Posts Tagged ‘Messiah’

Tell Us Plainly 5-12-19

In this sermon, based on John 10:22-30, I explore the urgent request of Jesus’ opponents to “tell us plainly” if he is the Messiah. But to understand the work of God through Jesus, and to hear the voice of God through it can be difficult. But to be known by God, is a reassuring sense.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/tell-us-plainly-5-12-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord be yours, now and forever. Amen

About a dozen or so years back…as I was in the process of discerning my call into ministry…I participated in an ongoing class aimed at leadership development…and one of the processes that we went through was an exploration of our inherent strengths…we did this through an assessment test known as Strengthsfinders…some of you might be familiar with it.

The point is kinda right there in the name…as the results of this assessment identify your top 5 natural leadership abilities out of a listing of about 30 or so possibilities. Now as I reviewed my own personal results, I discovered that Communication was one of my top 5, and with that I began to understand some of my own personal tendencies.  I hate being misunderstood…I absolutely hate it…and this manifests in my tendency to OVER-communicate…especially in written forms of communication.  Any of you parents who have gotten informational emails about confirmation have seen this first hand…and I’m almost ashamed to admit how utterly long and complicated my “helpful information” is when someone new is going to visit and provide pulpit supply.  I am the epitome of “too much information.”

Now, the longer I’ve been doing this, the more aware I’ve become of this tendency, and I have tried to take steps to simplify things and just “tell it plainly.” And maybe, just maybe this falls in line with the exasperated statement we hear from the opponents of Jesus in today’s story as they say “If you are the messiah, tell us plainly.”

Come on Jesus…don’t beat around the bush…don’t be so cryptic…are you…or aren’t you? (pause) That seems to the be sense behind their words. And maybe that strikes us as a little odd…why wouldn’t they know? Isn’t it a no-brainer? Of course Jesus is the Messiah…and they should all know that right?  Or should they?

By this point Jesus has been on the scene for a while. He’s gathered a following…the disciples are trailing along behind him. He’s been performing miraculous signs, both for individuals as well as for the crowds…he’s been teaching and debating and all that kind of stuff…and yet…the people can’t quite make up their mind about him…some of think he is the long awaited Messiah…some of them think he’s just some backwater Galilean quack…and some just don’t know. (pause)

For us, it’s a no brainer…but keep in mind that the people were in the midst of the story at that time…they didn’t have 2000 years of hindsight…and its very seldom that anything…especially matters of faith, are nice and neat…real life tends to be a little messier…and the messages that come from God are only apparent as we look back at them after the fact.

And, to the credit of the individuals who are asking him…Jesus hasn’t been overly forthright with this information either…in fact, to this point, he’s only come out and told 1 person that he’s the Messiah…1. The Samaritan Woman at the well. Many have suspected it…many have even made up their minds about it…but beyond that one instance for an audience of 1…Jesus has been pretty quiet on the subject. Jesus…tell us plainly… (pause)

But I wonder…why now? Why do they chose this particular instance to ask Jesus about it? He’s spent plenty of time in the temple…he hasn’t exactly been incognito…so why, here in the Festival of the Dedication, are these particular religious leaders so intent on Jesus’ messianic identity?

And to get to the heart of that question, a little history.  The festival of the dedication, which as we hear happens in mid-winter…has another name that you might be more familiar with…the festival of lights…or Hanukah…and it dates back to a period about 150 years before the birth of Jesus…and a bit of Jewish history known as the Maccabean revolution.  At that moment in history, Israel was under the control of the Seleucid empire…and the top dog came into the temple and desecrated it by sacrificing to his particular god…and this angered the Jewish people so much that a revolt started up under a guy named Judas Maccabeus…a revolt that succeeded in throwing out the Seleucids and for one brief period in Israel’s history…they were self-governed.  And they needed to rededicate the temple to God, which involved burning a candle that must never go out…and it burns special consecrated oil, and they only had enough for a day, but miraculously it kept burning for 8 days until more oil was available…that’s the whole point behind the festival of the dedication or Hanukah.

But then, if you know your history…it wasn’t long before the Roman Empire came to power, and spread through the region of Israel…and with that fall to foreign power once again…a condition so familiar to the Jewish people throughout their history…don’t you think they’d be looking for another great leader…one anointed by God to lead the people…to reestablish the glory of the past…and if this random guy that some say might just be the one…if he felt like making it official and declaring himself…wouldn’t the festival that originated with a successful Jewish revolt against foreign oppressors be the PERFECT opportunity? Seems logical…so Jesus…if you are the Messiah…tell…us…plainly. (pause)

But instead of finding himself a podium with some historic backdrop and getting a bunch of news cameras and a photo-op to declare his campaign like we tend to see these days…Jesus just says “I have told you and you do not believe…the signs that I do testify to me…you do not believe…because you do not belong to my sheep…My sheep hear my voice.  I KNOW THEM…and they follow me.” (pause)

Now there is a lot going on in that statement…but I think one way to understand it is to say that to be one of the sheep that belongs to the one who calls himself the good shepherd is to believe…and to believe is to belong…and to belong is to be known. (pause)

This implies a sense of utter familiarity…to be known and to know one another…the original language implies utter intimacy…to be known completely…and maybe you know that sense.  Like the way you can pick your kid out of the crowd on the football field, even covered up in full pads.  Or the way that can see the look on your mom or dad’s face and know that you’ve crossed a line.  Or the way you can hear a voice and know exactly who it is.

I was joking around last week with a few people…and commented about I can sit at my desk and can identify certain individuals just by listening to their footsteps as they walk towards my door.  You know what I mean…that total and complete sense of familiarity with one another.

