Posts Tagged ‘Kingdom of Heaven’

Be Salty 2-9-20

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

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

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

The Sun Will Come Out 2-2-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Remembered 11-24-19

This sermon for Christ the King Sunday is based on Luke 23:33-43. It is perhaps strange to consider a passage in which we hear of Jesus on the cross as the basis for his kingship in the kingdom of heaven, and yet that is precisely what we find.  Christ’s example reminds us that true power and authority is not found in strength or military might, but in weakness.

You can list to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/to-be-remembered-11-24-19

Note that this was another extemporaneous sermon, so there is no text to follow along with.  Likewise, the audio is weak, so you’ll need to turn up your volume about the 1:26 mark.
(As I continue with this experimental style of preaching, I’ll be exploring alternate audio recording options to overcome this current situation.)

Humility 9-1-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 14:1, 7-14, I explore an odd teaching from Jesus based on his observations and encounter at a special meal. He sheds light on how our social status effects us, but reminds us that there is only one opinion that’s ultimately important.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/humility-9-1-19

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

Assigned seating is not something that I give a great deal of thought to…I don’t think I’ve had assigned seating since high school…but that being said…I also know that humans are creatures of habit…and because of this, we tend to have our normal spots where we sit. I see this with you folks here at church…always sitting in “your pews.” I also see this at home, as my family sits down at the table for a meal…each of us has our spot…even our cat who thinks her spot is right in the middle of the table.

But beyond that…there’s only one situation that really applies in the idea of assigned seats…or maybe it would be more accurate to say seating according to status…in the car…now its worth noting that of my family…my wife is now the shortest, as both of the kids have passed her up…and yet…she is really good at claiming the front passenger seat. Normally I’m the one driving, and the kids are regulated to the back so she can have the roomy passenger seat…and when they argue, especially my son who is nearly as tall as I am…she just says “I’m the momma…I’ve earned this spot” and that’s the end of the discussion. (pause)

Now this idea of assigned seating…or maybe a better way of saying it is seating based on merit…its on display in the gospel for today…and I’ve gotta admit it…this whole situation that Jesus is talking about is a pretty foreign one.  For the most part, we don’t get seating based on status…at least not in most of the events or dinners that I’m a part of…but in Jesus’ day, this was very common.

Status or class…importance within a community…all of that figured in to where you’d end up placed at the table when you were invited. And Jesus sees it on full display as he watches the various guests in attendance at this particular Sabbath meal in their efforts to jockey for position.

I’m guessing we can picture in our minds what it looked like…as various people eyeballed the table and the other guests…wondering what the ideal seating location would be given their station…but the advice that Jesus gives…well…it speaks to the idea of public perception…of what do other people say about you…how do you rank?

Seriously…it’s a little strange to think about isn’t it? And yet that was the reality…that was the norm…that was the status quo…but if there is one thing that Jesus was really good at…its challenging the old ideas of normal…and we hear it once again as he shares this teaching.

When you are invited into a banquet…Don’t take the seat of honor…because what if someone more important comes in?  Then the host is going to call you out, and you’ll be disgraced as you get shoved on down the table…everyone will see it happen…and your public shame will be on display…but on the flip side…when you sit down, take the lowest spot…because then when the host notices you…you’re importance will be on display for everyone else there as you are elevated up the table…and how cool will you be then? (pause)

Now on one hand…this teaching seems pretty normal for Jesus, challenging those old notions…but at the same time, it seems a little weird doesn’t it?  Because Jesus seems to be playing to the court of public opinion…and that doesn’t seem like the type of thing that we’ve come to expect from him.  (Pause)

Maybe it seems so strange because we’re all aware of how strongly that court of public opinion passes judgement…how quickly the flaws and the mistakes are pointed out…elevated…and we are judged based on them. The way we bicker on social media…the way we whisper about the odd behavior or habits of a coworker…the way society can make us feel singled out and scrutinized…and more often than not…that’s not a good feeling. (pause)

