Posts Tagged ‘light’

You Be You 2-5-17

In this sermon, taken from Matthew 5:13-20, I explore Jesus’ reminder that we are salt and light. This is followed up by Jesus’ reminder that he has come to fulfill the law. So what’s that mean for us?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-be-you-2-5-17

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

If I was to ask you to name one story written by the famous author Edgar Allan Poe…I’m guessing most of you would offer up The Raven…perhaps even quoting the raven…Nevermore.

But there’s another story written by Poe, perhaps not quite as well known, but its stuck with me over the years…its called the Tell-Tale Heart…Within the story, we hear the narrator, offering up to us an account of how he committed murder…but was captured after the victims post-mordum hearbeat drove him temporarily crazy and he confessed to the crime.

Now that in itself is strange to be sure…but there’s a detail within the story itself that always bugged me. You see, the premise for this whole murder was weird to begin with…apparently the victim was an okay guy…but one of his eyes was weird…apparently wide and menacing like a vulture is how Poe describes it. And the man who committed the murder, well he couldn’t stand it…so he decided to kill the guy.

And so…for a period of time, he plotted the murder…planning to do it at night…creeping into the man’s home…into his bedroom, where he would commit the crime…and so for a long period…night after night…the murderer would bring a long a lamp, creep slowly into the house, and down the hall to the bedroom door. Once he got his and arm inside the door, he’d open a shutter on the covered lamp, casting a light on his victim’s eye…night after night its shut…and its not until a slip up makes a noise that wakes the man, that he finally commits the murder.

Now the rest of details aren’t really important…but here’s the thing that’s always bugged me. The guy lights a lantern…and closes it…taking a lot of time to creep into the room. And if I know anything about a lantern…I know that it’s basically a candle burning inside a frame…and if you completely close it…which you would have to in order to keep any light from coming out…well then that candle is quickly going to use up all the air available to it…and its gonna go out long before he makes it into the bedroom…I don’t mean to be nitpicky Mr Poe…but that’s how a candle works…put it under a cover after its lit…well that’s just stupid. (pause) I’m guessing you see where I’m going with this.

Today, we dive into the meat of the Sermon on the Mount…a long period of teaching by Jesus…both to his disciples as well as the crowds that have gathered around him…and through the written word of the gospel…teaching aimed at us today. That’s the setting of today’s gospel…Jesus has just finished up the beatitudes, which we heard in worship a week ago…telling his audience about the unexpected people who are blessed in the kingdom of heaven…including You…we hear that…blessed are you. (pause)

And that leads directly into where we pick up today. A passage that seems to have 2 main parts…You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world…and then Jesus switches gears and starts talking about the law.

Now admittedly, this first portion seems a little strange…all this talk about salt and light…and while Jesus’ statements about light might seem kinda obvious, the salt thing is perhaps, a little harder to understand.

I was thinking about salt this week…where it comes from, what we use it for…things like that…and I compared this to Jesus’ words. If salt looses its flavor its worthless, so throw it out in the road…but when we think of salt now…what do we use it for? For its taste, to season our food, and to keep the ice off the roads right? And now…think of where we get salt…typically at the grocery store…and its pure right…because we’ve refined it…and so, for the salt to loose its saltiness, means that there’s nothing left…Pure salt, if its lost its saltiness, is nothing right? So I guess there wouldn’t be much left to throw out on the roads in the first place.

But in Jesus’ day, salt was a little different. They couldn’t go to Hy-Vee or Fareway and pick up a batch. Rather, salt came from a mine where it was chipped out of the rock…or it was scooped up from the sea-shore at lowtide, along with whatever sand and sediment was mixed in with it.

So you’ve got this salt/sand mixture…which admittedly doesn’t sound all that appealing to put on some food…but if something happened, and the salt disappeared, what’s left? Just a bunch of sand…and you aren’t gonna season anything with that are you…so you might as well throw it out in the road where it can provide some traction. (pause)

So it would seem, as Jesus offers up these two brief comments, that salt without its salt-ness…and light that’s covered up are both pointless. Neither one is fulfilling its essence…neither one is doing what it is, quite literally…made to do.