That’s what Jesus is talking about…a sense that makes us pay attention because of how closely connected we are…even within moments when everything else is struggling to pull our attention away.  There are times when that still small voice of God is speaking…but it can be so hard to hear because of the countless distractions…

And on the flip side there are also times when the voice of God is silent…and we have the tendency to fill in the blanks with all kinds of stuff…things that make us feel like we’re still on the right track…things like rituals…or traditions that have gone beyond their intended purpose and have become the rule that must be followed…and I can’t help but think that was the very thing that God wanted to free us from in the person of Jesus Christ…the myth or the lie that only through what we do or what we refrain from doing will make us good enough to hear that quiet voice speaking.

That seemed to be the mission of Christ during his ministry…as we continually see him crossing the boundaries of who’s in and who’s out…those lines drawn by society, or by religion, or by culture that say “you’re not good enough.” Over and over again we see Jesus standing on the OTHER side of that line…sometimes quietly and sometimes quite forcefully…as the one who is also God tries SO HARD to show us that we are already loved and claimed by the one who lovingly made us in the first place.

There is no test to pass…there is no magic words to utter…there’s no perfect liturgy to recite or attendance record to make or dress code to follow or benchmark to achieve…right now…as you are…you are claimed by the one who calls to you…and this God who calls out to you does so in the form of a human being…this God who took on flesh and dwelled among us to show us…quite literally, that there is no length that God will not go to in order to be with you…and then…having claimed you through that familiar voice which lovingly says “you are mine,” we are called simply to follow.

That catches my attention today…as Jesus says “my sheep hear my voice. I know them…and they follow me.”  These are also the final words spoken by Jesus here in John’s gospel…following his resurrection as he appears to some of the disciples and finally tells Peter, quite simply…follow me.

We don’t know what comes after…because John cuts things off…but we do know that it wasn’t the end of the line…and this isn’t the end of the line for us either.

Admittedly, there are times in our lives when we want to yell at God…those moments of confusion or heartache when we long to scream “JUST TELL US PLAINLY!” And know that if you need to do so, that’s ok…God will take that.

And there are also times when it all seems so apparent…and let us rejoice in those moments.  (Pause) So regardless of where we find ourselves today…Let each of us listen for that still small voice which calls out to us…let us recognize it as the voice of the one who knows us and loves us…and let us follow where He leads. Amen.

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Who Is Called Greatest 9-23-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:30-37, I explore Jesus’ second passion prediction, and the way that it leads to expectations of personal greatness and prestige. Jesus is up to something different.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-is-called-greatest-9-23-18

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

Over the course of the past couple of years, I have gotten into the habit of watching tv shows that focus in on life in the political spectrum. I’ve made our way through several different series, the most notable being The West Wing.

It was a great show that zeroed in on the lives of several of the prominent senior staff that surrounded the President of the United States in the hectic day to day activity of the White House. The show ran for 7 seasons, and a pretty major feature of the final season was the presidential race that would culminate in the final episode with the inauguration of the new president and the subsequent change over in staff from the old faces to the new ones.

In one of the final scenes, the new senior staff walks into the West Wing and they all pause for just a moment, before pealing off in different directions to find their new offices…and in one instance, we see the overlap as the outgoing character picks up his belongings…shakes the hand of the new guy…and then stands there for a brief moment watching as the new guy sets down his stuff…and excitedly begins arranging his new office.

It makes me think of the expectations that this character must be feeling…the ideas of what things will be like in this new role…of the work that he’ll be doing…whether he’s accurate in his assumptions or not. (pause)

Now the theme of expectations is one that we keep bumping into here over the course of several chapters of Mark’s gospel, including today’s lesson.  There’s a stretch of Mark that features several different teachings from Jesus that appear difficult…unexpected…maybe even a little harsh…teachings that maybe, just maybe make it difficult to even want to be a follower of Christ…some of these teachings or themes are unique…and others pop up more than once.

We’ve mentioned before that when something repeats itself within the scriptures…its usually worth paying attention to…and if you happened to be here last week, you might have noticed something that sounds familiar.  For the second time…Jesus predicts his upcoming betrayal and arrest…he predicts his suffering and death…and he predicts that three days later he’ll rise again…its nearly identical to what we heard back in chapter 8…and funny enough…it would seem that 2 times isn’t sufficient…because a chapter later…in a passage that we’ll encounter a couple more week’s from now…Jesus is going to do it a third time.

3 times he shares this prediction with the disciples…this honest and open revelation of his eventual fate…of how things are going to culminate at the end of his ministry. (pause) Now, the disciples’ reaction today is interesting…we hear that they lack understanding of just what Jesus is talking about…and even though they want to ask him questions…they remain silent.

Maybe, just maybe they are remembering the last time Jesus brought this whole deal up…and Peter getting a little testy with Jesus before getting a verbal smack-down. Maybe that’s why they dummy up and don’t ask the questions that are clearly on their minds…not even Peter in this instance.

But instead…as they continue walking along towards Capernaum…their conversation takes a turn…and they start bickering. Now maybe their debate has something to do with Jesus’ prediction…but maybe it has something to do with this location as well. It seems a little specific to name that they are in Capernaum…unless we know a little something about this community on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee.

