Posts Tagged ‘Maundy Thursday’

Remember 4-18-19

In this Maundy Thursday sermon, I explore the actions taken by Jesus at the Last Supper, whether the foot-washing found in John’s gospel or the institution of Holy Communion found in the other gospels. Jesus seems to be saying goodbye, and wants to do so in a meaningful way that will help those present to remember.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/remember-4-18-19

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

Sometimes it amazes me at how quickly time flies by…recently in the midst of conversation, I realized that its already been more than a year since I visited the Holy Land…touring many of the sites that carry historical significance connected to the life of Jesus.

An interesting thing about the Holy Land is the mix of the old and the new. There are some places…some cities or locations, as well as individual sites that are actually quite new, but there are others that have been there for a REALLY long time…and I remember feeling the significance of all that history on the day when we visited the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem…a very large church built on the site believed to be Jesus’ actual birth place.

I can’t recall if it’s the oldest standing church in the world, but it does have the distinction of being the oldest church in the Holy Land by a pretty large margin. The structure itself was built approximately 1600 years ago…and it survived a purge, wide spread destruction of pretty much every other Christian structure which occurred a few hundred years later…and only because the Persian empire that invaded held an appreciation for the Nativity, because the Wise Men in the story are believed to be Persians. (pause)

I remember a sense of just how significant it was…to stand there in a structure that is that old…and to lean against a wall which has stood there the better part of 2 millennia.  Imagine if those walls could talk…the history they could share…and now on the flipside imagine what would be lost if that structure was destroyed.

We caught a glimpse of that sort of thing just a few days ago…as news reports spread…and video surfaced of the devastating fire that ravaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris…a heartbreaking event for the world, and especially for our Catholic sisters and brothers.

Now I don’t know if any of you have noticed this or not…but it wasn’t long after news broke about the destruction of that beautiful old church, that people started bickering on social media about it.  Butting heads over all kinds of things…One of the arguments I noticed centers around the statement “the church is not the building.”’

I’ve heard that statement before…I’ve even said it…but when I started hearing about the tension around I stopped to think about it…and while there is certainly truth in that statement…truth that points us towards the importance of the community of fellow believers over the material…there is also truth on the other side.  The loss of that beautiful place…a beacon of the Catholic church and faith…that’s something worth grieving.

Because our faith has a way of taking on shape as it connects into something else…and this can take on all matter of forms.  Buildings, hymns or songs, places, traditions, even down to the clothes we wear.  Perhaps here in the Lutheran church, the importance of tradition is one that we can relate to…after all, tonight right here in Worship we are celebrating with our traditional liturgy…as we look around this sanctuary…perhaps for each of us there is a particular item that holds some sort of significance…maybe you connect with a particular aspect of worship…or even in the shared connection that you hold with another person that holds meaning in your faith life.

I think back, and realize that I’ve got a couple examples of this sort of thing from my own faith history.  Some of you have heard me talk about the time in 5th grade when I made it on the news…but only because I happened to be in the background when they reported on the fire that destroyed my home congregation’s building.  It didn’t occur to me until years later that I can no longer stand in the sanctuary and touch the font in which I was baptized.

Likewise, the church building where my wife and I were married…a few years later that congregation moved into a new facility, and the building was sold to a congregation of a different denomination…and while they probably wouldn’t turn me away if I tried to visit…somehow that space…that place…isn’t the same anymore…and that’s another bit of my own faith history that is now lost.

Here’s the thing though…the loss of the place doesn’t take away from the significance of the event itself.  I can’t visit the sanctuary where I said “I do” but I am still married…I literally cannot walk into the room and see the font where I was washed in the water…but I am still baptized…these things do not change, and yet…there is still a sense of loss…

I wonder if you have something in your history that similar in scope to this…a place or a ritual that holds deep meaning…and yet is somehow lost to you. (Pause) This brings us to the significance of this evening…Maundy Thursday and the story of the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with the disciples.

As per usual, we’ve heard the story from John’s gospel…featuring the event of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples…a perspective unique to John…while the other three gospels all focus in on the institution of Holy Communion…and honestly…both events seem to hold this same connection…a ritual…an event…intended as a gift that is to be remembered…an intimate moment between individuals that I believe Jesus intended to be meaningful as he says goodbye to these people who have been so close to him during his ministry. (pause)

Now we could try to dive into the how or the why of these events…but maybe tonight all that really isn’t important…maybe the thing that we need to hold on to in this moment is the sense of saying goodbye. Imagine it from the perspective of Jesus…I’ll admit to you that’s not something I had ever really done before…but maybe we should.  Because Jesus, knowing all things…all that which had already occurred…and all that which was about to…created these memorable moments for his friends…just before events would transpire that would leave him betrayed…alone…tortured…and killed.

Think about his perspective…and this last opportunity to show someone how you feel about them. (pause) What would you do? How do you say goodbye? (pause)  In my work, I’ve had the opportunity to be in the room with families in this type of situation…those times when death is not far away…and everyone is saying their goodbyes. It’s a solemn time…a sad time…and it carries a sense of finality that isn’t like anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Now sometimes, the person is unable to participate…because they are either gone to quickly, without warning…or their physical state doesn’t allow it…but sometimes the opposite is true…and they are able to be a part…and having been in several different rooms where that’s the case over the course of recent history…I’ve been thinking a lot about it…and the way that I’ve watched as they’ve shared a moment…a word…a long embrace or a tender kiss…as they’ve shared tears…as they’ve shared laughter…as they’ve shared a special moment with each different individual and I can only imagine that the hope for that person, who knows they will be leaving…is that this moment will stay with the other person as their life goes on.