Now here’s the thing…Jesus says You ARE the salt of the earth…and then he says You ARE the light of the world. Jesus says this…Go in Human form…You ARE…not that you should be, or that you will be, or that you used to be…but you are. So be it…God told you that you are these things…so be salt…be light…be you…because you already are. (pause)

Now what’s that mean in the midst of our day to day life? Good question…and perhaps that’s why Jesus switches gears at this point…and we start hearing about the law. And he says some stuff about following the law…follow the commandments and teach others to do the same…don’t break them, because that won’t bode well for you in the kingdom of heaven. (pause) And I have to ask…what’s Jesus talk about here. Especially with his closing statement today…unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you’ll never enter the kingdom. I can’t help but think that seems a little daunting…and perhaps a little odd at the same time.

Aren’t the scribes and the Pharisees always the ones that Jesus’ butts heads with? Aren’t they the ones that he call hypocrites? So why does it seem like he’s offering them up as the example today?

In order to answer that question, we need to remember what Jesus means by righteousness…and that word, one that we throw around a lot, simple means “being right with God.” And knowing that, we need to think about what the scribes and Pharisees do in order to “be right with God.” (pause) They follow the law, to the letter…and not just the 10 Commandments, but all the steps listed out to make up for their mistakes. The religious elite never claimed to be perfect, and we need to remember that…but they knew what do to make up for their sins…the right sacrifice to make…the right prayer to offer…in short…they followed the law, as they understood it, thinking that it made them righteous.

But the big question…how’d that work out for them? Not well…because we can’t do it. We can’t fulfill the law because the law is not just a list of things to do or not to do…and Jesus will spend a pretty big chunk of the sermon on the mount talking about this…that sin goes way deeper than our actions…it goes way deeper than our thoughts and words and intentions…it goes so deep into our broken human nature that we CAN NOT DO IT.

And so if Jesus is telling us to fulfill the law…to be righteous in a way that is greater than the religious elite…well how’s that going to happen? (pause) Well if we can’t do it…then I guess someone else is going to have to fulfill it for us…and maybe I’m crazy but didn’t Jesus tell us today that he has not come to do away with the law but to fulfill it? Pretty sure I heard that in there…
I have come, not to abolish, but to fulfill…To complete…to finish…and realizing that makes me think of a couple of words Jesus uttered on the cross right before he died. It…is…finished. (pause) As Jesus hung there…his body broken…his blood shed…it was fulfilled…and today…in just a few more minutes…we will each hear those same words spoken to us…The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.

This is the gospel…we can’t do it…so God does it for us…and the broken body and blood of Christ fulfills the law for us…the broken body and blood of Christ makes you righteous, whether you think you deserve it or not. (pause)

Now this is important…that we realize that our foolish attempts to justify ourselves…our efforts and our worrying about being good enough…being smart enough…or doing enough…are all just that…foolish waste of effort. Jesus assures us that its already done for you…now. And this frees us up to be what we are called to be…to be what we are made to be.

Salt is salty, otherwise its not salt. Light gives light, otherwise its darkness. You are you…made by God…bearing the divine image of the Lord…empowered with gifts and talents that are unique to you…so be you…quit worrying about being good enough for God and realize that there is nothing you need to do in order to be good enough for God.  He made us…and then he sat back and called humanity very good. And when humanity screwed it up…Christ redeemed it…and its already done. Period.

And now Christ is telling you…be YOU…be who you ARE. And you are a beloved child of God, claimed by our Lord and empowered to join together in reconciling the world back to the one who has redeemed it.

Salt makes a difference in food…and all you have to do it eat my wife’s cooking and then eat my cooking to taste the difference…because I always forget the salt.  Light illuminates…and all you have do it flip the switch in a dark room to see the difference. These things create a change simply by being what they are…and Christ says the same about you.

So you be you…wonderful, incredible…unique you. Not perfect…flawed and broken…but still beloved in the eyes of the one who made you in his own divine image…gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a difference in the world. Be what God has made you to be…nothing more, nothing less…You ARE a beloved child of God. Amen.

Where Do We Go From Here

I haven’t actually sat down and written a blog in a long time…too long. I can’t even tell you the last time that I did any writing that wasn’t a sermon or a board report or a newsletter article.

But life has afforded me a moment to stop and catch my breath in the midst of a lot of craziness. And when I find these moments…which is admittedly often though typically quite fleeting…my mind starts going. Lately there’s been a lot to think about.