But maybe we need to remember that Jesus sees things differently…and he invites us to start seeing these things differently as well…and if that’s the case…then maybe our initial reaction…that he’s playing towards public perception isn’t quite accurate….maybe if we consider this situation just a little bit deeper, we realize that in the end…that the truth of what Jesus is saying is that there’s only one opinion that really matters in this whole deal…

Keep in mind what he said…if you chose the seat of honor…and someone more important than you comes in, the host will make a judgment call and will send you down the table…but if you take the lowest seat, when the host sees you sitting there, you will be honored when he tells you to move up. (pause) One important opinion…and that’s the opinion of the host…what does the host say about you? (pause)

Now as we’ve already mentioned…this sort of social jockeying at banquets really isn’t something that we tend to deal with much…beyond maybe the separation of the kids table from the adults at family gatherings…but that being said…there is one important example that we should keep in mind…especially as we gather here in worship. Because Jesus has given us a ritual…an act of remembrance in which he has promised to come to us…one that we join in today.

This is one of the weeks here at Underwood when we have gathered not just for worship…but we have also gathered here to share a meal…a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that we’ve been promised through Christ…and maybe, just maybe…as we prepare ourselves for this meal…we need to remember who the host is.

This is something that I often discuss with people when we start talking about the logistics of Holy Communion…if there’s a right way to do it…if there’s a correct time or age to begin…things of that nature…and as I approach these conversations, I think its important that we remember who’s table we are approaching. Its not mine as the pastor…and it doesn’t belong to the people who surround it…its God’s table…and Jesus is the host…and if we take anything out of Jesus’ parable for today…the opinion of the host towards each of the invited guests is the one that counts.

And the promise of the gospel…the promise of God made real through the life death and resurrection of Jesus…is that you are welcome…you are worthy…you are invited into the seat of honor because of God’s great love for you. May we remember this truth as we approach this holy meal…knowing that in it we receive the grace of God…the grace of the one who loves us and claims us and who reminds us, over and over again…that you are worthy.

Maybe this is what Jesus is trying to teach us when he switches gears in the last couple of verses and instructs us on who we should offer invitations to…not to those who will owe you and will repay the great favor that you have shown them…but those who are pushed out to the margins…those who have no way of repaying you…no way of evening the score…that’s a good thing to remember…because in the same way as we consider the invitation of our Lord…when we’re honest with ourselves we know that we are unable to offer anything in return for the great gift of God’s love and mercy…and yet…the promise remains the same…and the invitation of the Lord will always be given.

Amen.

I’m Glad That’s Over 8-18-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 12:49-56, I explore a difficult teaching of Jesus. He reminds us that his presence brings division not peace. While this is a tough pill to swallow, there is great truth there.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/august-18-2019

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

Cultural heritage is an interesting thing…and I know a lot of people take a great deal of interest in their cultural background. We talk about our ancestors and where they came from. Some of us wear that previous nationality as a badge of honor.

Now on my mom’s side, we’re something of a mix of Irish, German, and Norwegian…but on Dad’s side…we’re almost completed Norske’s…and let me tell you…my grandparents…Dad’s mom and dad…they LOVED it…and for me as a youngster…I think this became ultra apparent when I first started hearing a Norwegian comedy album playing at their house.

