Posts Tagged ‘Mary’

Don’t Pick On Personality 7-21-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:38-42, I explore the odd little exchange that occurs between Jesus and the sisters, Mary and Martha.  When we did, just a little bit, we start to uncover some interesting insight.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-pick-on-personality-7-21-19

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

May the grace and peace of the Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen.

In recent years, there has been an amazing emphasis placed on the exploration of different personality types and the ways that they manifest in the lives of individuals.  There are tons of different tests and surveys…countless different expressions and categories.

There’s Type A vs Type B.  There’s the enneagram scale.  There’s Strengthsfinders…just to name a few.  Now…I’ll fully admit that I haven’t done a ton of work in this realm…a lot of it goes over my head and I’m kinda lost in what each specific category is aimed at, and what the individual results within that category reveals.

But what I do know is these different things…personalities and tendencies and strengths, whatever we want to call them…they manifest themselves in a lot of different ways…and they differ greatly between individuals…and perhaps there is no-where that we begin to see this better expressed than within families.

We see drastic differences between siblings…we see them between parents and children…and we definitely see them between spouses…and I can confirm this from personal experience. My wife and I agree on a lot of things…but we have two VERY different personality types…something that becomes VERY apparent on Saturdays.

Now my wife would be called Type A…and one of her strengths is achievement…and this manifests itself in the fact that she has a very hard time sitting around all day doing nothing.  (Pause) Now me, on the other hand…I will happily lounge around on my keister all day without batting an eyelash…I suppose that makes me Type B…and yes…just like we find in today’s story…this can…and does…lead to tension. (pause)

Mary and Martha. Another story that has infiltrated our cultural awareness in the differences that lie between personality types.  We’ve got Mary, the laid back one…the one who casually sits at the feet of Jesus, just taking it all in…oblivious to what’s going on and the tasks of hospitality that linger in the house around her. (pause) And then we’ve got Martha…the proverbial busy-body…the one who can’t even think about sitting down because…THERE’S JUST SO MUCH TO DO!!!!!

Now, its my tendency to try and put myself in the headspace of the people that we hear about in the scriptures…and this one’s no different…so for starters…we’ve got Martha. (Pause) Oh…Jesus is here….goodness me…so much to do…I need to tidy up before he even comes inside. I bet he’s hungry and he’s got all those people with him…they all need to eat, better get in the kitchen…and all the neighborhood kids will be bugging them…I need to shoo them away…is it too stuffy in here, do I need to open a window…so much to do. (pause) And then there’s Mary…DUDE!!!!! Jesus is here…YES…I am totally just gonna sack out and listen…where’s my beanbag chair? (pause)

Now as we know…as this little scene progresses Martha gets continually annoyed with Mary…and it seems with Jesus too, because she snaps…at him…Jesus! Dude…don’t you care, that my sister…has left me to do all the work. Tell her to help me!

And then Jesus, finally speaking aloud for the first time calmly tries to grab Martha’s attention…and she’s in such a tizzy that he has to say her name twice…Martha…Martha…you are distracted and worried about many things…only one is needed. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be take away. (pause)

It seems…at first glance…that Mary is praised and Martha is condemned…and that Jesus is throwing some shade on the work that Martha is doing.  And if we limit things to the surface level, we walk away from this passage with yet another moral lesson that seems to say…Sabbath is important, don’t be so busy…take a load off.

And if that’s where we stop…we are doing an incredible disservice to Martha…Yes she’s distracted…yes she’s worried…but that’s what Jesus seems to be calling her away from…not the actual work that she’s doing.

Here’s the thing…and pay attention because this is important…in the original language…we hear that Martha is distracted by her many “services” or we can even say “ministries.” It’s the same word…and that should be eye opening for us here in the church. She’s so distracted by trying to do too many ministries all at the same time that she’s missing out on the one thing needed.

I don’t know what that one thing was…maybe all Jesus needed was a cloak picked up off a chair so he could sit down…she didn’t need to clean the whole house.  Maybe he was hungry for a chunk of bread…but she’s trying to prepare a lavish meal…I don’t know…but I’m pretty sure he’s not condemning her for attempting to be of service to her guests.  That’s Martha’s personality…that’s her tendency…she’s living into her authentic self by hosting…but Jesus seems to be pointing out that she’s going overboard and her distraction and worry is evidence of that.

Now that being said…the flipside is also worth paying attention to…Mary’s not being praised for sitting around doing nothing…because you know what…sometimes people are hungry and a meal needs to get made…sometimes the communion bread needs to be baked…or the scripture needs to get read, or Sunday School classes need to be taught.

So what’s different?  What do we take from this?  If its not the surface level lesson that we should ignore busy-ness so we can zero in on our guest…then what is Jesus calling us into here? What is this better part…this good portion that Mary has chosen that Jesus seems to acknowledge? (pause)

I think that’s a good question to ponder on…especially in light of our recent gospel stories over the course of the past few weeks…because honestly…if we take all of Luke Chapter 9 and 10 together…Jesus is giving us a lot of mixed messages.

We hear, early on that Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem…indicating intentionality about his mission and his ministry…an intentionality that is highlighted when a few would-be followers each ask for a touch of leeway, only to have Jesus hammer them for a lack of focus and commitment.

Then he sends out 70 people to proclaim the good news that the Kingdom has come near…which is apparently so important of a message that they can’t even turn aside to say hello to someone on the road…NO DISTRACTIONS…get right to it.

That’s followed up by a question about who’s my neighbor and the parable of the Good Samaritan that gives an impression…no you should be willing to turn aside…to offer mercy to those who need it…to get involved in the immediate need as opposed to that directive over there.

And now the implication that mundane tasks aren’t the answer, but that we should just zero in on the guest…or at least maybe on Jesus.

So come on Jesus…seriously…what do we make of this? (pause)

I went round and round with that question…trying to make head’s or tails of the good news of this odd little exchange that all too often pits two sisters against each other and leaves people reeling when they see themselves in one or the other.

