Posts Tagged ‘Mercy’

What Do You Read There 7-14-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:25-37, I explore the exchange between Jesus and a lawyer that leads to the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. While the parable itself reveals some timely and important truth, the exchange itself reveals something important for each of our lives of faith.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-do-you-read-there-7-14-19

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

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

Every Christian denomination has a unique path towards ordination, or what we might call officially authorized pastoral ministry. In my opinion, here in the ELCA we’ve got one of the most intense processes…something called candidacy for ordination.  Its lengthy, typically beginning upwards of a year before the individual even begins seminary…and then it runs concurrently alongside seminary education through graduation and eventually ordination.

Now in the process, there are three separate interviews that the individual experiences…one at the beginning called Entrance…one at the end called Approval…and then one just a little past the halfway point called Endorsement, just prior to beginning their year of pastoral internship.  And of the three, I found Endorsement to be the least stressful…likely because while the first and last happen with a full committee of about a dozen people, Endorsement happens with two individuals from the candidacy committee and the students faculty advisor.

Now my Endorsement interview happened sometimes in the spring of 2011, so I don’t remember a whole lot about it…but I do recall one question…talk about how your theology has changed through your education up to this point…honestly I can’t remember much of my complete answer, but I do remember saying “Well, prior to beginning seminary I had no theology.”

Side note…theology is one of those big 50 cent seminary words…but it’s a combination of two Greek words that are squashed together that literally means “the study of God” or “the divine.” Just go ahead and tuck that in the back of your minds.

Now, regardless of whatever else I said in my answer…I remember, quite vividly my advisor laughing and saying “Scott…prior to seminary, had you ever read the Bible?” And when I said yes he said “Well then guess what, you had a theology…this process is just helping you refine it.”

I’ve thought a lot about that insight over the years…and I’ve also thought about the ways that seminary did serve to develop my theology…or my understanding of the divine and the scriptures…and while the classes and the lectures and the readings and the papers and everything else I endured through that 5 year process did do a lot…there was one other aspect that was absolutely vital…and I was reminded of that as I prepared for today’s message.

One of the last steps I do every week is reading…I read through a multitude of different commentaries written on the specific passage by a wide variety of individuals…one of which is produced online every week…and this particular week…I was excited to see the author…a professor in the Religion department of Valparaiso University in Indiana…known as the Rev. Dr. Amanda Brobst-Renaud…but who I have always known simply as Mandy.

When I made the transition from part-time distance learning to on-campus full time learning…Mandy was in several of my classes and small groups…and so she was one of the first people that I got to know pretty well from my larger class…and I can remember countless times between classes when we’d end up sitting in a lounge discussing something…a passage that we were working on for preaching class or an article assigned for lecture. And we’d just go back and forth…sharing insights…challenging interpretations…pointing out details that seemed significant. (pause) And as I think back to the entirety of my seminary education…that sense…that experience of sitting around with one or two other people probably helped shape me and my understanding of the word of God being living and active more than anything else. (pause)
Now when I say that…when I reference that bit of scripture…I think it is talking about the way that the scriptures themselves reveal widely different things to individuals based on their experience…and in the same way, the scriptures can reveal widely different things to an individual at different points in their lives…and because of this…I think its dangerous to assume that any passage, or individual book of the Bible or even the Bible as a whole has a single “correct interpretation.”

And I think we find evidence of this in today’s passage.  Now admittedly I’ve already been talking for a while without getting into today’s gospel…but as I read it…especially the opening narration about the back and forth that Jesus has with this lawyer…this expert in the Jewish Law code passed down from Moses back in the day…as I consider this exchange, I don’t envision some uppity dude looking down his nose at Jesus…thinking he’s got the education and credentials to put this upstart Galilean wanderer in his place.

I see a lively discussion, we might call it a debate…but I’m reminded of those times spent sitting on couches going back and forth over a passage…trying to get to the heart of it…trying to understand how its applicable into our lives as it is in this moment.

I don’t know what mental image you might have of this exchange…but I don’t think these two guys are butting heads…and I don’t think that either one of them are trying to set the other one straight…and we find this in a pretty simple…maybe even throw-away question from Jesus in the midst of the back and forth…see if you catch it.

Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?  What is written in the law, what do you read there?  Love God and love your neighbor.  You have answered rightly do this and live. (pause) Did you catch it?

Jesus…the literal embodiment of the divine…the Word of God made flesh…the epitome of “the authority” on this subject…Jesus asks the guy…what do you read there?  How do you read it?  What’s your take? (pause)

Admittedly, I dig this little back and forth…its present in a couple of the other gospels…but Luke is unique in the way the exchange goes down…and this is the only one when Jesus poses that important question.

Now when the lawyer answers…Jesus seems to agree…yes dude…love God, love you neighbor…that’s it man…do this and you’ll live.  It seems that the two have reached an agreement…but then the lawyer…being a lawyer…being himself…being true to who he is…well, he wants to dig a little deeper…and so he asks another question…if the law can interpreted as loving our neighbors…let’s get specific Jesus…I need to know just how far this goes…who is my neighbor?

And this question prompts one of the most familiar parables in the scriptures…commonly known as the Good Samaritan…although I really think we should change the name to the parable of the dude who got beat up because nowhere in any language does Jesus ever say the Samaritan is good…but that’s just another side note for you. (Pause)

You know the parable…guys going down the road…robbers jump him…beat him up, leave him for dead.  The two guys who REALLY should know better, chose to ignore him and leave him laying when they walk by…then the Samaritan…the foreigner…the last person who should be hero…is the hero…a fact so shocking to this Jewish lawyer that he can’t even bring himself to say “Samaritan” when Jesus asks “who was the neighbor to the man?” And his answer reveals the reversal that is often present within a parable.  “The one to offer him mercy.”

Now here’s the next thing…the parable doesn’t answer the question “who do I have to be a neighbor to?”  It flips it around to address the issue that this particular guy can’t seem to get past…who can I not even fathom the possibility might be a neighbor to me?  (pause)

I don’t want to dive to deep into this…to be perfectly honest the parable itself doesn’t interest me that much…but if it catches your attention I’ll ask the question before I move on…who is it that you can’t fathom being a neighbor to you?  What identity would make you bristle at the idea of accepting help or mercy?  What differences?  Because that seems to be at the heart of this parable.  Is it racial?  Is it cultural? Economic?  Nationality? Legal status?  Sexual Orientation?   What’s your trigger?  (pause) If the parable itself catches your attention, then ponder on that…and the possibility that maybe just maybe the kingdom of God, and the Holy Spirit inspired gift of love and mercy and compassion shown on the part of the Samaritan might just be coming your way across that boundary that today you just can’t wrap your head around…and maybe the Spirit is calling you to offer that same compassion and mercy the opposite direction. (pause)

But now that being said…I want to circle back around. And pick back up with the way that this honest back and forth encounter with Jesus and the individual seems to reveal a tripping point in his faith…and the parable is simply an illustration tool that Jesus uses to reveal it to him.

I wonder if you’ve had moments like this in your life…and in your faith…moments when an honest back and forth with another person resulted in an ah-ha…or in a feeling of conviction…or in a moment of joy…I hope so…because in my experience, that’s where the real miraculous moments of faithful revelation happen.

As much as I love standing up here preaching every week…I do sometimes wonder how effective it is…but I’ve seen moments when the lightbulb turns on…when the Spirit reveals something and it clicks…and more often than not…it happens in honest back and forth conversation among 2 or 3 people.  That’s why the relationships that we form together are so important…that’s why I think small group study is so important…and that’s why I think that family conversations around matters of faith are so vital…because that’s where faithful learning happens…as we grow together and let our shared experience shape the growth that we go through over the course of our lives lived together.

Now today…we have a new individual who is taking a first step in this whole process…as Lindy is brought forward to the font by her parents…and she’ll be washed in the waters of baptism…claimed by God as a beloved child…and as I say every time, she’s going to be watching us…but soon she’ll also be engaging with us…learning from us and with us, and God willing, she’ll be teaching us…as the Spirit empowers her and every one of us to learn and share in the faith…we might even call it a shared study of the divine…which as you recall has a name…theology.

