Posts Tagged ‘LIfe’

Jump In and Eat Up 8-19-18

In this sermon, based on John 6:51-58, I explore the portion of the Bread of Life discourse where Jesus tells us that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink…and that in him is life and wisdom.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/jump-in-and-eat-up-8-19-18

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

Grace and peace to in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…Amen.

After the past couple weeks away, its great to be back here again, and to work back into the normal swing of things…which actually takes a bit of work for me, as the week of family camp that my crew and I share every year is anything but ordinary…something that becomes apparent from pretty much the first moment you set foot on site…and then blatantly obvious once the program itself starts…as staff members come up with wacky and crazy ways to illustrate general rules as well as some of the various safety measures that are taken while at the camp.

Now there are quite a few, but one of these rules is you only drink water out of one of the water fountains or out of the bathroom faucets. The reason for this rule is keep people from drinking water out of the creek. There is a parasite in the creek water that will cause some pretty major digestive complications, and the people that run the camp want to make sure that everyone avoids that.

Now admittedly, after a dozen years of going to camp, I tend to think all of these different rules as somewhat second nature…but then I heard a quote this week, and in light of the camp rule, it struck me as funny. In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria. 

Now, at first, I just had to laugh, because I took it as a joke especially in light of the whole parasite in the water thing…but then I really got to thinking about what it was saying as a whole, and especially the first part of the quote…in wine there is wisdom. I found myself wondering why that seemed to be so significant and then I made a connection…it sounds just like our scripture lessons for this week.

We hear about wine in our Gospel lesson from John and we hear about Wisdom in the rest of our lessons from Proverbs and Ephesians as well as our Psalm for today. It’s not uncommon for the different readings in the lectionary to have common themes, but I was really surprised at how closely they all seem to fit together this week.

There’s a funny thing about the different passages that get lumped in together each week. Sometimes they don’t seem to fit together at all, and I wonder just what the lectionary committee was thinking as they assigned them…but then sometimes…like this week…they really seem to mesh.

And I didn’t realize quite how well they fit together until I listened to a broadcast from some of my old seminary professors this week. Now typically, they recommend preaching a single lesson…which you’ve probably noticed is my normal style…

But this week during the broadcast one of the professors said “You know that whole single lesson thing…this week…forget about it. Preach on the whole set.” So I’ll give it a try…although I don’t plan on dwelling very heavily on the other readings, I will highlight them just a touch.

We start off in Proverbs, and it could be safe to say that Wisdom is the feature of that entire book. After all, it was written by Solomon, who was best known for his God-given wisdom. However, this reading seems to look at Wisdom as a person…a person that is willing to share their knowledge with others. “You that are simple, turn in here…Lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of insight.” We even catch a glimpse of the gospel lesson here. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine that I have mixed.” That sounds a lot like what Jesus is telling us today doesn’t it?

Now our psalm that we shared earlier today seems to be imparting Wisdom. I can almost picture a grandfather giving advice to his young grandson…and there is certainly divine wisdom in this advice. “Those who fear the Lord lack nothing…and Those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.” The lesson from Ephesians follows this same model. Paul is passing along wisdom for how to live. One verse in particular stands out to me. “So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
(Pause)

Each one of these readings are strong in their own right. Wisdom is truly something of value. But hearing these readings raises a question. Where does this wisdom come from? Perhaps we can deduce that it must come from the Lord…which then raises another question…HOW ARE WE TO GET IT? (pause) I think we begin to see the answer to this very important question in John’s gospel lesson for today.

As we read this lesson…hearing Jesus speak of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, I’m guessing this leads us to a common idea…communion. Interestingly enough, John’s 6th chapter is the only reference to communion. The words of institution that we are so used to hearing don’t appear in John’s account of the last supper. Many scholars agree that if you want John’s take on the matter, you better tune in right here.

Jesus tells us “I AM…the living bread that came down from heaven.” Here he compares himself to another bread from heaven. Manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness. The divinely given bread which sustained the people during their day to day activities, but as we hear Jesus say… “your ancestors ate, and they died.” But Jesus says “whoever eats of THIS bread will live forever…actually he says it twice…and in that culture…to repeat yourself meant that it was…REALLY important. (pause)

So if Jesus is the living bread…how do we eat it? He tells us that too. “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Eternal life is only possible by eating the flesh of Jesus. What exactly is Jesus telling us here? That we are only saved through communion? That we need to physically hack him up and chow down? Maybe…but…I don’t think so.

Rather, it seems that Jesus is referencing something very important here…the source, of his flesh. Think of the beginning of John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” From here we jump ahead a few verses. “And the Word…became flesh.”

Now the Word as John calls it, is an important and significant thing. Some call it the Will of God…or the Wisdom of God. We see in John 1 that He was in the beginning with God and all things were made through him.

So if the Word became flesh…then the flesh of Jesus is the Will, or the Voice, or the Wisdom of God himself. And Jesus tells us that his flesh is the bread that grants us eternal life…and I think that makes sense…after all, in receiving his flesh, we are receiving the living Word of God….the same word which spoke creation into being.

Now I gotta go into the Greek for just a second…because there’s a distinction. Within his teaching, Jesus makes a sharp contrast between the Israelites eating the manna with our eating of His own flesh. Now, in the example of the Israelites, the Greek word for eat is esthio…which is best translated as to eat or to dine. However, here, when Jesus speaks of eating his flesh, he uses the word trogo…which is better translated to devour. In short…to trogo is to munch or gnaw. It implies an animalistic sense to eating…certainly more raw than to dine.

At one point or another, most of you sitting out there today have seen me eat. If you haven’t you might be surprised. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’m an eater. Anyone who has ever watched me take down a hamburger will attest to it.

But I do have different eating styles, depending on how much I am enjoying the food set in front of me. My wife has come to recognize how well I like a new creation that she’s come up with based on my enthusiasm for eating. If I’m not a fan, I’ll pick at it…taking small bites…taking my time…I’m dining. Esthio.

However, if you put something really good in front of me…fresh hot pizza for instance…I’m leaning over the table…stuffing and swallowing as fast as I can so that I can start in on the next piece…I’m ravenous. A dog gnawing on a bone has nothing on me…I can tell you that much. This my friends…is trogo eating.

And this…is how Jesus describes the way that we should eat of his flesh. He encourages us to dive right in…to be ravenous in the consumption of his flesh. Jesus is telling us to eat as if our life depends on it…and do you know what…It…does.

The next time you take communion, think of that…the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is Life-Giving. And in His Body…his flesh…is the Wisdom of God…the knowledge that through Christ’s saving power, we have eternal life.  Not by anything we have done…not by any measure that we ourselves possess…but because Jesus Christ freely gives it. Just as He freely offers us forgiveness of our sins, he offers us his flesh…the living Word of God…He has offered himself in EVERY way…so that we may have life eternal….Amen

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What Are We To Say 7-30-17

Mustard_plant

In this sermon, based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, I explore a batch of “mini-parables” from Jesus, wrapping up a 3 week stretch of sermons on the parables from chapter 13. Its an odd mix of teachings which reflects the craziness of the lives that we lead.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-are-we-to-say-7-30-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

We find ourselves today at the end of a three week long dive into the parables of Jesus…and we’ve heard a lot of different things.  We’ve heard how the kingdom of heaven is like seed sown on different types of soil…some of which seems wasted and some of which seems to flourish.