Capernaum was an important city in those days. It was located right along a major trade route…it was also a boundary between two different territories and as such it was a taxation point.  The Roman government and military both had a presence there…and the residents, Jews and Romans alike, benefitted from all this with wealth and affluence.  It was a place of prestige…of authority and influence…in short…this was a place a power…and I’m guessing, as this merry band of Christ followers approached the city with words about this Messiah walking in their midst, the topic of authority and power seemed pretty important. (pause)

Now once they get into town and settle into one of the homes there, Jesus starts asking some questions…namely what they’d been bickering about…because it seems that their conversation escalated into an argument over which one of them would be called the greatest…who would hold the most authority…who’s the most important among them. (pause)
I can’t help but think that this starts to reveal a little bit of similarity in the expectations the disciples hold with what we heard out of Peter a week ago.  Jesus, you are the Messiah…and Jesus says yes, now let me tell you what that means…and Peter says No lord…the Messiah cannot be killed…you’ve got important political work to accomplish…take back the throne…free us from oppression, bring about this kingdom of heaven that you keep talking about…obviously you can’t do that if you’re dead. (pause)

It’ll be the same sort of thing when we encounter the last Passion prediction too…Jesus shares what will happen…and two of the disciples hit him up with a request to sit at his right hand and his left when he comes into power.

And today…same deal…Hey guys…Jesus is talking all that Messiah stuff again…I don’t know why he’s so set on the idea that he’s gonna die…I don’t know what that’s all about…who knows…maybe he’s being metaphorical…but you know what…when he takes control…its gonna be awesome…and we’ve been following him around…I wonder what spot we’ll each get.

That’s the debate…Jesus is here to bring about something UTTERLY new…a new way to live…a new way to be in this world…claimed and loved by God…and freed from the power of the brokenness that is still so prevalent…and in the midst of all this…the disciples are bickering over what cabinet position they are going to hold “in the kingdom.” Of who’s gonna be second in command…of who will hold more authority or prestige or status.

3 times Jesus tells them plainly. (slowly) I am going to die and rise again. It will be brutal, it will be painful, and you will all abandon me…and in three different ways, they reveal the same thing. What can we get out it? (pause)

I wonder…do we fall in the same trap? Do we get caught up in human expectations over what Jesus is going to do for us…of how we’re going to benefit from this identity as a follower of Christ? (pause) Is that how we look at our association with the congregation…or our identity and position within the greater community because of our membership here in the local faith institution? Do we wonder…or even seek out…the self-image of being called great? (pause)

That’s the rub in the disciples debate…they are arguing over who will be the one to be called…or named great.  Funny enough, they know better…because when Jesus calls them on it…they don’t say a word…its almost like they’ve already figured out that this isn’t what Jesus is all about…and yet it’s the issue most important to them.

Maybe its because the world works that way…their society was not that different from ours in that regard.  Power and influence and prestige and authority and fame and glory and riches were the currency of the day…just as they are now.

But Jesus proposes something different doesn’t he? It is not these things that will make your name great…you will not be called great because of these things…you want to be called great…welcome the least of these.  And he places a child in their midst.

Now in Jesus’ day, children were the lowest of the low on the status ladder…lower even than slaves…but Jesus could have also grabbed a begger…or a lepper…or a foreigner or a tax collector.  Anyone who their society dictates was unacceptable…Jesus says put them before yourself…serve them…and then you’ll be called great. (pause)

I’m drawn to that idea of being called great…maybe its subjective, because depending on the moment we might call a lot of things or people great…but Mark’s gospel really doesn’t. In fact…there are only two times when this exact phrase is used…to be called great…this is one…and the other is when Jesus answers the question of what commandment can be called the greatest.

Anyone remember how he answers?  Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.  Place others ahead of you…that’s what Jesus calls great. (pause) But maybe, just maybe that doesn’t compute. Because this is an idea that is so utterly foreign in a dog eat dog world…a world where we have to look out for number 1…a world where we bite and claw our way to the top…but I always wonder…where does that get us?

There’s an old saying “the one who dies with the most toys wins” (pause) but there’s another saying that refutes it “the one who dies with the most toys still dies.” It’s a sober reminder that this life has an expiration date. (pause)

But…Jesus is doing something different…utterly different. This kingdom of heaven…whatever the heck that means…its different…it doesn’t focus in on power or authority or prestige or status.  None of those things that the world tells us you have to have in order to be complete will actually get you there.  But a promise that there is something more…that you have been claimed by the one who created you…that you are loved and accepted and treasured as you are right now…and that no matter what happens that everlasting love will not be taken away from you and not even death can get in the way of it.  That promise gives us hope to cling to in the midst of all the mess of this world that we are constantly surrounded with and bombarded by.

Trust me…there is plenty of stuff in this world that can drown us in despair…and there are plenty of times when that hope of the promise might just be really hard to see…and this is why we need one another…to reflect that light of life that Christ has brought into this world…to shine that light so those stuck in darkness have something to look to…to be the hands and feet of Christ, even in some tiny way…just to show this world that no matter how hard it rants and raves…and no matter how loudly it screams that might makes right…or that gaining just a little more and a little more at the expense of another will make you satisfied…no matter how hard the powers of darkness in this world rave that light WILL shine brighter…because when light shines darkness loses…that’s the simple fact of the matter…even when it doesn’t feel like it. (pause)

The future is unknown to us…we might have our plans or expectations…we might have our hopes and our dreams…but the reality might turn into something completely different.  May we find hope in the one thing that will remain constant…God’s promises for you have already been made real in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s something that we can call great.  Amen

Something Unexpected 2-4-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 1:29-39, I explore the healing of Peter’s mother in law, as well as the unexpected way that Jesus reacts to Capernaum’s favorable opinion of him.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/something-unexpected-2-4-8

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

Quite a few years back, early on in the days when I was just starting to discern the call into ministry…I took an assessment called Stengthsfinders…some of you might have heard of it…it’s a test that identifies between a large number of personality traits to identify just how the individual is wired…and specifically, it will identity your top 5 strengths.

Here are mine…see if you think these are accurate. Empathy…the ability to relate to the emotional state of another person. (pause) Communication…that one’s pretty self-explanatory. (Pause) Something called Woo…which sounds like I just like to go around yelling “WHOO” but actually points to the ability to persuade others to your point of view. (Pause) Input…which describes a person who wants to keep learning…they’ve never collected enough info…particularly off the wall, useless information. (Pause) And the final one, actually my number one…is Adaptability…the tendency to simply go with the flow and take things as they come…Sound about right?

