Posts Tagged ‘Kingdom of Heaven’

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

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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

Celebrate 3-31-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, I explore the parable commonly known as the Prodigal Son, along with the two short parables partnered with it, that reveal a call to celebration over the lost being found.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/celebrate-3-31-19

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

Many of you have heard me share that Spring is my favorite season of the year…after the slog of winter, the warm fresh air, the beautiful sunshine…the birds singing and the signs of all the plant life perking up…all of that is just wonderful…and I always get a little charge out of the first time that these wonderful spring conditions allow me to walk over to the post office to get the mail.

Its an odd thing to notice and appreciate…but admittedly I do it…and I had that joy for the first time about a week and a half ago…and in the days since, I’ve had several more opportunities to repeat the process…including a couple of absolutely gorgeous days earlier this past week… and each time I made that brief excursion across town, it was wonderful and all was right and good in the world.

But then…as you may recall…the weather took a bit of a dip…getting cloudy and cooler, not to mention a little windy and drizzly here and there…and while it was still typical spring weather…it wasn’t QUITE as nice.  That, as you may recall…was the case on Friday…and yet…about 11 o’clock, I threw on my jacket and set out for the post office anyway.

Now when I stepped outside, I noticed it was cool and there a breeze…and while it was slightly uncomfortable, I didn’t think too much of it…until I left the post office and turned myself back towards the church…and it was only then that I realized that our gorgeous spring weather from earlier in the week, had in fact given way to 40 degrees, cloudy and nice blustery north wind slamming in the face. In that uncomfortable instant I said to myself…maybe this wasn’t too well thought out…You might say that I woke up…or that I came to myself….about the truth of my current situation.

Now granted…this wasn’t the end world…5 minutes later I was back in the church office none the worse for wear…but that moment of sudden realization of reality put me in mind of our gospel story today…and this parable that Jesus shares.

Now its worth noting that the setting of this whole deal is part of a bigger moment from Jesus, through the parable itself is long enough.  But Jesus, in a moment of interaction with the religious authorities of the time, is catching some flack…he’s being criticized for the company he keeps…for the fact that he is often found sharing a meal, or simply spending time in the company of “sinful folk.”

When Jesus hears their remarks…he responds with a series of parables…three to be exact…all of which fall under a pretty similar theme…We’ve got the parable of the lost sheep, in which the shepherd leaves behind the flock of 99 in order to search out and find 1 lost sheep…and once the lost sheep is found, he calls together his community so they can celebrate together…because the lost has been found.

Following that, Jesus tells a story of women with 10 coins, who suddenly realizes that one is missing and she searches HIGH and LOW, until finally finding it…and likewise, she calls together her neighbors, probably spending one if not more of her coins in order to celebrate that the lost has been found.

And then, in the story that we heard, Jesus shares a rather extensive narrative about a father and two sons…a parable that is pretty well-known…arguably one of the two most familiar parables in the gospels…and one that’s even become synonymous with individuals who wander off in one way or another before finding their way back home…the prodigal son.

This oddball idea that a younger son would demand his inheritance so he can traipse off and live out a crazy lifestyle, only to run out of money and face the consequences…then coming to his senses…and realizing the prosperity and even generosity of his father to the entire household…and with that, its time to go home…but he’s not without shame, and he plans to reveal himself, not as a wayward son, but simply as an individual willing to become a servant in order to be taken care of.

But that’s not what happens…and this amazing father, who has stood there day after day, looking for his son, when he finally sees him approaching…he runs to him in joy, for what was lost to him has now been found…and the son is restored…the fattened calf is slaughtered and prepared so that the entire community can celebrate, for what was lost and was as good as dead, has been found and is alive again. (pause)
But the story doesn’t stop there does it? And that’s why I’ve often thought that calling this the parable of the prodigal son does a disservice…because we’ve got the older brother too don’t we? The dutiful one…the one who stayed home, and to hear him talk, he has slaved away for all this time…doing what was expected of him…all without fanfare or recognition.

And when big brother learns about the celebration going on in the house…and discovers the reason…he’s angry…he’s upset…and he refuses to go in and participate…and so that same loving father, who looked every day for his wayward son, goes out in search of the other, because now, this older son, too…is missing.

We know how it ends…they go back and forth…the entitlement and perhaps victim complex of the older brother comes out in his complaint against the younger and against the father…and yet the assurance is there…you are always with me…all I have is yours…but we MUST CELEBRATE…for he who was lost is now found.