We’ve heard about a wheat field planted carefully, only to have an enemy come in on the sly and plant weeds that grow up right in with the good crop resulting in the good and the bad all mixed up together.

We know of plenty of other parables of Jesus as well…stories about prodigal sons, lost coins, and wayward sheep…stories about rich men and poor men and their experience in the afterlife…or an injured man who finds help from a Samaritan, the least likely of interaction.

And now today, we have 5 more…much shorter in length…but still offered up by Jesus as a glimpse into the kingdom…today we hear about mustard seeds growing into trees, a tiny amount of yeast mixed into a huge amount of flour…a guy stumbling across treasure in a field, and a guy going all out to collect a pearl, before finally wrapping it all up with a fisherman dragging a net through the water and pulling up all kinds of different fish. (pause)

And as we consider all of these different parables…and as we try to discern in our minds what it is that we as individuals learn from Jesus in the hearing of the different parables…maybe all we can really do is repeat the question that we heard from the Apostle Paul out of the Romans passage today…What then are we to say about these things? (pause)

Now for many of you out there…perhaps hearing me say that particular phrase strikes you as familiar…it should…it is a question that I pose within the opening of nearly every sermon that I preach in a funeral…In that context, I’m being honest about the confusing, painful, and emotional reactions that we tend to have in and around the event of a funeral, particularly when the individual was one that we were close to. (pause)
But today, I find myself asking that same question when faced with a whole lot of little bitty glimpses into what our Savior says that Kingdom of Heaven is like…because when I hear these particular passages, admittedly, I hear some pretty strange stuff. (pause)

Some guy goes out to plant mustard in his field…WHY? Mustard is a weed…and it’s a pretty nasty one…it spreads like crazy…the body of the plant is prickly and thorny, making it a pain to pull…if its left in a field it will utterly take over…and no farmer in their right mind would ever intentionally plant it…but even more strange…this comment from Jesus that it will grow up into a tree big enough for the birds to nest in. (pause) No it won’t. Mustard plants don’t do that…they don’t become trees…what Jesus is suggesting is not just unexpected…its impossible. (pause)

The kingdom is like a woman who outs a bit of yeast, or leaven in 3 measures of flour…this one requires a bit of translation…because the woman actually HIDES the leaven in the flour…and 3 measures is actually like 60 pounds. Now keep in mind that within Jesus time, talking about leaven was actually a reference to things of insidious nature…and so we start to question just why the woman chose to stick the leaven in the flour to begin with…but all that aside, putting yeast in with flour isn’t really going to do anything is it? You need water and heat and sugar for anything to actually happen…and so for a tiny bit of yeast, hidden in the midst of an incredible amount of flour shouldn’t do anything…and yet we hear that somehow, the unexpected happens once again. (pause)

Well now what about calling the kingdom like a random guy who stumbles across some random treasure in someone else’s field? Apparently whatever it is that he found seems so worthwhile that he runs off, sells everything he has, and pretty much defrauds the original landowner to buy the property, just so he can lay claim to this treasure that he apparently found while trespassing. (pause)

The pearl? Sort of the same deal…this guy is actually looking for pearls…he’s a collector…he’s got a business to run…but he finds one that is apparently…so wonderful that he, too runs off and sells all that he has…ALL THAT HE HAS…which would include his home…the clothes of his kid’s back…even his pearl business…all so he can buy this pearl and sit under a bridge somewhere staring at it. (Pause)

And finally the fisherman…he goes out in his boat and let’s his net down…and when he hauls it back up, he’s got all kinds of stuff in it….and so he sits down to separate the good from the bad…the desired fish from the undesired…he pulls out salmon…he pulls out tilapia…and walleye…probably some high grade ahi tuna to make sushi…maybe some tasty sea bass…and he throws all of them into a basket, where they will inevitably be eaten…and then he pulls out carp…and dogfish…maybe a gar, and I bet he had some nasty smelly bullheads and sheepheads too…all of which get thrown out to some unknown fate. (pause)

We hear all of this today…and so once more I ask the question…what are we to say about these things?  That the kingdom of heaven is prickly and invasive…or that it will result in what we consider to be impossible?  Or that its worth defrauding our neighbors for, or leaving our families and even ourselves destitute in order to achieve?

I can’t help but think that this little batch of parables is supposed to be a little on the confusing side…and I find myself wondering if Jesus was joking around a little bit…and that when he poses the final question “have you understood all this?” He maybe even had a bit of mischievous grin on his face? Like maybe he was messing around with the disciples just a bit…but if, and take note I’m saying IF, that’s the case…well then it seems that the disciples are in on the joke because when Jesus asks if they understand, they reply yes.

And if that’s the case…if they do in fact get it…well then I’m a little jealous…because often times with parables…and especially with today’s batch of mini-parables…I hear Jesus ask the question “have you understood all this?” and my response is “Well, I think so…but at the same time…no.” (pause)
Now maybe I say that and you find it odd…maybe you find it shocking, or disappointing to hear a pastor admit to not knowing something about the interpretation of scripture. I know the very first time I answered a question downstairs in the confirmation/adult forum with “I don’t know” I saw several jaws drop open…but the truth of the matter is that sometimes whatever truth it is that Jesus, or the Bible, or in this case a combination of the two, whatever it is that God so desperately wants us to understand is just too out there for us to make heads or tails of.

But funny enough…maybe this whole situation is just a parable…or a metaphor for this life that we live. Today we’re posing the question about the individual parables of What are we to say about these things…and we can pose that same question to the multitude of different issues and situations that are dominating our collective consciousness these days.

We can’t turn on the news, or open up the computer, or log onto social media on our phones without being utterly slammed by one uproar after another…and lately it seems like the controversies are coming at us faster than ever…and in this life that we live together, we’ve got all kinds of stuff that we are just trying to make heads or tails of.

What’s the big stuff this week? Whether or not transgendered people are fit for the military?  Whether or not an aging Senator is a hero or a heel for voting against party lines? If healthcare is a right or a burden. Whether our president is a breath of fresh air who says it like it is and is cleaning house or a unpredictable sociopath who’s ruining our country. Whether black or blue lives matter more than the other…or whether guns are the problem or the solution…if a refugee is a terrorist or a victim….and who knows what controversies we’ll be talking about around the water cooler tomorrow or next week or next month.

What are we to say about these things…because these are all parts of the life that we are living these days…and there are times when I think about all this and I just wish Jesus would hurry up and come back already.

