to share a message of freedom and wholeness to all.

The disciples were sent out 2 by 2 into the places where Jesus intended to go…we could say in this way that they were bearers of Christ’s presence…and we too have been empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling among us and within us…to bear the presence of Christ into this same world…so that this world might know that the Kingdom of God has come near to them…and it is for them…and they are a part of it.  Amen

Jesus What Are You Talking About 6-30-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 9:51-62, I explore several odd encounters between Jesus and potential followers.  Comparing these exchanges with other similar situations in the gospels creates a tension, as we see that the calling of God in our lives will manifest in many different ways.

You cal listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/jesus-what-are-you-talking-about-6-30-19

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.

How many of you have heard the expression “Man plans and God laughs?” (Pause) How many of you have lived it? (Pause) I can’t help but think I’ve been through several periods in my life that fit this bill…but perhaps none more on the nose than an expectation I had early in my college years.

Many of you know by now that I worked at camp for a couple of summers…Ingham Lake Bible Camp…first the summer of 97, right out of high school, as I worked half time running the lawn mower around the camp, but also jumping in and forming relationships outside work hours.  Then, fast-forward a year, and in 98 I worked full-time as the maintenance director through the summer…and as that was wrapping up, and I was heading back for my second and final year of community college…I thought I had it all planned out.

I’d graduate with my associates degree, come back on staff for another summer, this time as a counselor working directly with the kids…and then I would get hired by the camp in a year round role that they support…a role that is split half time between the camp itself and the wintertime retreat season, and a local congregation in a half-time youth director role.

It was perfect right? I’m going to do God’s work…CERTAINLY God will agree with me and help that happen right? (Nod yes, moving into no). Nope…that was not what God had in mind for me…and that door slammed closed rather abruptly through the following school year…and my plans had to change pretty dramatically.

And I remember really struggling with that…wondering why it didn’t work out the way I thought it should…why God would deny this idea and this track of ministry that I wanted to follow…it made me ask a lot of questions…questions of why? Questions like “what are you doing here?” Or “Now what does this mean?” There was a sense of loss…a sense of confusion…and the complete lack of knowing where to turn…Ever experienced that in your lives?  Those questions? Those insecurities…they take a lot of forms…sometimes in the midst of the day to day that we lead…sometimes in the matters of faith that we encounter…and I can’t help but think…maybe, even in some of our encounters with the scriptures. (pause)
And that is where we are wading into today’s oddball little passage…full disclosure…earlier this week, I was messaging back and forth with a group of fellow pastors…sharing insights into the passage…and my first entry into the conversation…I really hate this text…and I do…its probably horrible for me to say it, but I find this mashup of exchanges from Jesus troublesome to say the least…I would probably even call it downright infuriating.

Because the words of Jesus are just so unexpectedly out there…and honestly almost seem contradictory to what we see and hear from him in other encounters…it’s a head scratcher…its confusing…and it makes me ask the question…repeatedly…Jesus, what are you talking about? (Pause)

First off…this whole little exchange with James and John over the Samaritan Village. Its weird from the get-go.  We hear, right away, that Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem. Now this is unique in Luke’s gospel…an intentionality of Jesus’ goal and ultimate destination…and even though its going to take him 10 more chapters of the gospel before he finally gets there…we do see that, even now, at this point…the ultimate thrust of Jesus’ work and ministry…we could even say his very life’s purpose…is aimed at his death and resurrection in Jerusalem.

And…it begins here…as he departs from Galilee in the north heading towards Jerusalem in the south…and in order to get there…he’s either gotta go around Samaria, or he’s gotta go right through it.  And…its probably clear that relations between the Jewish people and the Samaritans was strained at best…who knows why other than general rivalry that goes back about 700 odd years or so…but they aren’t big fans of one another…and so, as Jesus prepares to enter into the village…the messengers are pretty much told off…leading James and John…two of the original disciples…2 of Jesus’ own inner circle…ask to call down fire to consume the village.

Now, at first glance, maybe Jesus’ response that puts the brothers in their place isn’t surprising…evidence of Jesus mercy…of forgiveness…but at the same time…Jesus is also the one who’ll crack a whip at people and throw tables around in an epic righteous hissy fit in the cleansing of the temple, with a claim of religious zeal for the house of God.  Sometimes we like to call this sort of thing righteous anger.  But it would seem that in THIS case…Jesus is having none of that…so Jesus…what are you talking about? (pause)

Following this…seemingly in various encounters along the road with some potential followers…we get some more craziness.  The first guy wants to follow along…we don’t know if there’s been an invitation or not…but he flat says “Jesus, I’ll follow wherever you go.” Now, while Jesus ministry took him all over the place, and was fully reliant on the hospitality of others…his response is still odd. “Fox have holes…birds have nests…the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  I can only image the guy just sorta standing there scratching his head…wondering the same thing we are.  Jesus…what are you talking about?