You all have it…you don’t need someone else to tell you how your experience shapes your encounter with the divine and the scriptures…and so, just as Jesus asked the lawyer that day…I’ll leave you with this simple question…when you ponder on the action and the presence of God in the world around you…and when you crack the Bible…what do you read there? Amen

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Lord Have Mercy 10-28-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:46-52, I explore the healing of Blind Bartimaeus. This is Jesus’ final ministry act prior to his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem which marks the final week of his life. Jesus asks the same question that he posed to his disciples in the previous story. What do you want me to do for you?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lord-have-mercy-10-28-18

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

The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

I have to say that I am a huge fan of spellcheck…because my spelling is horrendous.  When I’m typing quickly, its super common for me to look up at the screen and see those little red squiggly lines under all kinds of words…because I often tend to spell something phonetically, even when that’s not correct.

This even catches us in today’s lesson…do you think I’m in anyway capable of spelling Bartimaeus correctly?  Its funny though…because the opposite side of things is also true at different times…because sometimes English is hard.  There are some words that I’ve discovered over the years, that trip me up.  Words that I might even use in regular conversation…but when I encounter them on the page…I don’t know what it is.

Now this has happened a lot…but two in particular come to mind.  I was way too old…probably about 7 or 8th grade…before I stopped pronouncing the written word chaos as “chose,” and I was also very sheepish when someone pointed out to me…in my 20’s…that the written word segue was not some random word “seg-you.”

Interestingly enough, we’ve even got one of these words that used to trip me up within our liturgy…most of you are familiar with our flow of worship…how we feature the Brief Order on page 56…but then, typically we move back out of the order of worship found in the hymnal…but the very next thing listed within the traditional liturgy is something called the Kyrie…a call and response, often chanted, portion that sounds like (sing) “In peace let us pray to the Lord…Lord have mercy.”

I grew up with this Liturgy…and the name…kyrie is printed right at the start of this portion…but for many years I looked at it and pronounced it “kie-ree.” And I’m embarrassed to announce that I didn’t learn the correct pronunciation until I was in Seminary.

Now, since we’re talking about this, maybe you’re wondering where the name Kyrie actually comes from…and its from the original language. We sing it in English…but the phrase Lord have mercy comes from the Greek Kyrie Elieson…Kyrie means Lord, and Elieson means have mercy.

Admittedly…this is some of the fancy seminary type stuff that they taught us in school…and I’ve shared before that I’m not overly fond of the big fancy terminology and 50-cent words…so this is one of those things that I learned…but then sorta just tucked in the back of my mind and forgot about.

But then this week I was working with the translation of the gospel text, as I usually do during my background sermon prep work…and I started focusing in on the word for mercy that we hear pop up a couple times…and in looking at that specific word…I realized, once again…my tendency to not connect the phonetics of how a word sounds with how a word looks on the page…until I’d been working with “elieson” for a few minutes…and in another instance of healing from Mark’s gospel…I found a time when Jesus talks about showing mercy…and sharing with others what the Lord has done…and with that, since I have the tendency to think out loud when I’m alone in the office, I said to myself “mercy from the Lord…Lord have mercy…like Kyrie Elieson.” And then the next thought that came spilling out was “duh Scott…you’re a pastor…you really should have known that.” (pause)

Now…all of these thoughts about my personal difficulties with the English language aside…this is an idea that we find within the gospel today…the healing of Blind Bartimaeus. An outcast…a beggar…cast aside to the fringe of society because of his disability…a man who must sit by the roadside…utterly dependent upon the pity of others to throw him a coin or two, in order to survive. But for whatever reason…call it luck or happenstance or serendipity…he happens to be along the way that Jesus is traveling in this last moment before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the final week of his life.

This story concludes the middle section of Mark’s gospel…one that we’ve been in for the past several weeks…a time of transition when Jesus has moved away from his early itinerant ministry around the region…and he’s moving towards the inevitable conclusion in Jerusalem that will culminate on the cross and in the tomb…this central part of the gospel features his teaching and miracles and encounters along the way.