But what if this odd little passage reveals an invitation of Jesus to simply be honest and authentic about who we are?  What if Martha isn’t getting smacked for hosting…but rather is being called to be her best self at one thing.  And what if Mary isn’t getting praised for being lazy, but rather she’s being affirmed in her desire to engage with a guest. (pause)

It seems to me…over and over again in the scriptures…and especially in the gospels…and specifically here in Luke’s gospel…it seems like Jesus continues to extend an invitation to countless different individuals to be precisely who they are…and when they do…it seems like he takes joy in that…and he finds delight in the presence of their authentic self.

And when I think about that…I’m reminded of the truth that we find clear back in Genesis…that our existence begins from a place of joy and delight of the one that made us in the first place.  Think about that…God made you…and God has called you VERY GOOD…We have a God who made ALL of this out of a sense of divine goodness and joy…and the brokenness of the whole thing…that didn’t come around until chapter 3.

Admittedly…there are times when our Lutheran tendencies put a little too much emphasis on the brokenness of humanity and the world. I don’t dispute that this brokenness is a reality…far from it…but that’s not where our existence begins.

And maybe, just maybe, whatever it was that was being accomplished in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…maybe it was it making it possible for us to see that we are perfectly loved and accepted and claimed by the God who joyfully made us in the first place…and that this is true RIGHT NOW in this moment.

You don’t have to hide who you are…who you really are…in order for God to love you…and the gospel frees us to truly believe that…and to know that whatever brokenness does exist within us…there is grace for that…but that we don’t have hide our true selves away for God to give this love to us…that’s a ludicrous idea when we think about it…that the one who created this reality and everything in it by simply speaking it into being could ever be fooled into thinking that the false persona we present to the world is real. God knows you intimately…and God desires for you to be honest with yourself…and to be free in that…that’s the gospel…that’s the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven coming near to us…

And the other amazing thing about all this…is that we are also free to love one another in this same way…which, let’s be honest…is something that body of Christ really needs to work on. But praise be to God that there’s grace for the church too.  Yes she is broken…yes she is flawed…because she is made up of broken and flawed people…but thanks be to God…that the perfect, all in…completely encompassing grace-filled love of God continues, day after day, to overcome our shortcomings…and continues to invite us forward into that amazing freedom that we find when we realize that the kingdom HAS come near…and that we are already a part of it.  Amen

Who Am I 12-23-18

In this sermon, I explore Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-55. In this brief passage, we are reminded of the reality of oppression and marginalization and the privilege that lies on the opposite side. And yet, the promise of the gospel is that God’s mercy and love puts us all on equal ground.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-am-i-12-23-18

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

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

Have you ever heard the expression “everyone is the hero of their own story?” (Pause) I think that’s a pretty accurate statement…and it speaks into how our existence…our life…our day to day is utterly shaped by our own experience…none of us tend to think of ourselves as the bad guy in any situation…but that we are simply doing the best that we can given the circumstances.

But sometimes I wonder if that’s always the case…and I think its safe to say that sometimes we all get caught up in the “poor me” mentality…that idea that things are everyone else’s fault…or that everyone else is being stubborn or narrow-minded.  I wonder, how many of us have ever been in a situation when we are listening to another person share their frustrations…their irritations…and we’ve thought to ourselves…or maybe we’ve just come out and asked the question “What’s your part in this?”  I think this is pretty universal…that we wear blinders to our part of things…to our responses or our statements…and we get caught up in the other persons stuff without considering what we can control…and I can think of no better way of saying this…of conveying this idea other than the phrase “Own your stuff.”  The good and the bad…I think we all fall in the trap of failing to own it don’t we? (pause)

In the interest of full disclosure…I’m gonna own some stuff right now…most of what I’m going to say will not be shocking…but I need to say it anyway.  I’m a guy…I’m nearing 40, and at this stage in my life I’m old enough to be taken seriously by the generations above me…and I’m still young enough to not be utterly blown off and disregarded by the generations coming up below me.

I am, as you may have noticed…white.  I am married with a couple of kids, and while that’s not a dead giveaway in every instance, it does point to the strong possibility that I’m straight…and I am. I hold a Master’s Degree making me pretty highly educated, and along with that I’m gainfully employed with a fair wage and organizationally required health insurance and retirement savings…and finally, the icing on the cake…I live in the US.  All of this adds up to the reality that I will fully own…I AM…one of the single LEAST marginalized people on the planet. (pause)
Now I can only imagine that you are wondering what this has to do with anything today…we find ourselves at the tail end of the season of Advent…the season of anticipation and longing for the coming Savior.  Today is of course December 23rd…Christmas Eve is tomorrow…and tomorrow night we’ll gather to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus…the birth of the savior…and as we know that’s a really big deal.

But before we can get to the birth of the savior…that mind-blowing guy who is somehow both fully God and fully human, we have think about how the human aspect gets into the world…which is the same as any other human…he’s born, but before he can be born, there has to be a pregnancy.

And that’s where we find ourselves today…our story begins “in those days” and in those days, Mary the mother of Jesus has literally JUST been visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she’s going to be pregnant through the power of God’s Holy Spirit…and that the child will be the savior of the world…and not only that…but that her older relative Elizabeth, who has been barren her entire life and is well beyond child bearing, is also pregnant.

And so…with haste…Mary takes off and goes on a visit…and this is the focal point of today’s story…the amazing Spirit-filled initial encounter between these two women who are pregnant in what can only be considered miraculous circumstances.

Now Mary and Elizabeth have some things in common but they’ve got some pretty distinct differences as well.  Elizabeth is older, perhaps even considered elderly…Mary is young, probably not even in her teens yet.  Elizabeth is the wife of a priest that is periodically active in the Temple…they’ve got means…enough that they actually owned two different houses…in the fairly well to do region of Jerusalem and Bethany right outside the city.  Mary’s engaged to Joseph, but is not yet married…and she’s from a tiny backwater town where she’s grown up in a tiny mud walled hut built over a naturally occurring limestone cave alongside countless other so-called “houses.”

But the thing that they both have in common is this pregnancy…now culturally speaking, there’s a lot going on here. Scripture tells us that when Elizabeth’s barrenness is broken and she’s miraculously pregnant she goes into seclusion…tradition in Israel says that she was embarrassed to be pregnant around all the city girls so she runs off to the country house…and that’s where Mary comes to see her.