That’s how the parable ends…and in fact that’s how the whole passage ends…we don’t know if the older son comes in to join in the celebration…to join in the festivities…the party which is ongoing throughout this entire exchange over what’s right or wrong…over who’s deserving or not. (pause)

One long parable, part of a larger batch of three which all reveal the same thing…when someone or something of value is lost and then found…its worth celebrating…and not just by the one who found them…but with the whole community…everyone is invited.

And as I thought about all that…I went back to the setting in the first place…Jesus, like the father, has been criticized for how he responds to certain people…and then, there are those who seem to put their stock in appearances…in following the rules…have been blinded to the invitation into fellowship and celebration.

Is that’s what going on here in the big picture…that whatever it is that God is accomplishing through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…that it is worth celebrating…and that the invitation is universal…that somehow we are all part of the party whether we chose to act like it or not?

Is that’s what’s happening? Like the community that surrounded the father and the younger son and all the rest of the household who joined in the celebration…they lived that moment accepting that they are a part…or like the older brother, who is always with the father…and therefore is a part of the celebration as well…but chooses to act as if the opposite is true…is that what’s happening…as Jesus breaks bread and shares a meal and joyful fellowship with so-called “sinners?” Are they the ones accepting in the invitation and living out this moment as part of the celebration…and are the ones being so critical missing out on the fact that they are included too…and living out this moment in a way that reflects it? (pause)

I often wonder if that’s what’s going on with this whole Kingdom of Heaven thing that Jesus has assured us has come near.  We often talk about how the kingdom is both now and not yet…and that we catch little glimpses of it in this life…and how we are invited to live our lives as if the kingdom DOES exist now…and that maybe, just maybe that’s how God is at work to bring it into existence in the life to come…that Heavenly banquet…that heavenly celebration that God has promised us.

That’s the good news of this passage…that the invitation to join in the party has already been extended to all of us…for we are ALL a part of the community…and what joy to celebrate together all that has been lost, which is now found…to celebrate all that was dead and is now alive. (pause)
Now that being said…something had to happen in order for the celebration to begin within this parable…anyone catch it?  Before the party could start…the calf had to be killed…something had to die in order for this particular celebration to occur…and maybe, just maybe, that is a sober reminder of where we look for Jesus…because it was in the death and then subsequent resurrection of Jesus that the kingdom celebration became possible…that’s a sobering thought…but a timely one as we inch ever closer to Good Friday and the cross.

But thanks be to God that the cross isn’t the last word in this story…and that on Easter Christ rose from the grave…and somehow, someway, we have also been promised the same…that we have been made heirs of the same promise…and that we have each been claimed as beloved children…and that is what we are celebrating today…as Cameran and Dilyn will be brought to this font…where they will be washed in the waters of baptism…and the claim of God upon their lives…the invitation into the celebration, which has already been offered through Christ…will be made manifest in a physical way for them.

And what a joy it is for us…the community who surrounds them…to be here today, to join in THIS particular celebration…a celebration which has already begun…and a celebration which God has promised us will carry on in the life to come. Amen.

We Are Even 2-24-19

In this sermon, taken from Luke 6:27-38 (along with earlier verses from the story), I continue to explore Jesus’ important words and inherent invitation for us to respond to the free gift of grace and salvation by acting in a way that reflects the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. As we do so, we are joining with God in bringing that reality into being.

This sermon is a pretty direct continuation of last week’s sermon…with many similar themes and ideas.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-are-even-2-24-19

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

Mother Nature played a mean trick on us a week ago didn’t she? No worship thanks to winter weather.  And due to the fact that we didn’t have worship…I didn’t preach the sermon that I prepared…though admittedly I did still post it online, so perhaps a few of you did check it out…and if so…this opening bit is gonna sound a little familiar…if, on the other hand, you did not find it online…then disregard my disclaimer.

My older brother, while pretty decent to me as a younger brother…did often take advantage of the size difference inherent with a 4.5 year age difference…especially considering that I was a pretty small kid as I was growing up.  But then…one day when I was about 15 or 16…things changed. My brother came up behind and put me in a headlock…and without even thinking about it…I grabbed his arm and pitched him over my shoulder on the couch…and it was in this moment that my brother realized…we’re on the same level.