This is a crazy time of year. People and activities are buzzing all around us. Christmas shopping, holiday planning, school concerts, seasonal changes…the list goes on and on. Additionally, the wide spread buzz has been…well…buzzing with a lot of controversial things as of late. Arguments have erupted around different issues like gun violence/control, grand jury decisions regarding tragic deaths, racial based tensions, immigration…and the list goes on and on.

Here at home things have been crazy as well. Following a week’s vacation over Thanksgiving, I came into a week that I was expecting to be low key…thanks to the Adult Choir at church performing their Christmas Program this Sunday and letting me off the hook for preaching. But yet in the midst of a casual week, I’ve kept busy. Conversations with other area pastors my first day back filled an afternoon with discussions, sometimes heated, about the difficulties we face within our own small niches. Due to this, my normal monthly visits to members in nursing homes was postponed. A congregational family experienced a death, and in the midst of offering them support my wife’s family experienced their own loss of a beloved aunt.

Its one of those situations that sort of leaves you with your head spinning.

Where do we go with all this stuff…there’s too much. Too much violence…too much hate…too much death…ITS TOO MUCH LORD!!!! WHERE ARE YOU ON THIS STUFF…There’s more darkness in the world than I know how to handle.

And when I get in that mode mentally, my mood goes south in a really big hurry…and I kind of walk around in a bit of a dark funk…every bit as dark as my perception of the world around me. That was my situation as of about 24 hours ago…but I put on my big-boy pants…as well as a brave face…and I went on the nursing home visits that had gotten postponed a couple days earlier.

One of the visits found me sitting at a table with 4 or 5 ladies…a couple of which I knew…and a couple that I was just meeting for the first time.  I can’t quite account for this, but what I perceive to be the combination of extreme hearing loss as well as an “I’m old enough that I’ll say whatever I want to” attitude led one of the new ladies to lean over and “whisper” to her neighbor.

“He’s a pastor? Oh he can’t be a pastor, he’s too good looking.”

And then…

“He look’s like a hunk to me.”

Cue laughter…a lot of laughter from everyone at the table…myself included.

Here in the midst of the dark funk that I’ve been feeling lately…powerless to do anything about it, comes a glimmer of light…a spark of joy.

And in that moment I found myself reminded of the season. We’re in Advent, coming right up on Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Christ in the world…the Incarnation as its known in the church world…and when I realized that, I immediately thought of my favorite Gospel…sorry Matthew, Mark, and Luke…you guys are great but it isn’t you…and I thought of the Incarnation in John’s Gospel. Chapter 1 verse 5…The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Jesus is the light…he is the light of the world…and at Christmas he comes into the world…and in the midst of all that darkness…all this death and tension and fear and anger that so many of us are feeling these days…that darkness doesn’t win. God says so…because the darkness doesn’t get the last word…God does…and while I believe with every atom of my being that God is mourning the current state of our reality, I also believe that God is doing something about it, whether we realize it or not.

And that moment of extreme belly laughter, brought on by one elderly lady building up my ego, reminded me that God’s not hindered by our darkness…he’s not stymied by the difficulties that we face…and God IS…up to something. The darkness cannot and will not win…because the LIGHT has come into the world.

Don’t believe me…think I’m just another religious nut? Think I’m crazy to hold on some fantasy? That’s okay, but I’ll get scientific with you too. Darkness is the absence of light…period…darkness is not even its own thing…it can only be when something else is not…and that is the light…the instant light comes on the scene, darkness retreats. Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light.

So in the midst of a dark time, let’s hold onto the hope that Light is, once again, coming into the world…and the darkness CANNOT over come it.

Shine the Light of You 2-9-14

This morning’s sermon is taken from Matthew 5:13-20. It marks the 2nd of several weeks in which the Lectionary focuses on the Sermon on the Mount. In this particular passage, we hear the familiar verses “You are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world. In this sermon, I focus on the Light aspect, and how Jesus tells us to shine the light that we are.