And, I’ll be honest, in one of those instances…I didn’t just sit there and pray after bringing Holy Communion…but in that moment, I sat at the bedside while the wonderful lady, only about a day away from death reached up, and for a moment just held my cheek.  It was an expression of love that I will never forget. (pause)

These moments…these memories or places…or traditions…they hold power…and this power somehow impacts and strengthens our faith…and I believe that’s what Jesus was really up to…when he knelt at the feet of his disciples to wash the dirt and dust away…as he looked them in the eye in a moment of connection…or as he lifted the bread and broke it…and passed the cup, assuring them that his body and his blood are broken and poured out for them…and that whenever they share this meal…to remember. (pause)

What a blessing to know…that somehow through the power of the Holy Spirit…we are included in that invitation…somehow we are sitting at that table…and that the power in Jesus’ words…and the significance of his actions are pointed towards us as well…so that we might be strengthened…so that we might find hope through whatever it is to come…until that glorious day, when we are united completely with Christ…and when we join in that heavenly banquet which we have been promised…and which we will celebrate together with all those who have gone before…those who have left us with powerful moments to remember. Amen.

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Its Not Up To Us 3-29-19 Maundy Thursday

In this Maundy Thursday Sermon, I explore the Last Supper found in John 13. Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, knowing what’s coming, as an example of the way that we are called to love one another.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-not-up-to-us-3-29-18

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

It never ceases to amaze me to consider the utterly outlandish stories that I come across as I read through the Old Testament narrative. There’s one in the book of Numbers that’s a great example. At this point in the Israelite history, the people have been wandering in the desert for quite a while. They’re of course, very numerous…and they’re actually approaching the borders of the Promised Land.

And as they’re traveling around, there’s this gentile king named Balak who’s getting a little freaked out…he’s seen their numbers…he’s heard reports of battles that they’ve fought with other forces…and he’s concerned.  So King Balak get’s this awesome idea to call in a prophet…a holy man…to call down a curse upon the Israelites…and this prophet’s name is Balaam.

Now maybe you recognize the name of Balaam…and maybe you know his story…at first he resists the messengers that King Balak has sent his way…figuring that if these are God’s chosen people, he better not try to curse them, even if King Balak offers him great riches…which he does…but then God tells Balaam go ahead and go…and so he saddles up his donkey and off he goes…but then an angel of the Lord shows up in the road…which only the donkey can see.

Now the donkey isn’t going anywhere near that angel…and just stops in the road…and Balaam gets so ticked off at this stubborn animal that he gets off and starts beating it…until God opens the mouth of the donkey who pretty much says “DUDE!!! Why are you beating me? There’s an angel there.” Now talking donkeys are awesome…but what is really important about the story of Balaam is the way he views God’s chosen people.  3 times, in 3 different places King Balak calls upon Balaam to curse the Israelites, but he won’t do it…because Balaam knows that God will bless whoever God choses…Its not up to us…and there’s not much that we can do about it. (pause)

Now with that in mind, let’s consider our gospel lesson for tonight…Maundy Thursday…the night of the Last Supper…the time when Jesus joins together with the 12 disciples for one last bit of fellowship…a time of teaching…a very intimate exchange between Jesus and these men that he has claimed…these followers that have been and will continue to be the closest recipients of his personal attention and his love.

We hear this from the get-go. Jesus loves his own…and he loves them till the end…regardless of what anyone else might think…regardless of how they might respond…regardless of everything…the love of Christ…the joy that he feels in the very presence of these people…this is the sense that takes shape here in the Last Supper.

After this time together…they will go out to the garden…Judas will bring along a great crowd…the disciples will flee…Peter will deny…and things only get darker from there. Tonight Jesus will be arrested…tomorrow he will be tortured and killed on the cross…and Jesus makes no secret of that. He’s told the disciples time after time what’s coming…and he even says it here with a term of beloved endearment. Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

And remember Jesus knows all this…he knows what’s coming…he knows what’s in the hearts of the men that are with him…he knows it all…and despite the utter betrayals that will come about on EVERYONE’S part…he still takes this time to literally show them what true love looks like.

During supper Jesus rises from the table, takes off his robe, wraps a towel around his waist…and then one by one, he stoops down to wash the feet of his disciples…some protest…Peter in particular…failing to understand just what it is that Jesus is really up to…but one after another, Jesus looks them in the face…knowing the failure that each will experience just minutes after this time together…and he still washes their feet.

Now you’ve maybe heard me talk about this before…that the job of washing the feet of a traveler would never fall to the master…either the individual would wash their own feet or the lowliest household slave would come along to do so.  This is a matter of hospitality…but no one would expect it go down like it did…and this is why we hear the confusion from Peter…the back and forth as he struggles to understand what’s really happening, just as I imagine the rest of the disciples were feeling as well…and then in the midst of it…in the middle of this odd back and forth which continues to reveal the perfect love of Christ in the face of Peter’s aversion to it…we hear the declaration that Jesus makes…you are clean. (pause)

Now as I think about water along with a statement about the individual on the part of Jesus…on the part of God, my mind goes to things sacramental…because of course this sounds like baptism.  Likewise, as we consider the Last Supper, perhaps we are reminded of Holy Communion…and rightly so…the other gospels tell us of Jesus’ first institution of the Holy Meal…one that we’ll share together in a few more minutes…a meal in which we are all reminded that this is for you for the forgiveness of sins…but not only that…we are also reminded that this meal is for all people.

This is the thing that seems so utterly significant tonight, as we enter once more into a mindset of remembering…of celebrating if we want to use that word…what Jesus endured…what God experienced in the event of Jesus’ life and death, which will lead to his resurrection in a few more days…the thing that is so significant, is that its not up to us.