Rest assured, I viewed this as a moment of victory…but life has a funny way of turning the tables on you…and now 25 years later…my 15 year old son can pretty much look me straight in the eye…and in the instances when we get started wrestling…sooner or later I run out of steam and he gets me in a headlock…forcing me to admit defeat and tap out.  And let me tell you something…that moment of realization that now I’m not the top dog…and that my son is on the same level…that’s humbling.

Now in both of these cases…the level that we’re talking about…its physical…but as we all know there are a lot of different categories that we could name where people tend to fall in different places on the respective ladder.  Physical size. Economic status…age…social standing…just to name a few…but this idea of a ladder…of someone ranking higher or lower than another…that’s what catches my attention as I consider the scripture lesson for today.

Now again…a lot of what I’m talking about today builds off the message and lesson from last week…I even including the opening portion of last week’s because its all the same setting. Jesus has come down off the mountain…been surrounded by great crowds from all over the region…a mixed bag of cultural background, Jews and Gentiles…all seeking something from him.

He heals diseases…he casts out demons…he frees everyone from whatever it is that has them hindered…and it would seem that within this particular crowd…that same sense is pretty universal…it doesn’t matter who you are…Jesus frees you…and only then does he begin teaching.

I like this teaching…or sermon…its one that is probably familiar…though we tend to hear Matthew’s version up on the mountain a little more often…but Luke reverses things…literally bringing Jesus down off the mountain…to a level place…and I don’t think that Luke does this to metaphorical…I think he wanted us to see that Jesus…God in the flesh…was willing to come down on the same level as all these people…people from all walks and backgrounds…effectively placing everyone on the same level…making everyone even. (pause)

His sermon…well it does more of the same.  In the portion that we skipped over…commonly known as the Beatitudes…Jesus speaks about those who are blessed, even if their situation seems to be the polar opposite of the world would expect given that label…blessed…and then…having done that, Jesus turns the coin over telling us woe to you have it good…who are comfortable…because things will change.

Seems to me that Jesus is reminding us that the world and our reality is a fickle thing…and that our circumstances can get turned on their ear in the blink of an eye…and it begs the question…what do we put our faith it? (pause)  But that said…the awesome thing is that Jesus doesn’t stop there…he carries on quite a bit longer…and he really start to flush out this whole idea of an even playing field…despite the reality of social standings in his day and age.

Make no mistake…in Jesus’ time…there was a very rigid social ladder…and there was zero question where you fell on that ladder…everyone knew their place…and honestly…if you encountered someone higher up that particular food chain from you…you were pretty much at their mercy…and they could treat you any way they wanted…now we can call this a lot of things…some might call it persecution…especially in the first century where persecution on religious grounds was a very present reality.

But when Jesus starts talking about turning the other cheek…or offering your shirt along with your coat…I don’t think that’s what Jesus is really talking about…I think he was a being a little bit on the subversive and sneaky side.

Think about it this way…if someone got a little cheeky with you and you wanted to put them in their place…you always used your right hand…don’t ask me why but you did…and depending on the social standing of the other person…that determined how you hit them.  If they are your subordinate…you back hand them…but if they happened to be on the same social level as you…well then you balled up your fist and punched them…a slap says I’m better than you…a punch says we’re even…I’m just really ticked at you.

So when Jesus says that if someone strikes you on the cheek…he’s talking about that backhand…so you turn your other cheek to them…and the only way for them to hit you again is with the punch…and you have placed yourself on the same social standing…and if they throw that punch, they’ve just confirmed it.

The whole coat and shirt thing…same type of deal. Because if someone tried to sue you for your cloak…its an insult…basically saying that you are so worthless than your cloak is the only thing of value…but if you give it up, you’ve got another layer before you get to your birthday suit right?  But here’s the thing on this one…in Jesus day…nakedness was not a matter of shame for the individual…it’s the opposite…it’s a matter of shame for the person who view it…and so Jesus is saying that if someone attempts to shame your inferior status by taking your cloak, get naked…because that returns the shame on them… (pause)

Now these are some weird cultural things aren’t they? But they do speak into that idea…that we are all on the same level.  It probably goes without saying that society would disagree on that…both back in Jesus day as well as today right?  But when we are honest with ourselves…I think there’s a lot more truth to that than we want to admit…and the example that makes this blaringly apparent…is found in the two points of life that we have zero control over…and they are found on opposite ends of our life span.

Every single person….ever…comes into this world helpless and naked…and then, no matter how long or how short their life is…no matter how well they did socially or spiritually or economically…it all ends up the same way doesn’t it?