You can hear the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/shine-the-light-of-you-2-9-14

You can follow along with the text here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Last Sunday featured two major headlines. Depending on your point of view, one was likely much bigger news than the other, garnering a lot more attention as well as a multitude of additional offshoot headlines over the course of the next couple of days.
The first event was of course…the Superbowl…and the massive beat down handed out by the Seahawks over the Bronco’s…this was the big story of the day…and certainly the basis for a lot of water cooler conversations on Monday.
Though I am, by my own admission, nothing of a sports fan, this does tend to be the one televised football game of the year that I stop and pay attention to, and this year, if nothing else, it provided me with the joy of seeing my 10 year old son, who is…at least this year…a Bronco’s fan…riddled with angst as his beloved Peyton Manning and the rest of the Bronco’s offence got systematically dismantled by the superior defense of the Seahawks….now don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t make me happy to see my son sad, but I was laughing to myself quite a bit as I heard him ranting at the tv. “Why’d you make that pass?” “How could you let him make that catch?” Or perhaps my personal favorite… “Come on Peyton, you have to yell Omaha…then everything will be okay.”
Well, as we know, for the Bronco’s the game didn’t turn out so well…but admittedly, I was somewhat distracted from the game by the other news of the day, which had hit the airwaves earlier in the afternoon. The academy award winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman was found dead at the age of 46.
For many, this news was a bit of a downer, but quickly dismissed as yet another Hollywood celebrity lost too soon…but that was not my reaction. I am a movie buff in every sense of the word, and Hoffman has always been one of my favorite character actors…his ability to embody a character on both the big screen as well as on stage was well known, and I have enjoyed his work immensely…so when I heard the news that he had been found dead, I sat up and paid attention…over the course of the next few hours, more information was released, and the world found out that Hoffman had been found with a needle in his arm…his death caused by an overdose of heroin.
Hoffman was a drug addict, though one who had seemingly overcome his addictions more than 20 years ago…but for whatever reason, this darkness once again took hold of him, and whether it was accidental or on purpose…drugs snuffed out the light of Hoffman’s life.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the course of the past week reading various blogs and news articles, both about Hoffman and not about him…but all together aimed at the monkey on your back known as drug addiction…and as I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to realize that quite a few people that have influenced me over the years have addiction in common.
Some of these people I know personally…other’s I’ve interacted with through social media, though I’ve never met them in person and still others have influenced me through their writing or public speaking…but through hearing their stories I’ve come to understand more about the notion of addiction…and the way that the darkness of the world can cause such pain that they cannot help but to find unhealthy ways to dull it.
Perhaps this hits close to home for me because of an event that changed my life and that of my extended family back in 2007. On a clear bright summer day I received the news that my cousin had been found dead…and as time went on we came to find out that he had taken his own life…the pain caused by mental illness had become to strong for him to overcome and he had stopped the pain in the only way that he could think of.
In many ways, this is not unlike the descriptions I have heard from various addicts as they too seek to deaden the pain that they feel…and though I struggle to understand the strength of this pain in their life, I do recognize that life is not without pain and darkness…and we all look somewhere outside of ourselves for relief from it.
One of the blogs that I read this week seemed particularly fitting, and I’ll share a portion of it here with you. “I wonder how many people slip away from this life, knowing they have missed something important. And never knowing what it was. Like a source of untouchable peace that sustains me when the “noise” becomes “too much.” Or a source of strength that enables me to overcome “the pain of living.” Rather than escaping into something that solves nothing and creates more pain. Or a hope so strong that not even the darkest of days can erase it. Where can I find the power to conquer my inner darkness when there’s no scriptwriter to write a happy ending? Not in me. Not in my greatest achievements. My personal strength. Or even my deepest relationships. Life is too hard, my resources too finite to find ultimate answers by looking in myself. Or around at the people close to me. I found them only when I looked up. And saw there a God who loves me, extending His hand to me. With a peace … a hope that holds me together, when the noise and the pain are overwhelming. The darkness doesn’t have to win. Not with this Light that nothing can extinguish.” *(see below)