Peter tries to control what Jesus will do, but Jesus shuts that down.  Judas has his part to play as well…and the rest of the disciples all have their failings. Likewise so do we…and yet, the promises of God, made real in Jesus Christ are still given to each and every one of us…simply because of God’s perfect love and delight found within each of us as individuals…each of us who were lovingly created bearing the divine image of God.

That’s something that we need to remember….that yes we are flawed and broken people…that’s a reality of humanity…but that’s not where our story begins.  If we go all the way back…Genesis chapter 1…we see that Humanity…each one of us was made by God from a place of delight…and God calls us good.  Brokenness doesn’t happen until chapter 3.

We don’t deny it…but we remember that the God who has chosen to redeem this world through Christ has done so because from the beginning of your existence…in the beginning of OUR…existence…we start from the place of goodness and the joy of our creator. (pause)

Now this perfect love…a love which admittedly, our brokenness hinders within each of us…this is the basis for the new commandment that Jesus leaves with his followers…to love one another. The Greeks call this agape love…perfect…sacrificial…all in love…and Jesus says that this is how the world will know that we are his followers, if we have love for one another. (pause)

But what does that look like? That’s a question that I often wrestle with…because it seems like we as a culture have gotten really good at the polar opposite. Many will argue that this is the single most divisive time in our history…and while that’s open to interpretation, I don’t think that any of us would argue that there is a sense of animosity…of division…of vitriol and anger…and dare I say, hate…that exists within the world…and all too often that’s the topic of conversation.

And rather than listening…we yell…we demonize…we throw the other side under the bus…and why? Because might makes right? Does it make us feel superior to have what we consider the better argument? Or have we just gotten really good at yelling louder than the other person?

Today…right now…it seems to be the 2nd Amendment and if its still relevant or outdated.  Or it’s the conservative right verses the liberal left. Or the president verses a porn star over who’s level of morality is better or worse. These are the big topics that everyone seems to be stuck on right now. And as we’ve all heard, maybe even participated in, its full of animosity.

And perhaps no where is this vitriol more present than right here in the church. And I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of being defined by who we hate. Jesus said love each other…so maybe just maybe its time that we as the body of Christ figure out how to start doing just that…instead of tossing logs around that look or sound a lot like judgement of who’s in and who’s out.

Let us remember that Jesus makes the declaration of who’s clean…Jesus makes the determination on who’s being blessed…not the other way around…and he is the one who reminds us that God loves the entire world and that God has sent the son into the world so that it might be saved through him. (pause)

So what does it mean? What does it look like to love one another? Maybe it starts from a place of respect and dignity for whoever it is that’s on the opposite side of the line from you…or maybe it starts from the realization that we’re all in this together, like it or not…and maybe we should act like it.

Maybe love looks like supporting a young man who’s bravely fighting cancer in our community.  Maybe it looks like crossing the street to say good morning to our neighbors. Sometimes it looks like just showing up when someone else is experiencing their own dark night of the soul…not with words of wisdom or the offer of a solution…but simply to bring your presence into their darkness so that they can see the truth that they are not alone.

We live in a world filled with darkness and brokenness and pain and suffering…that is our reality…but there’s a light that shines in the midst of it…a light that the world has tried REALLY hard to snuff out…in fact it tried so hard that it killed the source…but even death wasn’t strong enough to overcome it.

That light shines as a man named Jesus…And this same man, who looked his disciples in the eye, knowing that one by one they would somehow fail him, and he washed their feet…then he declared a blessing upon them…and he has declared the same blessing for you and for all people. Let us remember that in the end, this blessing is not up to us…for God will bless whoever God choses. Amen.

Love Wins 4-13-17 (Maundy Thursday)

In this sermon for Maundy Thursday, I explore the importance of the foot washing that Jesus provides for his disciples at the Last Supper.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/4-13-17-love-wins-maundy-thursday

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

As we get older, I think its fair to say that bit of advice and wisdom that someone chose to share with us in our younger years tends to stick…and soon enough we find ourselves bestowing that very same wisdom or advice on to others.  I’ve certainly discovered that to be true within the various aspects of ministry that I am involved with.

Some of you have probably picked up on this. When I find myself in a situation that repeats, what comes out of my mouth probably sounds the same time after time. Its true in teaching…its true in preaching…I’ve found it to be true in the proclamation of the gospel in funerals…and I’ve found it to be true in the advice I give couples on their wedding day.

Now, perhaps this will come as no great surprise, but this wedding advice that I pass along was advice given to my wife and I during our wedding ceremony. It speaks to the patient nature of mutual love for one another…especially in situations when we start getting on one another’s nerves…those situations when we let one another down…those times when we just aren’t getting along.

In those times, as we look at each other, and we aren’t feeling a whole lot of warm fuzzies for each other…we need to remember this advice. Even though I don’t like you very much right now…I still love you.

I think that very sentiment reflects the truth about our relationships with one another…because we all fail…we all get selfish or moody…we all get frustrated and angry…and in one way or another we always end up hurting one another…I guess you could call that a true aspect of the human condition. (pause)
Now I was thinking along these very lines earlier this week as I pondered on tonight’s scripture and sermon. This is, of course a familiar passage…one featured every year here on Maundy Thursday…John’s account of the Last Supper, as Jesus gathers along with the 12 disciples to share one final meal…to share in a time of teaching and fellowship…and a time when Jesus will show his love for his disciples by setting aside the position of honor and authority as the host of the meal…and taking on the role of the lowliest servant to stoop down and wash the feet of these men that he loves. (pause)

Now admittedly…Holy Week is a time when I tend to think of all that God is doing…and because of this…when I think about Jesus…I tend to think about his divinity…that Jesus is the personification of God’s literal and physical action within our reality…and throw in the strong focus of John’s gospel on the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh…and for me…it becomes quite simple to forget that in addition to being fully divine…Jesus was also fully human.

