Posts Tagged ‘Miracles’

I Can Do That 9-9-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 7:24-37, I explore 2 divine healings performed by Jesus, though one of them includes a troubling encounter. Through this, we see an appeal to the one who is able to act in the face of our powerlessness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-can-do-that-9-9-18

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

At one point Friday morning, I left the office and walked over to the post office to pick up the mail. Many of you have seen me do this before…its something I often do during the portions of the year that are warm enough to be outside.

As I was walking along the highway, I was looking around, just taking things in as I often do, when something caught my eye laying on the ground. At first glance, I thought it was just one of those little fake cards that come in the mail…designed to look like a credit card…and thinking that’s all it was I took a couple more steps…but then I realized that I had seen a chip in it…and so I backtracked those couple of steps to look a little closer…and sure enough…it was a real credit card lying there.

And not really knowing what else to do, I picked it up…it crossed my mind that the individual had probably already canceled it…and so I thought I’d just throw it away…but then as I kept on walking I thought of some other possibilities…and the next idea I had was to call the customer service number on the card and report to them that I had found the card…and that they could advise me on either disposing of it, or they could contact the individual to let them know it had been found.

Finally, as I had walked most of the way back to the church, it occurred to me that the individual’s name was on the card…and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of effort on my part would locate them…if I was willing to expel that effort…and that little voice in my head said “Yah, I can do that.” And sure enough…about 2 minutes of mild Facebook stalking, coupled with a quick back and forth on messenger, allowed me to place the lost card back in the hand of the individual who lost it in the first place…problem solved, all within about 10 minutes of the card catching my eye in the first place. A little bit of effort coupled with the willingness to get involved, and the recognition that “I can do that.” (Pause)

Now what’s that got to do with today’s scripture? It is, perhaps, the realization of our limitations. Today we have not just one, but two different stories of times when individuals were stuck in a situation that they were not able to do anything about…and so they seek out the help of another who is able…and as we see, in both instances, healings of the divine nature.

The interesting thing about the various healings that we see Jesus perform…is that there is no rhyme or reason to just how they happen. In every single instance, Jesus goes about performing the miracle in a different way. Sometimes he heals from a distance, just speaking the word and telling the individual who came to him that they’ll find it done when they return. Other times Jesus lays hands upon the individual in need of healing. Sometimes he debates before acting…other times he moves quickly.  There are times when he delays action…and not just momentarily but for extended periods of time…and then sometimes he pokes a guy in the ear and touches his tongue while telling the man to “be opened.” (pause)

Now there are often times when I come across a story of Jesus healing someone in a miraculous fashion…and I tend to think of it as a display of his divine power…of the work that God is up to in the world to overcome the problem of the individual…to free us from that which hinders us from wholeness.

But in today’s lesson, with both of these instances, I find myself really zeroing in on the individuals…and the encounter that they had with Jesus in this moment…and to be perfectly honest, the woman’s encounter catches my attention more than the guy. Many of you have probably heard me preach about this encounter before…it shows up here in Mark as well as in Matthew, and so we’ve come across it a few different times since I’ve been here…and perhaps, like me, you are troubled with the way that it goes down…Jesus is in Gentile territory for some unknown reason. And when news of his presence spreads, this foreign woman debates with him, Jesus seems to respond to her request in a derogatory…maybe even racist fashion, she owns it…and then continues to push until she gets what she’s asking for.

All troubling aspects aside, I found myself trying to find the headspace that the woman was in…because this healing isn’t for her. She’s acting on behalf of her daughter, who is possessed by a demon. We don’t know the specifics. We don’t know how long its been going on or how it effects the young girl…but what we do know is that…momma is on the case…and something tells me she’s tried everything up to this point…but this is beyond her ability to handle…no matter how hard she tries to cure her daughter…she can’t do it.

I wonder…have you ever been there? Have you ever felt that powerless feeling…as you look at someone that you love more than life itself, and you can’t do a thing to help them? (pause) Maybe it sounds almost cliché…but it is utterly devastating to experience.

In a bit of levity…I’ve joked before that both of my kids are lucky to be alive. When my son was about 3, I gave him an underdog, he fell off the swing and hit headfirst…even got a grass stain in his hair. And while that was happening my daughter who was 1 slid down through the stroller and got her head stuck…I thought I killed them both within 5 minutes. A few years later I watched as my son clotheslined himself off his bike by running full speed into a tree branch as he hadn’t learned to slow down and turn yet. And just about a month ago, my daughter tried to jump up on me, thinking I would catch her. I wasn’t paying attention and she fell, and was within a fraction of an inch from cracking her head on a rock. Now in every instance, they’ve been ok…but in that instant, it’s the worst feeling in the world.