And so…as we begin to see and to realize that we’re all even in this crazy game of life…maybe we begin to see one another as God sees us…equal…on a level playing field…even in every single aspect. Broken…flawed…and yet…utterly and completely loved by the one who made us in the first place.

What would life be like if we all started treating one another like that? If we started acting in a way that reflects the enormous gift of salvation that God has granted each one of us…remember when Jesus came down off the mountain? First he freed everyone of what hinders them…then he started talking about how to respond to things.

Likewise…we have been freed…out God’s loving Grace…and Jesus is telling us how to respond to that.  There’s a little trick in the original language…and our translation that asks “What credit is that to you?” Well, it’s a little off.  Jesus actually says “if you love those who love you…what sort of grace is that to you?”

What sort of grace?  Jesus seems to be talking about the idea of reciprocal generosity…that too often we give to others thinking we’re going to get something in return…or we lend in order to make money of the repayment…or we only care about those who care about us in return…but if everything we do has a catch…then that’s not grace is it?  No more than if we’ve got to do something to repay the free gift of God’s grace for us.

And that…right there…that’s where we find the basis for the golden rule…do to others as you would have them do to you…and that goes way past being nice doesn’t it?  It filters into every aspect of our relationships and interactions…and we do this…we are aware of this in response to the gifts that God has given us.

Now here’s the really exciting thing about all this.  Jesus comes down…God comes down and gets on our level…and shows us that WE ARE ALL ON THAT SAME LEVEL…and then…having freed us from what hinders us…we are invited to live in this new reality…one that reflects the kingdom of Heaven that God is somehow bringing into reality…we like to call it both now and not yet…and that’s true…but I’m pretty sure that when we start treating one another with dignity and respect…not to get anything out of it…but simply because we recognize that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US bears the same divine image of God…when we start living out our lives in that reality…we are living as if the kingdom is already here…and maybe just maybe…that’s how God is bringing that reality into fruition…one person…one interaction…one loving moment after another.

Isn’t it amazing to realize that out of divine love and delight in you, God has offered you grace and mercy…making you a new creation…and in doing so God is inviting you into this amazing work of making all things new…that’s exciting…that’s worth jumping up out of our seats…to know that God wants you to be a part of this work of literally changing the world.

Now we’re even…whether the world tells us that or not…but its true…and we know it because we have a God who’s just sneaky enough…who’s just subversive enough to do what no one would ever think a god would do…to come to our level…and free us all…to show us the depth of mercy and grace…and then to invite us to share that same gift with one another. Amen.

This I Know 11-25-18

In this sermon, based on John 18:33-37, I explore the odd encounter between Jesus and Pilate, as Pilate tries to wrap his head around Jesus. Its a mystery…and that’s okay.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-i-know-11-25-18

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

The grace and peace of our Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Thursday afternoon, I was lounging around at my parent’s house, enjoying that low-key feeling post Thanksgiving-feast, when my brother grabbed me and hauled me downstairs into the basement to shoot a game or two of pool on our dad’s pool table.

We weren’t very far into our first game, when we noticed something strange happening. An odd tendency for a slow moving ball to begin curving towards the side pockets…and one of them in particular. We weren’t quite sure what was going on…only that this behavior was unexpected…but as confusing as it initially was to witness…we went into some investigation mode…and we came up with the following insight…

The temperature in my parent’s basement fluctuates pretty dramatically…and as it’s a wet basement, there are times when the air is quite damp and times when its quite dry.  We also realized that the pool table has been down there for several years now…and our final observation is that the table itself is wood, and not slate.  Perhaps you’ve already begun to realize what ultimately dawned on us…the table top has warped, creating slight downward angles towards the two side pockets…which itself results in a slow moving billiard ball curving in towards the pocket…which is great in every way, except if it happens to be the 8-ball…and so, once we figured this all out, we kept on playing, and simply adjusted our shots accordingly…in the end, this mystery was something we were able to figure out.

But thinking along those lines reminds me of an important bit of self-awareness that I have reached in my life…an awareness that there are some things I understand…some things I can figure out…and then there are things that will remain a mystery.