But the truth of the matter is…this is life in July of 2017…and its messy and it’s stressful and at times it makes no sense what so ever…and we ask the same question “What can we say about this?” And maybe, just maybe the only thing that we can say is that life is messy…its prickly and thorny and the problems might just grow up to take over everything…or maybe…just maybe…we remember that the kingdom of heaven is like this too…because the kingdom is present right here in the midst of all this craziness that threatens to take over our lives…whether we are looking for it or not. (pause)

Now if this was a funeral sermon, I’d start talking about baptism and the promise that God makes…that we are claimed by God and nothing overcomes that distinction…and I would wrap it up with the tail end of Romans 8…a passage that gives me hope in the midst of a lot crazy stuff….I am convinced, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor ANYTHING ELSE in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Nothing…not the craziness of this life that we lead…not the pain that we feel…not the shortcomings that we experience…God’s love is made manifest for all the world…for every member of the human race…because God loves those made in the divine image, and that is EVERY single member of the human race by the way…and nothing in this crazy, warped, messed up reality that we live in can change that.

The only thing that does change…is how we react to it. How will we respond to this crazy invasive, sometimes wonderful and sometimes prickly love of God for each one of us?  Someone asked Jesus a question along those lines once. And his response…Love God and Love your neighbor…period. There is no fine print…there are no conditions. That’s it.

But you know what…that’s radical isn’t it? To love unconditionally…to love regardless of what it might cost us…regardless of what the world and the rules tell us is okay or not…Jesus did it…and it cost him his life…who knows…maybe he’s the guy in the parable willing to sell everything…to give up everything just to acquire a treasure…and if that’s the case, well maybe the treasure is you…maybe its me…maybe its all of us…including the ones that I don’t want to risk getting to know…or the ones that look different that I do…or the ones that talk different than I do….or the ones who voted differently than me.

Jesus says love God and love our neighbor…which seems to be pretty all encompassing…because everyone is your neighbor…everyone, whether we chose to believe it or not.   (pause)
What are we to say about these things? Maybe nothing, because maybe there’s nothing to say…maybe all we can do is live together in the midst of this prickly thing called life. Amen.

Behold 4-16-17 Easter Sunday

In this Easter Sunday sermon, I explore Matthew’s account of the Resurrection, found in 28:1-10. We see a lot…and we are intended to. The tomb is open so that we can be witnesses to what has occurred.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/behold-4-16-17-easter-sunday

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The first of my grandparents to die was my grandpa on my mom’s side.  He and my grandma had moved to the Phoenix Arizona are when I was 5 years old…and they were still living there in the midst of my junior year of college, when Grandpa, quite suddenly had a serious health problem. He hung in there for a while…long enough for my mom to get down there to see him…but shortly after that he died. There was a small funeral for him, attended by those who could make it…but the timing was off for me, happening right in the midst of college mid-terms and sadly, I was unable to attend.

Then about three years later…I was finished with college. My wife and I had been married for about 18 months or so, and we decided to fly down to Arizona to visit my grandma…and while we were there, the three of us hopped in the car and visited the cemetery where my grandpa had been buried.

Now of course, I had mourned my grandfather when he died…but when we walked up to his grave and I looked at his tombstone, I just…lost it. I can’t explain why this happened, but I learned an important lesson that day. There are certainly things that you just have to see in order to fully experience them…and in this case…it was the grave of my grandfather.

(pause) Now, perhaps it seems a little strange to kick off an easter sermon by talking about death. Admittedly, I sort of thought the same thing as I sat at my desk on Friday, working my way through the preparation of this message.  As you likely realize, Friday was, of course…Good Friday…and I struggled with this message because my head was in two different places…I was thinking about Good Friday and our worship service that was coming up that evening…and at the same time I was thinking about this morning and the joy of Easter Sunday…and I was stuck in that tension between the two…I was stuck in thoughts about death while I was trying to think about new life.

But then I read today’s gospel lesson again and I realized that this is exactly where the story of Easter begins…with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb…and rest assured, they know where to find it.  If we back track just a little ways, we hear that these two women have been witnesses to all that Jesus has endured. They are among the women standing there when he dies on the cross…and they are watching when his dead body is taken off the cross and laid in this very tomb.

And so, as the action picks up…early morning on this random Sunday 2000 years ago…these two women are walking to see the tomb.  That’s an interesting point here in Matthew’s gospel…there are no spices in tow…and nothing about going to anoint his body…the tomb is closed…he’s dead and buried…they are simply going to see the tomb.

Now I pondered on that fact for a while…and then I remembered what happened to me at my grandpa’s grave…sometimes you’ve got to see it…and maybe, just maybe they were going there in order to try and feel a tiny little bit of connection to this man that they had known and loved.

Isn’t that what we do when we visit a cemetery…when we walk up to the grave of someone that we loved in this life…when we sit there and talk to them…what is it that we are doing, besides trying to have a tiny little bit of connection to this beloved person who has crossed the boundary that death creates.

Make no mistake…we all know, as we walk up to that tombstone…that in no way are we going to see the person again. We know that if we talk them, they aren’t going to talk back again…we all know about this division…this boundary created by death…and the two women knew it too.

They knew he was dead…but yet they went to SEE the tomb…and make no mistake…they saw the tomb…but they saw a whole lot more than that…Interestingly enough…the phrase “to see” or “to behold” is all over this short passage today…and there is a lot to behold.

They went to behold to tomb…and BEHOLD…there was an earthquake….and BEHOLD and angel descended from heaven and rolled the stone away. The angel greets the women, telling them fear not…You are looking to Behold Jesus who was crucified…BUT BEHOLD…he is not here…come and see.

The angel has a message…and a command…go and tell the disciples…he has been raised…but go into Galilee and there you will BEHOLD the risen Christ…this is so amazing…also frightening…but with joy the women run away from the tomb…and wouldn’t you know it…BEHOLD, there’s Jesus….who tells them the very same thing…don’t be afraid, but go tell my brothers to go out into Galilee and there they will BEHOLD me. (pause)

If the old saying is true…and seeing is believing…then we’ve got a lot to believe today don’t we? But what is truly amazing to me, is that what the women expect to see is the polar opposite of what they experience. They went looking for the tomb…but they found a whole lot more…and so…do…we. (pause)
Now…I don’t even need to tell you that Christ is Risen do I? I mean, of course he has…but you already know that…you’re already here today…clearly the Resurrected Jesus is something that is prominent enough on your radar that you are already here.

But imagine if you didn’t know that…because that’s the situation the women found themselves in. They went expecting death…and interestingly enough…but what they experienced included and earthquake, and an angel opening up the tomb…and then the angel pointed something out to them…not the Risen Christ…they didn’t find him there…the angel pointed out the lack of a dead Jesus. You are looking for Jesus was crucified, but see he is not here.