Yes, this is God playing host to the disciples at the Last Supper…but at the very same time…this is also a Man.  And just like each one of us…Jesus…experienced the full gambit of emotions. We hear about that in various aspects of the gospels. He experiences joy. He experiences anger. He experiences sorrow and mourning…He experiences frustrations…just like us.  And even though we likely fail to realize…I think its safe to say that Jesus experienced his share of frustrations…even with those he cared about most…even the 12 disciples. (pause)

But despite that reality…Jesus invites them into the meal…and as we have heard, he serves them all.  But there’s one point that catches my attention right at the beginning of this passage. Jesus…knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands…all things. Jesus…knew…everything. (pause)

He knew what was coming. He knew the hearts and minds of those 12 men who sat at the table with him. He knew what they were going to do. (pause) If we look ahead in the story…knowing what’s coming over the course of the next 24 hours…Jesus looked at these guys and I can’t imagine the disappointment he must have felt.  Judas…well that’s a no brainer. Judas would utterly betray him. Judas would be responsible for leading the soldiers to arrest him.  He looks at Peter…knowing that even though Peter is his strongest supporter…he would ultimately deny even knowing Jesus not just once, but three times.  He looks into the face of each and every one of them…knowing that when things get ugly out there in the garden…every one of them is going to run away…every…single…one.

And I can only imagine that as Jesus sat there at the table with them…and then as he got up and filled the basin, and then knelt at the feet of each one of them…and gently washed their feet and dried off…looking each on in the face as he did so…I can only imagine the disappoint that he must have felt…knowing that he has poured his heart and soul into them…teaching them…guiding them…only to have them run away when things get darkest.  (pause) Maybe, just maybe in that instant, Jesus is thinking to himself…Right now I don’t like you very much…but, I still love you. (pause)
That’s the thing…that is what we need to remember…because that’s what this night is all about. Jesus has gathered with those closest to him…these men, who in a few short days, will take over as the core group of his body here on earth…and in spite of any negative human emotions that Jesus must have been experiencing…his love for them as individuals is on full display….and not just for one or two of them…but all 12.

He washes the feet of the men who will abandon him in the garden…He washes the feet of the 3 guys who fail to stay away and pray with him, even though he asks them more than once…He washes the feet of Peter, the one who will deny him…and he even washes the feet of Judas…the one who will betray him…he knows all of this is about to happen and he serves them anyway.

Why would he do that? I think its safe to say that is any of us were in his position….we’d probably err on the side of condemnation…or in the very least shooting a guilt trip at each person for the failure that they will ultimately endure…But Jesus doesn’t do it?

Because for Jesus…who is fully human in this moment…and yet is also fully God…love wins.  Love trumps everything.  We hear this…having loved his own…he loved them till the end…he loved them in the midst of their failures…he loved them through his own death and resurrection…and he still loves them…because we haven’t reached the end yet.

This is the amazing thing about the God that we serve…about the God that we worship…that ultimately…even though this world is dark and broken…and even though we ultimately end up failing one another with startling regularity…God still loves us. And just as he washed the feet of his disciples knowing what was in their hearts, he took the cross for all of us, knowing what is in our hearts.

Now there are times when that amazing news seems so clear…and its so easy to hold on to…to believe…but there are also times when it seems so unrealistic…but you know what…Jesus knew that too…and as he says to Peter…what I am doing you do not know now…but later you will understand.

This gospel that we profess is so utterly and completely mind blowing…that it should come as no great shock that we experience moments of doubt and disbelief. Likewise, it should come as no great shock to us that express this belief that there are many in the world who can’t wrap their heads around the gospel.

This is the reality that we live in…but there is a promise that we can cling to in the midst of all this. Remember the exchange between Jesus and Peter.  When Jesus offers something to Peter…at first he tries to refuse…and then in his lack of understanding he asks for more than he needs. But Jesus assures him in the end…Peter, you are clean…

The amazing thing that we need to remember from this night…is that salvation is not up to us…its not a choice that we make ourselves…because God offers it to us freely…and at the same time…its not difficult…and in the end…salvation is simply about what Jesus has said about you…and what he has said is that you are mine.  This action of action…and this declaration of Christ is not up to you…but it is for you.

And tonight, we begin the final journey that Jesus will endure in order to show you just how far he is willing to go to prove this amazing sacrificial love for you.  Despite any and all failings on our part…he still makes the choice to do this…because when it comes it comes to God…our failures don’t matter…and in the end, love wins.  Amen.

This Isn’t The End Maundy Thursday

This sermon for Maundy Thursday comes from John 13:1-12a, 31b-35. In the sermon I explore Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper, and the promises that are made that God’s love for us, expressed through Jesus Christ, will never end.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-isnt-the-end-maundy-thursday

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

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

There are quite a few things hanging on my refrigerator…but one dominating feature is a multitude of family pictures taken each year at Family Camp in Colorado, something many of you are aware that we do annually. We’ve been doing it for a while now too…and so there are 9 years’ worth of pictures hanging there.

I was looking at them yesterday morning…and of course the main thing that jumped at me was to see the changes of my kids as they’ve been growing. But as I sat there looking at the various pictures, I found myself thinking back to last year, and some of the things that were happening behind the scenes of that particular trip out west.