For example…I understand that anything that has mass will create a gravitational pull…however some things, like each of us for instance…is small enough that that gravitational pull our mass generates is so infinitely small, that it might as well be non-existent…but on the flip side…I also know that the earth is large enough and contains enough mass that it creates a gravitational force strong enough to keep us all firmly planted…and we don’t need to worry about floating off into space…I get all that…but what I don’t get, is how it works…that is, as they say…above my paygrade. (pause)

Now interestingly enough…this same sort of sense seems to be on display in today’s gospel. Christ the King Sunday…the final Sunday of another church year…and we wrap things up by acknowledging the kingship…or the reign of Christ in the kingdom of Heaven.

Now this year…our scripture lesson features an odd little back and forth between Jesus and Pilate…a setting found in the larger story of his betrayal and arrest at the hands of the religious leaders…just before his torture and eventual execution on the cross…an event commonly understood as his trial before the Roman authority. (pause)

Out of the 4 gospels…I do have to say that I appreciate John’s take on this whole deal…because when compared with the other three, John really does a good job of revealing the sneakiness of this whole situation.  Jesus is arrested for blasphemy…for daring to claim that he is God…and yet, the religious big-wigs know that they can’t order his execution on these grounds…the Romans may have cut them a lot of religious leeway…and they did…but that leeway didn’t extend to the point of allowing them to pick up a bunch of rocks and stone someone to death for claiming to be a god.

And so, if they want Jesus dead…and its seems that they do…they’ve got to ship him off to the political authorities…Pilate.  Now at this point, Pilate’s already asked them what he did…and he doesn’t really get much of an answer beyond Jesus being called a criminal…and with that…he’s got to try and figure things out.

Are you the king of the Jews? (pause) Now logic probably tells us the same thing that Pilate was thinking…this is a pretty simple question…yes or no answer.  If he says yes…that he is the Jewish king…well that means he’s in the midst of a political uprising…and crucifixion is the answer…if he says no…well then this whole deal is pointless.

But it seems like Jesus never gives a straight answer does he?  Are you king?  Why do you ask, are you curious or did someone say something?  And then we go back and forth…several questions countered with more questions…until Pilate seems to arrive at the conclusion “So you are the king.”  Only to get an equally confusing answer “You have called me king.” (pause)

I can only think that Jesus is revealing something important here…that whatever it is that God is up to through the Christ event…through the life and the death and the resurrection of the one who is the living Word of God made flesh…the one who existed with God and is God…the light which shines in the darkness…whatever God is up to in bringing about this whole kingdom of heaven which has already come near to us and at the same time is not yet fully realized…whatever it is…we just can’t grasp can we?

Pilate was a political dude…that’s what he knew…that’s what he understood…and so he was trying to apply this knowledge…this understanding on Jesus and whatever it was he was up to.  The religious leaders…his own people…they’re cranky with him…so clearly something is going on right?  And Pilate tries to put in terms that he can comprehend and deal with.

God bless him, he’s trying isn’t he? But clearly…he’s failing.  Just like my inability to understand what makes gravity…the kingdom of heaven, whatever that means…well that’s above Pilate’s pay grade isn’t it?  Honestly its above everyone’s pay grade…because God is just so much bigger than we can wrap our heads around…and that’s okay.

But if that’s the case…and we’re gonna leave things ambiguous and I guess we can say unanswered…then what do we do with this passage?  And as I ponder on that question I’m drawn to the very last thing that Jesus says today. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world…to testify to the truth…Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

I thought about this idea of truth…and it’s a concept that’s scattered all over John’s gospel…but perhaps no more importantly then when Jesus himself declares “I AM…the way…and the truth…and the life.”

Jesus himself is the truth…and he reveals so much about this life…a new way to live…a new way to be in the world…a new way to live in harmony with God and with our neighbors…not a perfect life, for Jesus knows that none of us are capable of that…but rather a life where confession and repentance and forgiveness is also a possibility. A life in which we live as if the kingdom is already here…because…it is…Jesus told us that.

And maybe, just maybe as we live our lives in a way that reflects the reality of this kingdom of heaven…and whatever that will ultimately look like…maybe that’s how we participate in God’s ongoing action of bringing that kingdom into existence.

And we do this because this is what Jesus has told us to do. He has shown us a new way…he has illuminated a new way for us…and through the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit which Jesus has sent upon us all…he continues to reveal more and more and more about what life in the kingdom looks like.

And one of the commands that he has given us also serves as signs for us…and that is the sacraments. When we receive the bread and the wine, we are reminded that his body and blood were broken and shed for all people to make forgiveness possible…and in the waters of baptism, we are washed both literally and figuratively as we hear the promise of God’s claim upon each of us.