Here’s the thing though…you’d think with my number one strength being adaptability…that I would bristle against repetition…planning…expectations of what will happen…but strangely enough, I’ve grown more and more accustomed to a general flow of how things will happen…especially here in worship.

Most of you have probably picked up on that. We have certain tendencies…ways that worship flows from one part to another…whether it’s the general order of worship…or the things that I say that introduce certain aspects…you probably have an idea of what to expect from me don’t you?

Admittedly, some friends of mine REALLY want me to shake things up on you sometime….they continue to push that just once…out of the blue…right in the middle of the sermon…that I should just…stop talking…and silently walk down the aisle and out of the sanctuary, around the corner and out the door…then walk across the parking lot and just sack out over on the deck at the parsonage…just to see how long it would take for someone to poke their head out the door and come looking for me. (pause)

Now rest assured….I’m never going to actually do that…as crazy as I might be, I know that would be utterly foolish…not to mention completely disruptive…but think about it…what would you do? What would happen if someone in a position of leadership, whether a pastor or not…just utterly upended everyone’s expectation? Because that’s what’s happening today. (pause)
Now its important to realize that as our gospel picks up today, we are in a utter continuation of where were last week.  As we’ve mentioned before, Mark chapter 1 crams A LOT of stuff into a pretty short space…and Mark as a whole is pretty good about moving the action along, often times glossing over the passage of time as we move from one instance right into the next…but this time is one of those where the action that we heard last week literally flows straight into today…

So let’s back up just a touch…Jesus has called the first 4 disciples, Peter and Andrew and James and John as he encountered them on the seashore…and then they mosey into Capernaum…which is the home town of these 4 guys…and then on the Sabbath day Jesus and the disciples have popped into the synagogue where Jesus takes on the role of preacher…proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Now we heard last week that he teaches with authority…and while we might not know just what exactly that means, we find that it takes shape when a man with an unclean spirit jumps up right in the midst of everything and Jesus throws his divine beat down on the spirit, commanding it to come out of the man…and it does.

This astonishes everyone else in attendance…and they recognize that this authority over unclean spirits simply illustrates the divine authority that lies behind his proclamation…behind his teaching…the authority behind his message…and with that, Jesus is walking out of the synagogue.

If we were watching tv right now…that would have been the “previously on” montage that opens up most episodes anymore…catching us up to where we are now…and where we are now is Jesus and the 4 guys walking out of the synagogue…seemingly across the street into Peter’s house…and here we find Pete’s mother in law in bed with a fever.

Now Jesus doesn’t miss a beat…he walks over to her…he grabs her by the hand…and as we hear she is “raised up” by Jesus…the language is quite literally that she is raised…anyone else think that sounds a lot like Easter morning when Jesus is “raised up” from the dead? It should.  Likewise she is raised to new life…and she responds by entering into service. (Pause)
Now its worth mentioning that Pete’s mother in law is not simply stepping back into traditional gender roles here. Once again the language tells us that she “serving” or more specifically that she’s “ministering.” And this is the same thing that angels do for Jesus in the wilderness…it is the same thing that Jesus proclaims as he says I have come not be served but to serve…and it’s the same thing that he commands to his followers when he says whoever shall be greatest among shall become a servant. (pause) Pete’s mom in law is raised up to a new life in Christ, a new life as a Christ-follower…as a disciple…as one who willingly serves the other…now that right there…that’s awesome…and its unexpected…but that’s a side note. (pause)

So let’s go on with the story…word of these 2 healings…first the unclean spirit being cast of the man in the synagogue and now Pete’s mother in law…it spreads around town like wildfire…and understandably…everyone in the synagogue saw it…and Capernaum wasn’t exactly a huge town…miraculous healings would have been something to talk about.

And so…when evening falls, everyone seems to know about it, and everyone starts bringing the sick and the possessed to Jesus to be healed…the entire city gathers around the door…and into the night, Jesus heals them all.

Now I can only imagine what the people were thinking there in Capernaum…Guys…this is awesome…we’ve got this AMAZING preacher…and not only that…he can heal…like…actually heal. We should keep this dude around…we can learn a lot from him…and if we get sick he can heal us…I mean…maybe he’s like, the Messiah or something? So I think we should keep him around, maybe give him a house or something so he’ll stay…so we’ve got him right here when we need him. Sounds good. (pause)

But Jesus doesn’t exactly play along does he? After all the healings are done…late at night…actually early in the morning before it even gets light…he slips off into the wilderness to be alone…and we hear the next day that everyone is hunting for him…now its Peter and the other 3 guys who actually locate him…and it seems like they are buying into things too…Master, everyone is hunting for you. (pause)  Now think about it for a second…if you’re hunting for something…you want something from it right?  I remember in my younger days when I would go fishing, I practiced catch and release…but its pretty hard to catch and release when you’re hunting isn’t it? And so it stands to reason that if everyone in town is hunting for Jesus, they want something from him. They want him to live up to their expectations…expectations that he’ll keep healing…that he’ll keep teaching…that he’ll take on the mantel of Messiah that fits the bill of what they’ve come to expect.

And I can’t help but think that the people of Capernaum…all of them, even including the 4 disciples at this point…I think they’re stuck in expectations….they’re stuck in what they’ve always thought…what they’ve always known…and we find evidence in this in what might have been almost a throw away comment from the narration of Mark.

Did you catch when the people from the city started bringing their sick to Jesus? (Pause) At sundown…and here’s the thing…in the Jewish understanding…the new day started at sundown…like today is Sunday…but at sundown, when its evening…it stops being today and starts being tomorrow…everyone with me?