And the second one…this time we know that Jesus extends the invitation…same one he offered to several different disciples…one that he often says. Follow me…and guy pretty much say “Okay…I’ll follow along, but I’ve gotta go bury my father first.” And Jesus seems to squawk…apparently telling him to blow off that responsibility.  And that’s just odd.

In that culture…this was an expectation…we might even call it an extension of the law…because to honor your father and mother…which you might recall is one the commandments…that includes proper burial.  Jesus knows this…and he’s no stranger to caring for his parents either…even as he hangs on the cross he makes sure that his mother is taken care of…so…what’s up with this dead burying their own dead thing? Jesus…what are you talking about? (pause)

And then the last guy…I’ll follow you, but let me go say goodbye first…and now we have this crazy thing about plowing and not looking backwards…which…as a farm kid who’s struggled with the technique of cultivating as a teenager…I get it…but its still weird…Yes Jesus called people to follow him…and many did…but they didn’t always leave everything behind…Peter still had a house…which they frequented whenever they were in the area…so Jesus…what are you talking about? (pause)

That’s the tension that I see in this passage.  Jesus seems to be implying a sense of urgency…that his ultimate mission…his ultimate goal for the kingdom of God that he mentions a couple different times…that’s the priority…that’s number one on the list…and it sorta seems, at face value anyway…that he expects the same urgency out of those who be his followers.

And yet…as we know…when it gets right down to it…he’s alone…none of these would be followers…none of the disciples…no one else…shares his fate…except maybe a couple of insurrectionists who are hung up beside him…and yet in the midst of even that…Jesus is offering forgiveness. (pause)
So what do we do with this text today? What do we do with the tension that we find in considering Jesus’ response in these particular moments and comparing it with the polar opposite response in other situations?  And maybe, just maybe, the only thing we can do is realize that this tension reveals a truth that Jesus was fully aware of…that this life is messy…and that what applies in one situation, might not cut it in the next…or what God is calling one person into might be completely different than what God desires for the next person…even when the situations seem remarkably similar.

That’s the truth that I continue to find in scripture…I see it in my own study…I find it in honest conversation with others…its visible as we open our eyes to see that which is happening around us.  Life is messy…and its unexpected and there’s no manual…and I can’t help but think that the Bible in all its crazy back and forth glory…the Bible is honest about that.

And yet, in the midst of all this craziness…maybe we find just a touch of reassurance in the ultimate dedication that Jesus shows, even in this little passage.  He has turned his face towards Jerusalem and all that will happen there…and we hear that, not just once but twice…in fact, that’s the only explanation we have for why the Samaritans rejected him in the first place…because his face was set towards Jerusalem.

Whatever it is that God’s up to…whatever it is that Christ was accomplishing…whatever it is that the Spirit continues to empower…its moving in a specific direction and that is forward.  Maybe not at the speed that we would hope for…maybe not in the individual moments that we expect…but it is going somewhere…and whenever creation reaches that glorious day…whether it happens in our lifetime or if we have joined the ranks of the blessed saints who have gone on before us…but when we finally join with Christ in the resurrection…whatever and whenever and however that’s gonna be…when God makes good on that promise for you and for me…that promise to make everything new…I don’t think we’re gonna be disappointed.

Today we are left asking the question Jesus, what are you talking about? I don’t quite know what he’s talking about…but something tells me its good news anyway. Amen.

Who Is This 6-23-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 8:26-39 (as well as the larger chapter), I explore the depths and the barriers that Jesus is willing to overcome to free us from what hinders us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-is-this-6-23-19

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

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

I can’t help but think that the advent of caller ID is a wonderful thing…but I’ve also noticed the tendency that when that number pops up on our cell phone…if it doesn’t match up with someone on our contact list…we tend to let it go to voice mail don’t we?

This whole idea has aggregated in a different way as well…when someone loses their contact list for whatever reason…but then someone else shoots them a text only to get a sort of token response…New phone, who is this? (pause) Ever gotten that text? A response from someone that you know, that should know you…but because of our reliance on technology and apparent inability to remember phone numbers…we have a disconnect?

I’ve often wondered what the mentality might be for the person on the other end of that text…to receive a message that implies familiarity…but there is still confusion over the identity of this person who is trying to communicate…to connect…to somehow be in relationship in a remote fashion…and all we can do is pose the confused question, perhaps somewhat sheepishly…Who is this? (pause)

Now I share this idea…and this question of identity…because that very question brackets not only this smaller episode in the life and ministry of Jesus…but also the larger section of the gospel that we find ourselves in today.

Directly before today’s passage…Jesus has been hanging out in Galilee…doing his thing…and decides…seemingly out of no-where…that he and the disciples need to cross the sea…and as they cross in the boat…Jesus promptly falls asleep. If you’re familiar with that little moment…a great big storm comes up…the disciples freak out and wake Jesus up in the midst of their terror…thinking that he doesn’t care that they’re dying…

Jesus probably takes a big old deep breath and then promptly calms the storm, leading the disciples to ask that same question.  Who is this? (Pause)  Who is this, that he commands the wind and the water and they obey him? (pause)

Now Jesus doesn’t offer them a long-worded answer to their question…in fact there’s no answer at all, beyond the actions that we continue to see throughout the course of this entire chapter of Luke.  Jesus has just shown that he has authority over nature by calming the storm.  In today’s lesson, we see that he’s got authority over the supernatural…commanding demons and being obeyed.