What we don’t know is why…why does Mary come…it could be a lot of reasons. Maybe she wants to connect with a relative in the same sort of boat and have some girl-chat.  Maybe she’s going to serve as a mid-wife to her relative in the later stages of her pregnancy.  Or maybe, since Mary was now pregnant in “questionable circumstances,” and she lives in the epitome of the small town…she’s trying to get away too…after all she would have faced the possibility of scorn and ridicule and even being stoned to death.

Both of these women are facing tough circumstances…and the culture of the day certainly didn’t help any. It may seem utterly foreign to us now…but in that time, women were property…marriages were arranged for financial reasons…and other than caring for the house…pretty much the sole reason for women to exist was to provide babies for her husband…and preferably boys because the guy needed an heir.  They couldn’t own property…they couldn’t embark on business transactions…they couldn’t do much.  In short…they were marginalized to start with…and now you put these odd ball circumstances into their lives…and I think its safe to say that Mary and Elizabeth fall under the category of the lowly…the downtrodden…the very people that Mary starts singing about in the Magnificat.

I think its safe to say that their experience is the polar opposite of my existence…and in the interest of full disclosure…I feel very very uneasy in trying to tell you how you should think or feel about this divinely inspired exchange between the two women…because this situation is so utterly out of my wheelhouse.

As I’ve considered it…I think about those of you who have struggled with fertility…because that’s a reality…and I wonder how you hear this story of God’s divine intervention in not just one but two pregnancies…two pregnancies that build off of a history of other Old Testament pregnancies of divine nature.  I wonder if this strikes you as painful to hear as you wait and hope and hope that one day it will be your turn.

On the flip side…we’re in a day and age where a women’s worth is not…or in the very should not be dictated by having children…and I know many women who live a fulfilled life with no desire for kids…and I wonder how this speak in their situation to hear scripture saying that they are blessed through having children.

We can go deeper than that and think about those who are marginalized for all kinds of different reasons…because if there’s one thing we’re good at its pushing people to the margins over really pointless stuff…race, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, age, just to name a few…and it happens, sometimes intentionally…and sometimes its happening despite our ignorance of it…and we are blissfully unaware. (pause)

Now what I cannot tell you…is where you fall on all this.  Some of you may be sitting out there today and this hits close to home…because of something beyond your control that pushes you aside…that says you are somehow less. (pause) But on the flip side some of you might be uncomfortable because this brings up the sense of how you’ve benefited from it.

And that’s where I find myself today…and as I consider my own privilege that honestly is no more than dumb luck to be born this way…I can’t help but hear a rebuke in Mary’s words…God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts…he has brought the powerful down from their thrones…he has sent the rich away empty. (pause)

The crazy thing about scripture…about the gospel…is that in its very nature it brings comfort to the afflicted and affliction to the comfortable…and we see that on full display today…because God has looked with favor on the lowly…God has filled the hungry with good things.

Maybe just maybe what God is up to is evening the playing field…something we might call equality or justice…and in the midst of that…giving a reminder that when it comes to God’s mercy…when it comes to God’s favor…when it comes to God’s love for each of us…there is not a scarcity…but there is an abundance…that God offers it to each us in the same amount…and that the promises are that God will be found with those who are lowly…something evidenced in that God chose the lowest of the low…a young unwed mother in first century Palestine…a girl from a poor backwater town in the midst of controlled territory…she is the one who is chosen to bear the literal embodiment of the divine into this broken reality.

That through her…all life, broken as it is…is somehow glorified because that which is divine dares to be found in the midst of it…and in the middle of all this God has made promises to each of us…that no matter what our circumstances…that divine love and acceptance…that divine favor is shown to us…that’s the promise of the gospel.

Elizabeth poses a question that seems quite fitting…at one point she says “why has this happened to me?”  Might as well be asking “why me” or “who am I?”  I can only imagine that Mary asked herself that same question…and its one that we probably ask as well… “Who am I that God would see me…that God would consider me…that God would look at me?”

Know this today…the promise which God has made through the life and the death and the resurrection of Christ…is that you are claimed and you are loved…and that God will be found with the least of us in order to show us how universal his love is for all the world…that’s the promise…whether we feel encouraged by it given our circumstances…or if we feel the need to repent of something based on our circumstances…the promise is the same…we need only believe it…and blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.  Blessed is the one who believes…and may we all find the hope present in this blessing as we anticipate the change which our Lord is bringing into the world. Amen.

A Story Within A Story 12-24-17 Christmas Eve

Tonight’s Christmas Eve sermon, based on Luke 2:1-20. There a story that repeats throughout history…but in the midst of that cycle, a new story happened when God changed everything.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-story-within-a-story-12-24-17

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

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

As a movie buff…one of my favorite parts of the movie going experience has always been watching the previews for upcoming features. Now, in my 38 years I’ve seen this go from 1 or 2 brief snippets to what is now anywhere from 20-30 minutes worth of time before the actual movie that you are there to see begins.

Recently, I’ve seen a preview for an upcoming movie called Early Man…an odd style of animation in this movie that will focus in on a group of cave men as they encounter the next stage in human achievement through the Bronze Age. Granted, I don’t really know anything more about the movie beyond that, but there is one part that makes me chuckle…the leader of this Bronze age civilization apparently wants to wipe out the cave men and we hear him say (French Accent) “Ze age of stone is over.” I don’t know why he’s French but that’s beside the point. (pause)

The interesting thing about this odd little preview…and specifically this one throwaway line is that it actually tells a very old…very common story. Pretty much as far back as we can find…as far back as various records go…pretty much every civilization, or people group, or tribe…they’ve all told pretty much the same story.

The story goes like this….Our tribe is the best. Our god is the best. Our WAY is the best…So come…join us…or we’ll kill you.[1] (pause) I wish we could say that society has outgrown that old story…but honestly we haven’t have we? We’ve just found much more sophisticated ways of establishing dominance over one another over the course of the past few thousand years…but the story remains the same.

And truly…this is evidence of the human condition…the human desire and quest for power. A quest, or a story that we have seen repeated time after time after time as we look back through history. (pause) Now…picture with me…the Middle East about 3500 years ago. And that same old story is running rampant. Kingdoms, if you want to use that word, were not overly huge…because a person could only control as much area as they were strong enough to protect…and sooner or later someone bigger and stronger was gonna come in and wipe you out.

