Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther’

Reformation off the Cuff 10-27-19

This sermon, based on both John 8:31-36 and Luke 18:9-14, is a bit of an oddball.  As I talk about in the beginning of the sermon, normally I preach from a manuscript. Today I didn’t, opting to preach extemporaneously.

But you can still listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/reformation-off-the-cuff-10-27-19

Note, you should turn up your volume. I recorded this without a mic, so the audio is pretty weak.

Different is Shocking 10-29-17

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In this Reformation Sunday sermon, I explore John 8:31-36 as Jesus reminds us that the boxes that we create for ourselves are insufficient for salvation.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/different-is-shocking-10-29-17

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

Patterns are a wonderful thing…and they bring a sense of familiarity and often, predictability along with them. An example is the tendency for certain people to show up here in the church at predictable times. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but one of the things that I’ve come to recognize is that on Thursday afternoons…usually right about the same time that I’m getting ready to head out and get my kids at school, our very own Julie Larson is going to show up for some light altar guild duties…namely…she’s here to tend to the altar candles. Sometimes we overlap, sometimes I’m already out the door…but it happens often enough that I hear the front door open as I’m sitting in my office and I know who it is…and that about 10 seconds after I hear the front door, Julie will poke her head around and say hi as she’s walking into the sanctuary.

This, of course, was the case this past Thursday. Julie walked in as I was wrapping up…and she was still in the process of candles when I left…and so…when I walked into the office on Friday morning…and did my customary glance through the Sanctuary windows…I did a double take…I was shocked to see the change from the green paraments over the red for today.

Now any time the paraments change it catches my attention…but this time its probably safe to say that it shocked me a little more than normal…because they haven’t changed in a really long time. We’ve been in the season on Pentecost…which features the color green…and is also the longest season of the church year…and so there’s been no change in color since the beginning of June…almost half a year has gone by…no wonder I did a double take when things looked differently in here…I said it a minute ago, and I think it’s a good way to describe my reaction to the change…shocking.

Now…today is of course…Reformation Sunday, that’s why everything is red…and its big one isn’t it. This year is 500 years…we celebrate today on the last Sunday of October as we always do…and the actually anniversary is in just a couple days…we’ve been talking about it all year…but really, its safe to say that our tradition gives the Reformation a lot of emphasis…we even named ourselves after the guy who started it with a hammer and nail and 95 ideas for reforming the church.

Now that event in itself, was shocking enough…and the ripples have spread across the world over the course of the past 5 centuries…now for us its old hat…old news…familiar…but just think about how shocking it must have been for those who were alive at that time…that this upstart professor from backwater Germany was pushing back against Rome and the pope…that he dared challenge the authority…that he challenged the way things have ALWAYS been done.

Interestingly enough…Luther’s experience…and perhaps, the basis for his important work…well it stemmed from a shocking experience as well…and no I don’t mean the fact that he was almost struck by lightning in his younger years, though that would certainly be shocking…pardon the pun…but rather…in his study of the scriptures…Luther’s mind was blown…his world was rocked…when he stumbled across the passage from Romans that we shared a moment ago…and the verse “the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  His view of a judgmental God that was waiting to strike us all down for our sins was blown out of the water as he recognized the free gift of God’s grace through Christ…shocking for him to say the least…and something that I think served as his metaphorical, or perhaps, spiritual 2×4 upside the head.

Change is shocking isn’t it? A change in decorations or color like here in the sanctuary. A change in tradition like Luther instigated through the Reformation…and also, the apparent shock that comes around when Jesus challenges the thought process of his audience in today’s gospel. (pause)

Now this brief reading out of John 8 is featured every year on Reformation Sunday…as Jesus reminds us about the importance of continuing in his word…or sometimes we hear remaining…or abiding…a common theme in John’s gospel…one that we hear many different times and in different settings.

And interestingly enough…the setting of this exchange between Jesus and some of the Jewish elite is a perfect example…but we’ve got to back up to the beginning of chapter 7 for things to start making sense…and as we look back, we learn that Jesus is in Jerusalem in order to celebrate one of the Jewish festivals…something that they did multiple times a year in their tradition…and this particular time, its for the festival of booths.