Once he and the disciples head back across the sea, he’s immediately approached by an important guy who’s daughter is sick and dying…and on the way Jesus unwittingly heals the woman who’s been bleeding for 12 years, displaying authority over disease…until finally making it to the guys house, finding the daughter dead, and in one of the rare instances from the gospels…Jesus raises her from death displaying authority even over that.

4 different actions…4 different situations that show his followers…and not only them but us as well…the depths that Jesus continues to enter into to display the authority of the divine…to show the depths that our God who took on flesh is willing to enter into in order to free us from what hinders us.  That’s the larger picture on display here…and so now tuck that into the back of your minds as we dive into deeper into this story of the demoniac. (pause)

Now there’s a lot going on here…a lot action, a lot of side notes, a lot of little details that might initially muddy the water for us just a little bit…but everything that we hear about is important…and all of it helps shed a little bit more light on the nature of this God who became human, and willingly entered deeper and deeper into this particular man’s existence, even in this one moment…in order to bring him to new life.

First off…remember where they are…Jesus has crossed the sea, and as we hear, has arrived in this area known as Gerasenes.  Its Gentile territory, which as you might recall is kind of a faux-pau for Jewish people…they avoid Gentile territory if they can possibly help it.

Now while this might seem arrogant, even a touch on the racist side…they do so in order to maintain ritual cleanliness…a state of being able to approach God…and simply being in the presence of Gentiles can risk that status…but Jesus goes deeper.

Apparently they’re on some sort of mountain, which is common pretty much all the way around the Sea of Galilee…but this particular mountain houses something of a graveyard…tombs…probably natural caves in the mountainside where the dead are buried…and if you’re thinking that dead bodies…the literal presence of death, is risk to being clean…you’re right.  Another notch deeper…but let’s keep going.

Immediately, this man possessed of demons comes out…raving mad…trailing along broken chains and shackles from previous attempts to subdue him…and not only…but he’s buck naked…and in Jesus time…to view the nakedness of another person who is not your spouse brings shame upon you…not the one who’s naked…but the one who views it…big cultural no-no…and yet Jesus steps into that too…and the final nail in this cultural cleanliness coffin…the presence of that giant herd of swine…because pigs are considered unclean.

All of these different hurdles…these different situations coalescing into a perfect storm of reasons for Jesus to avoid this guy…and yet…he does the polar opposite. Jesus not only takes notice of the guy…but he’s willing to get into the midst of it along side him.

If we read between the lines just a bit, it would seem that almost immediately Jesus orders the demons out of the man…but it also seems like it doesn’t quite work…and all it seems to do is enrage the multitude of unclean spirits within the man…as they beseech Jesus not to torment them…and then Jesus goes one step further…what is your name…and we hear the answer Legion…for many demons had entered him…how many? Well, we don’t exactly know, but a legion of Roman soldiers was between 5-6000 troops…so you know…it was a lot demons.

And these demons…they recognize this supernatural authority of Jesus…and they beg him not to send them into the abyss…essentially asking “Hey Jesus can you not destroy us? How about we jump over into those pigs?” And Jesus says “Yah why don’t you do that.” And once they do the pigs promptly run off a cliff into the sea and drown…and side note…in the Jewish tradition…the sea or the ocean is an image for the abyss…that unseen and unknown…so I guess it didn’t turn out so great for the demons did it? (pause)

So now this man, who’s name we do not know…is returned to his right mind…he is clothed…he is calm…and as residents of the area…fetched by the swineherders…as they come to check it out…this man that they’ve only known as a raving lunatic…is sitting at the feet of Jesus…and they are terrified…asking Jesus to leave.

Now the man, he wants to stay with Jesus…which doesn’t really surprise me…Jesus had freed him of this torment that had been going on for who knows how long…but Jesus has other ideas…and he send the man home…returning him to the society that had driven him out…and Jesus gives instructions to share all that God has done for him.

Isn’t that funny…this guy doesn’t need any training…he doesn’t have to follow along like an apprentice for a few years…all Jesus calls him to do is share his experience and how it has changed his life…and with that, this man leaves the story, proclaiming the good news, but beyond that, we don’t know his fate. (pause)

But that being said, I want to back up.  Think about what Jesus does for this guy.  We don’t know exactly how this demon possession has manifested…and maybe we all form our own opinions based on our 21st century existence as to what’s going on with the guy…all we really know is that something has a hold of him.