Low and behold…this batch of nomads consisting of about dozen different tribes who sometimes get along and sometimes bicker like crazy move into the area along the edge of the Mediterranean Sea that we would call Israel. Gradually they beat everyone else and establish themselves…and then after a few hundred years…they get their act together and make a king…and he rules for 40 years…until some upstart former shepherd who’s good with a harp, not to mention a sling and a stone…undermines him and takes over…know who I’m talking about? This guy named David? Seems pretty popular in religious history.  Well David expands this kingdom, becoming one of the true superpowers of the day…and we’re talking about 1000BC here. Things go good for a while…but this AMAZING…SUPER…STUPENDOUS king dies…and within about 2 more generations this kingdom, this super power starts to fall apart. (pause) Cue the same old story. Beginning round about 750 BC, we see empire after empire after empire rise up, conquer…enslave…only to erode, and eventually be replaced by the next one in line. (pause)

This goes on for centuries…and so…round about the time that the calendar shifts from BC to AD…if we are to look in on this culture in Israel, who at one time had been super power…we find them now utterly under the boot of the Roman Empire…subject to the whim of Caesar, also known as Augustus…and they were part of the regional control of Syria and a guy named Quirinius. (Pause) Those names sound familiar? (Pause) Do you see where I’m going with this?

As Luke begins this account…this story…this gospel, he places us into a specific point in history…and he zero’s in on this one culture who are utterly caught up in the same old story repeated time after time after time…a culture who at one time were on the top of the heap…but now a millennia and a half later, are scrapping the bottom of the barrel.

This is a culture who considered themselves to be God’s chosen people…even after centuries of oppression…and if we look back through their scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, we see this pattern emerge and the repeated teachings that no matter what happens, God…the Lord…Yahwah, whatever name you want to use…their God would not leave them abandoned. Funny huh? (pause)
But wait…this is Christmas Eve right? Well, this isn’t the right story to focus on…so now, in the midst of all this…let’s look at a story that exists within the old story. And we center in on a couple of teenagers. A young Palestinian girl…probably about the same age as one of our 8th graders…she’s engaged to marry a young guy…MAYBE a freshman in college…and low and behold they find out she’s pregnant…but don’t give Joseph the side eye just yet because she’s been told by an angel that this is the power of God at work…doing the impossible in her being pregnant because she’s still a virgin.

In the midst of the turmoil that this would cause for them within their community…word comes out that the emperor is demanding a census…which not only means recording their name but also major taxation…and to top it all off they’ve got to go to their ancestral town to do it.  Remember that David guy from 1000 years prior…turns out Joseph is related to him…so Joseph, along with his UBER pregnant fiancé have to skedaddle from Nazareth in the north all the way to Bethlehem in the south…either on the back of a donkey, or in a cart, or maybe even on foot…over the course of about 100 miles…only to find that the town is so full that they get shoehorned into the only spot available…and sure enough…its baby time…no epidural…no quiet sterile birthing suite. Just a dark corner with nowhere else to place the brand new baby than in the feed trough. Think Mary and Joseph were aware of their standings in the grand scheme of things?

A baby boy, born in a backwater suburb of the capital, in a country ruled by multiple levels of military and political might…about as far from their home and the comfort of the familiar…far away from family. Zero fan-fair…at least until a bunch of stinky shepherds show up talking about angels and messages and messiahs asking “Hey can we see your kid?” (pause)
I can’t help but think that this story is UTTERLY devoid of anything that even remotely resembles something worth celebrating. By rights there is nothing about this story that makes it memorable…and yet…2000 years later…here we are to celebrate it. (pause)

The birth of Jesus of Nazareth…one of countless births that day…one of literally billions of births that have happened within the human race…shouldn’t matter…and yet it does. So what is it about this story…what is it about this baby…what is it about this man that we call Jesus that is so significant that we would celebrate it year after year after year?

The only answer that I can give for that question is that Jesus…the one we call Christ…is God’s answer to that same old story.  That in this story found in middle of all that other stuff…this story within a story…God is doing something new.

Think about this for a moment. The God that we profess as God…which is the same God that the Jewish culture professed as the one true God…the creator of the entirety of existence…looks at his creation which includes humanity mind you…and this God loves it SO MUCH…flawed though it is…That this God chose to break the same old cycle…This God chose to do something in order to show us that might does not make right…that true power is not found in the size of your army or the territory you control or how big your bank account is.

Because in this story…God is showing us that true power can only be found in weakness. The savior of the universe…the one who will save us from sins…the one who will endure the cross does so because God himself has taken flesh to show us that there is another way. That we have been called to love one another, just as God has first loved us…and that the kingdoms of this world…those symbols of power that humanity is REALLY good at putting our stock in are destined to fall.

History shows us this time and again…because history plays the long game…and you know what…so does God. (pause) God willingly chose to enter into our reality in the most humble and helpless way possible…born in backwater town to unmarried parents who were kids themselves…far from home because of the political tyrants of the day. (long pause)

Now maybe you’re asking yourself “So what?” And if you are, then consider the message of the angel. Behold I bring you good news of great joy. (Pause) There’s a word for that…bringing good news…its called being Evangelical…and in its true form…in its basic meaning…it means proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven…a kingdom which has come forth with this humble baby…a kingdom that doesn’t work like all those other kingdoms…a kingdom that isn’t subject to that same old story…a kingdom based not in power…but in love. A kingdom where we are called to love our enemies and pray for them…a kingdom where we are called to share the resources that we have with those who don’t have enough…a kingdom with a God who delights in us…and desires so much that we can be together in relationship that he willingly became one us to make it happen. (pause)

This is pretty radical stuff…and admittedly, it goes against everything that basic human nature tells us should be right or powerful or mighty. But I’ll ask it again…how’s that same old story really working for us? How’s it working for you? Because its probably not a stretch for me to assume that things aren’t all hunky-dory in our world are they? Not if we’re honest with ourselves…because all too often all the junk in this world…all that stuff that we’re really good at heaping on ourselves…and all the rest of the stuff that the world is good at piling on too…all of that stuff probably just leaves us feeling stuck.