Some of you are aware that we had a health scare about that time…as there was a strong possibility that my wife had developed a cancerous growth in her neck…and for several months, she went through various tests with inconclusive results…and there was a lot of unknown…which culminated on that particular trip. It was shortly after we got home from Colorado last year that we found out that the growth was not cancer, and in the long run everything was fine. (pause)

But up until that moment when the doctor talked to me to let me know it was nothing more than the result of an infection…we were living in the tension of the unknown…and in that time I discovered something about myself. While I am pretty good at sitting with other people in the midst of their dark moments…I’m pretty lousy at sitting through my own…but I wonder…isn’t that the case for everyone? (pause)

And speaking of dark moments…tonight we find ourselves in the midst of about the darkest moment that the gospels have to offer. Maundy Thursday…the night when Jesus reclines at the table of the Last Supper with his disciples…the night he washes their feet as a sign of servant love…the night that he institutes the Lord’s supper (pause) The night…when he was betrayed.

Now interestingly enough…all these different events are tied in together…and though we didn’t highlight the specific passage tonight, its in the midst of what we did read…that Jesus once more predicts his betrayal, telling the disciples that the betrayer is sitting right there at the table with them…and after some further discussion, Jesus looks Judas in the eye…tells him to go do what he must do…and we hear as Judas leaves the table and then the house…that it is night.

Its not daytime, its not dusk, its not morning…its night…as dark as you can get…both figuratively as well as literally. (pause) Jesus finds himself on this night, in about the darkest point he can be…but in the midst of all this…he’s still busy doing the work intended by the father…and we hear, that Jesus loves his own who are in the world…and that he loves them till the end. (pause)

That’s an important phrase…till the end…because if we think about everything going on here in the gospel…it seems like the end isn’t very far off. Tonight is the night when Jesus is betrayed…tomorrow…he’s dead and buried…even the name given to this meal…the Last Supper…gives a tone of finality doesn’t it? (pause) And so what do we make of that phrase that Jesus loves his own until the end? Perhaps we think of the way in which he protects his disciples later on that night…as he leaves them in the protection of the garden and goes out to meet the mob led by Judas…Perhaps we think of the moment as Jesus hangs on the cross, and in the midst of his torment, he provides ongoing care for his mother by placing her in the protection of the beloved disciple…or the way that he forgives the very people that are torturing him…or when he tells the criminal hanging beside him that today you will be with me in paradise.

But then, Jesus dies…and his body is placed in the tomb…and so it seems, by all logic…that the end…is coming right up doesn’t it? It seems that the darkness is about to win…and with it…the love of Jesus for his own in the world…will end as Jesus meets his end. (pause)

And if that’s the case…then the events here at the last supper seem a little strange…because I’m pretty sure that Jesus knew what was coming…he knew what was about to happen…and yet he spends this time, serving his disciples…taking on the role of a slave by washing their feet…and then as they recline at the table…Jesus grabs a hunk of bread and he tears off a piece and before handing it, one by one…to each of his beloved friends he tells them…this is my body…it is broken for you…when you eat it…remember me.  And then after supper is over he picks up the cup of wine…and once more looks them in the eye and says this is my blood poured out for you…when you drink it, remember me.

These seemingly simple acts and words are anything but…simple…because here at the Last Supper…we realize that the supper isn’t over yet…and if Jesus loves his own who are in the world till the end…then we need to realize that its not the end yet. (pause)

You know its funny, my preaching professors back in school harped on us the importance of preaching the day…and more often than not I stick to that…but if that’s the case…then I need to stop right now…because its Thursday…and yes Jesus eats a meal with his disciples…and does some simple yet utterly cryptic stuff…but then then walk out of that supper and I’m guessing the disciples were still confused…and then a little while later…Jesus is arrested…and they run away.

And so if I preach the day…that’s where I stop…with all hope lost…with the first steps happening towards the cross which Jesus has predicted time and time again. (pause) But I can’t stop there…and I won’t…If you were in worship a couple weeks ago, I talked about being Saturday people…of living in the tension between the darkness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and the joy of the resurrection on Sunday.

And that notion of living in that tension still holds today. Yes, we are in dark time now…and tomorrow is even darker…but we also know what happens on Sunday…because for us the tomb is already empty…and we know…that tonight is not the end…no matter how much it might have seemed like it in that moment. (pause)

I want to back up now to something I said earlier…about how I’m pretty good at sitting with people in the midst of their darkness, but I have found that I’m pretty bad at sitting in the midst of my own. (pause)
I was reminded of that on Tuesday…because Tuesday was a pretty dark day in a lot of ways…none that really applied to me directly…but to a lot of people around me…people that I care about.

If any of you were in town Monday late afternoon…you heard the sirens of the ambulance and firetrucks leaving town…racing north…racing to the scene of an accident that left 3 high schoolers injured and one 14 year old boy dead…I heard the sirens, but I didn’t hear the news until Tuesday morning…that for 3 families, life was shaken…and for 1 family…everything just stopped.

I was also thinking about a family…and specifically an individual…who is watching their mom die…having just gone into hospice…and another family dealing with a painful memory tied to that day.

And I was thinking about a pair of my seminary classmates…a married couple, 6 months into their first pregnancy…only to lose their baby…and finally in the midst of all that stuff rattling around in my head before I even got into the office on Tuesday…then I opened my computer to read the news of two bombs going off in Brussels…40 or so dead, countless more injured. (pause)

All of this stuff going on around me…not really to me mind you…but around me…all these different individuals and families who were experiencing the tragedy…the darkness…and for them in that instant…life came screeching to a halt…the world was ending….and because I care about these people and the world that we live in…it affected me…and so I was pretty moody through the day.

But then the day went on…and I walked out of the office…and I recognized how beautiful of a day it was…and my son and I went out into the backyard to play catch…and as we were out there…I heard birds singing…and cars going by on the highway…and I heard the sounds of the high school soccer practice in the open field down the hill…and later on we walked over the school and I stood and watched a few minutes of a little league baseball game…and I talked with different people…and life went on. (pause)

I’ve noticed this type of thing before…typically on days when I’ve presided at funerals…because more often than not, funerals end up happening on nice days…and outside of that funeral…which is so difficult for those in attendance…life goes on for everyone else…the world might be ending for those individuals…but not for everyone else.