Here’s the amazing thing about that angel’s message and action of rolling away the stone. He didn’t show up in order to let the risen Jesus out of the grave…somehow that had already happened, even with the stone blocking the entrance…he moved the stone to let the women…and to let us IN…so that we can BEHOLD that the tomb is empty…that death didn’t get the last word…and that somehow, some way, there’s more to this story.

Now in it in their fear AND great joy…experienced at the same time mind you…as they follow the command of the angel to go and tell the disciples what they experienced…that’s when they encounter Christ…not among the dead, but out there in the world….and his command, repeated to the women in order that they might share it with the disciples is the same…tell my brothers that they must go out into the world and THERE they will see me. (pause)

This is the big deal about today…like the women, we expect to find death…and sure enough, we all experience it…and I’m not just talking about physical death…but something I tend to call little deaths…because this world is not perfect…and our lives are not perfect…and simply being followers of Christ in whatever capacity we find ourselves today does not excuse us from that.

We come to worship this morning…expecting the empty tomb…expecting trumpets and joyful proclamations…expecting the Resurrected Jesus…BUT…we come bearing all sorts of little death…you know what they are in your life. Those things that you struggle with…those voices in the back of our heads that tell us that we aren’t good enough…that we aren’t smart enough…that we haven’t done and will NEVER be good enough. We all have those hardships…those trials…those things that stand in the way of joy. (pause)
BUT…the tomb is empty. (pause) Death doesn’t get the last word…and what we experience…what we see…what we BEHOLD in the empty tomb is that we have a God who can…who has…who DOES create new life out of death…and as we go forth…out there into the world, bearing the news that the tomb is empty…bearing the knowledge of our experience…of our own story about what we have seen God do in our lives…when we are out there….that’s where the joy of the resurrected Christ meets us…and as we share this news as WE have experienced it…just like the women…just like the disciples at the end of the gospel…that’s where we find the Resurrected Lord….not in here…because here today…we find an empty tomb…but out there…as we bear this news that the tomb is empty…that death doesn’t get the last word…as we look in the face of the beloved child of God that we share this news with….that’s where we see Jesus….and maybe, just maybe, they’ll see him too. (pause)
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, for he is risen…and that’s something to behold. Amen.

Death Stinks 4-2-17

In this sermon, based on John 11:1-45, I explore the raising of Lazarus, as well as the long story leading up to it. Death, like many of life’s other hardships, leave us asking the question “Where are you on this one?”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/death-stinks-4-2-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

There’s a story about a young couple, maybe you’ve heard it before…but the story goes that this young man and woman get married, and on their first day together after they get home from the honeymoon, the new bride decides that she’s going to cook a big fancy meal for her new husband. So she goes out to the store and buys all the fixings…including a great big, tasty ham for the main dish.

Now he’s home when she’s cooking…and as she’s getting ready to put the ham in the roaster pan…he watches his new bride pull out a knife, and slice the end off the ham, before putting in the oven.  Now he’s curious…why would she do that…and so he asks the obvious question. Honey…why did you cut the end off the ham?  She looks at him for a moment, clearly thinking about it…and she responds…well…because that’s what my mom always did before she cooked a ham…I guess I don’t really know why. That’s just what my mom taught me.

So now both of them are a little curious…and so the young woman pulls out her cell phone, puts it on speaker and calls her mom.  Mom…when I was growing up, whenever you were cooking a ham, I remember that you always cut the end off…how come?  Mom thinks about it for a moment and replies…Well…because that’s what I always saw my mom do? I guess I really don’t know why? That’s just what my mom taught me. (pause)
You see where this is going. Now the young bride dials up Grandma…and poses the same question. Why do you cut the end off a ham before you cook it?  And Grandma laughs…well dear…when I was first married to your grandpa…we had a tiny little oven…so small, that I couldn’t fit an entire ham in it…and I got in the habit of cutting the end off so it would fit…and now that I think about it…I never stopped, even when I got a bigger oven. (pause)

Sometimes the things that just seem normal, have a very different, often unexpected reason why they start in the first place. We have many different examples in our day to day lives…things that we do, because that’s just what you do…but they have their roots in something specific.

And one of these things happens around the subject of funerals.  Now the first funeral I remember going to was my great grandmother when I was about 8 years old…and I don’t remember much of anything about that day…except the flowers. The front of the church was blanketed in flowers…and with good reason.  Because when someone dies, what do we do? A batch of us get together and place an order to have flowers sent…its just what you do…and I know that, because that’s what my mom taught me.

But have you ever stopped to consider the reason why? Why do we send flowers? Why is the automatic association with someone’s death, flowers? There’s a reason…but it goes back aways…back before the days of funeral homes…and mortuaries. Back when most people didn’t die in a hospital…they died at home…they’d get sick…they’d be cared for in their final days at home in their bed…and then when they died…the body would stay right there…and when loved ones came for the visitation, they would find the bedroom draped in fresh flowers. Because fresh flowers give off a pleasant smell…and that smell was intended to cover up the smell of death.

Now in the years since, we’ve outsourced funeral prep…and that’s not a bad thing…but in the process, the flowers have just become the go-to sympathy gift…and the masking of death has gone the route of science. We prepare bodies for the funeral in an attempt to hold off decomposition…and we dress up the body, with nice clothes and makeup…trying to make the individual look life-like, and pleasant, and nice…but make no mistake. Death isn’t nice.  Death has an effect…and death has a smell.

Now many of here today are familiar with farm life. And one of things that I can remember most vividly, having grown up around livestock, as the rendering truck when an animal died. That smell is locked in my brain…you can’t put it in words…but its awful…and that smell sticks with you. Last summer, we were sitting at a baseball game for my son…and this particular field was right next to a gravel road…and as we sat there, 3 or 4 different times the rendering truck drove by…and for about 5 minutes…all you can smell is…death.

Now imagine for a moment…that you are Mary and Martha…and your brother has died…and not only that, he’s been in the tomb 4 days…not just dead, but buried…enclosed…rotting…and then Jesus shows up, and he asks you to open the tomb. (pause) That’s exactly what happens today, but interestingly enough not till quite late in this rather lengthy story.

We hear that Lazarus is sick…this man, who along with his two sisters are beloved friends of Jesus. And this is a sickness that isn’t going to get any better so they send word to Jesus…because if anyone can help him…if anyone can make a difference…its Jesus…he’s opened the eyes of a blind man after all…certainly, he can heal Lazarus…

But when Jesus hears the news…he promptly sits around for 2 more days before finally working up the gumption to head towards Bethany…and by the time he meanders there…as we have heard…Lazarus is already rotting away in the tomb.

Needless to say, the sisters…well they’re a little perturbed aren’t they…and apparently they are close enough to Jesus…that they can get away with ripping into him a little bit…and we hear the exact same accusation from both them at different times. If you had been here…my brother wouldn’t have died.

Now I can’t help but think that this is a pretty common reaction…when something bad happens…when something occurs in our lives that we can’t make heads or tails of…and we happen to be in the group of people that express belief in God…I think its safe to say that at one time or another…we have probably all uttered a statement like that haven’t we…or maybe asked the question…Hey God…where were on that one?