Okay…and remember what the setting was at the beginning today? Jesus was in the synagogue…and it was the Sabbath…Jesus heals, not once, but twice on the Sabbath…he performs “Work” but the law says that’s a no-no. The law says they have to wait until the Sabbath is over…which happens at sundown right? (pause)

The people of Capernaum are stuck in the old way of thinking. They’re caught in the old rule book. They’re still following the same method of bookkeeping…thinking that there’s some cosmic scoreboard that they need to be aware of in terms of honoring the Sabbath. Not only that…but Jesus seems to know that if he sticks around Capernaum…they’re gonna force his hand…they’re gonna try and make him be the Messiah that they expect…which is to say a political figure…that’s what Messiah’s were…God’s anointed leaders…often the kings of their history…that’s what they wanted him to be…and hey, throw in the ability to heal diseases and you got a bonus out of this Messiah right? (Pause)
But here’s the thing. Jesus is doing something utterly different. Utterly other…utterly new. Jesus isn’t playing by the rules anymore…in fact, whatever it is that God is up to in the world through the life death and resurrection of this man known as Jesus of Nazareth…the one that we have come to call the Messiah or the Christ…whatever it is that God is doing…it is completely off the map of expectations.

Sabbath rules don’t apply…if someone needs healing, Jesus will heal them…if someone needs to be freed from what hinders them…Jesus will free them…and why? (Pause) Because the kingdom of heaven has come near. And this kingdom is utterly unlike ANYTHING that we can imagine or anticipate.

And this is what Christ has come to do…to proclaim the good news of the kingdom…and not just Capernaum, but everywhere. (pause) Yes, Jesus can and does heal.  Yes, Jesus shows compassion on those who cast aside. Yes…Jesus brings about a new normal…a new existence…a new way of being in this world that we have been given, flawed though it is.

This is what Jesus has come to do…to make all things new…to make all things Good…and to draw all people to himself….Jesus has entered into our reality in order to bring about this kingdom and he has invited us into it. (pause)
So what does that mean for us today? How do we respond to this man, who is also God…who has utterly changed the game? What does life look like now, in the midst of this kingdom which is both now and not yet?

In order to answer that question, we need to look back at Pete’s mother in law…we must remember that her story is not an example of a happy little house wife that we can say “oh now you’re up and about, good make me a sandwich.” What we learn from her is that to be raised to a new life by Christ is reflected in our ability and desire to serve those around us…to minister to those around…to literally embody the change that the kingdom of heaven is bringing into this world. (pause)

We all have our tendencies to be like Capernaum…wanting the Messiah to act a certain way…or to be a certain way…or to bless the ones that we want…we all fall in the trap of setting up the Messiah according to our expectations…but in the end that’s not how this works…because Jesus is continuously bringing about something new…and through the power of the holy spirit may he change us all in a way that makes our lives reflect this utterly new thing out into the world that we hope to see changed. May we be the change that we hope to see in the world…and may we give credit where credit is due…that this change is only possible through the power of Christ working in us and through us. May that be…the kingdom coming near to us. Amen.

Imagine What You’ll Know Tomorrow 8-27-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 16:13-23, I explore Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, followed up by his misconception of what that means.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/imagine-what-youll-know-tomorrow-8-27-17

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

There are a handful of actors who have made a solid career out of playing the same type of character over and over again. Tommy Lee Jones is one of these actors. Over the course of the past couple of decades, he’s pretty much played the role of the older, wiser guy who’s seen it all…and he’s perpetually annoyed as he teaches the new young guy the ropes.

And there is one example that perfectly captures this sense…Men in Black…the very first one…came out back in the late 90’s and tells the story about a secret organization of agents, dressed in black of course…that help police the presence of aliens on our planet.  Fairly early in the movie, his character sits on a bench next to the new guy talking about this strange reality.

Inevitably the question comes up “Why don’t you tell everyone…people are smart, they can handle it.”  Tommy replies with the fact that people in groups are foolish and dangerous…and that there are certain things that they simply cannot accept in their current experience…and I love what he has to say. (pause)

1500 years ago, everyone KNEW…the earth was the center of the universe.  500 years ago everyone KNEW…the earth was flat…15 minutes you KNEW…that humans were alone on this planet…imagine what you’ll KNOW…tomorrow. (pause)

Throughout the course of our history…human beings have learned a lot…but with every new discovery…we tend to find an old way of thinking has to give way…the old thought…the old “fact,” whatever it is that we used to KNOW.

And this theme is all over today’s gospel reading.  (pause) Now this is a fun passage…we find ourselves in the midst of a temporary breather during Jesus’ ministry. He’s been out teaching, healing, interacting with individuals and crowds…he’s bumped heads with the religious elite…he’s performed miracle after miracle…all the while proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near.

All this different stuff that Jesus has been doing is causing word to spread all over the place…and so it would seem that Jesus is ready to test the waters…he’s curious as to what the word on the street is as far as he’s concerned…and so he turns to the disciples to ask the big question…who do people say that the son of man is?

The disciples stand there…scratching their heads as they think for a moment…Well Jesus…some say that you’re John the Baptism…we’ve heard some call you Elijah…or Jeremiah or one of the prophets…and you know what…maybe that makes sense…with his history of pushback against the religious elite, Jesus certainly fits the mold of those well known prophets that came before him in Israel’s history…but to simply call Jesus a prophet…to simply place him among that batch of individals…clearly that’s only picking up a portion of the work that he’s up to…and so…with that…Jesus dives a little deeper.

Okay…so that’s what everyone else says…but I’m going to put you disciples on the spot…you’ve been around me long enough now…who do YOU…say that I am? (pause) Now honestly, that’s not a bad question to ask…and its one that we should probably consider.