Maybe we think…mental illness and the multitude of forms that takes in different people in this day and age. (pause) Maybe we think…addiction, and the way that various types of dependency, whether chemical or behavioral, take hold of individuals. (Pause)  Maybe you’ve watched as someone you love has suffered in one of these ways…maybe you’ve experienced yourself…maybe you still are. (Pause)

And I wonder…what can we learn from this situation with Jesus?  We see him ask the name of the demon…that he has to do this before being able to cast them out…and maybe this serves as a reminder for us that you have to identity the problem…the issue…sometimes you’ve got to name it before it can be dealt with.  I’ve heard it said that the first step in overcoming a problem is recognizing that we have a problem. (pause)

But perhaps more importantly…the other thing that we learn from Jesus is that we are not alone in the midst of the thing that has us hindered…that we have a God who is willing to step over every boundary…every barrier…even death…in order to be with us in the midst of our darkness and suffering…and that the ultimate goal of this God who created the entirety of existence and yet willingly took on flesh to dwell among us…the ultimate goal seems to be to free us up to live a life of fulfillment and joy…and that in the midst of that good life, we are also called to accompany those in the midst of their own darkness.

Let us never forget that we are the body of Christ…and just as Jesus was willing to enter into a place of pain and torment and even death in order to bring that one man out of it…we too are called to enter into these same moments with one another…not because we have the power to cast out the demon, whatever that demon might be…but because there is power in our shared presence…there is strength that we receive from one another…and there is hope in knowing that we are never alone. (pause)
Who is this? Who is this man? Who is this Jesus? Who is this God…this God is the one who is will never abandon us, no matter what darkness has taken hold. Amen.

One Plus One Equals One 6-2-19

In this sermon, based on John 17:20-26, I explore Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers, just prior to his betrayal.  This unity is not based on everyone being identical, but rather on our shared humanity.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/one-plus-one-equals-one-6-2-19

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

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

I like Math…I just do…because it always works. I’ve heard it said that Math is the universal language…because when it gets right down to it…1 plus 1 equals 2….or Uno y Uno es Does…I could continue in other languages but unfortunately those are the only two I know.  But it always works…if you have something…and you bring in one more thing…then you have two things. Period.

I love math…but…not everyone does…and in my observation, for anyone who isn’t a fan of math, story problems are the bane of their homework existence…I’ve seen it many times as I’ve helped my kids with math homework…and I can remember many of my classmates lamenting them during my school days.

Now personally I’ve never really had a problem with them…because for whatever reason, my brain connects well with the very linear method of thinking required to solve story problems…in order to solve the question, I need to find this, and in order to find that, I need to solve this, and in order to solve that, I need to do this particular process with these available numbers…one thing leads to the next thing, which leads to the next thing.

Now because my mind works pretty well to move through that linear pattern of problem solving, I was geared well to handle geometry during my sophomore year of high school…and in particular, writing geometric proofs…something that the vast majority of my classmates hated…and yet I could sit there and do them all day.

Because this is true, we know that this is also true…and because that is true, we can deduce that this is also true…and if that is true, then we know that this is also true…and so on and so forth…Admittedly, it probably makes me pretty nerdy…but its safe to say that I actually enjoyed the process of moving forward from what was given to end up at the desired result…from start to finish…always pushing forward despite any tricky roadblocks that might get in the way of where we were trying to get to. (pause)

Now today’s gospel lesson offers us something of a similar type of situation. We find ourselves today at the final Sunday of the Easter season…Ascension Day was last Thursday…and so, within our calendar we have passed the point where Jesus returned to Heaven…coming up next Sunday, one week from today, we hit the day of Pentecost when Jesus sends the Holy Spirit upon his followers, just as he promised…and with that, we will begin to see and remember the explosive growth of the early church which has led all the way up, across the last 2000 years to today…and which will continue on until the last days…when Jesus will return ushering in a new era…a new reality with a new heaven and a new earth where God dwells among us.

That’s the direction that this is all going…that’s the end game that God has in mind…and in fact, it seems to me that this has been the plan all along…when God sparked off creation, and somehow, someway made the world and everything in it, not to mention the great cosmos that exists out there…and everything in that too…and ever since that initial moment, whenever it was, when God spoke existence into creation…its all been moving forward…and despite your personal thoughts on creation…despite what you might think about the debates between science and religion…it seems to me, that creation…or reality…or whatever you want to call it, continues to move forward…with something of an energetic spark behind it…I happen to think that energetic spark is God…but that’s just me…

But regardless, as time marches on, this reality is moving forward towards something…and the scriptures give us glimpses into the various moments when God has acted directly here within our reality to continue this forward momentum…and now coming all the way back around to the gospel for today…we see Jesus engage in the same sort of forward movement within the context of a prayer.

The entirety of chapter 17 of John’s gospel is a prayer…Jesus has wrapped up his final time of teaching…and just before they head out to the garden to kick off this whole death and resurrection thing…Jesus takes the time to pray.

Now this is a unique situation…because the majority of the time in the gospels we don’t get to hear just what Jesus is praying for. There are brief moments, but they’re pretty rare…but here we have the entirety…and the amazing thing, as we see in the verses just before this one, and then throughout these verses as well…is the fact that Jesus is praying directly for his followers…and remember that they are sitting there at the table with him…think about that.