I think there are many different examples of things that happen in our lives that bring that question to our minds. Its not just limited to a illness and death…maybe we ask it when our family faces a financial crisis…or when we lose a job.  Maybe we’ve prayed that our marriage will work out…but instead it deteriorates and we find ourselves getting divorced.

Or maybe we are facing the trials of bullying with no end in sight…or maybe we’re being abused…or maybe we’re facing the difficulties of mental illness…there are countless ways that people suffer…and as we look around this room today…who knows what someone is experiencing in the depths of their heart…who knows what hardships are present…hardships that make us ask the question “Where are you on this one God?”

But if the story of Lazarus shows us anything today, its this.  While God might not act according our timing…and while God might not respond to our prayers or requests or questions quite like we hope for…God isn’t afraid to get into stuff that’s messy.

Take the stone away…Lord he’s gonna smell. I don’t care…take it away. (pause) A lot has happened in this story before Jesus cries out in a great big voice…a voice that’s somehow big enough that not even death can hinder it.  Jesus has been accused of not caring.  He’s been blamed for coming too late…but he’s also witnessed death of someone that he loves…and he’s gotten mad…and he’s mourned…but now…finally we see that somehow, someway…Jesus, God in the flesh…cries out in the same voice that spoke creation into existence in the beginning…and in this same amazing voice…he speaks to the dead…and the dead listens. (pause)

That’s the amazing thing about this God that we serve…this God that we worship…this God that we look to for salvation…This God, is willing to get messy…this God is willing to step into those things that make no sense…those things that bring us pain…even death. God gets into it…and not only that, but God get’s his hands dirty in the process…because life’s messy and so is death…its messy because of the way that power of sin has twisted our reality away from that which is good and joyful…but we have a God who loves us so much…who loves us beyond anything we can imagine…this God will go to any length in order to overcome that brokenness.

And that is what the cross is all about…We are almost there…next week Jesus gets to Jerusalem…and just a few days later, he’s betrayed…he’s beaten…he tortured…and he’s nailed to a cross where he suffers and dies. (pause) But the cross is not about God saying I’m so angry with you that I’ll punish my son. (pause) The cross is God saying I’ll endure even this to show you that I love you. (pause)

I am the resurrection and the life. These words of Jesus are a corrective today…both for Martha and for us…because there is this misconception that the life death and resurrection of Jesus is only something that’s intended to benefit us out there in the unknown future.  But Jesus reminds us that we live in the hope of the resurrection…and through that hope we live in the freedom from all that which hinders us…right here right now…and if we don’t believe that…then look at the tomb…because Jesus get in the stink…and cries out in that amazing voice that not even death can stop and says Lazarus come out.  (pause)
And this same God calls us by name…inviting us into a new life…a life free from the things that hinder us…a life where we are not defined by what the world says about us.

And so, wherever you find yourself today…whatever it is in your life that isolates you…whatever suffering makes you ask the question Where are you on this one God…rest assured…that whether we are able to recognize it or not…God…is right beside you…whether it makes sense or not…and as I say this, I pose the same question that Jesus asked Martha…Do you believe this?

I hope so…because believing it grants a freedom that goes beyond words…a freedom that goes beyond the ability to explain…but I believe that its true…I don’t know why…its just what faith has taught me. Amen

Say What You Need to Say 3-1-17 Ash Wednesday

In this Ash Wednesday sermon, I explore 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10. We are reminded of death, a theme of this day, but must recognize that death does not get the last word.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/say-what-you-need-to-say-3-1-17-ash-wednesday

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

A couple days back, I was texting back and forth with a fellow pastor, jabbering about our respective sermons for tonight. She had already written hers, but she was worried that it was too short. I thought about it for a minute and then shared a bit of wisdom that my old preaching professor from seminary told us.

When you’re preaching, step into the pulpit, say what needs to be said, and then get the heck out of there. (pause) Now maybe this is a bit of a Lutheran notion…especially when compared with the preaching approaches in some different denominational bodies…where sermons can carry on for 30-40 minutes…but it’s a lesson that I’ve taken to heart, as most of you have probably figured out by now.

But that being said…there is one style that I just can’t wrap my head around…and that is the ongoing preaching in an old style revival. Now I’ve never been to a revival…but I’ve heard stories of the proverbial old school Baptist minister…getting up there and railing away for hours…eventually the suit coat comes off…the collar gets loosened…the shirt sleeves get rolled up…and when I’ve seen images on tv it always seems like its happening in mid-summer because everyone is all hot and sweaty…waving themselves with fans while the revival goes on and on and on. (pause)
Now, as I mentioned…I’ve never been to one…but I remember seeing a revival depicted on tv…on the classic show…the Waltons with John Boy and Mary Ellen and the rest of the Walton clan…Now, I remember seeing this episode as a kid, because my parents loved the show and watched it in syndication constantly…and not only that, but quite recently this particular episode was on in the background when I was visiting one of our members recently.

And the revival is depicted just as I described it a moment ago…as the visiting preacher rails on and on…focusing in on various individuals…and preaching fire and brimstone their direction…now one of the Walton boys catches an attack…and pretty quick he comes up to the front in a bit of an altar call…and later on in the episode he ends up in the river getting baptized…but then the preacher turns his attention to John Sr…who the show depicts as being pretty absent from worship most Sundays…and starts railing on him about the fires of hell…and John gets fed up…stands up…and walks out. (pause)

Now thinking about that whole scene reminds me of a portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, our featured passage for this evening…if there’s an overarching theme to this reading…and in fact to the entire letter of 2nd Corinthians in general…it’s the theme of reconciliation.  Somewhere in between Paul’s 1st letter to them and this one, the relationship has gotten strained…we don’t know what happened…but Paul is attempting to repair the breach…both for the sake of their own personal relationship and reconciliation, as well as for the sake of the gospel that he has taught them in the past.

Paul’s fear is that their irritation with him, whatever that might be about…will sour their opinion of the gospel that he had proclaimed…and so the theme of reconciliation…the need for it…particularly in terms of their relationship with God…and for a brief moment…I could almost imagine Paul as that Revival Preacher…NOW IS THE TIME…NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION. (pause) Whatever else Paul might be talking about…this small portion of the passage gives us a sense of urgency…that they must be reconciled now in this moment.

Now interestingly enough…Paul doesn’t get all fire and brimstoney on his audience…there’s no sense of trying to scare them into faith…no ultimatum of “Accept Christ or burn in hell.” And honestly I’m grateful for that…because I’ve never been partial to that style of proclamation…yes…Christ’s sacrifice frees us from the power of sin and death and condemnation…but if we are proclaiming Christ for the sole purpose of a get out of jail free card, then I think we are missing the point…for Christ desires that we be reconciled to God now…that we be in good relationship with God and our neighbor now…today…in this life. (pause)
But that being said…today is Ash Wednesday…today is one of the few days in the church year when we take an honest look at the end…and with that in mind…maybe, just maybe that sense of urgency isn’t a bad thing.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return. (pause) God formed humanity out of the dirt…God gives us life…but at some point…that life is over…and we return to the dirt that we came from in the first place. That’s what we’re talking about tonight…and when I look you in the eyes in a few more minutes, and I smear some ashes on your forehead and say those words to you, that’s what I’m saying. That at some point…you…will…die.