The whole setting of this festival is interesting…it lasts 8 days…with a Sabbath day at the beginning as everyone collectively rests…and then there’s another big Sabbath day at the end…and throughout the course of the entire festival…everyone is living in a booth…or a little tent that they’ve constructed in and around the city. The purpose of this festival was two-fold…first to celebrate the harvest in the fall…not unlike our Harvest Festival in November…but then as with all of the Jewish festivals…there was a sense of remembering the past…and in this case, God had instructed the Jewish culture to have this celebration every year to remember the 40 years of wandering as their ancestors lived out these years living in their tents…and not only that…but to remember that during that entire time of wandering…God dwelled among them…God, abided in their midst.

This is the festival that has JUST happened prior to today’s reading. One night has passed and Jesus is still in the city…hanging out in the temple courts…teaching and preaching as he often does. And because of his words…because of the truth that he’s been laying out…we hear that many of the Jews in his audience have come to believe in him…and with that, we hear his instruction of abiding in his words…and how this truth will set them free.

Cue the shocked look on the faces of these brand new believers…Wait a sec Jesus…we WILL be free? We’re descendants of Abraham…we’ve never been servants to anyone…what do you mean we will be free? (pause)
Now I can’t help but chuckle at this, because apparently these individuals…who are all members of a culture that places ultimate value on their history and their cultural identity which is tied intimately into past events…they seem to have forgotten that the vast majority of their history found them conquered and controlled by one ultimate political power of the day…the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Persians and Greeks and Romans.

These people seem to forget all of that history because they are completely stuck in the connection that they hold as descendants of Abraham…and the promise of God’s covenant made so many years before. For them…this is the ultimate distinction…and the thing that they place all of their stock in…as if to say that there’s a box…and if you fall in that box you’re good to go…but if not then you’ll somehow be found lacking. (pause)
I can’t help but find this almost laughable…they’ve just been celebrating God abiding among his people in a spiritual sense…but yet they fail to fully recognize that God has chosen to abide among his people in the physical sense…and even more specifically, that this God in human form…this Word of God made flesh was standing right in front of them talking to them.

Because to fully recognize this…and to fully accept his word and his teaching is to say that the box they had created…the connection to Abraham…their culture…to recognize that this distinction isn’t good enough…that’s downright shocking…it seems to be a tripping point for them that they just can’t get past.

And as I consider this, I can only think that its serves as an example for us as well…that somehow, someway every single one of us will come face to face with a tripping point…with a stumbling block, at some point in our lives…even in the midst of our lives of faith…perhaps even because of it.

Jesus says if you abide in my word you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.  It seems that on that day, for these particular people…the truth that was revealed was that their cultural identity earned them zero points as far as justification goes. Their Jewish distinction got them nowhere…and it blew their minds to the point of being unable to continue following Jesus…which we hear if we continue on through the narrative.

And I find myself asking the same question…when we come face to face with the ultimate truth of God made flesh in Jesus Christ…what misconceptions…what falsehoods that we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking give us the edge, will be brought to light for us to see?

Will it be the distinction of our American freedom?  Will it be our upper European Lutheran heritage that we celebrate today on Reformation Sunday…that idea that we’ve got all this theology and tradition figured out and everyone else has it wrong? Will it be our insistance that we don’t actually need God and that we alone are in control?

What is it that is revealed with THE LIGHT shines in our darkness? (pause) I can only think that when we face whatever truth shocks our fragile illusions, we will be left as bare as those individuals who couldn’t get past their cultural identity.  And when we come face to face with a truth that shocks us beyond measure…our only hope is to cling to the words of Christ…to remain there…to abide there in the midst of the promises that he has made…and here’s the thing…he promises us that if the Son makes you free…you are free indeed…and that because of what God has done through the death and resurrection of Christ…because of the proclamation that He has claimed you as his beloved child…the promise is yours that you will abide in his house forever.  (pause)
Here in the Lutheran church…we’ve spent a lot of time looking backwards at the last 500 years…clinging to our culture and tradition…and this is not a bad thing…but we must learn the same lesson that Jesus revealed to the Jews who were stuck in the same state…that now things have changed, and let us seek out how to live into the unknown future as we cling to the hope of God’s promises for each of us…let us remember the importance of what God has said about us…as we move into the next 500. And not just that but as we move past the last 2000 years, and not only that but as we move past all the years that have come and gone since time began and remember that God’s promise is to love us and claim us today and tomorrow and forever. And that this is true for us despite the brokenness that we all feel, shocking though it might be…let us abide in that. Amen