What does it feel like when someone takes the time to pray for you…and you are there, privy to what’s on their heart for you…it’s a pretty amazing thing…and in this situation…its Jesus…God in human form…God the son…The word of God made flesh…praying for his followers…and newsflash…YOU are a part of that…You…are included as a recipient of Jesus’ prayer…YOU are on his mind.

Father I ask not only on behalf of these who are sitting here, but also on behalf of those who will believe because of their words. (pause). Without a doubt…we are included in that number…because 2000 years after Jesus lived died and rose again…the life altering gospel has reached our ears, and that has brought us here today.

So let that sink in for just a moment. At the Last Supper…just before Jesus endured the most horrific fate that we can imagine…he prayed…for…you. (pause)

Now the basic theme of this prayer…unity. Father, you and I are one.  So let them be one…and all those who will believe later…yah let them be one too…and why? Well so the world will believe that you sent me…and if they believe it, then we dwell with them…and they with us…and we’re all one…and if we’re unified, then they’ll see my glory, and my glory is your glory, and if they see it, then we’ll glorify them too…so let them be one…because we are one, and we want to be one with them…because we love them. (pause)

But the really interesting thing about all of this, is that Jesus’ prayer is almost structured like one of those geometry proofs that I loved so much in high school…and its because of the presence of a single word that is repeated over and over again.  In the Greek, it’s a word called Hina…and its best translated “in order that.” And in these 7 verses, it happens 9 times.

Just like those proofs…since this is true, then we know this is true…and it happens here too. Father I pray for them, IN ORDER THAT they be one…that they be unified, IN ORDER THAT we may be with them and they with us, IN ORDER THAT the world may come to know that you sent me. And they will believe that you sent me IN ORDER THAT your glory may be in them, and if your glory is in them, then your name is glorified in them IN ORDER THAT your love is in them, IN ORDER THAT the world may know your love. (pause)

Its all moving forward…its all moving towards something…and in the end, it seems like God is working in the world, which has been redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the end result of this work, which we have not yet reached…is unity…that we may be unified as the one body of Christ, and that the one body of Christ may be unified with God…and as Jesus says…so that where we are, they may be also…that’s where this is all going…and Jesus desires it…not only for those guys sitting at the table that night, but for you and me…and everyone that has come before us and everyone that will come after…that in the end, we may all be unified…that we may all be one. (pause)
Now, how does all this work? Well, I have no idea…but I do know that it involves the power of the Holy Spirit…which Jesus is about to send our direction at Pentecost…the Spirit of God which flows through the world…empowering the church…and empowering us as individuals to join with God in this work of unification.

And what I do know is this…it is only possible because of the hand of God at work…because there are way too many different forces at work here in the world that are trying to push back against God’s invitation forward towards unity…the powers of sin and death…the powers of darkness and destruction…powers that we see first-hand on a regular basis…because pretty much every time we open up the obituaries…there’s another one in there…and death is only one of the forces that work against the unity that God desires for us and with us.

All we need to do is turn on the news and we witness more…anytime the world…which unfortunately includes us as well…tries to throw up some sort of barrier…whatever that barrier is…division based on race, or gender, or economic status, or age, or orientation…and even here within the realm of the church…divisions and judgements based on denomination or Biblical interpretation or tradition.

We create barriers to unity all the time…but praise be to God that no matter what we throw at it…the world…this realty…this creation that we live in…God is moving it forward whether we like it or not…whether we come on board or not…whether we take God’s invitation to join in this work of reconciliation or not…its happening. (pause)

You know interestingly enough, I sat down with several of our members throughout this week, talking about this very subject…and right after one of those conversations, I had the radio playing in the background…and one of those really catchy songs came on…you know the type…the ones that even if you don’t like them, you hear it and it catches your attention.

And this song that came on the radio was Taylor Swift… (sing it) We…are never ever ever…getting back together. (pause) And the more I thought about that blasted song the more it seemed fitting.  Because all that dark stuff within our reality…whatever it is…its trying tooth and nail to keep us apart…to keep us separated…and the world and all the divisions that we create might tell us “We’re never getting back together…its too far gone…never gonna happen.” But God says…Oh yah…you just wait and see.

We may not get it now…because God works in ways that go far beyond our ability to see or do or understand…and what God’s up to doesn’t always make sense to us…in fact the work of God often times to be the polar opposite of what logic says should happen.

And as much as I might love math…and the way that it always works…the unity that God is working towards even throws that for a loop…because math may tell us that 1 plus 1 equals 2…but it seems to me that Jesus is saying that 1 plus 1 equals 1…at least it will when its all said and done. Amen

How Is God Revealed 5-26-19

In this sermon, based on John 14:23-39, I explore a bit of Jesus’ farewell to the disciples at the Last Supper. This is, perhaps, odd here in the Easter Season, but is still fitting.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/how-is-god-revealed-5-26-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord and Savior be yours, now and forever. Amen

Every once in a while, we need to toot our own horns…we need to recognize something important, or even special about ourselves. This is good to do for our own mental health and wellness…and so I’m gonna toot my own horn for a sec.