I’ll be honest…death is not one of my favorite subjects…and perhaps tonight more than any other Ash Wednesday that I’ve been a part of in the past…it seems particularly uncomfortable…There’s been too much of it in recent history…last fall our community and our congregation experienced several in a pretty short amount of time…some at the end of a long full life…and some shockingly early and unexpected.  And for me personally, it was all capped off with the death of my mentor in late November…a 57 year old man who was the pillar of health…unexpected to say the least…and wouldn’t you know it…I also got word this past weekend that one of my parents neighbors…a man that I’ve known since I was 3 years old suddenly died.

The thing about death…is that there’s no rhyme or reason to it…it comes out of the blue…and it catches us unaware…and if these unexpected deaths that have happened around all of us over the course of this past year have shown us anything…its that tomorrow is not guaranteed.

And while God may continue to display infinite patience with us in this life…it would seem that our death creates something of an expiration date…and so, Paul’s urgency…now is the acceptable time…now is the day of salvation…and yes maybe I sound a little fire and brimstoney here. Its not my normal style…but I can see today where Paul is coming from.

But here’s the thing…that salvation that he’s talking about…its already offered to you…its already been done for you…its already been accomplished for you. Christ did it at the cross…just how it works, I don’t know…just why it works, I don’t know…all I do know is that God loves us fully and completely…every single one of us…and God loves us so much that this blasted sin and the separation that it causes must be overcome and since we can’t pull it off on our own God stepped in through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and did something about it on our behalf…and this freedom…this salvation…whatever you want to call it is offered to you freely…now.

And the amazing thing about this…is that death…which has to be the worst part of our existence…both from the standpoint of having to watch it happen and experience the pain of loss that death causes for those still living…as well as the horrific reality of our own death, when our existence…our life as we know it ceases to be…and we cross into that great unknown that is lying on the other side of it…this horrific truth…this horrible thing…death, the worst thing that will happen to us…it is not the last thing that will happen to us.

If you’ve been to a funeral that I’ve led, you’ve likely heard me say that death comes for us all…but death doesn’t get the last word…God does…and we’re given a tiny little glimpse at that in the very last thing Paul says tonight…we are treated as having nothing…yet possessing everything.

You’ve all heard the saying “you can’t take it with you.” And its true. We come into this world with nothing…and we leave the same way…taking nothing with us…BUT…the promise of God assures us that we are made heirs of eternal life…WHATEVER that’s going to look like in the age to come…we are given that promise…it is spoken over us in the waters of our baptism…and it is spoken to us in the bread and wine of Communion.

Now in just a few minutes, I’ll look you in the eye and say words that refer to your death…but right after I say that to you, you will hear the words “the body of Christ broken for you…the blood of Christ shed for you.”  And this is done for the forgiveness of sin. Death is real, but the last words in the conversation belong to God. (pause)

Tonight we kick off the season of Lent…and we do it by acknowledging death…by recognizing our own limitations…and in about 40 days, Christ is going to be nailed to a cross where he’ll endure the true cost of our broken sinful reality…a cost that we can’t even begin to understand…he’ll endure it…or in actually he already has…because you have to go through death before you can get to the resurrection…but maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself there.

Tonight we remember that death comes for us all…and tonight we leave the conversation unfinished…which might seem strange…but I’ll make you a promise…or at least I’ll share God’s promise to you…this isn’t it…we’ll pick it up again at Easter with that tomb…is empty. Amen

 

Just Wait 11-6-16

In this sermon for All Saints Sunday, I explore the crazy cycle of life as Jesus describes in in Luke 6:17-31. Throughout the ups and downs, the promise remains that the kingdom is already with us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/just-wait-11-6-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
*note, that between the writing and recording of this sermon, a congregational member died, and so rather that the number of All Saints names being 4, it was actually 5*

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

So the Cubs finally won the World Series. All the jokes and the predictions…all the ho-hum years that went nowhere, and all the heartbreaks of good teams that didn’t quite make it are over…the longest streak in American professional sports since winning the championship no longer belongs to the Cubbies.

And if social media is to be believed…there were a lot of us watching that game…a lot of us biting our finger nails…especially in the bottom of the 9th when the Indians smacked a 2 run homer to tie it up and send it into extra innings…and if you were still up watching at that point…you know we had to wait even longer because of a rain delay between the 9th and 10th. Fortunately it wasn’t overly long.

In a lot of ways that brief rain-delay reminded me of a very common saying that we have here in Iowa. (pause) Don’t like the weather? Wait 5 minutes. (pause) And isn’t it the truth? It never ceases to amaze me at how quickly the weather can change in this part of the country…and who knows, maybe it’s the same everywhere…but its really true here. Now, typically we use this expression to talk about rain…how it can come and go so rapidly…and often does.

But this time of the year, this phrase runs through my head just thinking about the way the temperature changes so much over the course of the day.  We start the day with heat…by mid-morning you open the windows…you turn on the air conditioner in the afternoon when it gets a little on the hot side…but by evening…you’ve got the heat on again. (pause) Don’t like the weather…just wait…it’ll change.

Now its that notion of the way things change, and specifically the cycle of the temperature through the day at this time of year that gets me thinking about the gospel lesson for today…because the gospel highlights a very familiar notion…that in life…there are ups and downs…back and forth…reversals…cycles…and if our experience shows us anything as we go through this crazy thing called life…its that these cycles of the good and the bad…they just keep on happening don’t they? (pause)

Now perhaps today’s story seems familiar to you. It’s from a portion of Luke’s gospel called the Sermon on the Plain…it lines up with a lengthy portion of teaching from Jesus found in Matthew’s gospel known as the Sermon on the Mount…and they have A LOT of similarities…including the way they both start off.

