Posts Tagged ‘Kingdom of Heaven’

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

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.