I pride myself in being pretty sharp in most situations.  I’ve got a quick enough mind that I can usually make connections and figure things out pretty rapidly…and I’m proud of that fact. (pause) But…there are exceptions to every rule…and I wonder if anyone else can relate.

Have you ever had a situation where you were utterly slow on the uptake?  A time where you just couldn’t put the pieces together? Where something that should be obvious…for whatever reason, just wouldn’t click?  If so, you are in good company.

I’m thinking back to summer of 1998…my second summer on staff up at Ingham Lake Bible Camp…and a bit of relationship dynamics.  There was a good friend that I knew from the previous summer…and I knew that she had a new boyfriend…and I also knew that this mysterious new boyfriend was on staff for the summer over at the Okoboji site…but what I didn’t know was who he was.

Now, we cycled through the first few weeks of camp, along with the subsequent weekends of free time…and I had noticed this guy from Okoboji who had spent the weekends there at Ingham a couple of times…but I had no idea who this guy was…until finally…after WAY to long I realized…OH…that’s the new boyfriend…which caused pretty else on staff to reply “DUH!!!!”  Admittedly, not my smartest moment.

But you know what, I can’t help but think that I’m in good company…and this same sense of not quite being able to realize, or to recognize the truth of what’s right in front us…it seems like the disciples share it too…in fact, I can’t help but think that just about everyone who was walking around Israel in the time of Jesus was facing this exact same issue. (pause)
Now the passage that we have shared today is a small portion of Jesus’ final words to the disciples at the Last Supper.  Following this time, he’ll be arrested…and then killed…and then he’ll rise again and appear to his followers off and on for about 40 days until he’s taken back into Heaven on Ascension Day.

And this whole batch of teaching…this back and forth exchange with the disciples…it features a few questions.  You’d think that after 3 years together and all they had seen and heard and witnessed and experienced…that the disciples would be able to connect the dots…but instead…we find evidence of ongoing confusion.

It starts off with Peter…who’s listening to Jesus talk about the new commandment to love one another…by this everyone will know you are my disciples. (Slowly raise hand) Uh…Jesus…where are you going?
(facepalm) Ok Peter…let me explain…and Jesus goes on.

A minute later Jesus tells them “you know way to where I am going.”  And now its Thomas (slowly raise hand) Uh…Jesus…we don’t know where you’re going…how can we know the way? (facepalm)  Jesus goes on…talking about how they already know the Father, because they know him…and this time its Philip (slowly raise hand) Uh…Jesus…if you show us the Father, we’ll be satisfied. (facepalm)

Suppose Jesus is getting irritated yet?  This time he carries on for a little longer, before one more question from Judas…not that Judas…the other Judas…because Jesus has been reminding them of the connection that they share through him…and through him with the divine…and that as he departs, he will not leave them alone but will send the Holy Spirit…and that through the power of the Spirit, God will abide with them…and then he reminds them of the importance of love for one another…and that in the expression of love, that’s how God will be revealed…and with that, Judas (slowly raise hand) Uh…Jesus…why do you reveal yourself to us and not the world? (facepalm and pause).

I’ll be honest…I half expect Jesus to just blow up on these guys…throw his hands up and head out to find a new batch of followers who might figure things out before his arrest a few minutes later….but that’s not what happens…and instead, we have the subtle reminder from Jesus that we are to love God and love one another…and that this will be possible because of the presence of the Holy Spirit among us and within us…that is the promise.

Now, it probably makes sense that Jesus would remind them of this…that he would continue to share it at this point…just before his death…but it also important for us to be reminded of these same words here at the end of the Easter season.  This Thursday is Ascension Day…the time when Jesus’ bodily form leaves earth, before the arrival of the Spirit 10 days later at Pentecost.

We can call this a lot of things…a goodbye…a parting shot…acknowledgement of the way things are going to change…but at the same time…while many things are changing…some things are staying the same…and one of those universal things…both in this back and forth between Jesus and the disciples, as well as the countless interactions that we’ve heard in recent weeks from different people who just want a straight answer about Jesus and his identity…not to mention 2000 years of history where the church has continued to wrestle with many of these same questions.

Who is this God? Who is this Jesus…What is the Holy Spirit?  What does it mean to love our neighbors? What does the peace of Jesus look like?  Seriously…how many questions can we raise just from this short little passage today?  Tons?  And when we consider all of scripture in its entirety…the list would probably be unending.

But you know what…that’s not a bad thing…Jesus doesn’t get upset with the disciples when they fail to connect the dots…he doesn’t get irritated when they come up short, lacking understanding…because I think Jesus knows that when it comes to faith…or the divine…or the action of God in the world…we’re just not capable of making all those connections…its bigger than we are…its beyond us…but…Jesus also welcomes the questions.

And I think that’s the take away today…that faith doesn’t mean everything is cut and dry…following Christ doesn’t mean that every question is answered and can be recited in some meme-worthy sound-bite.  Faith is hard…and making sense of Jesus’ words and the scriptures and the ongoing action of God in continually inviting our reality forward…its confusing.