After all, if Christianity relies on anything, it’s the proclamation of the Good News….that personal testimony of what we as individuals have witnessed God do in our own lives…and in the sharing of these thoughts…these testimonies…that’s how our story really begins to connect into God’s greater story in our reality.

This is something that we continue to see throughout the course of the Biblical Narrative, as God somehow crosses paths with a group or an individual and invites them forward into something new…over and over again…humanity continuous to be invited to join with God as things move forward.

And as the event of Jesus walking around Israel 2000 years ago is the physical embodiment of God’s divine action of invitation for humanity in the world…then its important to consider the question “Who do you say that I am?” (pause)
Now I think it goes without saying that Peter serves as a pretty solid connection point for us within the gospel narrative…he’s just SO DARN human isn’t he?  Impulsive, quick to speak…quick to jump to conclusions…but often unsure of himself.  I think Peter is one we can relate to isn’t he?

But today…in response to this important question of Jesus…this question of who we say Jesus is…Peter lays out the ultimate answer. You are the messiah…the son of the living God. (pause)

Jesus…is…pleased. I can almost picture the heavens opening up, music beginning to play, and bright light shining down upon Peter as Jesus smiles at him…YES!!! Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah…for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you…but my father in heaven.

This gives us an important reminder…the ability to understand the truth of just who Jesus is…comprehension of his identity is not something self-generated. Peter didn’t just make up his mind that Jesus is the Messiah…it was revealed to him…and in this we are reminded that faith is not of us…but it is a gift from our father in heaven. (pause)

Now at this point in the story, we have a wonderful exchange as Jesus seems to issue a name change…and Simon son of Jonah becomes Peter…the rock on which the church will be built…and then…just like that…the lectionary stops us short today…and it would seem, at first glance anyway that Peter has learned all he needs to know…and Jesus might as well just hand over control of the church right then and there. (pause)

But the story doesn’t stop there does it? This is why I included the extra couple of verses at the end today…even though we’re going to hear them again next week…it’s a mistake to leave them out today.  Think about what happens. Peter has just made this divinely inspire proclamation, calling Jesus the messiah…the Christ…and then Jesus begins to teach them just what that means.  (pause)
Yah, so, we’re gonna go to Jerusalem, and I’m going to be betrayed and handed over…and I’m gonna get beaten and tortured…and I’m even gonna die…but then after a few days I’ll come back again. (pause) And Peter, the one who just won the gold star…loses his mind over it. He begins to rebuke Jesus who in turn calls him a stumbling block…calls him Satan and tells him that he’s too focused on human things instead of divine things. (pause)

All of this is a little wonky…admittedly, I sorta think that Jesus is getting a little on the weird side here…especially if we throw in that side comment about his command to the disciples not to tell anyone that he’s the Messiah…and so maybe the big question here is just what is going on in this back and forth exchange.

But the truth that we need to remember is that Peter hasn’t learned everything yet has he? He knows about the messiah…but clearly he doesn’t get just what the messiah is now…Peter’s operating on old information, not realizing that Jesus is doing something different…something new.

He’s the MESSIAH RIGHT? He confirmed it…so everyone, what’s that mean…and to answer that question we’ve got to back up about 1000 years and remember who else is a messiah…now that word…messiah or christ,  same deal…it means God’s anointed one…and the anointed ones were the kings…the ones that God had chosen to lead the people…Saul…David…Solomon…they’re all anointed…they’re all messiahs.

And so for Peter…and not just him but for the whole Jewish culture…the long awaited Messiah is a political figure…the one who’s going to rise up…retakes the throne of David…bring Israel back to glory and kick out their oppressors…who in this particular instant happens to be the Romans. (pause) Anyone remember what the Romans tend to do when someone rises up against them?  Its not pretty…and since Jesus’ time hasn’t come yet…no wonder he doesn’t want anyone calling him the messiah…because if the people try to make him king that’s gonna end poorly for him, although of course it ultimately will anyway…but it’ll also end badly for the people he has come to save.

And so where do we go from here? What do we learn from Peter today? Well, we see that Peter still has a lot to learn…he’s made a faithful confession…and in the name change we see a new identity bestowed upon him by God…something that sounds pretty baptismal if you ask me…but we also see that he’s not finished yet.

His understanding of the messiah is incomplete…and will continue to be until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. For no one can truly comprehend just what it is to THE MESSIAH until after Jesus comes back from the dead…Peter included.

And so we are reminded today that our lives of faith are ongoing…and its not about a single expression of identity or faith or belief at one time that’s going to be the end all be all for us…because even once we are claimed by God…once we are giving that identity, God’s not done with us yet…and we still have more to learn…more to experience…more to be revealed by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Often when we are young, we are foolish enough to think that we’ve got it all figured out…but I continue to learn the truth that the older I get the more I realize the less I know…and that’s okay.  But God continues to reveal new things all the time…and that can, and should…and does change the way we think about things…the way we understand things.

None of us are the same person as we were 10 years ago…and we are not the same person that we will be 10 years from now…for we have a God who continues to invite us forward into something new…a new way of thinking…a new way of acting…a new way of interacting with those around us…and isn’t it wonderful to know that the basis for all of this…the motivation for God’s continued work, both in the world and in our lives…is because God takes delight in us.

Who do the people say that Jesus is? (pause) Who do you say that Jesus is? (pause) This is a question that we should answer differently today than we did in the past…and a question that we should answer differently in the future…all depending on what God reveals to us in the midst of our lives.

Think of that song that we all learn as children…Jesus loves me this I know. (pause) When you’re a child that’s enough…that’s what you believe…that’s what you understand…that’s what you’ll know, and its different from what you understand…what you know, now… and now   imagine…what you’ll know…tomorrow. 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.