I bring all of this up…because of that promise that we hear about Jesus…that he loves his own…and he is with them till the end…and if Holy Week shows us nothing else…it is this…we haven’t reached the end yet. The world continues…and you know what…the Last Supper isn’t over yet either….because when we receive the bread and the wine…and we hear the same words that Jesus spoke to his friends…we are joining in that same supper…and the love of Jesus is still present in the world. We just need to know where to look for it.

But you know what…Jesus talked about too…I give you a new commandment…that you love one another…this is how the world will know that you are my disciples, whom I love…that you love one another. (pause)

We are the body of Christ here on Earth…we are joined together through the power of the Holy Spirit in ways that go far beyond our understanding…but as the body of Christ we are called to be Christ for one another.

On Tuesday, many different people experienced the darkness first hand…and for them, in that instant, it seemed like the end…but those around them…those who gathered around them with love and support…they were Christ in that moment…continuing to love those who needed it…sitting in the midst of the darkness with those who couldn’t escape it.

That is what we are called to do…that is why Christ tells us to love one another…so that in our moments of darkness that we can’t escape…we can see first-hand that it…IS NOT…the end…and that the love of God is still present…even in the midst of the darkness. (pause)
Tonight Jesus is betrayed…he is arrested…he is tortured…he is hung on a cross and he dies…but the biggest threat to Jesus…the thing he feared the most was being separated from the love of the Father…even for a period of a couple of days in the tomb…but Jesus will do this…Jesus…HAS…done this…to ensure that we are never left alone…because he loves us…till the end…and his love is present whenever we show love and compassion for one another…and we find his love, in our darkest moments, in the love and compassion we receive from those around us. May we realize, both now on this dark night…and in each of those moments when darkness surround us…that despite everything this dark world throws at us…Jesus has promised us…that this is not the end.

If you can see this…then be the light…show the love of Christ for those around you who need it…and if you can’t…then look to those who offer it to you.  We are not alone in this world…for we are the body of Christ…He loves us till the end…so we love too. Because this isn’t the end. Amen.

 

Don’t Point the Finger 4-2-15 Maundy Thursday

This evening’s Maundy Thursday sermon came from John 13:1-12, 20-35. This is John’s account of the Last Supper including the footwashing and I also included the exchange between Jesus and Judas. Though John’s account is typically not associated with the sacraments, I explore some sacramental themes.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-point-the-finger-4-2-15-maundy-thursday