How many of you have had that moment of powerlessness.  Of sitting at the bedside of your child in the hospital as they fight some unknown illness…or watching your fully grown son start back down the same old road of addiction…or seeing your spouse or your parent go through mental deterioration?

It happens doesn’t it? And we see it time and time again…and its bad enough when we watch a full grown adult in one of these battles…but when it’s a child…its that much worse…and I think we can all agree on that.

And this is the situation that the Syrophoenician woman finds herself in. No one can heal her daughter…no one except this random traveling Jewish rabbi who has shown up unannounced in her community…and yet…in her desperation, she appeals to him…thinking maybe, just maybe the stories are true…maybe he can help…that he has the power to act in a situation where everyone else is powerless…and nothing is going to hinder that possibility…not even some strange back and forth that makes zero sense to us as we read it 2000 years later.

And maybe, just maybe, we begin to see some hope as we consider the way the woman addresses Jesus in the first place.  Now in our translation she calls him sir…but in the actual language that she was using, she calls him Lord…she literally addresses Jesus as Lord…and interestingly enough…she is the ONLY person to do this in the entirety of Mark’s gospel. Not even the disciples use this word with Jesus…only her.

She is appealing to the one who is able to act…to the one who can do something…to the one who can say “Yah, I can do that.” For she is appealing to the Lord…regardless of her status as a foreigner…regardless of anything…she get it. Now this is not a new idea. In fact we even heard the same thing in our Psalm that we shared earlier today. Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help, whose HOPE…is in the Lord their God…The Lord opens the eyes of the blind…the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous…the Lord cares for the stranger…the Lord sustains the orphan and the widow. (pause)

In the middle of this back and forth…in an exchange that might almost be called an argument or a fight, and in the very least seems to be a debate…she calls him Lord…the one who acts…funny, the Psalm also says the God of Jacob, who you might recall wrestled with God until he received the Lord’s blessing. (pause) Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

So what does that mean for us today? Especially in light of the suffering that we see…the suffering that happens to those we care about but are powerless to do anything to stop? What do we do when our pleas and our prayers seem like they are falling on deaf ears? (pause)

We hope. And we cling to the promise that we have a God who can act…even if the action doesn’t look like what we think is right…because sometimes that action is simply the promise that the Lord will always have the last word in our story, or in the story of the ones we love.

Happy are those whose hope is in the Lord their God…we hope…because we have a Lord who sees every single one of us with that same love that we feel…for we have been claimed as beloved children…each and every one of us.  We have been claimed by the one who, in one way or another…will ALWAYS say…Yah, I can do that. Amen

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Now I Have Heard Everything 7-29-18

In this sermon, based on John 6:1-21, I explore two miraculous signs of Jesus, and how they remind us that God is with us even in the midst of terrifying events.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/now-i-have-heard-everything-7-29-18

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

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

My late grandfather had a habit, or maybe we can call it a ritual…one that started up about the time that he took on the status of “semi-retired farmer.”  About 10:30 every weekday morning, he’d head into town and pull up a chair with several of the other semi-retired farmers at the local watering hole. They’d each have a cold one and they’d share the news of the day…and once they’d solved all the world’s problems for another 24 hours…they’d trickle out and head home for lunch.

Now, maybe you’ve got a ritual kind of like this…a gathering place or even just a group of people that you swap the news with…those big stories that have caught your attention…those unexpected events that make you say “well now I’ve heard everything.”

I can’t help but think that with our 24 hour news cycle and the myriad of information available at our fingertips at any given moment, that’s probably a statement that we make with a fair bit of regularity…we hear something crazy…for instance I just read an article this week about a drug sniffing dog in Columbia that is so good at its job that the cartels have literally placed a bounty on its head…I can’t lie, I read that article and literally said it. “Now I’ve heard everything.” But I also know that in another day or two, something new and unexpected will happen…and I’ll probably say it again.

Now pondering along these lines…I find myself wondering if the same sort of conversations were happening about 2000 years ago around Israel…as people sat around talking about the events of the day…which I’m guessing they did…word of mouth conversations were the C-Span of the day after all…and so I wonder just what those conversations might have sounded like…

Hey man…you’re not gonna believe this. But I heard there was this wedding in Cana…and get this…part way through the wedding, they ran out of wine…and there was this random guy with a bunch of friends there…and his mom was there too…and when she heard they were out of wine, she went and told him…and he looked over at this huge water jars that they use for washing up, and he told them to take some out and give it to main dudes…and they did and it was wine…guy turned water into wine.  Woah…now I’ve heard everything.