Many of you have heard me tell this story recently…but I’m gonna tell it again because its fitting.  A man is walking down the street and he falls in a hole…and the hole is deep and the walls are so steep he can’t get out…he tries and he tries and he tries but no matter what he does he can’t get himself out.  Pretty soon a doctor walks by…and the man hollers up Hey Doc can you give me a hand. The doctor looks down in the hole…writes a prescription and drops it in and walks away. Then pretty soon an architect comes by…and he says the same thing. Hey man can you help me out…and the architect looks down in the hole…draws a schematic and drops in…and he walks away.

But then the guys friend walks by…and he hollers Hey man its me…can you help me. And the friend jumps down in the hole next to him. He says What are you doing? Now we’re stuck in here together. But the friend says I know…but I’ve been here before, and I know the way out.  (pause)

The world tells us a story…that power is on display through might…but history shows us that eventually, someone bigger or stronger is going come along and knock you down in a hole…but tonight we hear a story from within that story telling us that we have a God who sees us in that hole…and comes among us as one who calls us Friend…and shows us that true power…His power…is found in the midst of weakness.  And the basis for this great power is the fact that he loves you, just as you are.

Tonight God tells a new story…one that sounds like Good News to me. Amen.

[1] Credit to Rob Bell “Everything is Spiritual” Video on Youtube.com for this microstory

Oh There You Are 12-24-17

In this sermon, taken from Luke 1:26-38, I explore the encounter between Mary and the angel Gabriel, as she learns that she will bear the Christ Child. Note that this covers the final Sunday of Advent and is not the Christmas Eve sermon.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/oh-there-you-are-12-24-17

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

Today’s a bit of an odd day isn’t it? Sunday morning…we’re celebrating Advent…and yet its also Christmas Eve…truly the calendar is playing a trick on us this year, but that’s okay…because despite our Advent focus this morning…I think its safe to say that we are all in the Christmas spirit aren’t we?

By now its impossible not to be…and Christmas is a wonderful time…one of joy…one of community…one of tradition…a time when we will often share stories of our own traditions and practices…of memories and stories…and I often find myself remembering the seasons of my younger years…and the overwhelming joy that a child feels at Christmas.

A feeling that perhaps connects to a famous literary character…Peter Pan…the boy who lives in Neverland…having adventure after adventure and never wanting to grow up. (pause) But what if he did?

There’s a movie that explored that very premise…Hook staring the late Robin Williams…a story in which Peter eventually did leave Neverland…and he grew up…forgetting all about his past…until the villainous Captain Hook kidnaps his children, causing the grown up, middle aged Peter Banning to return.

He finds himself with the Lost Boys for a few days…training…trying to remember…trying to find the youthful spirit once more…but all the Lost Boys see is a grown up grump…all except one little guy…In an emotional scene…he walks up to Peter…pulls him down to his knees to look him in the face…the boy pulls off his glasses…and starts turning Peter’s face in his hands…looking…searching…he smooths out wrinkles…he pulls back Peter’s hair…and then finally he lights up…a smile crosses his face…and he says “Oh there you are Peter.”  And with joy we realize that this little boy has found the one that he followed…the one that he remembers…the one that he loves and adores…the one that he favors. (pause)

Now maybe that’s a weird story to tell in connection with the Angel Gabriel showing up to give Mary this unexpected announcement…and yet if we consider the angel’s greeting…perhaps it starts to come into focus.

Greetings Highly favored one…the Lord is with you. (pause) Now we know why Gabriel is here don’t we?  He’s passing on the news that Mary has been chosen by God to serve in a role that is arguably one of the most important in all of history…that she has been chosen to bear the son of God…that she will be the mother of the one to save us all…the son of the most high…she will be the mother of Jesus.

But Mary’s reaction…well initially…its not great is it? (pause) The first thing we hear is her confusion at the angels greeting…that pondered what sort of greeting this might be…and then when Gabriel lays out the plan for her…her response? How can this be? (pause)

Now considering the plan that good ole Gabe has put on the table…maybe her reaction isn’t surprising…this is some pretty major stuff that God has mapped out…a baby, conceived within her…even though its physically impossible given that whole unmarried virgin thing…a baby who apparently is going to inherit the throne of David, even though the Romans utterly control the area and the throne is Israel is held by the bloodthirsty family of Herod.

It seems pretty unbelievable doesn’t it? But consider Mary’s status…she’s a nobody…a very young woman, still practically a child…she’s living in an era where both children and women have virtually no status at all…she lives in a backwater region of a conquered nation.  The news that she’s gonna have a baby out of wedlock would create all kinds of havoc for her…and even if it is true…and this baby is destined to take the throne, well that’s going to cause all kinds of turmoil for them with the political powers that be.

And as she’s thinking about all of this stuff…she remembers this crazy greeting that Gabriel had given her. Greetings Highly Favored One…Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God…now I can’t help but think that with all the turmoil that this announcement brings with it…all the hardship that she’s about to face because of what’s happening…God’s favor doesn’t exactly seem like the happiest thing in the world does it?

But maybe it isn’t suppose to. Maybe God’s favor doesn’t automatically add up to what our world has come to consider it to be…maybe it doesn’t equal ease, or riches…or popularity…maybe God’s favor actually points us in the opposite direction…and in the midst of it we can expect there to be struggle and pain and hardship…but only within the midst of those struggles do we find God-given strength to endure…not out of our own power…but out of the promise that we are not alone in it. (pause)

Now admittedly…this might be hard to wrap our heads around…especially as we consider the same things that Mary was considering…and that odd ball greeting and stipulation that she is highly favored.  But if we dig a little deeper, we find that our modern English translations…the ones that we’ve heard every year to the point where we can probably recite it from memory…it isn’t quite right…and if we start going backwards in the language we actually find that Gabriel says “Greetings, one who has found divine Grace with the Lord who is with you…Mary you have found Grace with God.”

Now when I realized that this week…it gave me some pause…because here in the Lutheran church…we’re big fans of Grace aren’t we…the free gift of God’s love…of God’s favor…of God’s salvation from sin…but as much as we love to hang our hats on God’s grace…there are times when we are honest with ourselves that perhaps we start to ask the question “Who am I that God would care? Who am I that God would look my direction. Who am I that God would love me?” (pause) We ask these questions because we know ourselves…we see…we feel the brokenness that exists within us and we know that we are not worthy of Love from the one who made this reality…and yet in making this reality…in making this world…that same God has made you.