But can this be a place where those questions are okay…where we can ask them confidently…and together we can explore where those questions might take us?  Is that what Jesus is talking about when he says that the Holy Spirit will teach us…and will remind us of his words? Is that the sense of peace that he’s going to leave us with? A peace in knowing that its okay to not know?  Maybe…I hope so. (pause)

Its funny…because this brief little passage is one that reveals the Holy Trinity to us. Jesus is speaking of the Father…and he is speaking of the Holy Spirit…all three…but we know how confusing that three in one God is don’t we?

That was a question that kept coming up in Confirmation this past year…because Jesus is God…we learn that in the opening verses of John’s Gospel…but if Jesus is God…who’s he praying to? And does that somehow mean that Jesus is his own dad?  And how’s the Spirit of God connect into this whole thing?  We went round and round with that question…and we never came up with a satisfactory answer…even if the truth was staring right in the face…but maybe we don’t have to.

Maybe the peace of Christ is the assurance that we don’t have to get all that stuff figured out in order for it to still be true…maybe all we have to do is remember the command that Jesus gives us over and over again…to love one another.

Because that’s how he answers Judas’ question. How will you be revealed to the world?  Jesus says, love one another…that’s how you keep my word…and in doing so my father and I will dwell among you. (pause)

You know love is hard…especially in those moments when our selfishness ramps up…and the love that Jesus keeps talking about…its Agape love…which is perfect, all in, sacrificial love…and we all know how hard that is…but maybe, just maybe, when we see or feel or experience those tiny little glimmers of that agape love in the midst of our brokenness…well then we get a tiny little glimmer of the presence of the divine dwelling among us.  (pause)
How is God revealed?  That my friends…is a good…question. Amen

How Revolting 5-19-19

In this sermon, based on Acts 11:1-18, I explore the mind-blowing action of the Holy Spirit moving across cultural boundaries in the expansion of the church. This action is still going on as we are invited into deeper levels of inclusion.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/how-revolting-5-19-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord be yours, now and forever. Amen

There is a scene from the movie Highlander that I love.  In a flashback to the mid-1500’s the main character, who is Scottish by the way…is trying to learn proper balance by standing up in a row boat…and when his mentor shakes the boat he cries out “You stupid haggis!”  “Haggis…what is haggis?”  “Sheep stomach stuffed with meat and barley.” “And what do you do with it?”  “You eat it.”  “How revolting.” (pause)

Its kind of a silly thing…but it reveals a certain truth. There are some things that might seem quite common to one person…but because of countless differences between individuals…that same thing might seem utterly crazy…disgusting…revolting even.

Based on that example…we’re probably thinking of odd or exotic foods…like haggis…or lutefisk for us Scandanavians…but this idea can certainly expand into a lot of different realms as well…like jobs or tasks that an individual might take on…even be used to it…but to someone who is unfamiliar it turns the stomach…like someone who works in a sewer treatment plant…or a caretaker in a big industrial chicken farm…or the poor guy who has to drive the rendering truck around and pick up dead animals. (pause) I’m sure we can all think of those types of things…something that just seems utterly wrong…so wrong that our reaction is revulsion. (pause)

Now “revulsion,” that’s a strong word isn’t it? One that we probably don’t really use that often…but it’s a good one…and I think it expresses an extreme reaction…not just dislike…but the sense of being completely repulsed by something…or even someone.

And that sense right there…I want you to hold onto that…because this very sense helps explain the mentality that Peter was facing in today’s story that we heard out of Acts. (pause)

Now at this point…the Jesus movement…or the way of Christ, or the church, or Christianity…whatever we want to call it…its pretty well been limited within the confines of the Jewish faith up to this point.  Jesus’ own action and ministry, with a few notable exceptions, has been aimed at the lost sheep of Israel.

Following his ascension right at the beginning of Acts, the tiny group of his followers are empowered by the Holy Spirit during the festival of Pentecost…and following an impassioned sermon from Peter, 3000 Jewish people became believers.  A couple chapters later we hear about 5000 more…but up to this point…we’ve yet to see the Gospel REALLY cross those cultural boundaries and reach the Gentiles…

That is, until Acts chapter 10…when Peter has a vision regarding Jewish dietary restrictions that repeats itself a few times until he starts to get the bigger picture…and then he’s summoned off to Caesarea and the home of Cornelius…a Gentile and Centurion in the Roman Army…Peter enters his home…having learned in his repeating vision that God shows no partiality and that the “unclean nature” of Gentiles should not stop him…he shares the gospel…the entire household believes…the Holy Spirit shows up just as it did to the disciples at Pentecost…and moved by the Spirit, Peter baptizes the entire household…all that happens in chapter 10.