But then like a week later they were talking again…Hey man, you know what I heard about that guy with the wine? I heard he’s been walking all over the place…like, healing diseases, and casting out demons, and I guess he was doing it down in Jerusalem during the Passover and he even threw a giant ruckus in the temple at one point. Woah…NOW I’ve heard everything.

Wouldn’t you know it…next time these guys get together…they start talking again. Hey man, you remember that guy we were talking about…get this…I heard he went up by the Sea of Galilee and SO MANY people followed him because of crazy stuff he’s doing…that like, they were all sitting around and it was late…and he told his buddies to get bread for the whole crowd…and get this, it was like 5,000 people…and you know his buddies, they just freaked out…thinking about how much it would cost to give everyone like a tiny bit of bread…well and another one spotted this kid who had a few loaves and a couple fish…but get this…the guy…yah the same one who’s been doing all the other crazy stuff…he took that tiny amount of food…and he said a prayer…and somehow…I don’t know how but somehow he managed to multiple it so that everyone ate…and there’s more…because after they ate…there was a ton of leftovers…I mean they started with hardly anything, but there was like 12 baskets left afterwards and he told them to pick it all up so the abundance wouldn’t get wasted.  Man…Now I’ve heard everything. (pause)

But wouldn’t you know it…the NEXT day…Get this, you remember the guy from yesterday…the bread and the fish and 5,000 people…dude there’s more…cuz last night, after that was all done…he went off up the mountain for a while, and his buddies, I think there’s like 12 of ‘em…they got in a boat and took off across the Sea for some reason…and one of those storms came up, you know like they do on the sea…and anyway, it was pretty rough and they were having a pretty hard time getting where they were trying to go…and you know they were freaked out right…I mean, I’ve been out on the sea when its rough too…comes out of nowhere and it can be scary, so I bet they were scared…but anyway out of nowhere…that same dude…he comes walking out to them…wait for it…ON THE WATER…You mean he wading in the water…NO MAN…HE WAS WALKING…ON THE WATER…You mean on top the water…Yah man…on top of the water…and his buddies were all kinds of freaked out…cuz, he’s on the water right…but he’s like…Dudes Its me, or maybe like I am or something like that…which isn’t that sorta like what God would say, but anyway, he told them not to be afraid…and then he was just with them in the storm while they were freaked out…can you believe that?  Man…Now I’ve heard…everything. (pause)

Here’s the funny thing about the gospel…and all these miracles or signs as John calls them…they keep happening don’t they? About the time we think we’ve heard it all, Jesus does something else unexpected…and blows our expectations out of the water…and maybe, just maybe as we consider all of these signs, including the two pretty impressive feats that Jesus pulls off in the lesson that we shared today…all we can is scratch our heads…and ponder on just who this guy is who can perform such awe-inspiring events.

Now interestingly enough…all over John’s gospel…scattered throughout the various interactions and miraculous signs and long periods of teachings…Jesus continues to remind us of just who he is…and he even said it today…I am.  Sometimes he uses this phrase as he compares himself to something else. I am the good shepherd…I am the vine…or even I am the bread of life…That particular one is coming right up just a few verses after where we leave off today…in fact the next 4 weeks will continue to feature the teaching of Jesus along with the interactions that this particular sign kicks off.

But sometimes Jesus simply calls himself I am…which happens right here in the midst of a storm as Jesus is walking on water. Now for the Jewish people…the name I am is a big deal…its synonymous with God…and the beginning of their culture all the way back in Exodus. Moses asks God what God’s name…and God says I am…if the people ask, tell them I am.

And as the disciples are in the boat, caught up in the wind and the waves, they might be crying out to God for deliverance…if you’ve ever been driving down the road when a giant rain storm comes blowing through, you’ve probably experienced that same sort of tension and terror…low and behold…in their fear…in this tension…in the midst of the frightening unknown…here comes Jesus doing something miraculous…something impossible…something that defies all logic. Something that can only be done by a being that is way more powerful than we are…

Now we’ve heard these stories before…perhaps we’ve heard them enough that we almost take them for granted…but imagine you were there…and you hadn’t heard them before…and there’s this man who is doing things that no human being can do.  And this man claims the name of God…

Could it be possible that God would be found in the human? That the divine…that which is so much bigger or larger or greater than we are would be found in a human body? Could it be? He performs these amazing miracles so maybe? (pause) Maybe, just maybe God would be found here among us…flawed and broken though we are. (pause)

But if that’s the case…I can’t help but think that it might raise some questions…or even some concerns for us as we hear these miraculous stories.  It would seem that Jesus performs miracle after miracle. Constantly doing things to better the lives of those he encounters…feeding them…healing them…and maybe, just maybe we start wonder why we don’t see the same sort of thing today.  We express faith in the same Lord right…in the same Jesus…and I wonder how many people might look at their own circumstance and wonder…where’s my miracle.

