Posts Tagged ‘judgement’

Wrong Place Wrong Time 3-24-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 13:1-9, I explore Jesus brief but important teaching on the question of tragic deaths being the result of judgment on sin.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/wrong-place-wrong-time-3-24-19

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

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

Out of curiosity…how many of you have had the unfortunate experience of hitting a deer with your car? (pause) Anyone out there had it happen more than once? (pause) In my immediate family, my older brother holds the record…you won’t believe this but its true…he’s made contact with not one…not two…not five…but…12…12 different deer.  Honestly makes my number of 4 seem almost quaint. But that’s my number. In the roughly 25 years that I’ve been driving, 4 times I’ve smacked a deer.

But in addition to the 4 deer that I have hit…I know there have been quite a few close calls…times when one ran across the road in front of me…or it was in the ditch and it stayed put…and in addition to that…I sometimes wonder how many close calls I had that I wasn’t even aware of…like the ones I don’t see, but unwittingly drive right past…or the ones that crossed the road a minute before I got there…and if I’d left a minute earlier, I’d have hit it. It’s probably a weird thing to consider, but sometimes I think like that…the what-ifs. The disasters that were averted or avoided out of dumb luck.

Lord knows I’ve had my share of close calls…you might have heard the story of the wreck I experienced with three of my friends the summer after I graduated high school…how we rolled a car down the middle of the highway, but beyond a few pretty superficial cuts and scrapes, we were all ok…but if something had gone even slightly different any of us or all four of us could have died…but we didn’t.

When I think about moments like that…I can’t help but think of the flip side…those times when it didn’t go okay…and I know many of you have seen this type of thing before. We can call it a lot of things…bad luck…being in the wrong place at the wrong time…tragedies of one kind or another…and when they happen we begin to ask the question of why? Or how…what does it mean…or what are we supposed to think?

I’ve had that conversation with many of you over the past few years when tragic events have happened…like the death of a high school student in a car wreck last fall.  Or countless others in surrounding communities in the last few years.

I’ve heard the questions around the diagnosis of cancer…and in the death of those we lost to it…I’ve heard it in conversation about the mental decline of loved ones…when we see their personality disappear and the person we knew isn’t there anymore.

We ask it when we hear news of children fighting diseases…knowing they might not beat it.  Or when natural disasters rip through an area leaving devastation…you name it…these tragic events and moments happen all the time and they take many forms.

And that’s nothing new…because the same sort of thing happened during Jesus’ time as well…and we hear about it in today’s gospel lesson.  Two different events that resulted in tragic death. Now we don’t really know the details of either one of these events that Jesus references…those details have been lost to history…but we can make some assumptions.

The tower of Siloam…likely some sort of a watch tower or observation point along the wall that surrounded the city of Jersualem…we don’t know quite what happened beyond the tower collapsing…probably some sort of freak accident…but due to a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, 18 people died…either crushed under the collapse or perhaps inside the tower when it fell. A tragic accident.

The other one…well that one seems a little more devious.  Jesus is told about a batch of Galileans whose blood was mixed with their sacrifice.  Again…we don’t know the details, but we can make assumptions.  There was only one place where they’d be making sacrifices…and that’s in the temple there in Jerusalem…we don’t know why Pilate targets them…perhaps thinking they were involved with a treasonous plot…but for whatever reason…Pilate decides to put his cruelty and absolute authority on display by having them killed…in the midst of their act of worship.

And that’s the thing that makes this one sting even more than the other…this was act of terrorism…designed to instill fear in a group of people…in a culture…done so in a place and time of worship…the one place where no one should feel unsafe.

And that one hits close to home…because how many times have we seen it in recent memory?  More than I can count…acts of terrorism, perpetrated on people because they are different…because they look different or act different…because of a different race or different faith. We saw it cross racial boundaries when 9 people were killed during a Bible Study 4 years ago in Charleston.