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
I am guessing that by now, most of you have figured out that I am NOT…a sports guy. I’m just not, and I’m okay with that. If its not a little white ball with dimples then I just do not pay attention…but I am constantly surrounded by people who are…and it always strikes me as funny when someone attempts a conversation with me in and around sports related situations.
Admittedly I struggle to understand it…its not that I don’t care…its just that I don’t understand it…but I always try my best to engage…and to cover my complete lack of knowledge of just what they are talking about…My son is one of them…and he covers random information on pretty much every sport out there…baseball…football…and right now the big one is of course, college basketball. I’m impressed by his knowledge…I am, I just don’t get it…and another one that will often engage with me is Dick Miller…bringing up the current news of Iowa State athletics…and though I never really pay attention to the games…I can always rest assured that Dick will keep me abreast of what’s going on.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the interaction, and I certainly appreciate the individual’s passion for whatever sport they are talking about…but its just not something I share…and because of that, I often times fail to wrap my head around whatever big news is going on in the sports world…and that was never so evident to me…especially in this part of the country…on a specific date last fall…November 30th, 2014…the date that news went public that the University of Nebraska…had fired…Bo Pelini…the head coach of the Huskers football team.
Apparently, no one else was shocked by this news…but it caught me off guard…because I couldn’t understand why…Pelini had coached the Huskers from 2008-2014…and during that time they had a record of 67 wins and 27 loses…and to me at least…that seems pretty positive…at least 9 wins every year…qualifying for bowl games…each and every year…so what was the problem? (pause)
Admittedly, I tend to ask this question whenever news breaks of some head coach of a college team or a pro team gets the boot…because I just do not understand why one person gets the blame when things don’t go quite right. Granted, I know that there are aspects to being the head coach that are far reaching…but it’s a team…its not one person…and so I ask the question…time after time…of why does this one person get such a bad wrap? (pause)
And that question right there…that is where Bo Pelini and fired head coaches connects into tonight’s gospel lesson. (pause) Here we are…Maundy Thursday…on the verge of the Passion…standing on the precipice of Jesus betrayal and arrest and torture and death…and in our story for tonight, we hear a snippet of the final meal that Jesus would share with those 12 men that he loved so much…those 12 men who were his disciples…those 12 men…who were his mission here on Earth. (pause)
And those 12 men included one that we like to single out don’t we? You know who I’m talking about…Judas Iscariot…Judas the betrayer…the one that would hand Jesus over to the authorities…none of the Gospels make any great secret about this…and understandably so, because they were all written after the fact…and likewise we share the benefit of hindsight…of knowing the full story…and so whenever we hear about Judas, perhaps we grimace just a little bit…and we judge him…we point the finger at him. (pause)
Now just a few days ago…last Sunday morning…our gospel was the Triumphal Entry as Jesus comes riding into the Jerusalem to the cheers of the city…and we heard in Mark’s account that there was zero opposition…and we explored the difficult nature of this reality…that there was no one that we could point out…no one that we could call out…no one that could take the moniker of Bad Guy…therefore taking the pressure off of every other person who would also go on to turn their backs on Jesus…but now…we hear differently don’t we. (pause)
Now we have someone to single out…someone to point the finger at…and even the text makes no qualms about it…because we hear immediately at the beginning of the story…the beginning of John’s account of the Last Supper that the devil had ALREADY…put it in the heart of Judas to betray Jesus…and not only do we know it…but Jesus knew it too…because he knew now that his hour had finally come…and that he was about to depart from the world…and despite that reality…Jesus willingly walked into this time with his disciples…this final time to teach them…to share time with them…to love them…even knowing full well…that Judas was among them…knowing that evil lurked among them. (pause)
And now…the Last Supper…it’s a great story isn’t it? One that’s familiar…though as per usual John’s account gives us some differences when compared to the other three…The overall length of the Last Supper in John is remarkably longer, as Jesus addresses the disciples over the course of chapters 13-17…commonly known as the farewell discourse…and in addition, we also hear the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples…taking the role of the servant and humbling himself to show them the lengths that God is willing to go in order to be in relationship with those that he loves. (pause)
But regardless of the various stories…I think for most of us…when we think about the Last Supper…our minds tend to shift over to thoughts that are a little more sacramental in nature…as well they should…because in the context of the Last Supper we hear familiar words, not here in John but in the other accounts…that in the night in which he was betrayed he took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples. (pause)
You know these words…we hear them in worship on a regular basis…and we will hear them again later on this evening as we prepare ourselves for Holy Communion…the time when God uses simple things like bread and wine along with his promises to come to us and assure us that Jesus will endure his body being broken and his blood poured out for you…for the forgiveness of sins. (pause)
That’s the direction that our minds often go when we think of the Last Supper…and it is understandable that many congregations will highlight Communion within the context of Maundy Thursday…tonight is a night when many young people will experience their first communion around the world…sharing along with the disciples…their first experience with the body and blood of Jesus. (pause)
And perhaps if we consider John’s account, including the washing of the disciples feet, then our minds will slip over to thinking about baptism as well…and rightly so…for that is a time when we believe that God washes us clean from the power of sin and death…just as Jesus washes the dirt away from those that he loved. (pause)
But now here’s the thing…within the story that we shared tonight…taken from John’s account…we have to try pretty hard to find much evidence of the sacraments…but…they…are…there…if we take the time to look for them. (pause)
Within the familiar passage of the footwashing, we hear that Jesus approaches Peter as he makes his way around the table…and after initial resistance, Peter asks that Jesus wash his hands and head…in short he is saying “Jesus…please wash all of me” which would be very similar to the request to be baptized, which in those days was full emersion…yet Jesus tells him…Peter, you are already clean…if I say it is so, then it is so…and just as we are washed in the waters of our own baptisms…we hear the promise from God that we are cleansed from our sinful selves. (pause)
But what about communion…where do we find that? Well, when Jesus begins telling his disciples that his heart is troubled…because there is one among you that will betray me…they ask him who it will be…and he tells them that the one that I give this bread is the one…and he takes a piece of bread…broken from a loaf…and he dips it…and you can pretty much bet that he dipped it in wine…because that’s what they drank in his day…and when he had done this…he handed it to Judas. (pause)
The only hint we have of Communion in John’s account of the Last Supper is Judas…the one who is about to betray Jesus…the one who the devil has already singled out…the one who personifies the presence of evil here during this holy time…Judas is the one to receive the bread and wine…and Judas had his feet washed by Jesus as well. (pause)
And isn’t that telling? Tonight as we look forward to the passion…the anguish in the garden and his arrest that happen yet tonight…the trial and the torture and his death on the cross which happens tomorrow…we are on the verge, yet Jesus shows his love for us tonight by offering the means of God’s grace to the very one who would inevitably betray him. (pause)
And now what does that tell us about God’s grace? (pause) If he is willing to offer it to the one who he flat out knows will reject it and betray him…then we see that when we are offered the grace of God…the promise that we are washed clean from the power of sin and that through his body and blood we receive the forgiveness of sins…we see that surely this promise is true…because the grace of God is that big…he’ll offer it to the one who personifies evil…and likewise he offers it to us…even though we know within our hearts that the darkness that consumed Judas also resides right here. (pause)
On Sunday we had no one to blame…no one to point the finger at…because no one opposed Jesus…but by tomorrow…everyone has turned their back on him…including us…and so tonight…rather than point the finger at the easy target…we realize that we need the grace of God just as much as he does…and praise be to God that He is willing to give it to us…simply because he loves us too much not to. Amen.

It Is Time-Maundy Thursday 4-17-14

Tonight’s sermon came from John 13:1-12a, 31b-35. This is the traditional Maundy Thursday passage and highlights the last supper when Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment to love one another as he has first loved them.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/it-is-time-maundy-thursday-4-17-14