Both accounts start off in the same way…with something called the Beatitudes…but where Matthew shares a slightly longer listing of people who are blessed within their present circumstances…Luke shortens the list…but he also shares the flip side of things…because we’ve got the “Woe’s” in there too. (pause)
Now it’s interesting how Luke presents them…this list of 4 sets of people who have it rough in the present, but they are blessed…and in the future the opposite will be true…and then, once those things are listed, we hear Jesus switch gears…and he lists off 4 more sets of people…who seem to be enjoying good times in the present…but they better watch out, because harder times are coming. (pause)
Now maybe this makes sense…because that’s a pretty accurate notion of life. Sometimes things are good, sometimes things are hard…Some times we feel pretty blessed…and sometimes we need to watch out. (Pause) But there’s a little  more too it than that isn’t there? Admittedly, I’m not much for rearranging scripture, because I think it typically does a pretty good job on its own, but I do find myself wishing that the order of things was mixed up just a touch here….because it’s a little more eye-opening if we pair them up together.
Blessed are you who are poor…for yours is the kingdom of God…but woe to you who are rich. (Pause) Blessed are you who are hungry now…for you will be filled…but woe to you who are full. (pause) Blessed are you who weep now…for you will laugh…but woe to you who are laughing now. (pause) And finally…blessed are you when people hate you…and exclude you…and revile you and defame you on account of the Son of Man…for surely your reward is great in heaven…but woe to you when all speak well of you…

Isn’t that crazy? These sayings of Jesus all partner up…they are two sides of the same coin…and through these 4 different situational pairings, Jesus seems to be saying…if it stinks now, it’ll get better, but if you’ve got it good now its gonna go downhill…ups and downs…lots of reversals…a cycle…just like life. (pause)
Now…out of all 4 of these situations…perhaps one of them is a little bit more fitting than the others today…Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh, but woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

Today is, of course, All Saints Sunday…and already within our worship service we have taken the time to remember those who have died in the last year…we have shared their names…we have shared a moment to dwell in their memory…and we have lit a candle for each of them which is still burning right over there.

And I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of just how recently three of those 4 names were added to the list for today.  Just within this congregation, we have experienced 3 deaths…3 funerals in the past 2 months…and the most recent one just 2 weeks ago. (pause)

For many of us here…we don’t have to think very hard to remember being in the state of weeping and mourning…and maybe in some ways…maybe even in every way for some of you sitting out there today…we are still fully in this state…and the very last thing we might think is possible is that we would ever smile again…or laugh again…or in some way feel any sort of joy. (pause)

Because grief is a hard thing…and there is no right way to go through it. Two weeks ago I stood before in the midst of my own grief…my own shock in the death of a 15 year old boy, and in that moment I shared the sense of anger and sadness and the honest feeling that any joy was pretty hard to see.

In the time since then, I’ve had conversations with many different people expressing the same sort of feelings…the same sort of pain and sorrow and disbelief…and I’ve heard statements of gratitude to hear that its okay to react to senseless things this way. (pause)
But time goes on…and in the short amount of time that has passed since that day, I’ve seen some things that have brought a smile to my face…some things worthy of happiness…things worthy of joy…things worthy of celebration. Things like spending time with a group of 5th graders…watching them get their hands dirty to help make the bread that we’ll share today in Communion…and laughing with them as we talked about the Lord’s Supper…those are good things…and it sheds just a touch of light on what Jesus says when he tells us…when he promises us that you are blessed now as you mourn for one day you will laugh again. (pause)

I think this is important for us, as a community who has recently endured a tragedy to hear…that yes we have all experienced pain and suffering…and in many ways we still are…but the promise of Christ is that joy WILL be found again. (Pause) Now that being said…one thing Jesus does not give us is a time frame. And so, if you are hearing this today, and within your life you are still experiencing pain of some kind, mourning or otherwise…and its still difficult to see the possibility that things could get better…that’s okay. (pause)

And on the flipside…if you find youself in a mode today where things are looking pretty good…just keep in mind…the cycle of life is going to bring around some bitterness again…and I think its pretty safe to say that this cycle just keeps on going…things go well, then something happens…and it sends us reeling…and we wallow in it for awhile, but then, right when we aren’t paying attention, things start to turn around again…That’s the craziness of life…and it seems a lot like that old saying about the weather in Iowa…wait 5 minutes…it’ll change. (pause)

But you know what…I stand here and I think about all these words I’ve said in the past few minutes…and I think it sounds pretty “self-helpy.” That yes life is rough but all you have to do is grit your teeth because it’ll get better…And I know that sometimes our experiences show us that this idea…is a big load of crap…and being honest about that raises the question…that where’s the gospel in the midst of all this? Where’s the good news?

And interestingly enough, we find it in a couple of very simple, almost throw away comments. First of all, think about the narration at the begin of what I read today…Jesus, God in human form…was up a mountain…but he came down to where the people are. And it was in the midst of them that he shares this teaching…but he’s also healing them…he’s meeting them in the midst of their pain and their suffering…and not only does he offer healing…but most importantly he offers them his very presence…Jesus, God in human form comes to where WE are…and is present in the midst of all this…the good and the bad.

And there’s another thing….keep in mind that throughout the Beatitudes, the statements tell us that things are one way now, but in the future they will be the opposite…you suffer now, but you will be better…You have it good now, but you will suffer hardship…that’s the way they are all listed…with one exception…

Throughout all of this…the one constant…is that the Kingdom of God…IS. Because the kingdom came among us when Jesus…God in human form made the choice to come down to where we are…the kingdom is present here…now…in the midst of whatever state we find ourselves in today…if we are mourning, the kingdom is here…if we are laughing and celebrating…the kingdom is here…and when we find ourselves in the midst of the craziness…the ever changing reality of life…the kingdom is here…and through Christ…we are made heirs of it.

And if we are heirs of the kingdom…then we are heirs to the promise of the Risen Christ…that where he is, we will also be…and today we look at those 4 candles…and we remember the 4 individuals that they represent…and we trust in the promise that Christ has made that the death which they have experienced doesn’t get the last word…God does…and I believe that those 4 people are in a place today where they want you to know it.

However you find yourself today, rest assured that the one who made you, sees you…and the promises are yours. Blessed are you…for yours IS the kingdom of God. Amen.

Saturday People 3-13-15

In this sermon I explore John 12:1-8, the anointing of Jesus. We see even in the midst of life, there is the tension of death present. We live in this reality.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/saturday-people-3-13-16

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

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

I’ve heard it said that of our 5 main senses, smell is most strongly connected to our memory…that certain aromas can instantly remind of us of certain moments or places or individuals…and I think that’s true. In the very least…I know that my sense of smell keys in to certain things…and I’m guessing that many of these aromas are pretty universal.

Who can deny the smell of a freshly cut orange…or the wonderful aroma of lilac flowers in the early spring…two of my personal favorites are the smells that come up from freshly mown grass or freshly turned dirt…its wonderful.

But on the flip side…sometimes smells, while identifiable, are also pretty stinky…it never ceases to amaze my kids when we find ourselves driving down the road behind a livestock trailer and I’m able to identify whether its carrying cattle or hogs or horses…simply by the smell…Certainly its true…aromas…our sense of smell…its important and strong.

I bring all of this up because today’s gospel appeals to our sense of smell…the anointing of Jesus…and the abundant gift that Mary bestows upon Jesus when she anoints his feet with a pound of costly perfume…and an aroma that fills the house. (pause)
Now I think most of us are fairly familiar with this story…it shows up in all four gospels…and while the details get a little muddled across the gospel boundaries…the basic plot is the same…Jesus is reclining at the table, enjoying the hospitality of his host, and a woman comes in and pours oil on him before wiping his feet with her hair, when low and behold, someone squawks about the waste of resources.