I’ve thought so much about this issue of light and darkness this week. Many of you have heard me preach on this subject before and have likely come to realize the importance of this concept for me, and it likely stems from this scar in my family history…and the questions that arose from my cousin’s death…and the questions that any family goes through of why? Why did they do this? Why didn’t they ask for help? If they couldn’t handle it on their own why didn’t they look somewhere else?
And that brings us back around to another notion that I’ve come to understand about addiction…for most of us, the ability to control things is within us…we have the capability to handle our high, whatever it is that helps us to escape the pain and the darkness in the world, even for a moment…we are able to maintain…but for the addict, this self control simply does not exist…and it MUST be found from another source…and that source often times comes from yet another addict…someone who truly understands the pain and the struggle but has been given the tools to over-come them.
In yet another blog, I stumbled across this passage, written by another famous drug addict that has been clean for more than ten years but still battles his addiction each and every day. When an event causes emotional pain to rear up in his life, and he finds himself on the verge of hunting up a dealer…he writes these words.
“I [wind] down the hill in an alien land…the pain quickly accumulated incalculably, and I began to weave the familiar tapestry that tells an old, old story. I think of places I could score. Off Santa Monica there’s a homeless man who I know uses gear. I could find him, buy him a bag if he takes me to score…Even as I spin this beautifully dreaded web, I am reaching for my phone. I call someone: not a doctor or a sage, not a mystic or a physician, just a bloke like me, another alcoholic, who I know knows how I feel. The phone rings and I half hope he’ll just let it ring out. It’s 4am in London. He’s asleep, he can’t hear the phone, he won’t pick up. I indicate left, heading to Santa Monica. The ringing stops, then the dry mouthed nocturnal mumble: ‘Hello. You all right mate?’ He picks up. And for another day, thank God, I don’t have to.” ** (see below)
This individual looks for a refuge from the darkness in another person…and that’s where I’ve been going with all this. I admit, this sermon has been a bit of a downer today…and I may be coming across to you as soft on the notion of addiction…but that’s not my point today…my point is that we all feel the effects of pain and darkness in our lives…because this life is full of it…this life is full of darkness…and we have a God that knows it.
And in today’s scripture passage, we hear the words of Jesus telling us to do something about it…today’s lesson is a familiar passage, particularly the opening portion. You are the salt of the earth…and then just one verse later…You are the light of the world.
If you were here last week, you heard me discuss the notion of just who Jesus is addressing here in the Sermon on the Mount. Is he talking just to the 12 disciples? Well, the answer to that question is no…he’s got a much broader audience when he points his finger and says You are the light world.
In both of these verses…the you are is referring to everyone…Jesus is talking to the community of faith, not just to individuals…but to everyone…and he’s talking to them as a single unit…as the community.  So even though we hear you are the light of the world…it might be better heard if Jesus was from Texas…because then it might sound a little more like “Y’all are the light of the world.” (pause)
But if we…all together are the light…then we have to ask the question of just where does it come from…because we all know that the light of life is not self generated…but as we’ve heard before the Light is God and the Light dwells among us…the source of the light is God himself…Jesus Christ, God in flesh…dwelling among us…as one of us…but even more importantly…dwelling AS us…for we are the church and the church is the body of Christ here on earth.
So when Jesus tells us that We are the light in the world…we need to stand up and pay attention…its not something we do…its not something we achieve…its something we are because God himself says so…but then he goes on from there…and he tells us not to hide the light…as if we could…but to shine…very simply be the light shining in the world.
The Greek is very simple…if I was translate it word for word it would “Shine the light OF YOU.” The light is not something that you possess simply because of your status as a Christian…its not a special card that you carry around in your wallet, or an app on your phone, or badge that you wear…no…YOU are the light of Christ, so shine…shine in this world of darkness and pain…
And how do we do that? Well…its pretty simple…we’re called to love each other. Remember that passage about midway through today’s lesson…when Jesus says that he came to fulfill the law…well it’s true…you see the Law gets kind of a bad wrap…because we know that we can’t live up to it and we do fail…and we do need Jesus to save us from ourselves…but Jesus himself tells us that the commandments can be summed up in two very simple statements…Love God…and love your neighbor…all 10 of the Commandments can be boiled down into those two statements.
And when we love God…and when we love our neighbor…well that is the light shining so brightly that the world cannot help but notice…that is the light of God…and the love of God shining through us…in spite of the pain and the darkness.
The darkness doesn’t have to win…not with this light that nothing can extinguish. Amen