We saw it cross faith boundaries when 11 were killed in a synagogue in Pittsburgh last fall…and we saw it when 50 people died in New Zealand, as they gathered to pray in 2 different mosques less than 10 days ago. (pause) I wish I could say these are the only examples…but we all know better…because evil has permeated our world with lies that say different is bad…or lies that say being a non-white non-Christian equals a death sentence…Now in hindsight, these lies are utterly absurd aren’t they? In fact they are stupid…and they are dangerous…and they result in tragedies like this.

But in the moment when these tragedies happen, there seems to be a question that surrounds these things…the question that begins “why?”  But then it seems that human nature tries to find a reason when there is none…and that question will usually find its way around to asking “Did they deserve it?” I believe its true now…and it was true in Jesus’ day…and we find that in his response.

Do you think that these Galileans suffered because they were worse sinners than all others?  Do you think that the 18 killed in the tower collapse were worse sinners than anyone else living there? Jesus offers a resounding No to both of these questions and I believe that he would offer the exact same response if he was here in the conversations that we’ve been having.

Did they deserve it?  Why would they? Because they look different?  Because they worship differently?  Because their understanding of that which is divine is expressed differently?  Or because they’re bad people?   Do we hear how ridiculous that sounds? (pause)

Whenever stuff like this happens…whenever there are questions that have no good answers…or we find ourselves just a little bit off because of the way things are going…what do we do with that?  I wish I had a good answer…some little nugget of wisdom that I could pull out like a magic pill that would just solve everything, or tie it all up in a neat little package.

But the world doesn’t work like that…and sometimes that only thing we can say in face of tragedies that lead to questions with no answers is to acknowledge that the world is a broken place and it is filled with broken people.  Did those people die because they were sinners? Jesus says no…and in doing so Jesus reminds us that if death was the result of a person’s sinfulness then we would all be dead already.

But that’s not what Jesus says…he tells us to repent…and maybe, just maybe what he’s saying is that those people are dead and that is a tragedy….but you are still alive to hear this news…so repent. (pause)

None are righteous, not one…but God loves us anyway…and God gives the opportunity to turn away from the brokenness that has permeated our world and our relationships and even ourselves…and to turn back to the good existence that God desires for all of humanity. That’s what repentance means…to quite literally turn away from…and to turn back to something else.

Now this is not to say that we will be perfect and will in some way earn salvation or righteousness or God’s favor…this is to say that we recognize the brokenness as it is…and we turn to the one who is able to do something about it. Because as much as we shake our heads and ask what’s wrong with this world…we have a God who seems to do the very same thing…but this God is also capable of more…and through whatever it was that God was accomplishing through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…God is bringing this broken and flawed reality towards something new.

We are not there yet…and that is painfully obvious more often than not…but in the act of repentance, which we are called to every day…we are also accepting the invitation of our Lord to join together in the work of reconciling this broken world back to the one who made it Good in the first place.

And that one is the only one who is righteous enough to say whether or not “they deserved it.” That’s not our place to say…whether we like it or not…but we are honest with ourselves, we place ourselves in that judgement seat don’t we?  Maybe, just maybe, that’s why we’re being called to repentance on this day, and in this time. (pause)

This is pretty heavy stuff…but maybe its exactly what we all need to hear now during this season of Lent…as we continue to look towards the cross…the cost of what Jesus will endure to begin this work of reconciling this broken world back to God. We’re all a part of it…but God has offered the solution to the world…let’s all turn ourselves back to that…remembering that in the face of death, whether it is our own…or someone that we care about…or some faceless stranger on the other side of the world…that death has not come to spite us because of our sin…sometimes we’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time…but the promise of the gospel…the promise that we cling to, is that God is bigger than death…and that no matter the circumstances, God will always get the last word. Amen.

I Am Not That Big 6-21-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 4:35-41, which is the story of Jesus calming the storm. In it I address those powers in the world that remind us how small and powerless we are, leading into addressing the shootings in Charleston SC.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-am-not-big-enough-6-21-15

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

There are times as a runner…when I think I’m pretty fast. At my normal pace…I can cover a mile in about 8 minutes…give or take…its not record setting by any means…but its not bad…unless you compare me to car….because 8 minutes in a car can take you from the truck stop out by the interstate up to Neola to park at the Community Center…a little more impressive…or take it up a notch to a plane flying along at the speed of sound, where 8 minutes is sufficient to cover about 100 miles…but even that pales in comparison to the fastest speed that we know of…the speed light…where 8 minutes can cover the distance from the Earth to the Sun…8 minutes to cover nearly 93 thousand miles.