This same God sees you in the midst of your brokenness…and God loves you anyway…and not only that but God desires that you will be with him…and since God is aware that we can’t get to him…he has come in search of us…but to truly accomplish this…he will enter into our reality in the same way do…as a helpless baby…one who’s name will be Jesus…as Gabriel instructs Mary today.

And you know what…sometimes there’s more to a name that we realize. In English we call him Jesus…in Greek it was Jeshua…which you might notice sounds kinda like Joshua…and its supposed to…and Joshua…the original Hebrew name means, quite literally Yahweh is generous…or Yahweh saves.

Today, here at the close of Advent…we hear the Divine plan laid out for Mary…and funny enough in just a few more hours, we’ll celebrate that plan in the flesh with the birth of Jesus…God in human form…the word made flesh…the light shining in the darkness…The Lord among us as one of us…showing us his divine favor…his divine love for each us.

For in Christ, God has come looking for you…and he’s willing to get right up in your face…he’ll go to any length to find the one that he loves…the one that he adores…the one that he favors…

Now maybe you ARE wondering Who am I that God would do this? Who am I that God would care. Who am I?  Know this, it doesn’t matter…because you are his beloved…and just like that little boy in the movie…imagine just how wonderful it will be to look God in the face one day…and to see the joy when he says “Oh there you are.”  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

Treasure This 12-24-15

This sermon, for Christmas Eve, comes from the normal Christmas text of Luke 2:1-20.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/treasure-this-12-24-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
On this most special of nights, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our newly born Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Just this past Sunday, we were blessed to have worship led by our young people, as the JR High students as well as the Sunday School students presented worship in a way to celebrate the Christmas season. It was wonderful with various songs and readings. But one of my favorite parts was during the puppet show, put on by the Jr Highers, when they sang a special song for the birth of Jesus…Happy birthday. (pause)
Now perhaps you’ve heard me talk about this before, but in my wife’s family, we have the tradition of singing happy birthday to Jesus when we are together to celebrate Christmas…I’ve also done this same thing during children’s sermons in the past…and it’s a wonderful tradition, because it reminds us of just what we are really celebrating on this day…the birth of Jesus Christ. (pause)
Now, this is of course, one of those rare times when our gospel lesson is the same each and every year…regardless of what year we fall on during the 3 year cycle, the gospel is the same…and because of this…it becomes familiar…so familiar in fact that we could probably all recite it.

In addition, in countless communities and congregations around the world, Christmas pageants happen…and we see all the familiar scenes…Mary and Joseph coming into town…getting turned away at the local Motel 6…ending up in the barn with fluffy sheep and cows and a donkey…an angel shows up…the shepherds arrive…closely followed up by the Wise Men bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh…and in the midst of it all…there’s Mary…treasuring it all in her heart. (pause)

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Christmas story. I love watching these pageants as generation after generation of our children learn about the birth of Jesus…even if some of the parts are a little inaccurate, it’s still such a vital tradition. But that being said, this year as I started working on this sermon, I found myself thinking a lot about those extra details…those things that have found their way into our collective consciousness of this story…and since my own imagination and experience has the tendency to shove its way in…I got to wondering about just what might have been happening behind the scenes of this wonderful story of Jesus’ birthday. (pause)

I’m sure it comes as no great shock…but when I think about birth, it puts me in mind of the birth of my own kids…because that’s the personal experience that I can draw on…and while I remember a whole lot of details, which I am not going to bore you with…one thing I remember actually occurred about a day and half after my son was born.

We were still in the hospital…and I had actually gone back to work that day…and in the late afternoon, once work was finished, I headed back to the hospital to see my wife and newborn son…and as I walked into the room, I looked at Emily…and man did she look tired…I remember her asking me if I had any other visitors along with me and when I said no she got this look on her face that was a combination of relief and annoyance. I asked her what was wrong and she told me “I am exhausted.” (pause) Understandable right? She had a baby the day before…neither one of us slept well at all that first night, even in the hospital…and then while I was gone to work…visitor after visitor kept showing up so Emily had no chance to rest at all. (pause) It continued to…because I remember our first night at home, a day or two later…and every time Jack blinked I was awake…like any parents, we were frazzled for at least 6 solid months…but during those initial couple of days in the hospital, its fair to say that Emily was certainly the more frazzled of the two of us. (pause)

But what Mary and Joseph? How do you think they fared during this whole deal…Mary especially. Think about her whole situation. She’s a young girl…probably early teens…about the same age as some of our jr high or high school students. She’s engaged to be married…but then gets a visit from an angel who drops a bomb on her that she’s about to get pregnant via God. She’s facing ridicule from her community…she goes into hiding with her cousin for a few months…and now when she comes home and is getting close to having her baby…the government swoops in and demands that she tag along with Joseph to travel from Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem in the south…all for the sole purpose of writing their names down…and get taxed for it.

And since they aren’t the ones doing it…when they final drag themselves into town…they find that every single spot to sleep is filled…and when they finally do get some, rather lousy shelter…low and behold its time for the baby…no diaper bag…no birthing suite…no doctor…no epidural…no crib…and after her labor is done and the baby is born…no simple feat mind you…they lay him in a feed trough.

Sounds wonderful right…but its not over yet…because in the middle of the night…after all of this has happened…a bunch of dirty, stinky shepherds come calling…talking about angels and heavenly proclamations…now…how do you think Mary was feeling at this point? (pause) I don’t know about you…but I can only imagine…she had to have been exhausted…and scared…and confused…the same as any first time mother…but throw all the other variables into the mix…and I would think that she was probably tired…and irritated…to put it mildly. And if it were me in that situation…I’d have told the shepherds to come back in the morning…leave me think heck alone…that’s what I would have done…

But here’s the thing…as I was working with this text…I heard an important reminder…don’t worry about what isn’t found in the scripture…rather…focus on what is there…and amazingly enough…we don’t hear about irritation on the part of Mary…rather…the scripture tells us that Mary hears the words of the shepherds and treasures all these things in her heart…and you know what…its not the only time something like this happens to Mary.