* Ron Hutchcraft, The Stunning Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman,

** Russell Brand, http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/mar/09/russell-brand-life-without-drugs?CMP=twt_gu

Confirmation Questions 10-27-13

My sermon on Sunday came out of John 1:1-5, 9-14. You can find that sermon here.

As usual, the confirmation students posed some great questions in their sermon notes. I’ll try to address them here.

-Why would God encourage us to be mad?
Great question. Rather than saying that God encourages us to get mad, I think its better to say that God fully accepts the full range of emotion that humanity experiences. When I talked about this subject in the sermon, I was trying to make the point that God wants us to be honest in what we are feeling and thinking. Sometimes that includes anger. God does not condemn our anger or our questions or our worries. God experienced all those same emotions through Jesus Christ. God lived a life as part of humanity and because of that God knows our struggles having experienced them himself.   Psalm 6 and 13 are great examples of this. If you would like to see more, go to www.biblegateway.com and do a word search for “how long.” You’ll find a whole list of psalms that approach God in this way.

-Is God our only source of light in times of darkness?
Great question. John 1 discusses this question quite well. We read there that the light or the Word (aka Jesus, he is both things) is God (verse 1 and 4). Jesus is the true light…and so God is the true light because God and Jesus are one and the same.  A couple of verses later we hear that John (the Baptist) was sent by God “as a witness to testify to the light so that all might believe through him. He himself was no the light, but he came to testify to the light” (verses 7-8). We are also called to testify to the light. So in answer to the question, I would say that yes, God is the only source of light, but as believers we reflect the true light of God for others.

-Where does evil come from?
Another great question…and a tough one to answer. Evil is probably best defined as doing or seeking that which is contrary to God. The first being that did so was Lucifer. Lucifer actually means “light bringer” and we believe that Lucifer was the highest of angels…second only to God, but Lucifer wanted to be God and led a battle in Heaven. Lucifer, also called Satan was cast down from heaven with a third of the angels…those that also opposed God. Jesus mentions this briefly in Luke 10:18 “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” God created heaven and God created the angels, and we know only that these creations predate the creation of the world as we know it. So in Genesis 1-2, when we hear the creation story, including the Garden of Eden, we hear about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Evil already exists at this point, because Lucifer had already challenged God, but humanity had not yet experienced it. That’s why the serpent is also present to tempt Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve challenged the will of God who had told them not to eat the fruit of the Tree, but they disobeyed. This is how evil entered into/was experienced by humanity.

The Light Still Shines 10-27-13

In this sermon, I abandon the lectionary reading and preach from John 1:1-5,9-14. I address the recent school shootings as well as other examples of darkness that is still present here in the world.

Listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-light-still-shines-10-27

You can follow along with the text here. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause.