Light is pretty fast isn’t it…and it has to be as it covers distances that we can’t even fathom. 8 minutes from the Sun to the Earth…but what about some of our friends out there at the far reaches of our solar system…take Pluto for example…the same light that takes 8 minutes to get to us…takes 330 minutes to reach Pluto…that’s 5.5 hours…a far amount of time…but then considering that the light has to travel 3.67 BILLION miles…maybe that’s not shabby…because Pluto…well…it’s a long way out there…but you know what…the Galaxy…that might as well be beyond measure…That light from the sun…which gets to us in 8 minutes….and covers almost 4 billion miles in a few hours…takes more than 4 YEARS…to reach the nearest star.

Kinda mind boggling isn’t it…when we try to wrap our heads around just how far away things are, even within our Solar System…in fact its almost impossible to judge just how big the universe is…but when we try to…doesn’t it make us feel pretty small? (pause)

Have you ever experienced something that made you realize just how small you are…or perhaps how powerless you are? (pause) I’ve heard many different stories over the years of people who have found themselves in a situation like this…for instance, standing at the base of a mountain, looking up…or being on the seashore, looking out over the ocean…other stories have included events, often natural disasters the unleash the power of the world we live in…like earthquakes, or tsunamis, or giant storms like hurricanes or tornados…these moments when we witness the fury of nature…the destruction…and as we stand there looking straight it, doesn’t it make us feel small…insignificant…or even…powerless?

That realization…that there is nothing that we can do to overcome the power being unleashed against us in that moment…regardless of our wisdom or ability or strength, we…are…powerless…ever had an experience like that? (pause) Because that is exactly what’s going on in today’s story. (pause)

Following a day of teaching the crowds here on the homefront…Jesus decides that its time for a change of scenery…and so he tells his disciples…hey guys…let’s head across the lake here…head on over to the other side…and in an important side note, we also hear that its evening…and so as they set out to cross the sea of Galilee…a trip of somewhere between 8 and 13 miles depending on their direction…night is falling.

Night time on the sea…which, incidentally…is exactly when fishermen would be out on the water in their boats…trying to catch fish…and if you recall…at least 4 of the disciples were fishermen…and so for them, this would be nothing new.

They know how to navigate the sea…they know how to handle a boat…and they’re familiar with the fact that storms can and do, come up out of nowhere…and also, keep in mind that at this point, all of the disciples are still alive, so it stands to reason that these guys have lived through storms out on the water before….they’ve got the ability…they’ve got the know-how. (pause) Until…this time.

Because as they make it part way across the water…long enough for Jesus to konk out on a pillow…up comes a storm…but apparently not just any storm…this is one of those storms that I talked about earlier…one of those storms that makes the disciples realize just how small they are…and they completely…LOSE it.

How crazy must this storm have been…how strong was the wind…how big were the waves to have this sort of effect on these experienced sailors? (pause) One can only imagine…but how ever intense it was…however daunting it was…for these guys…this is it…its all over…and believe it or not…the one person who can do something about it…the one person they trust to get them out of danger…is sleeping…JESUS!!! TEACHER!!! Don’t you care that we are dying? (pause)

I’ve been thinking a lot about that this week…and not just giant storms and crashing waves…but those things in our lives…those events…those oppressive forces that act upon us…sometimes out of nowhere…that have us reeling…those things that make us lose it…those things that show us in that moment just how small and powerless we are…and as I’ve thought about it, I know that those things look different for each of us…but they happen…and for several of you sitting out there today…you’re still facing those events right now…you are staring that storm in the face…and in fact, when we’re honest with ourselves…aren’t we all in that boat…facing a storm that too much for us? That storm that is showing us just how much we are NOT…in control, no matter how much we like to tell ourselves that we are?