Now interestingly enough…that whole section started off with the healing of another blind man…who the crowds bring to Jesus…and Jesus heals him as well…though that was a bit of an odd situation as Jesus seemingly has to try twice in order to get the healing done correctly…as the first attempt results in the man seeing people walking around looking like trees.

But before we get to the Bartimaeus here at the end of the section…several chapters go by that include events we continue to talk about, even as recently as a week ago…the predictions that Jesus makes about his betrayal and arrest…his torture and execution on the cross, but also the fact that on the third day he will be raised.

We’ve talked about these as we’ve encountered them…and the strange responses that the disciples have had each time Jesus makes the prediction…how their expectations are on display…or their bickering and jockeying for positions of authority and prestige, particularly with James and John a week ago.

Admittedly, I had that moment in mind as I approached this week’s gospel…because there’s a pretty stark overlap between the two stories.  In both stories…the interested party…James and John last week, and Bartimaeus this week…approach Jesus wanting something. And Jesus poses the exact same question both times, because it would seem that he wants them to admit just what it is they want.

What do you want me to do for you?  Now the brothers…they were looking for status…namely an increase for them at the expense of others…but Bartimaeus…well, as we hear from the get-go…he’s looking for something entirely different.

Jesus, Son of David…have mercy on me…and as the people in the crowd try to hush him up…making a quick judgement that he’s not worthy of Jesus’ time or attention…he cries out all the louder…JESUS SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME. (pause)

Mercy…He’s putting it right there on front street…and he’s appealing to one that he believes is able to offer it.  Now with this, Jesus turns his attention to the man…and despite the grumbling going on in the crowd around him…Jesus calls him…here’s another thing we hear multiple times…three times, the “call” of the Lord is offered to Bartimaeus…who jumps up and comes to him.
What do you want me to do for you? Teacher, let me see.  Your faith has made you well…and instantly his eyes are opened…and Bartimaes can see…he’s freed of the thing that has kept him pushed to the margins…the thing that has kept him hindered on the outside…and as we hear…this blind man, follows Jesus along the way.

That’s an important final statement…that Bartimaeus becomes a follower…in fact in Mark’s gospel there’s no more important command that Jesus makes…than the one that we hear over and over again from the Savior…Follow me. Discipleship here in Mark’s gospel means following the one who has called us…following the one who offers mercy to those who are seeking it.

I can’t help but think that’s why Mark placed those two stories right next to each other….especially with the exact same question being asked by Jesus. The repetition to should make us perk up and pay attention. The disciples wanted prestige and didn’t get it…because prestige is not for Jesus to bestow.  But Bart asked for mercy…and it is given to him.

Now as I think about this particular call to follow Jesus…which we can also say is a call into discipleship…I can’t help but think that the Lord calls those seeking mercy…and mercy is received…and maybe Jesus’ final statement to Bart is also telling…your faith has made you well.  Faith…believing that the mercy of the Lord IS offered to you freely…that the promises of the Lord are real and that they are for you.

Now maybe you see where I’m going with this…because as I look down at this font, I’m reminded that in the waters of baptism, we are given a physical representation of this promise of God’s mercy offered to us freely.  In baptism the promises are spoken over us that we have already been claimed by God as beloved children…and that it is made possible the through the action of God in the life death and resurrection of Jesus…that whatever it was that Jesus was accomplishing…its already done.

Baptism is not something that we are doing…its not something that I’m accomplishing as pastor…or the individual is earning or that their parents are achieving on their behalf…the action that happens in Baptism is God’s claim upon the individual, which was made through Christ 2000 years ago…this just gives us something tangible to hold on to in our moments of doubt or fear that we experience at different times in our lives.

And in a few moments, Breckin is going to share in that promise…one made freely by God for all people…as we cry out Lord have mercy…and thanks be to God that the mercy of the Lord is already given. Amen.

Its A Mystery 1-29-17

In this sermon, taken from the Old Testament book of Micah, chapter 6:1-8, I explore the reminder that God asks of us to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humble with our God.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-a-mystery-1-29-17

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

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

Many of you know that I’m a pretty big fan of the fine arts…and that I was pretty active in a wide variety of the arts in my younger years. Band, Choir, Drama…and one of my favorites…speech.  I tried a lot of different styles, both large group and individual…but one of my favorites, one that I ended up doing all 4 years of high school was choral reading…about 15 of us…a scripted deal…on some sort of central theme…many voice all chiming in.