 

It Breaks Your Heart 7-31-14

This sermon is based on Matthew 16:21-28. Peter, who has just made the great confession of Jesus’ true identity now rebukes Jesus for revealing his ultimate destiny. Jesus in turn rebukes Peter with the famous “Get behind me Satan” phrase. In the sermon I explore Peter’s motivation and how our limited human understanding often times blinds us from the truth.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/it-breaks-your-heart-7-31-14

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

Think back over your life for a moment…and think about the times when your heart was broken. (pause) Perhaps some of those instances are hard to identify now…with the passage of time, our insights and perspectives broaden…and perhaps we have come to see those old hurts as life lessons and experiences that have helped to shape us into the person that we are today. (pause)

But in the moment…the experience of a broken heart just plain hurts…its as if the world as we know it is crumbling down and we are powerless to do anything about it. (pause). Thinking back, my first instance of a broken heart happened in about 6th or 7th grade. I was sitting in church, of all places…when the current pastor announced that he had taken a different call and that he and his family would be moving…I looked to my right…to my best friend sitting next to me…who happened to be the pastor’s son…and I realized in that instant that he’d be moving too…now I was a pretty soft hearted kid…and when we got home from church a few minutes after that gut wrenching announcement, my dad could tell I was pretty upset…and he just hugged me while I cried it out…because my best friend was leaving…and nothing would ever be the same again. (pause)

Fast forward a few years…and we experience the first time I was heartbroken over a girl. I was a jr in high school…I’d been dating a girl for most of the school year, and most of the way through the summer…and then one evening she dropped a bomb on me. “I think we’d be better friends if we weren’t dating.” (gesture a breaking heart)…this time it was my mom that got the brunt of my emotional upheaval…and nothing would ever be the same again. (pause)

Fast forward a couple more years…and for the first time…it was God who was letting me down…it was God who rocked my world to the core…it was God…that broke my heart. (pause) I had just come off my second summer working at camp. I was heading back to my 2nd and final year of community college…I would be graduating with my associate’s degree the following spring…and at that point I wanted nothing more than to come back for one more summer at camp…this time as a counselor…and then to apply to stay on at camp in a year round ministry position…and who could fault me…this plan seemed perfect…and certainly God would uphold His end of the bargain right? (pause) But God’s reality, was not my reality. I was not invited to come back to camp the following summer due to a poor working relationship with the site director…and as I approached a springtime graduation, I had no idea what I was going to do with myself…with my future…and most shockingly…with my faith…and nothing would ever be the same again. (pause)

Looking back now, those shocking moments don’t seem so bad. Yes my best friend moved…but I’ve made countless other friends in the years since…Yes, my first girlfriend broke up with me…but eventually I met this pretty amazing brunette who became my wife…yes, God shut the door on my plans for doing ministry at 20…because he had prep work to do in my life to get me ready for ministry in my mid-30’s. I can see that now…but in the midst of each moment, I was shocked…I was hurt…and I couldn’t see past the pain caused by my broken expectations.

Our gospel lesson opens in the same sort of situation today. Peter has just made a wondrous confession. If you were here last week, our gospel lesson featured Peter’s testimony that Jesus is the Messiah…the Son of the living God…and now…an instant later…right after Jesus builds Peter up as Spirit inspired and the rock on which he will build his church…Jesus informs the disciples that his mission on earth is going to take him to Jerusalem where he will be tortured…and killed…and Peter…the rock…the stable foundation…FREAKS…OUT…and in the midst of his disbelief…he dares rebuke Jesus…he opens his mouth and tells God himself in human form what he thinks should happen.

Now, often times in scripture, Peter is portrayed as impulsive…quick to speak without thinking…often times the one who babbles on aimlessly because no one knows what to say in a given situation. And at first glance, perhaps that seems to be the case once again…but if we stop and pay attention…maybe we hear the sound of a heart breaking…

Peter has a vision of what the Messiah is going to do…what the role of the Christ will be…and as we heard last week…Peter knows that’s Jesus. But what he doesn’t know is that his expectations of the Messiah were WAY off. Like many of the Jews of that era…Peter expected the Messiah to be a political figure…a great deliverer along the lines of Moses who led the people out of captivity in Egypt back in ancient times. The messiah would free the people of Israel from the control of the Romans and re-establish David’s throne.

But you know what would throw a pretty major damper on this whole idea? If the messiah…died…But that’s exactly what Jesus tells them is going to happen…You Lord are the messiah…the holy one of God…and you will free us from this human captivity…Umm…no..actually I’m gonna be dead pretty soon Peter. (make heart breaking sound)

No wonder Peter goes off on Jesus…his entire existence has just been destroyed..everything he hoped for…everything he has dreamed…everything he has expected for the past three years of following Jesus is crashing down around him…and for Peter…nothing will ever be the same again…

No wonder he rebukes Jesus…no wonder he lashes out. He is the impulsive one after all…he’s the one that speaks up when no one else will…and perhaps in this moment, he’s simply the one who says what all twelve disciples are thinking. You are the messiah…YOU CAN’T DIE? HOW CAN THIS BE? HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO US? (pause)

Has your existence ever been shattered like that? Your expectations or your hopes and dreams…seemingly thrown aside…and it seems, in that moment, that God just doesn’t care…ever been there?