Diseases…financial problems…emotional issues…family strife…these are just a few of the storms that rage out there that we face in our lives…and there are others too…other forces…other powers that exist in the world whether we want to acknowledge them or not…and one of these powers is the power of sin…the power of darkness that continues to flow through this world and when we stop and think about it…when we are brave enough to admit the truth…then we realize that there is nothing that we can do about it.

And now I’m not talking about those petty little things that we do each and every day like stubbing our toe and swearing about it or getting short with one another…I’m talking about the power of sin in this world…the power that has warped our reality and our existence into that which is against the will of God…the power that has lied to us to make us think that it is all about me…and that I’m the only one that’s important and everything else needs to just get out of my way…

When I think about that power…the image that comes to mind is that of a giant wave rushing in at me as I stand on the shoreline, knowing that in mere seconds I am finished and there’s nothing I can do about it.

That’s the power of sin in this world…whether we want to admit it or not…and we are CONSTANTLY being reminded of that…and we constantly face evidence that this power is still present…and that power manifests itself in the hate that we are still so capable of…the hate that rears its ugly head and shatters lives…the hate that exists for no reason what so ever…regardless of our tendency to deny it or to try and explain it away. (pause)

Last Wednesday evening…that needless hate manifested in the cold blooded murder of 9 people as they gathered in a church around the word of God…the murder of 9 people condemned to die because of the color their skin….9 people hated because they are different. (pause)

When I first heard of this tragedy in Charleston SC, I was shocked…and as I added it to the mental checklist of so many other tragedies that keep happening, my initial response is that I feel powerless…powerless because I don’t understand it…I cannot wrap my head around the notion of this needless…pointless hate…this judgment passes on another human being based on the color of their skin…yet this is a battle that we have been fighting in this country for decades…and as much as we might want to tell ourselves that we’ve come so far…moments like this show us that no we haven’t. (pause)

Judgment….prejudice…it runs rampant…everywhere…and I’m not just talking about racial tension here…because the second I think I’m above that sort of thing I look in the mirror, and I recognize the needless judgment that I pass in my mind against individuals for different reasons…and as we look around society today…its everywhere. Race, gender, age, orientation…political affiliation…economic status…and that’s just scratching the surface…and it stems from this lie that sin places in our heads that for whatever reason, I’m better than you. (pause)
But we don’t want to admit it do we? We want everything to stay pleasant…and maintain this myth that we aren’t prone to it…but I’ll say it…yes we are…we are not immune…I’ve seen in this part of the country…I’ve seen it here in our nice friendly state…I’ve seen it in our community…I’ve seen it here in our congregation…and yes…I include myself because I see it when I look in the mirror. (pause)

Now rest assured, its not my intention to get political here today…its really not…I won’t tell you how you should think, or what opinions you can or can’t have…and I sure as heck won’t be telling you how you should be voting…

But what I do hope for is that we can take an honest look at ourselves…and recognize this wave coming at us…this power of darkness…this power of sin that’s crashing over us whether we want to admit to it or not.

And in these moments when we recognize just how small we are…just how powerless we are, the only thing we can do is follow the example of the disciples and cry out to Jesus…because he does care…and just as he calmed the sea…just as he beat those waves that were crashing down on the disciple he has already beaten the wave of sin that crashed down on us…its already finished.

And in the meantime, we can and must continue to ask for forgiveness in those times when we pass needless judgment…when we place ourselves above others…and then we remember what Jesus told us to do…Love God…and love your neighbor…And maybe, just maybe when we start doing that through the power of Christ living in us and through us…well then maybe we’ll start representing the body of Christ on Earth…maybe we’ll start shining like that light in the darkness…and maybe, just maybe we can start seeing one another like God sees us all…as His beloved child….and I hope and pray that with God’s help, we will come through this storm to whatever glorious destination awaits us on the other side of the sea.

And it has to be with God’s help…because alone…I’m not strong enough, or wise enough…I’m not big enough…but God is…and thankfully through the blood of Christ spilled on that cross, He forgives us for being so small. Amen.