Now my freshman year, the very first time I participated…our message was called the Battle of the Sexes…and a pretty big part of it was aimed at how men and women just don’t understand each other very well…and there’s one part that I still chuckle at all these years later.  At one point…one of the girls says “I can’t handle this right now, I need to go to the bathroom.” And on cue…the rest of the girls all chime in “Me Too.” And they all shift off to the side together.  The guys stare at them as they leave…and then we hear one of the guys ask “Why do they always go in groups?” And then we hear… “It’s a mystery that will baffle men forever.” (Pause)

Now, while the mystery of group oriented bathroom visits isn’t overly earth-shattering in its importance…the fact of the matter is that there are certain things in life that we can’t explain…certain mysteries about the world around us…or the life that we live that are just that…mysteries. And yet our natural curiosity makes us wonder about them…we seek answers.

Now this in itself isn’t a bad thing at all. Human curiosity has led to countless advances and discoveries throughout our history. But at the same time, there are questions that don’t have good answers…mysteries that remain, well, mysterious for lack of a better word…and often times, throughout human history…religion has become the basis on which we try to arrive at understanding.

Now, one of the main mysteries that pretty much every religion attempts to answer is “where did all this come from?” And as we think along this lines it leads to the next question… “And who made it?” Now different faiths will answer this question in different ways, but when we are called upon to answer this question, we answer that God made it…we don’t know exactly how…but we trust that God, who is an entity or a power…or something much greater than we are…somehow, some way, pieced all of this together. (Pause)
Now with this in mind…as we consider that there is a power out there that is greater than we are…a power that’s capable of making everything including me, and that probably means that this power is also capable of UNMAKING me…then perhaps the biggest question of them all is “How do I keep them happy?” (pause)

What do you think? Is that a fair question? One that we still wrestle with today in the midst of our day to day lives? How do we keep God happy? How much is enough…is my offering enough…have I given enough of my time and talents at the local congregation? Have I crossed every t and dotted every i? (pause)

I can’t speak for you…but I know that I wrestle with that question on a pretty regular basis…and I can only assume that this doubt…this question…this fear…is a pretty normal human response…and as I think that…it gives me the tiniest bit of relief to know that this is not a new question…but it goes back a LONG way. (pause)

A brief history lesson…we find ourselves in the year 2017…Christianity…or followers of Christ…or even followers of “the way” as they were first called date all the way back to the period right after the death and resurrection of Jesus…right about the year 30…so about 2000 years, give or take…now this movement was an offshoot of the Jewish culture and religion…which itself dates all the way back to this random dude in the book of Genesis names Abraham who heard the voice of God and said “Okay…that all sounds good.” And that all happened, roughly 2000 years before Jesus was walking around…

Now, as this whole Jewish movement was growing…alongside their culture…things were getting a little hairy…and just like we have posed the question today…they asked the same thing…and so God gave them a little roadmap to help guide the path…this list carved out on some stone tablets called the 10 Commandments…and God told the people this is how you act…do this, and you’ll be honoring me and you’ll be living well together….and that worked out great…for about 5 minutes. (pause)
And this was a pattern that seems to exist all the way through the narrative of our scriptures. God delivers people out of some sort of oppression…and they’re grateful for a time…but then things go to pot as our human nature has the apparent need to screw up and turn away…and then after a while the people remember God and cry out again, and the process repeats itself.

That’s the history of the old testament…it starts off clear back at the beginning…before we had records or dates or anything of that nature…and eventually…God speaks through this low key prophet named Micah…just a normal guy going about his business about 700 years before Jesus would come on the scene…And God has a message for his people. It would seem that its time for a bit of a showdown.

But rather than being angry with the people…God poses a question. What have I done to you? Have I wearied you with displays of salvation and deliverance?  (pause) Time after time, God has shown mercy to his people…it almost seems like God is asking the people “What’s it going to take to get through to you?” (pause)
But here’s where things get kind of interesting…because in the midst of this back and forth between God and the people…it seems that the people finally express their confusion. “With what shall I come before the Lord?”