This particular entertainer revealed in all things Norwegian and though I don’t remember much of the content featured, there was one story he told that has always stuck with me…a right of passage for every young individual of Norwegian stock…the first time he was old enough to eat Lutefisk. (pause)

The story goes on and on…how he enters into the house, knowing what’s coming…counting down the minutes till the meal…smelling the tell-tale odor come wafting down the hallway from the kitchen…how his terror continued to build as he found himself sitting at the table next to one of his uncles…coming face to face with it…and looking around as each of his older families members dutifully dug in without hesitation…how he slowly built up his courage until in a mad rush he was able to gobble it down…and as he sat back…a bit proud of himself for accomplishing this right of passage…that stoic uncle leaned over with a grin and said…uff-da…I’m glad that’s over. (pause)

I’ve always chucked at the memory of hearing that song playing off the LP at my grandparents farm…and I can’t help but think that there’s a lesson to be learned there…one that the young man discovers…that we all have those things we dread…the things we know we need to do…that we need to muscle our way through…even though we don’t want to…and perhaps even more on the nose for the that youngster…his uncle’s comment reveals the truth…that we never grow out of that same sense of dread do we? (Pause)

This same sense…pending doom…looming dread…a longing for something to just be over and done with…we hear this in the opening portion of Jesus’ troublesome teaching for today…and it’s a doozy isn’t it?  We don’t get any warning…we don’t ease into it through narration…Jesus just drops the hammer.

I came to bring fire to the earth…and how I wish it were already kindled…I have a baptism with which to be baptized…and now here’s that sense…what stress I am under until it is completed…I just want it over with…I know what’s coming…we can even word “I’m stuck until whenever it all gets done.” (pause)
I kinda wonder if Jesus might need a Snicker’s bar or something…because he seems a touch on the hangry side here doesn’t he?  I want that fire burning…I didn’t bring peace…I brought division.  One generation against the next…Hypocrites!!!!  Why can’t you understand what’s happening?

Probably goes without saying that this passage is a little on the odd side right? Kinda blunt?  Kinda harsh…not overly reminiscent of the kind and peaceful Jesus that we’re used to…one that, perhaps, left you scratching your head wondering if there’s any good news in this good news?  I’ll be honest…as I sat down to work with this text I was struggling with those same questions…and my first thought was that I was just out of practice after being away for a couple of weeks.

But as I kept on reading it…it didn’t seem to get any better…and finally I just threw up my hands and lamented “Jesus what are you talking about here?” (pause)
Bringing fire…baptism to be baptized with…that seems to be the action that he’s pointing at…and I couldn’t help but think it sounds a little familiar…like we’ve heard it before…and then I realized we have…because John the Baptist rants about this very thing clear back at the beginning of Luke.

I baptize with water…but one is coming after me that is more powerful…he will baptize you with the holy spirit…and…with…fire. (pause) He goes on too…even now his winnowing fork is in his hand…and he will separate the grain from the chaff…the grain will be gathered…but the chaff will be burned in unquenchable fire.

That’s a touch on the daunting side isn’t it? A little unnerving?  And now we hear Jesus starting saying a whole bunch of stuff that sounds pretty similar…talking about a pending baptism…one that he wishes were already over…any idea what he’s talking about there?

Remember where he’s en route to?  We’ve been talking about that over the past couple months…Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem…and he’s got an intentionality about him…a sense aimed at what will accomplished there…and do you know what that is?   Death and resurrection. (pause) That’s what Jesus is sweating at this point…wishing it were already over…and that the fire that will be started by his death and resurrection was already burning…that the baptism of his crucifixion was already over.

And that right there…is strange…because we don’t often think of Jesus’ passion…his betrayal and arrest…his torture…his horrendous execution…followed up by 3 days of confused silence…only to be shattered by his glorious resurrection…we don’t often think of that in terms of baptism do we?

But maybe we should…because in the end…that’s what baptism is for us.  It’s a death and resurrection…it is the physical act that embodies the promise that God has made upon us…the claim that God places upon each of us…but in its very nature…baptism IS DEATH and resurrection…

For in the water of baptism…the sinful self is put to death…it drowns in the water and we emerge to new life…to the gift of justification by faith in the promise of God’s mercy made real for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. A gift of grace that we CANNOT earn…it can only be given to us…and it is only made possible through this baptism that Jesus was so concerned about as he moved towards its completion in Jerusalem.