I know some of you have…and I suspect that at one time or another…all of you have been there…because we live in a flawed reality…a reality that has been twisted and warped by the powers of sin and death…We live in a reality where people hurt, children die, marriages end, and people fail…and in those instances, I think we all experience heart break…and we wonder where is God in those moments. (pause)

I was thinking about all this through the week…and it occurred to me that as a community we’ve experienced quite a bit of death lately. 2 in the past few weeks with another one likely any day now…and 2 more shocking deaths out of nowhere a few months back…and as I thought about all that…all those families and friends experiencing broken hearts at the death of a loved one…that it all started right after Epiphany last January…right after the day when the church celebrates the Christ being revealed to the world…people start dying…and that seems like a pretty cruel twist of fate…and perhaps we ask the question…where are you on that one God?

Because in these instances…these moments when our world crumbles and our heart is breaking…we, like Peter…miss the most important words uttered by Jesus in this passage. I will go to Jerusalem where I will undergo suffering…and be killed…and on the third day I WILL BE RAISED!

Peter missed it…he missed the good part…the hopeful part…that we have a God who is willing…and able…to enter into all this pain and hurt and disease and death…and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT…We have a God who can and DOES create new life out of death.

Make no mistake…death is a very real presence within our human existence…just as sickness and pain and suffering and anguish are all very real…and while in the midst of this pain we may cry out to God to stop it, or prevent it, or go back and erase it…that’s not what God does…instead, we have a God who mourns this reality right along with us…and though we may not understand why because of our own limited existence…God stands along side us in this pain…but He also creates new life out of it.

That is why Jesus took the cross…openly…willingly…to embrace the reality of death so that God could do something about it…something far beyond our reckoning…that’s why Jesus made no secret of his final destination…of his true mission on earth…and that is why we as believers find joy in the cross…

That is why we look with hope upon an image that was intended to strike fear in others…fear of its shame…and fear of the brutality of the death that came with it…we look on the cross with hope because as believers in Christ…we acknowledge something for what it is. The cross is a brutal place of death…the death of one who took our sin upon himself…and likewise we acknowledge our own sinful reality…a reality in which the wages for our sin is death…but we cling to the hope that through Christ’s death on that brutal cross we are no longer subject to it…we call this the theology of the cross…where we call it what it is…a horrible death that God used to create new life.

And so perhaps today you find yourself in the midst of a situation where your heart is breaking…and perhaps you want to strike out at someone, even God, because it seems like all those hopes and expectations for life have been destroyed by your present circumstances…and if that is your reality today, take courage in the fact that you are not alone…and that you have a God who has experience every aspect of this life…including the heartbreak of being utterly separated from his Father…and take hope in the fact that through that very separation, God has ensured that you will never be separated from him again. Amen.

What Do You Expect 12-15-13

After a break of a couple weeks, I’m back to posting sermons again. This week’s sermon is shorter than normal as the Sunday School students presented their Christmas Program today.

In today’s sermon, I focus on how John the Baptist allowed his preconceived expectations for the Messiah got in the way of allowing him to recognize what the Messiah was actually up to.  You can listen to the sermon here:
http://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-do-you-expect-12-15-13

You can read along with the sermon here.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Every year when fall rolls around and the temperature drops for the first time, I tell myself “Don’t worry, we’ll get Indian summer. It’ll warm up again.” And it always seems to. Then sometimes, like this fall, we get an early snow like we got about a month back…and I grumble and complain, but I still expect it to melt and the temps to climb back up again.
Then at some point, typically in December in this part of the country…the temps drop again…and it snows again…and while I sit there, still expecting another shot of Indian summer, its not going to happen. We can simply look out the window today and see that winter has officially set in. And my expectations for the weather…well reality is a little bit different.
Today’s scripture lesson is a similar situation. Not to say that it’s weather related, but rather there’s a similarity of misplaced expectations.  I’ve heard it said that in Matthew’s gospel, John the Baptist got it wrong.  He’s been proclaiming the coming Messiah, preparing the way for the one to come…and now that Jesus is on the scene and his ministry is underway…John, sitting in prison…is underwhelmed…and he sends his disciples to Jesus to check it out.
Are you the one to come…or should we look for someone else? (pause) He might as well be saying. This isn’t cutting it Jesus…I expected more out of you. (pause) But once again, we see that reality…is a little bit different.
Sometimes when Jesus is faced with a question, he gives a specific answer…sometimes he’s a little more vague…and sometimes, it seems like he’s blunt and maybe a little bit confrontational. That seems to be the case today. “Go tell John what you see and hear. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the good news is proclaimed.”  It almost seems like Jesus is saying “HEY! WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? THIS RIGHT HERE!!! THIS IS WHAT THE KINGDOM LOOKS LIKE! (pause) Now…what are you gonna do with it?”
What are you gonna do with it? That’s the million dollar question right there. God’s reality…Jesus’ reality…often times it doesn’t match up with our expectations does it?  But that’s precisely why Jesus came to earth…to change reality…to turn reality on its ear.
And there’s really only one thing that we can do with that isn’t there?  And that one thing, is to simply believe it. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.
But sometimes, our expectations of what SHOULD happen, get in the way don’t they? That’s the issue that John was facing in today’s story.  Unfortunately John didn’t get to see Jesus’ ministry come to completion…but we do. We have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story…and knowing that through faith we will share in the resurrection of Jesus. And faith is simply believing that which God has promised us.
Perhaps it’s fitting that as Jesus speaks about John, building him up as the greatest of the prophets, he also says “that the least in the kingdom is greater than John.” (pause) John’s expectations got in the way of his belief that day…and that’s a trap we all fall into, particularly adults.
I think that it is very fitting that today the Sunday School students presented their Christmas program…because I think that our children provide us with a wonderful example of faith.  Because when it comes to God and Jesus, they don’t have any expectations…God loves them and they know it.
Jesus tells us that we must have faith like a child…and simply believe the promise…drop the expectations…and simply believe it. When Jesus says “This is what the kingdom looks like” and asks the question “So what are you going to do with it?” He’s reminding us, don’t question it, just believe it. Amen.