But hold on a sec. Look back at your bulletins…doesn’t it also happen in chapter 11?  Didn’t we read pretty much that exact thing in chapter 11? Yah we did…so why the repeat?  Why, when Luke was putting all this together did he feel the need to tell the story, and then have Peter turn around and tell it again? Why the repeat? (pause)

Well…when someone repeats themselves in scripture, its usually important right? And as we hear today…Peter is telling this story to the believers in Jerusalem…and especially to his critics…who we hear are the circumcised believers. (pause)

Let’s take a second here.  Circumcise believers…Jewish believers…those who follow the Law…those who cling to the idea that followers of Christ, must be Jewish…that its open to anyone, as long as they’ve first fulfilled the law…and you know what part of that Law says?  That you should not break bread with Gentiles…you should not even enter their house…because to do so makes YOU unclean…and therefore unfit to come before God. (pause)  And did you notice…that’s their complaint…as Peter shares the news of this AMAZING new development empowered by the Holy Spirit and the shared gift of the Spirit beyond cultural boundaries…the only thing they pick up on is the revolting reality that Peter entered the house of a Gentile.  (pause)
Can you believe that…that these guys are SO caught up in “the rules” and proper order or whatever we want to call it that they seem to completely miss the enormity of what Peter is telling them.

But you know what…its not just “the rules.” It seems to go deeper than that…these guys seem to be utterly disgusted…revolted at the very idea of sharing space and time and food with Gentiles…it just does not compute as even being possible…and yet…as Peter shares his experience…as he shares what he witnessed…how the hearing of the good news of Christ brought the Spirit and the gift of faith upon this household, regardless of their culture or nationality…regardless of their background…and Peter shares the mind-blowing insight that he has learned…I know that God shows no partiality.

I can only imagine how amazing this was for Peter and the fellow believers who were with him…for the gift of the Holy Spirit comes upon Cornelius and his family in exactly the same way as it had for Peter and the others…no differences…we find that in the first account of this story…and in his own joyous astonishment, Peter says “If God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God.” (pause)

Who are we to hinder that which God is up to? (pause) I think that’s a question that we all need to be asking ourselves…because the Spirit blows where it will…bringing the gift of faith into countless places and people that we think are lost causes…over and over again we hear in the scriptures…and sometimes we see with our own eyes…the way that God shows up where we least expect it…even among those who we think are unworthy…even those who we have no desire to associate with…even those who we might find revolting if we are honest with ourselves. (pause)

So who is that?  Who might the Holy Spirit be working among…having brought the gift of faith…who might God be calling even if we think it breaks the rules?  That’s a question that the church has long wrestled with in countless different situations…some of which seem to have settled…and some of which are still ongoing.

Here in the Lutheran church…or at least our branch of it…we’ve been ordaining women for almost 50 years…and that’s a good thing…because they are called and they are empowered by that same Spirit…and yet there are many, both individuals and groups, who still deny their legitimacy…who try to make them somehow less because of their gender. And what’s worse, they use scripture as a weapon to do it.

That’s just one example…there are countless more…and I can only think that when we fall in this trap, we are somehow denying the very personhood…the true identity of the individual…denying their mutual humanity and the truth that they are bearers of the divine image.

Who is God calling that we don’t agree with?  Who is God empowering that we just can’t wrap our heads around…because its been drilled into us by tradition that “it doesn’t work that way.” Or because our own personal prejudice or more often fear of the unknown whispers a lie in our ear to make us believe that they are somehow less…or unacceptable…or maybe Christianity’s favorite trope…that they are too sinful. (pause)

Over and over again, the story of scripture reveals mind-blowing ways that God continues to invite us forward…and this tends to reveal itself with ever increases examples of inclusion that crosses the boundaries created by society…and each and every time a line is drawn in the sand about who is in and who is out…we find Jesus on the other side. (pause)

Peter says “who am I that I could hinder God?” God will not be hindered…the Holy Spirit will not be limited because of our narrowmindedness, whether we like it or not…because the Gospel of Christ is WAY TOO big for our petty limitations to keep under control, and we find this in the very end of the book of Acts, as the Gospel of Christ and the kingdom of God is proclaimed with all boldness and WITHOUT…HINDRANCE.

Here’s the thing folks…the Spirit’s not done yet either…whatever was going on when Peter interacted with Cornelius…you better believe it was mind-blowing…Peter himself had to experience this vision 3 different times before he finally started opening up to it.  Then his critics in Jerusalem had to hear evidence, not only from him, but from 6 other people that the Spirit had in fact acted across racial and cultural boundaries before they could accept it…this was no easy thing…and I’m guessing it wasn’t just cut and dry…easy peasy…for any of them.

But that’s the radical nature of God’s amazing Grace made manifest through Jesus Christ…it goes beyond all logic…it goes beyond all understanding…and it breaks EVERY barrier…it has to, or its not grace.

So who might be our Cornelius?  Who might God be calling US into faithful relationship with…into shared communion…into this ONE body of Christ on earth?  That’s something we always need to be paying attention to…because the moment we wrap our heads around one mind-blowing situation on inclusion, God’s probably starting to prep the next one for us.

And you know what, that’s a good thing…because if God’s grace is really THAT big…well that means that its big enough for me…no matter how revolting that might have been for someone else, that God would chose to love me. That’s the amazing grace of God folks…and it really is THAT big.   Amen.