And he did just that…willingly…but make no mistake…we are catching a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity on display…because he knew what was coming…he’d shared that truth with his disciples more than once…and I believe that he dreaded it…and yet…he also knew that it must happen…because this new life…this new reality…this kingdom of God that he was bringing into existence could not be until his death was accomplished on the cross.

And that was the goal…to bring about this new way of life…this new way of being…this way that overcomes every shortcoming…every aspect of brokenness…every sin…this way that reveals a new story to the world…one that no longer says might makes right….one that no longer says pull yourself up by your bootstraps…one that no longer relies on the idea that this way is the best…and you can join us or we’ll kill you.

This new kingdom in which we are invited to live in harmony with the one who made us and with on another…no longer needing to justify ourselves in the face of a world that doesn’t care…or in the face of others who are in the same boat as we are even if they can’t admit it.

But the crazy thing about this new way…this new kingdom…this new life made possible in Christ…is that it is a threat to the status quo…it’s a threat to those that hold a position with the illusion of power and authority…and this world…it will push back…it will do ANYTHING in its power to hold on to that illusion.

You think Christ came to bring peace?  Well then you’ve never challenged those privileged with authority have you?  (pause) The gospel…its divisive, Jesus flat out tells us that.  The gospel is offensive…its laughable…it makes no sense…but when it touches our lives…and changes the way we see this world…that we start to understand that we aren’t subject to those same old rules…well this world and those still stuck in that sensibility…they just can’t get passed that…and as we see, time after time…those stuck in the old patterns tend to lash out don’t they.

This manifests itself in SO many ways.  The ways we hoard resources instead of sharing them with those who lack.  The way a child is cast out of their family when they find the strength to be authentic about who they really are and their family can’t handle it.  The ways that those who’s cultural identity gives them a false sense of superiority, and so they go shoot up a church or a mall or nightclub…using terror in order to “keep them in their place.”

And what kills me…is the way I hear time after time…that this is done in the name of Christ…well let me say it…if you’re using Jesus to justify causing pain and exclusion to another…you’re doing it wrong and you best get the name Jesus out of your mouth.

White Nationalism…Racism…Homophobia…Isalmaphobia…Anti-semitism…Xenophobia…just to name a few…I for one am sick of hearing the name of Christ hijacked to justify these things that are demonic and sinful…whenever one person or group seeks to diminish or deny the basic humanity and dignity of another, they are acting contrary to the will of God…and I say this as an ordained minister of God’s church.

The gospel tells us that we have a God who sees us in suffering and comes along side us…a God who promises that this will not be the end…a God who desires ALL of humanity…ALL of creation…ALL THAT which is called Good within creation…God desires that all would flourish and find life abundant…and when the world pushes back against that we find this same God made flesh with his arms spread out wide and nailed to piece of wood in order to show us that there is NO length God will not go in order to overcome that which hinders…even death.

And the promise is that not even death can separate us from the love of the one who made us desires that we would flourish as well…both in this life and in the life to come.

In today’s story…that act which will accomplish this still lies before Jesus…and he knows what’s coming…but thanks be to God that when Jesus was hanging on that cross, he was able to say it is finished…and now…with the Resurrection of Jesus ALSO finished…we can join with Christ in saying “Uff-da…I’m glad that’s over.” And knowing that it is…we can follow the invitation to join in the work of proclaiming it to this world that hasn’t…realized it…yet. Amen

Amen

The Lord’s Prayer 7-28-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Pick On Personality 7-21-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:38-42, I explore the odd little exchange that occurs between Jesus and the sisters, Mary and Martha.  When we did, just a little bit, we start to uncover some interesting insight.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-pick-on-personality-7-21-19

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.

In recent years, there has been an amazing emphasis placed on the exploration of different personality types and the ways that they manifest in the lives of individuals.  There are tons of different tests and surveys…countless different expressions and categories.