If we fast forward 12 years…we also hear the one story of Jesus during his childhood…when the kids gets lost during Passover and it takes Mary and Joseph days to find him again…and when they do…he’s sitting in the temple having theological discussion with the teachers and priests…and once again…despite the anxiety that we do hear about in that story…once again…Mary treasures these things. (pause)

Now I don’t about you…but Mary seems pretty incredible to be able to put up with all this stuff and not only does she not get upset…but she treasures it…and so I find myself wondering just what is it about this whole deal that is so wonderful…and not only to Mary, though she’s the best example…but to everyone else…to the shepherds who receive the angelic proclamation…and to Joseph as well as everyone else in the house who heard it…and not only that…but to the countless people who have heard this story throughout the past 2000 years and have received it with wonder.

And so I’ll ask once more…just what was it that went on? Well, if we pay really close attention…in one tiny, almost throw away comment we hear that Mary’s son is born.

All speculation and details aside…this baby is born…and so we ask what might the more important question of just what is the big deal about this one birth…one of countless that must have happened on that same day…one of literally billions of births that have occurred within the human race over the ages…what is it about this one that is so important…so earth shattering…what is it that is so different this time around.

These are important questions to ask when we consider the birth of Jesus…and to answer them…we need to take a closer look at the proclamation itself…that good news of great joy that is to all people…Born to you this day…A Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Three names…all of which would have been familiar to those who heard it all those years ago.

But those three words would have meant something drastically different back then. Keep in mind the Jewish culture…now, when they think about a savior…a deliverer within their scripture…well that would have been Moses…the great deliver who led God’s chosen people out of bondage in Egypt…and no one else in their history has been regarded with such high esteem.

And now let’s add the next layer…The Messiah…or the Christ as we also know him…same word, different translation…but the messiah within their culture, was one who was anointed to be a leader…the great kings of the past…Saul, and David, and Solomon…they were all anointed…chosen by God to lead the people…so now we’ve got a new deliverer…a new savior who would be anointed to lead God’s people out of oppression, and trust me, these people knew oppression having been conquered by empire after empire…even to the point of the current exploitation Mary and Joseph were experiencing that brought them here to Bethlehem in the first place. Certainly this proclamation has vital importance…for this baby would be the one to retake the throne of Israel, anointed to deliver God’s people from oppression.

(pause)
Earth shattering right? This is what they’ve hoped and prayed for, over countless generations…literally centuries of history…but…there’s….more. For this anointed deliverer…this Savior, this Messiah…is the LORD.

And that’s where this one simple birth…this amazing story…changes everything…because this is not some simple baby…this is God entering into our reality…and choses the lowest possible way to do it…the most powerful being in all of existence, who’s very presence goes beyond our ability to comprehend enters into our reality, born in the dirt, laid in the feed trough…to a virgin ostracized by her culture for breaking the law…announced to shepherds who were the lowest of the low lives. And not only did God become human, but he was born…as a helpless baby…utterly dependent…God’s ultimate power, entering our reality in order to exert that limitless power over that which we are powerless against…the power of sin and death…God’s ultimate power was expressed in and through that which is utterly powerless. (pause)

And I believe that this good news…that God’s power is found within our powerlessness…within our weakness…within our inabilities…that is so earth shatteringly amazing that it overshadows all the darkness that’s going on. For the shepherds, this announcement comes in the middle of the night…God’s light shines in the darkness…for us…here at Christmas…when the days are as short as they can be and the night’s are as long as they can be…we receive this news…and God’s light shines in that darkness.

And for each of us as individuals, facing a hard reality…a reality where there is pain…and there is suffering…and there is loss…and there are those things in our lives and in the world that make no sense and cannot be explained and can only be experienced as darkness…God’s light shines…and so tonight…on this most special of nights may we cling to the promise that in this tiny baby, God enters the world to lead and to save us from that which we are powerless against…I’d say that’s something worth treasuring…wouldn’t you? Amen.

 

Fear Not 12-24-14 Christmas Eve

This sermon for Christmas Eve is based on the birth narrative from Luke 2:1-20. In the sermon I explore the notion that heavenly beings always seem to open a conversation with “Fear Not.” And I wonder aloud just why that is.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/fear-not-12-24-14

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

On this most special of nights, grace and peace to you from God our Father, our newly born Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Well everyone…we can finally say it…Merry Christmas everyone…after another long season of planning…getting everything lined up…here we are…finally at the big day. And for most of you sitting out there tonight…I’m guessing there has been a great deal of prep work leading up to this moment hasn’t there?
Decorations of every kind to find and put up…lights, trees, wreathes…stocking hung by the chimney with care and all that. As I look around I see many of you in fancy new Christmas outfits…there have been travel plans to arrange…family visitors to accommodate, Christmas feasts to shop and prepare for.

Here in the church, we’ve done a fair amount of prep work as well. Getting the sanctuary decorated…prepping worship for this evening…lining up the special bulletins and the volunteers for different jobs…getting all the candles ready and prepping a special batch of communion for this evening…All around…people have been hustling and bustling to get ready for the big day.

But despite all the craziness of the season…which is admittedly, drastic…there are also those fun little things about the holiday season that make it special every year. There are a few different things that brighten up the season at my house…for instance, the ever growing ring of Christmas cards and letters that form up around our kitchen window as we get the yearly update from many different people. And one other one is the ever present stream of Christmas specials that play on tv…sometimes even on a continuous loop.

I always enjoy these specials…the new ones and the old reliable ones…but the one that sticks out in my memory the sharpest has to be A Charlie Brown Christmas…which first debuted in 1965 and has run every year since then.

I love this show…I think its great…it features everything from Charlie Brown attempting to direct all the kids in the Christmas Play…starring Lucy as the Christmas Queen of course…we have Snoopy going all out to win the Christmas decoration contest with his dog house…several instances of people getting called Blockhead…and a ratty little Christmas tree that somehow manages to gain or lose branches from scene to scene.

But in what is probably my favorite portion of the whole show…Charlie Brown is freaking out at the dress rehearsal of the Christmas play when no one is cooperating with his direction…in normal fashion he throws his head back and screams “DOESN’T ANYONE KNOW WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT?” (pause)

And Linus…brilliant as always…with his strong moral compass…and his blanket in tow says…Sure Charlie Brown…I know what Christmas is all about…He walks out center stage…asks for the lights to come down around him…and then Linus rattles off a perfect King James version of the shepherds story from tonight’s gospel.