That’s the amazing thing about this whole deal…its always about what God has said about you…the action is accomplished by God through Christ…and while we respond to it…our salvation…our acceptance…our invitation to the party is never dependent upon us…something that I think is revealed when we consider that age old parable of the prodigal son.  The father goes searching for both brothers…and brings them in…doing so with an assurance that you’re already at the party.

Isn’t the joyful thing we realize through the gospel…that whatever it is that this kingdom looks like…that whatever this heavenly party is…we’re already at the party…and God’s ongoing action within this world seems to be aimed at reminded us of that.

But that doesn’t really fit into our rigid, rule laden reality does it?  And those who so strictly adhere to “the rules,” well they have a really hard time accepting this reality of Christ don’t they? And so they try and put Jesus in a box…that’s what Pilate was up to…and I can’t help but think that’s what the religious leaders were ultimately up to as well.

But the good news remains…that God will not be limited to a box…and God’s love and grace for each one of us will not be limited either.  The gospel tells us, we’re already welcome…we’re already accepted…we’re already at the party…some of us just haven’t realized it yet.

And that right there…that’s why God invites us to join in this ongoing work of reconciling the world…to be the hands and feet, carrying this good news…that you’re already at the party…not because of anything that we do…that’s not the way…He is the way…and his way reveals the truth…and this truth to hold onto is not who you are or what you have done…its who’s you are through what he has done. Amen.

What Is It Worth To You 10-14-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:17-31, Jesus encounters a man (who we know as the rich young ruler), and offers an invitation to discipleship.  The odd thing is that we don’t know if it works or not.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-is-it-worth-to-you-10-14-18

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

The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

There’s an exchange that goes on at my house with a pretty fair bit of regularity. I’ll be in the living room or sitting at the table, and my wife, who many of you know is a bit…vertically challenged…will say “Hey, can you come in here at help me with something?” Typically she means “There’s something on the top shelf and I don’t want to climb on the counters and you are just sitting there not doing anything anyway, so come get this thing from up there for me.”

More often than not…my response… “Maybe…what’s it worth to you?” Now she quickly puts me in my place, but you get the idea.  That things are often transactional…that if you want something, is there something you can offer for it.

This is an idea that I latched onto during my senior year of high school. As a senior, I had open campus during study halls, and could come and go from the school…and I pretty quickly discovered that many of the underclassmen wanted me to run to the store for them…to pick up a snack while they were languishing at school…it took me about 3 trips to figure something out.  That I was carrying an awful lot of change back to the school after 3 or 4 separate transactions…and so I told them, I’ll make the run for you, and I’ll bring back any paper money as change…but the loose change stays with me.  And let me tell you something…this transaction worked out pretty well. I’d drive the 3 blocks to the store, and I’d usually end up with 3 or 4 bucks worth of loose change by the end of the day.  They got something out of it…and I got something out of it. (pause)

Now I can’t help but think that this is the attitude…or perhaps it would be better to say, the expectation…of the man who approaches Jesus today. (pause)  Now Jesus is just setting out on a journey…he’s just been in a house, bear hugging children and blessing them…reminding his disciples that to receive the kingdom of God…to enter into it…one must be like a child. And with that he steps outside to continue along the way, when this random guy that we know virtually nothing about, kneels before him…calls him teacher…and asks what really seems to be…an honest question about the kingdom of God.

Teacher…what must I do to inherit eternal life? Again, we don’t know anything about this guy. Has he been following…listening…hearing the teachings and seeing the miracles…maybe, we don’t know.  Has he simply heard about Jesus and the general ideas of the gospel which Jesus is proclaiming…maybe, we don’t know.  In truth, as this random guy enters the scene…we literally know NOTHING about him. (pause)

But as we hear…Jesus begins to engage with the guy…now I can only think that there are some cultural expectations at play here. The guy must be Jewish…because Jesus turns the commandments on him. “You know the commandments.” And then he begins to list off the back half of the 10 commandments which are aimed at our relationships with others. Don’t murder, no adultery, don’t steal, honor your parents, and so on.

And the guy seems to indicate that he’s got those bases covered…oh yes Lord, I have kept these since my youth…I know that…I’ve done that…I’m good on that front…so what else must I do? (pause)
Now with a bit more back and forth, Jesus lovingly lays another stipulation on him. Sell your processions, give it to the poor, and come follow me.” And it is only at this point that we learn this guys apparent economic status…that he has great possessions…as he walks away downcast and sad…grieving even.