Before I read the gospel lesson for today, I’d like to say a quick word. I had high hopes for this week’s sermon. I had a lot to choose from. I could have focused on the Reformation and Martin Luther which we are celebrating in worship today…I could have come from the direction of our new members…and how our congregation is changed by their presence. That we are a new creation today…and with their gifts do that much better of a job of representing the body of Christ on earth. (pause)
I could have talked about freedom or enslavement or sin…topics brought up in the assigned Gospel text from John 8 printed on your bulletin…but considering some of the stuff going on in the world lately…that just didn’t seem fitting…that didn’t seem like the message that needed to be spoken today, and so I’m going off topic and I ask that you bear with me.
(read the Gospel lesson…John 1:1-5, 9-14)
I woke up Friday morning and I thought I had a pretty good plan for the day. Hang out with my kids as they were out of school. Do some housework. Take in the Underwood football game, and enjoy the company of some family that we had coming into town…and somewhere along the way, knock out a sermon for this morning.
As I already mentioned, I had a lot of different options for that sermon…a lot of different directions that I could go…but none of them really felt right…and none of them felt applicable, or hopeful…none of them were sitting well with me, and I couldn’t really put my finger on why. (pause)
As the day progressed, some different things happened that started to shed some light on things…although perhaps that’s not the best choice of words…perhaps a better way to say…some different things happened that started to shed some darkness on things. (pause)
Most of you have probably heard by now, that there was another school shooting this week. Last Monday, a 12 year old boy snapped…he pulled a gun and injured two fellow students…then he turned the gun on a beloved teacher and former US marine…killing him…and then he turned the gun on himself. (pause)
2 days later, on the other side of the country…another young man snapped…a 14 year old boy killed yet another teacher, this one a 24 year woman…3 people dead…more injured…and we don’t have to think very hard about other examples violence displayed in schools over the course of recent memory.
Every time we hear about things like this, I think it gives us pause. And we think to ourselves “That’s terrible…I can’t believe it happened again…I can’t imagine what those people are going through…I just hope that never happens here.” And we hug our kids just a little bit tighter for a few days…and we say some prayers for nameless strangers on the opposite side of the country for a few days…but then we sort of go back to normal don’t we? We try to forget the invasion of darkness into the world and pretend that everything’s okay. (pause)
But everything isn’t okay…and its not just school shootings. Darkness takes many forms…and it finds a way to get at us…it finds its way into our lives.  Maybe it’s violence…or maybe it’s a kid getting bullied…something all too common these days…or maybe it’s a foreclosure…or a failed business venture…or maybe it’s a terminal diagnosis…maybe that one sounds familiar to you.
In the last week, one of our members got that news. Cancer…the word that you never want to hear in a doctor’s office…the news that we never really want to admit to…that our days are numbered…or on the other hand that someone you love gets that diagnosis, and you have to sit there and watch them struggle…you have to watch them wither away until their strength gives out and they die. (pause)
We live in a world filled with darkness…we see it every day…we read about it in the paper…and we hear about it on the news. Often times it seems like there’s nothing good happening…nothing good at all…this is our reality.  Its messy, its ugly, it hurts…and we’re all stuck in it…and we all contribute to it…that darkness…it resides in each and every one of us…we might not want to admit it…more often than not we don’t want to cop to it…but like it or not that darkness that fills the world…that darkness that shows its ugly face in violence and disease and death starts right here.
We’re all a part of it, and though for some of us the darkness stops short of pulling a gun and shooting up a school room, we cannot deny the reality that sinfulness runs every bit as deep in our existence as it does in those 2 young men this week…those two young men who were so filled and overcome with darkness that they were able to justify taking lives this week. (pause)
We’re all a part of it…and we’re all stuck in the midst of it and often times when we stop and think about it we ask the question WHY? Why does this keep happening? Why can’t we stop this? What does this all mean…and often times when we ask those questions…the one that we’re directing it at doesn’t come back with much of an answer for us.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there violence and death and disease? WHY GOD? (pause) We ask those questions and there are no good answers. And I can stand up here and try to tell you that all this crap that continues to happen in the world is simply a result of the way that sin has twisted our present reality…and while I believe that its true…it seems like pretty sour grapes in the face of all this darkness that keeps coming up again and again this week.
And as much as I might find myself questioning God…arguing with God…crabbing God out for allowing this sort of thing to happen…blaming Him…in the midst of those struggles…I get smacked with the verse “The light shines in the darkness” but I’ll be honest with you…I hear that and I want to call God out on that too…You know what God…there’s too much darkness happening…I can’t see the light!!!
But then I come back to it again…the light shines in the darkness. NO IT DOESN’T…NOT THIS TIME GOD…THIS TIME I’m CALLING YOU ON IT!!!!
The light shines in the darkness…and the darkness…has not overcome it. (pause)  Are you sure about that God because from where I’m sitting…it seems like the darkness has a pretty good hold on things…it seems like the darkness is still holding on pretty tight and I’d say its still pretty well established in the world…its all around us…and its in us…and you know what God…as much as I hate to admit it, when I get honest I see an awful lot of it in me! (pause)
Have you ever had those times…those times when the darkness overwhelms you…and you find yourself arguing with God? They happen…and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it because you know what…God can take it…he can take your questions…he can take your anger…and in fact…I believe that God encourages us to express it.
Ever read the Psalms…they’re prayers…plain and simple…and while they cover a wide range of emotion, the largest single type of psalm is lament…arguing with God, laying out our troubles and our concerns and our anger with God…and hey…if the Bible is the word of God which Martin Luther swore up one side and down the other that it is…and that the Bible is our soul authority…well then maybe we need to wake up and pay attention…
We face darkness in the world…and we face darkness in ourself…but God’s not immune to it…God hasn’t turned his back on it…quite the opposite…God got into it…and that’s why I changed up the scripture lesson this week….to remind us in the midst of some pretty dark times…that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
That…right there…that’s the incarnation in John’s gospel…that’s the first time Jesus comes on the worldly scene…when the light starts shining because Jesus is the light and try as it might…all that darkness…all the crap…and ugliness…and filth in the world…it can rage all it wants to but the light…its still shining….it is not overcome…and in the end…the darkness loses.
You see…darkness is the absence of light…when light shows up, darkness flees…it has to…try as it might it cannot defeat light…and even though we feel that darkness closing in…IT CAN’T WIN!!!
And despite the darkness, we are able to cling to the hope that in the end, everything is made new…its like going to the end of a scary story…reading the last couple of pages and seeing that the good guy wins…we can go back into the story knowing the ending and its not so scary anymore.
That’s the hope that we have…the hope that despite all this darkness and death…there’s more…we believe it…we proclaim it…and whether we want to admit it or not…it’s done (pause)
And by the grace of God…not by any merit we possess…its done for all of us…despite the darkness that we are surrounded by, and penetrated by…and yes even the darkness that we ourselves possess…we are freed from the powers of sin and death…we are freed from the powers of darkness in this world by the light itself…by God himself…by the one that calls himself I AM!!!
And the truly remarkable part is that gift of life…that gift of the light…its offered to everyone…regardless of who they are…its offered to you…its offered to me…and as much as we might like to forget it…its even offered to those two troubled young men who chose to take lives this week…and while we might find that offensive to hear…God doesn’t really care what we think on the matter…because when we stop and think about there are very likely individuals who are offended by the notion that we have been offered salvation from sin…the gospel…the good news…it is so radical…and goes so far beyond our own understanding.
This notion that God is willing to completely overlook…to completely forget the worst sins that we could possibly imagine…and offer forgiveness to ANYONE…even those who are so filled with darkness that they don’t realize it.
That’s the gospel we proclaim…that’s the hope that we hold on to. That the light shines in the darkness…that the word becomes flesh. (pause) That God enters our darkness…and no matter how much we might want to rage against it…He’s still there…and the darkness…even our darkness…CANNOT…overcome it. Amen.