Be Free 10-26-14

Today’s sermon is from John 8:31-36, the assigned gospel text for Reformation Sunday. In the sermon I explore just what it means to be reformed as well as what freedom in Christ really means.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/be-free-10-26-14

You can also read 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

Last Wednesday evening, a group of us sat together downstairs, participating in a membership class. The four individuals who we just accepted into our congregation a few moments ago and I sat and discussed quite a bit of stuff…What it means to be Lutheran…the history of Underwood Lutheran…our own stories…many different topics flowed throughout the course of our time together.

But one thing that has stuck with me through the past few days was a joke that we made together about the somewhat unoriginal nature that is sometimes expressed when we name something…a trend that seems particularly plausible today…

For today is Reformation Day…the day when Protestants of various strains celebrate the beginning of the Reformation…which sparked off the day that Martin Luther picked up a hammer and nailed his 95 theses to the chapel door…But just what does that name really mean anyway? Reformation…or to put it a little more simply…reform? Well, to reform something means to, quite literally…make changes in the form of something…and it doesn’t matter what it is…anything…an object, or an institution…whatever it is…it is initially formed…or made…or created…and then it is…reformed…into something new.

And so, Reformation Day is apply, if somewhat unoriginally named for the day that the church as it was known in the 16th century began to be “reformed” into something new…And what was the result? Well, a lot of things to be sure…but one of them is the wonderful concept known as Christian Denominations…divisions within the church based on doctrine and practices…and what was the first denomination? Well…it all started around Luther himself…so in keeping with the unoriginal notion…they were named Lutherans…which quite literally means a follower of Martin Luther…fitting yes…but original, not so much.

And you know what…500 odd years haven’t done much to further us along this trend of unoriginality…and in the midst of the new member class, as we talked about the history of our congregation, I began to imagine the conversation that must have gone on back in the late 1920’s, as our congregation’s founding members tried to decide on a name.

Well folks…here we are…we need a name for our new congregation…what should it be? How can we be identified so new people know just who we are? (pause) Well, where are we? Underwood…ahh yes…and we’re Lutherans right? How about Underwood Lutheran? (pause) Distinctive…Absolutely…but Original, well, not so much.

So I guess when it all boils down, we are in Underwood, following Martin Luther in a reformed version of the church…which itself is made up of Christians…defined as followers of Christ…sound about right?

And as it is Reformation Day, we share the assigned reading…from John’s Gospel in which Jesus encounters believing Jews…who very quickly…decide to backpedal.

Here we are in Jerusalem…hanging out in the Temple during the festival of Passover…and Jesus is interacting with fellow Jewish people…some of them seem to appreciate what he’s got to say…other’s not so much. And of course, this is nothing new…we’ve been hearing stories like this for several weeks now…but it doesn’t take much for these Jewish individuals to turn their backs on Jesus…as soon as his teaching starts to touch a nerve.

Needless to say, the people at the time had a lot of cultural pride…they were God’s chosen people after all…but the second that Jesus says that the truth will set you free…they freak out…JUST A SECOND JESUS…WE ARE DESCENDENTS OF ABRAHAM AND HAVE NEVER BEEN SLAVES TO ANYONE…hmm…so I guess they’re forgetting about Roman rule…and maybe those little issues known as the Babylonian and Assyrian captivity…not to mention that brief little snippet of time in their history…hanging out making bricks in Egypt…it was only 430 years…I can see how’d they’d overlook that…

But what’s apparent is that the people consider themselves to be free…and its offensive that they might just be subject to something besides themselves…but they are missing Jesus’ point here…because Jesus isn’t talking about physical freedom any more than he’s talking about physical enslavement.