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
In my house, we watch a lot of animated movies…having two kids 10 and under, I see the vast majority of this genre of movies that come down the pipe. Some are really well done, and some aren’t quite so great…but everyone once in a while, an animated movie comes along that stands the test of time, because its just that good.
One of these great movies…one that stands the test of time actually predates my kids. It came out in the 90’s, while I was still young enough to be living at home on the farm…the movie is the Lion King. (pause)
Now there are all kinds of things that are great about that movie…but in my opinion the best part happens right away…right at the beginning.
The movie starts with a black screen, and the distant sound of birds chirping as you often here just before sunrise…and then out of nowhere…you hear a burst of native song (Sing the opening line)…and at the same instant that this song begins, the sun bursts forth over the horizon, brightening up the screen…then the scene progresses…and we see countless animals making their way through rivers and across the grasslands…all while am uplifting Elton John song plays in the background.
Gradually the animals all make their way towards a large stand of rocks, one of which juts out at an extremely grand angle…then the animals part, and a wise old baboon named Rafiki walks through…up to the king of the sarengeti…where he bows, and then takes a new born lion cub in his arms…walking up the rock to hold the cub…the future king at arm’s length before his future subjects…Now this all makes for a wonderful scene and a great opening to the film…but it also serves a second purpose…this scene at the beginning of the movie, foreshadows something that will happen at the end of the film.
Because following the various events of the movie…the newborn cub…Simba…now fully grown returns to this very same spot…pride rock…where he greets Rafiki, yet again…and the wise old baboon informs him that… “IT IS TIME.” And Simba walks up the rock, once again, before his new subjects and with a mighty roar, declares himself king…credits. (pause)
It is time. I find myself reminded of that very line as I read the gospel story for this evening…and this is a special evening isn’t it? Maundy Thursday…the night of the last supper…the night when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples…the night when Jesus goes to the garden to pray fervently that the cup will pass from his lips…and the night, in which he was betrayed. (pause)
Oh what a night this is…and as we gather here this evening, and as we heard in the opening verses of the passion narrative a moment ago. Jesus knew that finally…It is time. (pause) But time for what? So often through the entire gospel of John we hear that it was not yet time…until now… (pause)
I can only imagine the conversation that must have been going on between Jesus and the Father…one that had started long before tonight…long before the time that Jesus walked the earth…long before the fall of humanity…and long before the creation of the earth…as God the Father and the will of God that would one day become human sat in conversation…
You know…we’re going to make something pretty amazing…Yah we are…but you know, its not going to turn out perfectly at first…yah, that’s true dad…and those beings that we’re gonna make in our image…the humans…they’re gonna mess up, and they’re gonna mess up big…yah Dad they are, big enough to break the relationship that we desire to have with them…That’s right Son, they are…and the time is gonna come that I send you into their reality to do something about it. But it’s gonna be tough. Yah Dad…I know…but its what we need to do…and I’ll do it. (pause)
And now, tonight, finally the time has come…the word has become flesh…the word has dwelled among as one of us…and now…tonight…the final steps of his ministry begin…the steps that will take him from this simple supper with his friends to torture…and death…steps that will take him to the tomb…and beyond. (pause)
Perhaps this seems difficult to wrap our heads around…that God has chosen to do this. What could possibly make him do such a thing for someone else?  Love…love is the answer to that question…love for each and every member of the human race across time…and Jesus Christ chose this night to show those closest to him just how deep that love flows for them as individuals.
Jesus Christ, the master…the great teacher…God in human form willingly took the most humble role that he could take, that of a slave who knelt at the feet of his disciples and washed them…make no mistake, this is a very big deal.
Think about it for a moment. In this day and age, people were either barefoot or they wore flimsy sandals…and they walked everywhere…but human beings weren’t the only creatures on the road…they shared it with animals of all shapes and sizes…animals who very likely left little…gifts…on the road to be stepped in…and so as individuals walked from place to place, their feet got pretty dirty.
And so upon entering a house, it was customary for the feet of the visitor to be washed, either by themselves, or by a slave…the master of the house would never be humble enough to do so…but that is exactly what Jesus chose to do for his friends…this is exactly how Jesus chose to show his love for humanity…by stooping down and washing the dirt and the dust and the filth from their sweaty stinky feet.
And the disciples being…well, the disciples…just didn’t get it…Peter especially as he attempted to stop Jesus…and then as he asked Jesus to go above and beyond what was needed…Good old Peter…the prime example of humanity…once more missing the point of just what God was up to.
Because you see, this wasn’t just about cleaning the feet of the men sitting at the table that night…this was about God showing us that there is no length he will not go to for us because of the totality of his love for us.
Washing their feet was just a precursor to what is coming tomorrow…when Jesus willingly goes to the cross…allows himself to be nailed upon it, and raised up in the air…all the while innocent of any crime…innocent of any sin…yet taking the punishment for those that he loves…and our passage tonight tells us that Jesus has loved his own who were in the world and having loved them, he loved them to the end. (pause)
Well you know what…tonight is not the end…and Jesus love for his own in the world continues…and that is a love that is offered to each and every member of the human race…and that…includes…you.
And not only that…but that includes you as you are today…not the perfect you…not the ideal you…but the you with every blemish…with every fault…with every flaw…because you are a beloved child of God…and God seeks to come back into relationship with you…the relationship as it is intended…untarnished…unhindered by sin…but in our condition we CANNOT have this perfect relationship because of the presence of sin in our lives and sin in the world.
But God does not give up on us…and to say that raises an interesting point…think about the word “us.”  Not in the context of this particular group of people gathered together tonight…but rather…I want you to think about the word “us” as it applies to you and someone else…I want you to think of us as me and God…God and me…the two of us…in relationship…because when I say that God does not give up on us, that’s what I’m talking about….God will go to any length to create once more, this perfect relationship between Himself and every single individual member of the human race.
And this is true whether we realize it or not…just like Peter…just like the disciples there are times in our lives when we fail to realize the lengths that God’s love reaches on our account…and just as Jesus told his disciples…you do not know now what I am doing, but you later you will understand…The disciples did not realize that in washing their feet he was merely demonstrating the incredible lengths that he himself would go to out of love for them…but a day later, they would see him hanging on that cross…they would see God himself spread out upon that cross…suffering an agony beyond comprehension…and doing it on their account…
And in the same moment, God himself did this on your account…proving for all time that there is NOTHING that he will not do for you because he loves you too much not to. (pause)
This horrific tragedy, done on your account, begins tonight…it continues tomorrow and it ends in death…the death of God himself…a death that he willingly took for you…and so dwell on that, knowing that this has been God’s plan since the beginning…It…Is…Time.  Amen.