John tries to answer a question from yesterday

Today’s lectionary reading is back to John, this time in chapter 3:31-36.

Now, my first thought on this text is that it seems very intentionally aimed at Christ the King Sunday, which is of course tomorrow. This is apparent from the opening verse, “the one who comes from above is above all.” Clearly this is talking about Jesus because who else (humanity-wise here) other than Jesus came down from Heaven? While this is an important point for John to make, I’m really reminded of a fairly central theme that emerges through John’s gospel.

Little side disclaimer, a lot of my personal train of thought when it comes to John is shaped by one of my seminary professors…Karoline Lewis. I’ve been in class with Karoline twice, for both my 1st and 2nd year preaching classes…see her Luther Seminary profile here. You need to be in class for about 1 lecture with her before you find out that her PhD focus was John’s gospel, and her influence has come in very handy for me many a time before.  okay…side disclaimer finished.

Getting back to John 3, or at least John in general. A theme emerges throughout the gospel of light and darkness. Jesus is the light in the darkness of the world. Light is life, darkness is death. Darkness is death because sin is death…and sin and darkness are inter-linked. Now, take into account that I’m really generalizing here, but in a nutshell, for John sin boils down to a very simple thing.

Sin is disbelief in Jesus as the savior of the world. Period. Those that believe are in the light (of Christ) and those that don’t believe are still in darkness. Stop page…end of story right there.

Now, this is very black and white and it is supported here in this portion of chapter 3. Verse 36 spells it out very clearly. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Pretty cut and dry here for John.

Now, as I read that, I’m reminded of the reflection from yesterday from 1 Corinthians and my mental wrestling match with whether or not the entire world IS saved through Christ. While I still believe that Christ IS capable of the salvation of every man woman and child for all time, when I read this passage from John it does seem that there will be a distinction. Although everyone can be saved (John 3:16, just a few short verses before this passage), not everyone WILL be saved.

Interestingly enough, at my church we are on our way through a year long trip through the Biblical narrative, no small feat I can tell you that much, and we’re “living” through the Old Testament right now. Been there since September and will be for several more months. Sometimes the Old Testament is hard to digest. It seems that God has a much more judgmental, wrathful, vengeful nature and that is difficult to reconcile with what we read in John 3:16. For God so loved the world…well if He loves it so much than why is He so prone to judgment against the world?

Well, sin is still an afront to God. That’s the long and short of it. God will not tolerate sin. That judgment that was so evident in the Old Testament is still there, but Christ received it. That’s what makes him the savior. Salvation from God’s wrath is what he achieves for us. It’s nothing we do. We don’t earn it ourselves (and yes that’s a very Lutheran perspective talking), but it is a free gift.

God’s grace is a wonderful thing…it comes through Christ…the light in the darkness…believe it my friends. Believe that it is yours today.