Even though Jesus goes on to spell it out for them…he’s actually talking about something a little more sneaky…but a whole lot more diabolical than anything physical. (pause) Sin. That which separates us from God…that which severs the relationship intended between us and our maker…the one who formed us in the first place…

But sin…you know what…sometimes that whole sin thing…is really tricky. We talk about it a lot…it’s a common theme here in church…and it has certainly found its way out into our regular day to day lives as well…but just what the heck is it…I mean, what is it really? (pause)

If you’ve heard me preach out of John’s gospel before, you’ve probably heard me talk about what John thinks sin is…and that’s failing to believe that Jesus is God…but if we think about that for just a moment more maybe we begin to see that sin is flat out failing to believe what Jesus has to say. Yes, at times he calls himself God…he also calls himself the way and the truth and the life…He promises that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life…in short…Jesus seems to tell us a lot of stuff…and he promises a lot of stuff…and if sin is not believing that…then I guess it really means rejecting his word…rejecting his teaching…rejecting the God-given divine truth that he promises us…that’s sin. (pause)

And that’s exactly what he tells us that we will be freed from…but you know what…that’s not all…Maybe, just maybe…what this freedom really is…is the realization all that all the lies the world tries to tell us don’t matter any more…All those things that whisper in the back of our minds…those voices that tell us we aren’t good enough…or smart enough…or attractive enough…or rich enough…you’ve heard those voices haven’t you…they talk a lot…and they come from a lot of different directions…all that judgmental garbage that tries as hard as it can to pass judgment on you. (pause)

Maybe…just maybe Jesus is telling us that when we abide in him…when we live in him…when we hang out with him…when we accept that he is God and that he wants to be in relationship with us…maybe then we are freed from the power of all that judgmental crap that tries to control us…and when that happens…well then my friends truly we are free. (pause)

Free from listening to the lies that everyone else is okay…but you aren’t. Free from listening to the person who says I’ve got it all together, and you don’t. Free from being subject to the notion that anyone…that any single person in all of history is ANY more…or ANY less worthy than you are…Jesus tells us today that when we live our lives…IN HIM…then we are subject only to the promise that he makes that you are good enough…that you are of worth…that you are formed in your mother’s womb by a God who loves you…and that all that loud obnoxious BS that the world tries to spew in your direction FLAT OUT DOESN’T MATTER…then you’re free from it…and the Apostle Paul screams at us that if anyone is in Christ…NEW CREATION!!!!!

If anyone abides in Christ…lives in Christ…remains with Christ…hangs out with Christ…then they are free of all of that…and not only that but that they are RE…formed…they are made something new…and all that baggage…all those lies that the world spews at us…all those falsehoods that Satan whispers in our minds…all that stuff…I WANT YOU TO KNOW…THAT IT DOESN’T MATTER…ITS ALREADY GONE…

And how do we know that this is true? Because Jesus said so…and abiding in his word means living in the promise that he has made. (pause) But now all that being said…and as wonderful as that might sound, I know that there are times when believing it is easier than other times…and of course there are those moments in our lives when we doubt…when the questions kick in…and when those lies of the world get really loud…and the strength of our Faith in Christ just isn’t as strong as other times…and maybe we find that loving ourselves enough to accept God’s promises…to live in God’s promises just doesn’t quite work…and we ask the question of just what are we supposed to do when that happens?

And the answer is that we turn to others…and together, we as a church support one another…love one another…and in doing so, we remind each other of God’s promises…we do this by offering a word of grace and forgiveness to one another…uttering the words that we as individuals long to hear and cannot speak for ourselves…that you are of worth and because of the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…you are forgiven…and you are free…freed from the powers of sin and death…freed from the lies of this world…(pause)

We are the church…and the church is the place where the forgiveness of sin is declared…not by our own power…but because of the promises of God…made real in the words of Jesus Christ…and made possible through his death on the cross…and together…as the church…each and every day we are being made new…We are being re-formed…ever closer to the image of God in which we were created in the first place. (pause)

Are we perfect? Heck no…but we are free…free from having to be…because God loves us anyway. Amen.