Diseases that go uncured.  Accidents that happen out of nowhere.  Jobs are lost…careers are destroyed.  Violence harms the innocent…we see all kinds of stuff like this every day don’t we…perhaps we even experience it…and maybe just maybe we wonder are those stories true.

And here’s the thing that ups the tension…we can’t prove that the miracles happened…I believe they did, let me be clear about that…but we can’t prove it…but we can still find something hopeful and reassuring if we pay attention to the little details.  That night on the water…as the disciples were straining against the oars…frightened out of their minds as a Galilee storm swept up the waves around them. Jesus miraculously came walking out ON the water…defying all logic…but what Jesus did not do in this case…was stop the storm.  He could have…we know he could have because we hear other stories when he does just that.

But this time…Jesus, the one they call the Christ…the Word of God made flesh…the divine in the human…the one who calls himself I am…he doesn’t stop the storm…he just appears to them in the midst of it.

So maybe the take away for us today…is not to be looking for a miraculous event to save us when things get lousy.  It might happen…but it might not either…and so maybe the only thing we can do is trust that we have God who is willing to be there with us in the midst of whatever storm is raging….because we have a God who loves humanity SO much…that the divine was willing to take on the flesh and dwell among us…to show us that the divine and human can and will be together…and in doing this God has made us a promise…that no matter what happens…no matter what storms start blowing…the one who can feed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish and leave an abundance on the other side of it…the same one who has the power to walk on water…this same God will never ever forsake us…that’s the promise, whether we find ourselves in a moment when we can believe it, or whether our circumstances make us doubt it…the promise remains, and nothing will separate you from the love of the one who makes this promise to you.

And with that promise…when you’ve heard it in your mind and in your heart…then my friends…you’ve heard everything. Amen

Shut Up and Get Out 1-28-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 1:21-28, I explore Jesus’ first miracle in Mark’s gospel, the healing of a man with an unclean spirit. We find that God will act when there is something that is hindering the good life he desires for his children.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/shut-up-and-get-out-1-28-18

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

Every once in a while something happens that makes me think back to the teachers that really had an impact on me. Most recently it was news of the death of my middle school English teacher just a few weeks ago.

In times like this I tend to stop and think about those different teachers…the really good ones…who incidentally also tend to be the ones that made you work the hardest. She was the one in middle school…but once that was done and I moved into High School, it was the Social Studies teacher that fit the bill. Mr Worley. He had been around forever. He started at my school at the beginning of my Dad’s senior year, back in 66-67, and he stayed year after year until his eventual retirement about 5 years after I graduated. He always said he was sticking around for a third generation of Dalen’s but didn’t quite make it.

Now, Mr. Worley was a small guy…most of us towered over him even as piddly little freshmen…but MAN he was intimidating…So much so that in conversation about the guy we dropped the Mr. and just called him Worley. I think he was so intimidating because he expected a lot from us…and, more importantly in the classroom…Worley took ZERO crap. If you were messing around, or you got mouthy, he’d kick you out…he didn’t care…and the amazing thing was that he didn’t even have to say anything…he’d just look you in the eyes and do this. (Point sideways at the door) That point…said everything it needed to…that point said “You’re done…shut up and get out.”  (pause)

Now its probably safe to assume that no kid from Graettinger High School has EVER compared Worley to Jesus…but I’m going to do it today…because I think we see a very similar situation in today’s gospel lesson.

Today we have the distinction of hearing about the very first divine action here in Mark’s gospel. Now we’re still in the season of Epiphany…a time when we hear stories about the ways that Jesus is revealed to the world…and here in Mark’s gospel…most of these stories are pretty brief. I mean, we’re still in chapter 1 here…and we’ve already heard that this is the beginning of the Good news of Jesus Christ. We’ve had the baptism of Jesus…we hear a throwaway comment about the 40 days of temptation…Jesus has called the 4 disciples along the seashore, uttering his first words in Mark, to follow me. And now…here in verse 21, ministry begins.

Jesus and the disciples go walking into the synagogue in Capernaum. And Jesus starts teaching…instantly…immediately Jesus takes over and apparently whatever his teaching style is…its something utterly new…and everyone is astonished at his teaching. I do wonder just what it looked like…but we don’t have to wonder about his message…because we’ve already heard it from Jesus here in Mark 1. “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. Rejoice and believe the good news.”