The setting changes…the identity of the woman and the host changes…and the voice of opposition changes across the different gospels…but the story itself remains pretty constant. That being said…a couple of these unique details here in John’s account catch my attention. First off, we hear that the event occurs in the home of Lazarus…and we also hear that it occurs after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Just how long after, we’re not sure…but that story occurs in chapter 11 of John, so it couldn’t have been too long.

And so we know that Lazarus, as he’s reclining there at the table alongside Jesus…sharing this time together with the Lord…Lazarus is experiencing a bit of a unique situation. He’s been dead…but now he’s alive again…one of only 3 people that Jesus brings back…but at the same time…we have no indication that Lazarus is now experiencing life in “THE RESURRECTION.” That life that we are promised will come in the last days…rather, all indications show us that Lazarus, along with those other two individual’s raised by Jesus, were simply experiencing life in the same way that they had before…and in the end died once more…but in the meantime…where do we find him? Here…spending time with Jesus…experiencing ongoing relationship with the Lord…and now let’s put a pin in that and come back to it in a bit. (pause)

The second interesting point that John’s account of this story makes…is Jesus’ response when Judas squawks about wasting the oil…all selfish motivations of Judas aside…Jesus says that she has prepared him for his burial…and that’s what this anointing is all about…its coming right up…we hear that its 6 days before Passover…a few more days and Jesus dies.

That’s coming up for us on the calendar as well…two weeks from today…we’ve got the triumphal entry, which incidentally, immediately follows this story in John…and then we’re off through Holy Week and the glorious resurrection of Jesus…the empty tomb…the risen Lord…cue the trumpets and bring in the Easter Lilies. (pause)

If you’re anything like me, you’re ready for Easter. This season of Lent is just long enough…and just dark enough…that by this point…I’m ready for that empty tomb…and as I think about that…I’m reminded of something an old mentor of mine taught me…that we are Easter people…we are people of the resurrection…and we live in a reality where the tomb of Jesus is empty for he has risen…but each and every year we go through this time…this time of remembrance…this time of preparation…and even though we embrace the promise that we are a new creation…and that we join with Christ in a resurrection like his…we also realize that we have to go through Good Friday before we can get to Easter.

We have to go through Death before we can get to the new life that lies beyond it…and in our story today…Jesus reminds us of that. “Leave her alone, she has kept it for the day of my burial.” (pause) Jesus knows that he has to go through Good Friday to get to Easter…and as much as he might have feared it…and as fervently as he prayed to the Father to allow Good Friday to pass from him…he still took it.

Now here’s the thing…we are promised in the waters of our baptism that we are claimed by God as his children…and we receive the promise that we inherit the gift of the resurrection…we will join with Christ in a resurrection like his, but we also join with Christ in a death like his…and this is not shocking…we all owe one death in this existence and there are no exceptions to that…but in addition…we also experience what I can only call a “little death” each and every day.

Remember that we are forgiven of the sin and pain and darkness that exists within us…we feel it, but we are forgiven of it…and every day, when we sense that darkness and repent of it and turn ourselves back to the one who created us we are that new creation…but by doing this we are experiencing that little death…each and every day. And so, in addition to being Easter people…people of the resurrection…we also realize that we are Good Friday people…because we have to go through the death before we can get to the resurrection.

This is true in the big picture…that we each experience death, but through the promise of God we join in the resurrection…and it is also true for us in the here and now…as we experience the little death of sin and darkness before experiencing the promise of new life in Christ.

Now its important that we realize this…that the gift of Jesus isn’t limited to just some new life out there in the unknown future…that’s part of it…but he has told us that he came to give us life and give it abundantly…in the here and now…

That abundant life is lived with God…in relationship which is made possible again through the death and resurrection of Christ…he has made it possible for us to turn away from the darkness that is still present with our reality and within our individual lives…to turn away from it and return to the path intended for us by the one who made in the first place.

The Hebrew have a word for this…and its connected to something I’ve talked about before. On Ash Wednesday I talked about the word TOV…the GOOD…the way that God made us and desires for us to live…and this notion of repentance…of turning away from that sinful darkness and returning to God…of turning back to the good…back to the TOV…the Hebrew calls this T’SHOOVAH….everyone say that with me..T’SHOOVAH…its one of those words that requires excitement to say…and I think that stems from the fact that its exciting and life giving…it is life abundant when we spend it in the TOV…in the good life intended WITH the LORD. (pause)

Now all that being said…it raises the question…where do we find a life in T’SHOOVAH? Do we find it as Good Friday people…in the recognition of death? (pause) I don’t think so. And do we find it as Easter People…embracing the resurrection that we have yet to fully experience? (pause) I don’t think so. I think we find in the middle of the two…in the midst…in the tension that lies between death and resurrection.

So maybe we are Good Friday people…and maybe we’re also Easter people…but I think we find T’SHOOVAH…when we realize that we are Saturday people…living in the tension between death and new life…between the cross and the empty tomb…a life lived, not perfect, but TOV…GOOD…a life lived in relationship with the Lord. (pause)

And now I’m going to go back to that spot where we put a pin…and Lazarus…reclining at the table with Jesus…having experienced death…literally in his case…but yet to fully encounter the resurrection…and what are they doing? Seems like they’re simply spending time together…abiding together…living life together.

Through Christ, this relationship is possible, because we see in Jesus that God dwells among us…with us…and through Christ, we are drawn to the Father…but not only that…through Christ we are also given the ability to forgive one another…to repair the broken relationships between us as individuals…

This abundant life…promised by Jesus…IS experienced in the here and now…it is found in relationship with God and one another because if you recall clear back in Genesis, when God is making humanity and he calls it TOV, he recognizes that it is NOT good…it is NOT TOV…for us to be alone…and through the reconciling work of Jesus Christ…the work that we are invited into…we live in community together. (pause)

We are Good Friday people…and we are Easter people…and as we see today, we are also Saturday people…and we are all of these rolled into one…we live in the tension between death and new life…a tension that was present within today’s story.

I’m going to wrap this all up with one more thought…remember how Mary poured out the oil…and the aroma of the perfume filled the entire room? Jesus said that she did it to prepare him for burial. This was common…for when a body went in the tomb and began to decompose, it smells…death has a smell and if you’ve been around you know what I’m talking about.

And so, when they put a body in the tomb, they anointed it with perfume…to try and mask the smell of death…but you can’t…the two mix in together…the fragment with the foul…the pleasant with the painful…life with death.

And that’s what Jesus is talking about as he looks towards his own death…the death that makes new life possible. Its all wrapped up together…for Jesus and for us. This is the tension of being Saturday people…and what a blessing to know that we are not alone in that tension…but that we have one another…and we have a God who exists there with us…so let’s live here in the abundant life lived together with God and one another…let’s live on Saturday knowing that its T’SHOOVAH. Amen