Salvation is for All…But What Does That Mean

Today’s lectionary reading comes from Romans 10:5-10. This is a portion of what has been called the “Romans Road” in some circles. This title is based on the notion that Romans presents Paul’s strongest argument or message of the Gospel of Christ. While I question whether or not this is actually the case, I do agree that Romans is a great book. This portion is not exception. That being said, it does add fuel to the fire that rages in my own mind as I struggle with the idea of the universality of Christ’s sacrifice. More on that in a bit.

Within this portion of Romans, Paul is making a comparison between the law and faith in Christ. Moses comes into the argument, though briefly. In short, it is very apparent in these 5 verses (and particularly in about 2 of them) that Paul places all his eggs in the Jesus basket. As I go back and reread this section of scripture again, I notice that Paul seems to strike down the act of questioning within the realm of final judgement.Interestingly enough that relates to my question of universality, so maybe this is a beneficial road for me to go down as well. Let’s see where it takes us.

First Paul lays out the questions that all too often come to mind for us…”Who will go to heaven” and “who will go to hell” (verses 6-7). Speaking as a confirmation teacher to junior high students, I know that this is a common question. I think many people face this same question at many different times in their lives. Obviously I’m still dealing with it as well. In a nutshell, I think this question of “which direction will that person go?” falls into the category of judgement. The danger of asking ourselves this question (and worse yet trying to answer it) places us in the judgement seat…and that is a seat that none of us have any business sitting in. Christ himself will sit there at the proper time…for reference, remember the Apostles Creed, second article…He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

So that being said, I begin to see what Paul is saying when he tells us “righteousness that comes from faith says ‘Do not say in your heard who will ascend into heaven…or who will descend into the abyss…” Namely, he’s saying that if our faith is sincere, we don’t even need to consider these questions. We realize that our own salvation is found in faith and we are in no place to pass judgement on others. Now at this point, Paul goes on to explain faith a little closer. “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (verse 9). He goes on as well…hitting the point a little harder in verse 10. “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”

Now, hiding here in these two verses, and specifically in verse 9 lies the key to why we cannot be the judge. First he says that we must confess Jesus as Lord…well yes, I agree, this is crucial…but anyone can say the words. In my opinion the “confession” is not the key because we have the ability to say anything….simply saying it doesn’t make it true.  But now the next part is a little harder…believe in your heart. Here’s the real key. Do you actually believe it? Only you know for sure…well you and the one that can actually look into your heart…God himself. Only God has the ability to judge what is truly in our hearts. We, as humans, do not have the ability to make that call for someone else…period…end of story.

Now Paul does go on with further explanation of this concept in the following verses, and so I invite you to read on for further clarification if this is still unclear.

I on the other hand am going to circle back around to the notion of universality. Now, you should note that I do this carefully. The idea earned Rob Bell a lot of criticism when he released his book Love Wins a year or so ago. But it is a question that I struggle with. If Christ came to save the world (John 1), but Romans tells us that we must believe in our heart and confess it, then is there a condition? I’ll clarify…by condition I don’t mean to indicate that we have anything to do with our salvation…I’m way too Lutheran in my thinking to go there. Rather, I go back to the idea that faith comes from the Holy Spirit. Specifically that it is the word of God within us that allows us to understand and thus have faith in Christ.

There’s the tricky part for me…or more so the question…If faith comes from God, then why do some have it and some don’t? If God wants all to be saved (John 1 again)…then why does the Spirit only “place” faith in certain people? Do we have the ability to resist? The whole notion of free will certainly plays into this personal mental argument that I find myself in.

In short, I don’t have the answer and that’s why I’m still wrestling with this topic.  Today, as I read Romans 10, I take a little bit of solace in the notion that I know the truth that’s in my own heart and is confessed on my lips. Jesus is Lord and he died for the salvation of my sins.  I can rest in that…and I can pray that when I confess it, the Holy Spirit will use it to stir the heart of someone else. I can’t make it happen, but I can hope for it. Today that’s enough.