Now the funny thing about this short passage, is that the teaching of Jesus really seems to be focal point. We hear that the people are astounded from the get go…and then a few verses later as Jesus is wrapping up here in the synagogue and is getting ready to head out again, we hear again that the people are amazed at this new teaching…one with authority. (pause)

But something else happened in the midst of all this didn’t it? Not only is he teaching…we see the first miracle that Jesus performs here in Mark…healing a man with an unclean spirit.

Admittedly we don’t know a whole lot here. We don’t know who the guy is…we don’t know exactly what the problem is…we have no history whatsoever…all we know is that he has an unclean spirit. (pause) Now that unclean spirit has been the center of a lot of debate over the years…and I can attest to that personally as I went round and round with several colleagues in our mutual preparation for today to try and put our finger on just what this unclean spirit is. Is it a demon…maybe, but we don’t know.  Is it Mark’s understanding of mental illness in Jesus’ time…we hear that he shakes and cries out uncontrollably, so maybe that puts us in mind of epilepsy and Tourette’s syndrome. Honestly we just don’t quite know what to make of this unclean spirit…but maybe in the end we don’t need to know…maybe all we need to realize is that whatever it is…it hinders the life of this man. (pause)

And there’s another point that I think we need to recognize…and that’s to remember WHERE this is all taking place…they’re in the synagogue…they are in the center of the Jewish community…ESPECIALLY by the time that Mark’s gospel was recorded, and the temple had already been destroyed, the synagogue was LITERALLY the central aspect of Jewish life in every community…particularly in terms of their life of faith. The synagogue was their church…and this is where the man with the unclean spirit is found by Jesus…right here in the midst of his teaching…it would be like if someone suddenly jumped up screaming and shaking in the middle of Sunday School or even right here in the midst of worship.

As people of faith, we must recognize this fact…that unclean spirits, whatever they are, come right in with us, just like it came into the synagogue with the man that day. He was not immune as a faithful Jewish man…and we are not immune as faithful followers of Christ.

So let’s back up and think some more about this whole unclean spirit thing. We don’t know what it was…and maybe just maybe we don’t need to know. Maybe we just to acknowledge what we can about it…that it is some force that is hindering the life of the man. We could probably call it whatever we wanted to…a demon…an illness…a force…a power of darkness, take your pick…because the label doesn’t matter. What does matter is the effect that it has on the life of the man…the life of the individual…the life of this child of God.

Most of you have probably heard me say TOV before…it means good and it’s the Hebrew word for what God calls every single step of creation clear back in Genesis 1. Every action that God takes in bringing chaos towards order…of bringing our reality towards something new…God calls it TOV…and then when God makes humanity he calls us REALLY TOV.

But not only that…we hear clear back in the beginning that God has a good existence in mind for his children…a good path…a good journey…a good life, however we want to say it…but we also hear that there are those things that hinder this good existence that God desires for us…and we can call this many things.  Brokenness…sin…pain, suffering…death.  Disease, addiction…isolation. Countless different things.

I can’t name just what it is that has come in through these doors with you today…but I have no doubt that it is there, even here in the midst of God’s house…the powers of darkness…the unclean spirit if you want to use that term…its here with you…its here with all of us…there is something fighting tooth and nail to hinder that TOV life that God desires for you. YOU know it. You see it…even if no else does…but you are not alone in it…because God sees it too. (pause)
Now let’s jump back into the text for a moment. We find this man, overcome by something…and whatever it is, it sees Jesus and it recognizes his authority…the authority to do something about it…even to the point of destroying it…this spirit, whatever it is sees Jesus and recognizes the power of God…and it starts screaming.

But Jesus isn’t having it…BE SILENT and come out of him. Be quiet…we can even say be muzzled…or maybe we can picture my old teacher Worley pointing with a gesture that says Your done, shut up and get out. (pause) Now the spirit doesn’t go easy does it? It shakes the man and screams as it goes…but it goes.

Whatever the forces of darkness are that you sense within your life…whatever it is that’s there behind the scenes hindering your good life that God has intended…its not gonna go down easy…and we know that don’t we…when we’re honest with ourselves.

But as we consider this story from today the good news is this. Whatever it is that is hindering you…the power of God active in the world through Christ, WILL overcome it…because it recognizes the authority that is greater than it is…and God will give you this gift of freedom somehow someway…because God loves you…and God loves you because you are his child. (pause)

There’s a phrase that get’s thrown around sometimes…describing a parent who’s standing up for their kid…you’ve heard it. I went all Momma Bear…My Pappa bear came out…because you would do anything for your child to protect them. And I believe that Jesus is doing just that today….giving us a reminder that when it comes to the things that hinder your TOV…God’s bear comes out.