There’s Type A vs Type B.  There’s the enneagram scale.  There’s Strengthsfinders…just to name a few.  Now…I’ll fully admit that I haven’t done a ton of work in this realm…a lot of it goes over my head and I’m kinda lost in what each specific category is aimed at, and what the individual results within that category reveals.

But what I do know is these different things…personalities and tendencies and strengths, whatever we want to call them…they manifest themselves in a lot of different ways…and they differ greatly between individuals…and perhaps there is no-where that we begin to see this better expressed than within families.

We see drastic differences between siblings…we see them between parents and children…and we definitely see them between spouses…and I can confirm this from personal experience. My wife and I agree on a lot of things…but we have two VERY different personality types…something that becomes VERY apparent on Saturdays.

Now my wife would be called Type A…and one of her strengths is achievement…and this manifests itself in the fact that she has a very hard time sitting around all day doing nothing.  (Pause) Now me, on the other hand…I will happily lounge around on my keister all day without batting an eyelash…I suppose that makes me Type B…and yes…just like we find in today’s story…this can…and does…lead to tension. (pause)

Mary and Martha. Another story that has infiltrated our cultural awareness in the differences that lie between personality types.  We’ve got Mary, the laid back one…the one who casually sits at the feet of Jesus, just taking it all in…oblivious to what’s going on and the tasks of hospitality that linger in the house around her. (pause) And then we’ve got Martha…the proverbial busy-body…the one who can’t even think about sitting down because…THERE’S JUST SO MUCH TO DO!!!!!

Now, its my tendency to try and put myself in the headspace of the people that we hear about in the scriptures…and this one’s no different…so for starters…we’ve got Martha. (Pause) Oh…Jesus is here….goodness me…so much to do…I need to tidy up before he even comes inside. I bet he’s hungry and he’s got all those people with him…they all need to eat, better get in the kitchen…and all the neighborhood kids will be bugging them…I need to shoo them away…is it too stuffy in here, do I need to open a window…so much to do. (pause) And then there’s Mary…DUDE!!!!! Jesus is here…YES…I am totally just gonna sack out and listen…where’s my beanbag chair? (pause)

Now as we know…as this little scene progresses Martha gets continually annoyed with Mary…and it seems with Jesus too, because she snaps…at him…Jesus! Dude…don’t you care, that my sister…has left me to do all the work. Tell her to help me!

And then Jesus, finally speaking aloud for the first time calmly tries to grab Martha’s attention…and she’s in such a tizzy that he has to say her name twice…Martha…Martha…you are distracted and worried about many things…only one is needed. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be take away. (pause)

It seems…at first glance…that Mary is praised and Martha is condemned…and that Jesus is throwing some shade on the work that Martha is doing.  And if we limit things to the surface level, we walk away from this passage with yet another moral lesson that seems to say…Sabbath is important, don’t be so busy…take a load off.

And if that’s where we stop…we are doing an incredible disservice to Martha…Yes she’s distracted…yes she’s worried…but that’s what Jesus seems to be calling her away from…not the actual work that she’s doing.

Here’s the thing…and pay attention because this is important…in the original language…we hear that Martha is distracted by her many “services” or we can even say “ministries.” It’s the same word…and that should be eye opening for us here in the church. She’s so distracted by trying to do too many ministries all at the same time that she’s missing out on the one thing needed.

I don’t know what that one thing was…maybe all Jesus needed was a cloak picked up off a chair so he could sit down…she didn’t need to clean the whole house.  Maybe he was hungry for a chunk of bread…but she’s trying to prepare a lavish meal…I don’t know…but I’m pretty sure he’s not condemning her for attempting to be of service to her guests.  That’s Martha’s personality…that’s her tendency…she’s living into her authentic self by hosting…but Jesus seems to be pointing out that she’s going overboard and her distraction and worry is evidence of that.

Now that being said…the flipside is also worth paying attention to…Mary’s not being praised for sitting around doing nothing…because you know what…sometimes people are hungry and a meal needs to get made…sometimes the communion bread needs to be baked…or the scripture needs to get read, or Sunday School classes need to be taught.