And there was in the same country shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night…and LO…the angel of the Lord came upon them…the glory of the Lord shone around them…and they were sore afraid…and the angel said unto them…Fear not… (pause)

Linus finishes the rest of the story in a calm monotone…walks off stage, back to Charlie Brown to say…that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown. (pause) I’ve always loved that scene…even when I was a kid…who knows…maybe it was a preconceived notion of my eventual day job…but I have always appreciated how Charlie Brown, in a mainstream special, still gets the point across. (pause)

Now all of that being said…I do chuckle at the King Jamesy version that Linus presents…particularly the notion that the shepherds were sore afraid. (pause) Sore afraid…just what does that really mean anyway? The language is, interesting to say the least. I mean, I know what afraid means…that’s obvious…and I know what sore means…I’m a runner after all…I’m familiar with soreness…and so we’ve got these two familiar terms…and I wonder if it’s a good idea to put them together…kind of like taking tacos and pizza…two wonderful foods that combine into a monstrocity…I think it’s the same deal here. Sore afraid.

I guess if we take it literally it would mean that the shepherds were so terrified, that it made them physically hurt. (pause) Have you ever been that scared? Has something ever frightened you so much that it physically effected you?

I had an instance just a few weeks back…driving up north to visit some family when the roads were a little dicey…and during that drive, particularly the last 10 miles, I was on glare ice…and I was hunched over the steering wheel…tense beyond belief…afraid that one wrong move would shoot us off into the ditch…and when that drive was finally over, my shoulders and neck physically hurt…what do you think…is that a good example of being “Sore afraid?” (pause) Somehow, I don’t quite think that cuts it.

But just what is it? What does it mean to be sore afraid…very likely, we can best describe it as scared to death…almost literally…and the interesting thing about this whole deal is what causes it.

Here’s the shepherds…just hanging out in the fields at night…trying their best to stay awake and keep watch…likely engaging in some sort of conversation as they didn’t have smart phones to keep them occupied…and who knows what they were talking about…perhaps the census that the Emperor had commanded…when all of the sudden…out of nowhere…an angel came upon them surrounded by the glory of the Lord.

This is what terrified them…the very presence of the angel…even before the angel starts talking…its just…there…and you know what…we’ve seen this sort of thing before. All throughout the Old Testament…anytime an individual encounters the angel of the Lord…they freak out…terrified even to the point of death…which sorta raises the question of just what these angels really look like…Something tells me it isn’t just the nice handsome guy in a white robe with wings and a halo shining over his head.

Each and everytime an angel of the Lord shows up…we hear the same greeting. Fear not…Don’t be afraid…Don’t fear. Across the board it happens…and not just in the Old Testament…but we hear the same sort of thing over and over again in the New Testament.

Our gospel story for tonight comes from Luke chapter 2, as it does every Christmas…and as we know it features the birth of Christ…but you know what…Luke Chapter 1 features two more stories of the angel of the Lord appearing to someone. First, we hear that the angel appears to Zechariah…a priest best known as the father of John the Baptist…then we hear that the angel appears to Mary…both of these individuals learn that they are going to the parent of an important figure…one who will shape history…but before either one of them get the message…the very first thing they hear is “Fear not.”

It doesn’t end there either…this baby…this Jesus…born this day grows up…and in his ministry we see this very same theme. When Jesus called the first disciples…Peter, James, John, and Andrew…some of his first words spoken to them, even before he names them disciples…even before he tells them that they will become fishers of men…Jesus tells them…Fear not.

We hear it again when Jesus is sleeping in the boat with all 12 disciples…and the wind and waves terrify them to the point of death…Jesus stops the storm with a word and asks them…Why are you afraid? (pause)

It seems…each and every time the notion of fear comes up around a divine being…whether God himself…or an angel…or Jesus here on earth…we hear the phrase Fear Not. And it typically happens along with some sort of faith based situation. Zechariah…your son, born to you and your wife in old age will be a forerunner of Messiah…but don’t be afraid. (pause) Mary, you who are a virgin, will give birth to a son, who will be the Son of God…but don’t be afraid. (pause) You Shepherds…you will be witnesses…you will testify to the birth of the messiah…so go and see…and Do Not…Be…Afraid. (pause)

Perhaps you’ve heard me talk about repetition before. That when something is repeated in the Bible, it usually means it’s pretty important…and if in fact that is the case then maybe, just maybe we are all supposed to get this same message. Fear Not.

And if that is the case…then tonight I pose the question to you…what is it that you fear? (pause) In each and every case we’ve talked about tonight, God was asking something of the individual. Asking for them to trust…asking them to step out in faith and believe the promises that God was making for them.

We’re called to the very same thing…and sometimes…sometimes…that can be terrifying…a life of faith…a life of trusting in the promises that God has made is not always easy…a life of faith does not come fully equipped with all the answers and every contingency mapped out for us…yet God still comes to us asking that we trust him…asking that we believe in the promises that he has made…and reassuring us that we do not need to be afraid.

Tonight we celebrate with joy and thanksgiving the birth of the savior…which the angel told the shepherds is good news of great joy which is to ALL people…ALL people and that my friends…includes each and every one of you.

Born today in the city of David is a savior who is Christ the Lord. And in recognizing that to be true we ask the question of just what he saves us from…and the answer to that will be discovered a few months from now, when we gather together and recognize that God himself entered into this world as a helpless baby in order to one day take the cross and beat back death…and he does it for each and every one of us so that in the end…we no longer fear death…but recognize that through his life we are reconciled to God. (pause)

The baby born this day…lying in the manger…has been born in order to die…and shocking as that might be…we don’t need to fear that either…because this is the work of God…the work that God is doing in our reality…in order to bring us back into relationship with him.

What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping…this is the child who was born to die for all mankind…he brings the kingdom of heaven with him…he brings peace and joy…he brings healing and salvation…and even more importantly…in his life, death, and resurrection, he will bring an end to death. (pause)
And that, Charlie Brown…is what Christmas…is all about. Amen.