This is what we see in Jesus’ divine action today. He looks this unclean spirit right in the face, whatever it is…and he says “That’s my kid, you’re done…shut up and get out.”

And somehow, someway God will do the same for you. We don’t know exactly how it’ll happen…and often times it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense…and we know that those forces aren’t gonna go down easy…sometimes we’ve even got to go through death before that power can be put down.  But EVERY SINGLE TIME…God gets the last word…and that’s a word that is for you. Amen.

Are We Uncomfortable 8-20-17

In this sermon. based on Matthew 15:21-28, I explore a troubling passage in light of troubling events that have occurred in our country.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/are-we-uncomfortable-8-20-17

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

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

I spent a pretty big chunk of last weekend in a car…as my family and I were on our way home from our annual trek to family camp in the mountains of southern Colorado. I’ve shared before how isolating that week of camp is, because there is very little cell signal…and its about the only time all year when I’m able to put my phone down and be utterly out of contact.

We left mid-morning and Saturday, and as I spent the vast majority of that day behind the wheel as we moved across Colorado and then much of Nebraska, I was still pretty oblivious to the news…but after stopping for the night, I found myself awake early Sunday morning…round about 4 am in a hotel room in Kearney…and so I picked up my phone to scroll through the news…and it was in that instance that I realized that in August of 2017…there was a white supremacy rally including the glorification of Nazi’s in America.

I wish I was making this up…but you all know that I’m not. The truth of the matter is that this evil still exists in our country…and people died as a result of it. (pause) Are we uncomfortable yet? (pause)

If you are expecting some humorous antidote today, I’m going to disappoint you…because I don’t have one. And honestly I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to even attempt it today…because in the past week, we have been violently reminded of a pretty big issue that too many of us have hoped to sweep under the rug in our nation.

We have been reminded that there are those in our country who can and do look at other people…and they see someone who is less than human…and I don’t know about you, but that makes me pretty ashamed to be a part of this society…and even worse…to know that many of those who claim white supremacy call themselves Christians.

All too often when something like this happens…individuals are quick to distance themselves from the hate-mongers…and part of me thinks that’s a smart move…but unfortunately…there’s a distinction that they share with all of us…we’re all fellow members of the human race. (pause)
Hate for one another exists within our species…whether we like it or not…whether we want to acknowledge it or not…and even though it pains me to think it, much less to say it out loud…we all need to acknowledge it…because in some way shape or form…we’re all a part of it…and it’s a part of us. (pause)

When I first sat down to begin my initial sermon prep this week…knowing full well that I’d be bringing all this stuff up…I wondered just what the gospel might have to say about this situation…and then I opened my Bible to Matthew 15…and low and behold…I come across the story that many will argue…me included…is the single most troublesome passage in the New Testament…Jesus interacting with the foreign woman seeking healing for her daughter.  Here she’s called a Canaanite…Mark calls her a Syrophoenician Greek…and we know that Jesus is essentially in enemy territory, as the narration tells us he’s gone to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

There’s a bunch of stuff going on in the background here that all points in the same direction…that Jesus has left the realm of the Jews…and he’s in the land of the Gentiles…and on top of all that…we’ve got the distinction within the Jewish culture that they are God’s chosen people…Jesus aside…the cultural history and tension between the chosen Jews and the unclean gentiles is working against things here…we need to keep all this in mind as we consider this short story.

Jesus is hanging around…word has spread. His message has spread, stories of his miracles has spread…and not just through Israel but throughout the entire region…everyone has heard about this Jesus guy…including this gentile woman who’s daughter is possessed…this woman who’s sole purpose is to free her daughter from that which hinders her…and if that means she’s got to approach this uppity Jewish rabbi that everyone’s talking about…well that’s what she’ll do. (pause)
Have mercy on me…Lord, son of David…my daughter has a demon. (pause) His reply? Nothing…he ignores her…eye opening to say the least but perhaps not the first time something like this has happened…so she keep crying out.

Attracted by the commotion the disciples come waltzing over…and hearing her continued cries for mercy…her continued appeals to the Lord, they make a request as well…Now our translation says “send her away” but they were likely saying “release her” as in release her from her troubles…honestly I think the disciples, even if they are acting out of annoyance, are at least trying to get the woman some help…and Jesus spouts of about only coming for the lost sheep of Israel…and then…finally to top it all off, when she asks again…Jesus, the pillar of love and acceptance…the one who we’ve come to bank on doing what is right and good even when we can’t see just how or why…Jesus, seems to call this woman a dog. (pause)

Are we uncomfortable yet? (pause) Did that actually happen? Did the savior of the entire world really just address a person and pretty much tell them to their face that they are less than human? If you know what the acronym WTF means, I think we can insert that here…because I don’t know about you but I can’t make heads or tails of this. I’ve preached on it a couple times before, once here out of Matthew and once out of Mark’s account…and every time I’ve wrestled with it I’ve come to the same conclusion. Jesus is acting like a jerk.