So what’s different?  What do we take from this?  If its not the surface level lesson that we should ignore busy-ness so we can zero in on our guest…then what is Jesus calling us into here? What is this better part…this good portion that Mary has chosen that Jesus seems to acknowledge? (pause)

I think that’s a good question to ponder on…especially in light of our recent gospel stories over the course of the past few weeks…because honestly…if we take all of Luke Chapter 9 and 10 together…Jesus is giving us a lot of mixed messages.

We hear, early on that Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem…indicating intentionality about his mission and his ministry…an intentionality that is highlighted when a few would-be followers each ask for a touch of leeway, only to have Jesus hammer them for a lack of focus and commitment.

Then he sends out 70 people to proclaim the good news that the Kingdom has come near…which is apparently so important of a message that they can’t even turn aside to say hello to someone on the road…NO DISTRACTIONS…get right to it.

That’s followed up by a question about who’s my neighbor and the parable of the Good Samaritan that gives an impression…no you should be willing to turn aside…to offer mercy to those who need it…to get involved in the immediate need as opposed to that directive over there.

And now the implication that mundane tasks aren’t the answer, but that we should just zero in on the guest…or at least maybe on Jesus.

So come on Jesus…seriously…what do we make of this? (pause)

I went round and round with that question…trying to make head’s or tails of the good news of this odd little exchange that all too often pits two sisters against each other and leaves people reeling when they see themselves in one or the other.

But what if this odd little passage reveals an invitation of Jesus to simply be honest and authentic about who we are?  What if Martha isn’t getting smacked for hosting…but rather is being called to be her best self at one thing.  And what if Mary isn’t getting praised for being lazy, but rather she’s being affirmed in her desire to engage with a guest. (pause)

It seems to me…over and over again in the scriptures…and especially in the gospels…and specifically here in Luke’s gospel…it seems like Jesus continues to extend an invitation to countless different individuals to be precisely who they are…and when they do…it seems like he takes joy in that…and he finds delight in the presence of their authentic self.

And when I think about that…I’m reminded of the truth that we find clear back in Genesis…that our existence begins from a place of joy and delight of the one that made us in the first place.  Think about that…God made you…and God has called you VERY GOOD…We have a God who made ALL of this out of a sense of divine goodness and joy…and the brokenness of the whole thing…that didn’t come around until chapter 3.

Admittedly…there are times when our Lutheran tendencies put a little too much emphasis on the brokenness of humanity and the world. I don’t dispute that this brokenness is a reality…far from it…but that’s not where our existence begins.

And maybe, just maybe, whatever it was that was being accomplished in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…maybe it was it making it possible for us to see that we are perfectly loved and accepted and claimed by the God who joyfully made us in the first place…and that this is true RIGHT NOW in this moment.

You don’t have to hide who you are…who you really are…in order for God to love you…and the gospel frees us to truly believe that…and to know that whatever brokenness does exist within us…there is grace for that…but that we don’t have hide our true selves away for God to give this love to us…that’s a ludicrous idea when we think about it…that the one who created this reality and everything in it by simply speaking it into being could ever be fooled into thinking that the false persona we present to the world is real. God knows you intimately…and God desires for you to be honest with yourself…and to be free in that…that’s the gospel…that’s the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven coming near to us…

And the other amazing thing about all this…is that we are also free to love one another in this same way…which, let’s be honest…is something that body of Christ really needs to work on. But praise be to God that there’s grace for the church too.  Yes she is broken…yes she is flawed…because she is made up of broken and flawed people…but thanks be to God…that the perfect, all in…completely encompassing grace-filled love of God continues, day after day, to overcome our shortcomings…and continues to invite us forward into that amazing freedom that we find when we realize that the kingdom HAS come near…and that we are already a part of it.  Amen