With this Jesus turns to the disciples, and starts in on a bit more teaching…which at face value seems to be taking a shot at the rich…particularly as we hear him say “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”  And then since the disciples are so confused…likely do to a cultural expectation that those with great wealth are the ones who have blessed by God…he says it again…”Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.”

Did you catch the difference?  There’s no mention of wealth in this second statement…simply an honest statement from Jesus on the difficulty of entering the kingdom…and the disciples pick up on it with their exasperated question “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus responds, for humanity its impossible, but for God, all things are possible. (pause)

Here’s the thing…there’s a subtle thread running underneath this whole story…and it all begins with the question that the man asks in the first place. What must I do to inherit eternal life?  If you know anything about inheritance, you know how it works…and that to inherit anything, you don’t do anything…but someone else has to die.

And the really interesting part of all this is what he is asking for…eternal life…as opposed to what Jesus talks about…the kingdom of God. (pause) Now maybe we tend to think of these as the same thing…and yes there’s overlap…but there’s a distinction…because eternal life points us towards…the eternal…its right there in the name right…and so I think its safe to say that whatever eternal life is…it lies on the other side of death…the age to come, heaven, whatever you want to call it…but the kingdom of God…as we hear from Jesus at the beginning of the gospel…the kingdom has come near.  Its already here…even though its also in the age to come.

Yes I know that’s a little confusing…but the promise that we have received is that the kingdom is both now and not yet…and that’s a point that Jesus makes as he addresses Peter towards the end of today’s passage.  Peter asks, we have left everything to follow you…and Jesus says yes you have…he also called them children if you recall…and then he says that whatever or whoever you have left behind, you will receive again 100 fold…as well as persecutions…here in the kingdom…and then eternal life.

Anyone catch that? Jesus is speaking about this now and not yet reality of the kingdom of God…a realty that takes root in how we live our lives right here, right now…and this…is what Jesus is getting at in his invitation of discipleship offered to the rich man.

What must I do to inherit eternal life…Nothing…that’s up to God…you can’t DO anything…but fortunately through the life death and resurrection of Jesus, that’s already taken care of…its already done.

But in the case of the here and now…as Jesus addresses this man…sell your processions…free yourself of whatever it is that you trust in…and give it away….stop thinking about yourself and let your life benefit someone else for a change…and then…follow me. This invitation has implications in the present life that the man is leading…and since his possessions are so great, he walks away in grief. (pause)

Now I’ll be honest…I always thought about this event as a failed invitation to discipleship…but what if its not. What if the man walked away in grief because he realizes what this will cost him, and he’s already made the choice to do it?

Discipleship has cost…its different for everyone, but its there.  This invitation to follow Jesus might just cost us everything…and we wonder, just what do we get out of it? That’s the transactional nature at work within us.

Well, that’s hard to say…sometimes all we can do is follow along and see where it leads.  Keep in mind, we don’t know what happens this guy…and we usually think this invitation is a failure…but there’s a chance that its not…because there are 2 more times when a random young man shows up in Mark’s gospel with no indication of who he is.  When Jesus is arrested, there’s a follower…a young man wearing only a simple linen garment, who leaves it behind and flees…and then at the tomb…there’s a young man dressed in white that address the women.

Its probably not the same guy…but what if it is? (pause) What if this guy did what Jesus asked…and followed? Might be hard to believe…but remember that for God, all things are possible. (pause)

Jesus has invited all of us into a life of discipleship…of being a Christ follower…and maybe what we take away from today is remember that in this life…in the now of the kingdom of God, that looks like putting our own stuff aside and thinking about someone else as we follow him…we won’t be perfect, and we’ll mess it up…but the invitation is still there…and that whole eternal life thing…that whole aspect of the kingdom that’s not yet…well, maybe we just need to let God handle that end of things…(pause)

And one final thought…regardless of if the encounter with the man was a successful invitation to discipleship or not…even before the invitation to follow is given…Jesus loves him. Did you catch that…Jesus looked at him, Jesus loved him in that perfect, all in, sacrificial love…and then Jesus made the offer to follow.  This guy is the only person in Mark’s gospel that we hear “Jesus loves” and we don’t even know if he followed or not.

But the promise of the gospel, is that we don’t have to do anything to be on the receiving end of that perfect, all in love of God for all of humanity that has manifest itself in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…and yet through him, the kingdom is given to us anyway. Amen.