I’ve had a lot of conversation…I’ve read a lot of different commentaries…all of them aimed at trying to make head’s or tails of what’s going on here. Some will say that Jesus was testing the woman, and that through her persistence she passes the test. Others have said that Jesus was still in the process of learning and that this chance encounter opens his eyes to the reality that his mission goes beyond the Jewish culture to all the world…still others have suggested that because we hear that the disciples came on the scene and its only then that Jesus actually starts talking, that he’s actually at work to point out their cultural bias to them…these are just a few of the possible explanations…and there are others as well…but none of them really help to shed any light what so ever…and in the end the only thing that I can think is that somehow, someway, Jesus is managing to hold up a mirror for us today.

Because I don’t know about you but when I see Jesus, whether intentionally or on the sly-teaching side, act like an utter dirt bag to this woman, I’m reminded of every single time that I’ve done the same. Every time that I’ve failed to show mercy…every time that someone comes to the church with a story that doesn’t quite add up and I’ve turned them away. Every time I’ve driven past a homeless person holding a sign and I’ve kept looking straight ahead to avoid making eye contact. Every time I’ve heard about violence on the news and I’ve shrugged my shoulders because it didn’t affect me.

Whatever it is that Jesus is up to in this passage, regardless of how uncharacteristic it is…Jesus reminds me of the reality that there are many in this world who are treated as if they are less than human…as if they have less worth, or no worth…that there are individuals who are treated as God’s creation of humankind bearing the divine image doesn’t apply to them….and that since this is true and there are those who are treated this way…there are those on the other side who are doing the treating. (pause) Are we uncomfortable? (pause)

I remember watching the movie A Time To Kill back in the mid-90’s…a story that revolves around racial tension and murder and features the presence of the KKK…and I remember thinking to myself that this kind of blatant hatred just seemed so wrong…so utterly wrong…and I also remember thinking that I was glad it was only a movie…and that its an important lesson for us to think about.

Never did I think that 20 years later, we’d actually be seeing this type of hatred…this unwarranted, pointless…blatant hate on display in our reality…and yet here it is. And though many of us are likely asking the question of why is this, or how can this actually be real…I fear that we’ve all been complacent for too long.

Because for too long we’ve sat in our homes and in our communities…and yes even here in our church…thinking that it doesn’t affect us…or even ignoring it all together…but we can’t ignore it anymore…because its not just a situation that’s happening over there…and its not just something that is a mild concern for a few people here and there.

We have to call this what it is. White supremacy is a sin…period. Because to say that one person is better…or is in any way more of a person that another is to deny what God has said and done in the creation of every member of the human race. Everyone bears the divine image…end of story.

To be faced with the reality of this evil within our reality…within our culture…it must force us to act…we must feel the outrage that this behavior warrants…because this atrocity is happening to our fellow brothers and sisters…and we are reminded in scripture that we share one another burdens…we share one another’s sorrows…and if we are completely honest with ourselves…I think we will agree that we’ve failed to do that…and realizing that…acknowledging that fact darn sure better make us uncomfortable. (pause)

Now perhaps when we are forced to think about all of this stuff, the thought crosses our minds “what can I do” or “how can I change it” or “what am I supposed to do about the attitudes of someone else?” I think the first thing we do is recognize it…and be honest with it. But then we need to take a deep breath and actually feel the outrage that is warranted when this kind of sinful hate and bigotry rears its head.

Ironically our bulletin tells us that we are about to sing the hymn It is Well With My Soul…and while it is important that we seek the hope of Christ in the midst of turmoil, I think its also vital that we realize that in many ways it is not well…and especially for my brothers and sisters who are black, or brown, or yellow, or red, or Jewish or Muslim or whatever other label gets thrown on them in our society…you think you’re uncomfortable today, trying walking a mile in their shoes and see how well it is with their soul. (pause)

Today Jesus holds up a mirror…and I don’t like what I see…both within me as an individual and within us as a culture…but then I am reminded that the woman did get her miracle…her daughter was healed…and despite the fact that I don’t like this story, the end result is not up to me. Healing happens whether we want it to or not. And somedays, that’s got to be enough for us…that God will act, whether we approve of it or not…and that in the end God’s grace is enough for all of us…and its given to all the world whether we think any of us deserve it or not…which newsflash we don’t…because if we did it wouldn’t be grace would it? (pause)