Keep in mind…that their customs of ritual sacrifice have been long established by the time of Micah…its all been dictated…but yet, no matter how often they attempt to atone for sinful behavior…it never feels like enough. And so…who ever it is that’s offering up the human voice…at least its honest.

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH GOD?   Is it enough if I offer and entire calf?  Well what if I bring 1000 rams…or 10000 vats of oil…not enough to atone for my shortcomings? Okay…I’ll offer my firstborn kid? What’s it gonna take Lord? When is it enough to for me to know that I’m justified? (long pause)
I think we can relate to this question…to this frustration. We live in a world today where enough is never enough…and no matter how hard we try in the midst of this dog eat dog world…this rat race that we love to run so hard…no matter how hard we try…its never enough…and we give and we give and we give…or on the flipside we buy into the world’s hype and we take and take and take…and I find myself wondering…how’s that working for us? (pause)

And in the midst of thinking about that…I find myself wondering if God looked at all the sacrifices that had been offered up…all the things that people tried to use in order to be justified…or to atone for their shortcomings…and God sorta sees all that stuff like a white elephant gift….Like, Oh that’s nice but what am I going to do with it? (pause)
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this honest look at the human condition…the honest question of how much do I need to give to be okay in your site Lord?  (pause)
But the truly amazing thing that we see today…is that God speaks through the prophet…and offers back a pretty eye opening answer…eye opening because of its simplicity. What is the Lord seeking from you?  That you do justice…love kindness…and walk humbly with your God. (pause) Now just what all that looks like…well we could debate that at length…but it seems to me that God is looking for us to look out for one another…and to treat one another like fellow people, worthy of love and respect…and then to recognize as we walk through this crazy thing called life that God is God and I am not. (pause) I am not God because I am human…and as such I fall short…I am broken and flawed…and I have thoughts that go through my head that aren’t overly loving…and I’m selfish…because when it gets right down to it…I break the 1st commandment…all…the…time…because my selfish sinful nature will place me on the pedestal with shocking regularity.  The 1st commandment is You shall have no other God’s before me…but when I look in the mirror, all too often I’m trying to place the face looking back at me in God’s place. (pause)

We can’t do it can we? And when we are honest with ourselves…when we humble ourselves before the one who made us. We recognize the truth about ourselves…and in doing so we realize just how futile of an effort it is for us to try and offer enough…or do enough…or say enough or think enough to justify ourselves. No matter how hard we try…we will let ourselves down…and we will let others down…its unavoidable.

But the wonderful thing about all this…is that God already knows that…and God has already done something about it. I heard a statement this week that I really like…Everyone else will let you down…but Jesus will never let you go. (pause)
Jesus…who is God in the flesh has done something that no burnt offering…no giant check written out to the local charity will ever do…Jesus has overcome the power of sin that we are powerless against…and Jesus has done this in order to prove to you that God loves you.

Now this raises a question…of just why does God love us so much? Well I can’t answer the question of why…but I do believe that its true…because God has claimed us…and we can see this in God’s actions of salvation and mercy throughout our history. We see it on full display in the cross of Christ…we saw it as God delivered his chosen people from slavery in Egypt…and interestingly enough, we can even see it both in today’s lesson, as well as in those 10 Commandments that I keep mentioning.

Walk humbly before the Lord YOUR God. That’s what Micah tells us…and clear back at the beginning of the 10 Commandments, before we get a list of what to do and what not do…we are given a reminder of WHOSE we are. I am the Lord your God. (pause) This is not a statement of humanity claiming God…but rather God claiming us…and that’s the key to the gospel right there…this is the key to every question that we ever ask of “how much is enough?” or “what does it take?”  Because salvation and mercy is not ever something we can obtain…and its about what God claims about us.

We are claimed as God’s people…because God has said so…simply because of his great unending love for each of us…so how might we live our lives today in this mind blowing promise? Well…I guess we need to do justice, love kindness…and walk humbly with our God. Amen.