Today let us live in the beauty of this perfect grace of God…and let each of us repent of whatever part we have played in our society coming to the point where we find it today…even if the part that we as individuals have contributed is apathy…and then as forgiven people of God lets go be the church in the world…and instead of trying to be different in the world…how about we go out and make the world different. Amen

 

In the End 6-5-16

This sermon is based on Luke 7:11-17. In this story, Jesus raises the son of a widow from death, one of only 3 instances in the gospels. The miracle is done on one person, but is intended for another.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/jun-03-2016-001

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

Friday was national donut day. It combined two of the things I love most…Friday, which I think is the greatest day of every week, and donuts, which are one of the world’s most perfect food. I was sitting in my office on Friday morning when a picture popped up on Facebook. My wife and kids were down in town enjoying donuts on national donut day…and I was in my office…with no donuts.

The thought went through my head…Man, if this was Star Trek, I’d have them beam me up a donut so I could have it…but unfortunately this isn’t Star Trek…and despite the marvelous advancements that we’ve made with various technologies, scientists have yet to create something capable of sending me a hot delicious donut from a distance.

But you know what…things really have come along way, technology-wise. The vast majority of us carry around a micro-computer in our pockets capable of a multitude of things (hold up phone) …need some info, ask Siri. Need to send and message to someone anywhere in the world…text them…need to capture a moment, snap a picture…need directions, its got gps…Oh and you can even make phone calls with it.

The various advances in technology effect pretty much every aspect of our lives…and perhaps the greatest place that we see this is within the advent of modern medicine. We have developed technology, medicines, techniques, and countless other things that have enhanced our quality of life…our overall health…and even our life expectancy.

But despite every advancement that our society has come up with…we could almost consider it all a futile effort…because in the end…all this stuff does is delay the inevitable…because no matter how hard we try…we can’t beat death. (pause)

In my 37 years, I’ve heard a lot of different people express a lot of different opinions and theories about it…but in the end…the story pretty much ends up the same way…it happens.

And it happens in today’s story…or more specifically, it has already happened when the story begins…Jesus comes walking up to the village of Nain with his full entourage of disciples and followers in tow…and before they even get into the town…right there at the gate, they meet another crowd…this one a funeral procession.

Now we don’t know a whole lot in the way of details here. About all we know…it’s a young man…the only son of a woman in the town…and she’s a widow…and that’s about it. (pause) Now here’s the thing…this is a brief story…only a few verses long…we’re not given a ton to go on with it…we don’t know anything about the people involved…and it seems that once this story is over, Jesus goes on about his business and we’re left with no indication of what might happen with the family in the aftermath.

Its so quick in fact…and we’re so disconnected from just what’s really going on that perhaps this story becomes one of those events that we can quickly gloss over and forget about…and honestly…doesn’t that type of thing happen quite a bit in our day to day lives?

How often do we encounter a situation sort of like this…but in passing? Perhaps driving down the road and meeting a funeral procession…or going past a cemetery seeing a gathering of people there for a committal…or hearing about the death of an individual on the news…and after a brief moment of acknowledgement, we go on about our business…mostly unaffected by the truth of the matter…that a life has ended. (pause)
But there’s a flip side to that story…and there are individuals who aren’t just passing by…they are finding themselves stuck in the midst of this reality…that a person that they love is gone…and there’s nothing they can do about it…except to experience the grief of loss…the pass of separation…and the wide range of emotions that comes along with it.

I’m guessing that the mother in the story today was in the midst of that reality. She’s faced death before…as many of us have…she is a widow so we know that at some point in her history she lost her husband…but now she stands in the midst of this funeral procession, shocked at the loss of her son.

It stands to reason, that this event is happening quite soon after the young man’s death occurred. It was normal for funerals to happen quite soon, often within a day…sometimes even the same day…and so this poor woman has had zero time to experience the shock of loss…and in truth, she was likely in shock…unaware of what to do, or say, or even think…and as such…she doesn’t really do much in this story.

When we think about different moments of scripture, when Jesus performs some sort of miracle…more often than not, someone approaches him…but not this time…the woman says nothing to him…no one does…he just happens to be in the right place at the right time…but this is vastly different from what we usually see…and even taking into account the small number of instances when Jesus raises someone from the dead, this is unique.

There are only two other instances…the daughter of Jairus and Lazarus…and in both instances, loved ones of the individual approached Jesus…but not…this time. (pause) This time…Jesus just…steps in. First off, he tells the woman not to cry…and then, he simply says the words….young man…be raised…and…it…happens. (pause)

Amazing right? Jesus raises the dead man to life simply by speaking the words and telling him to be raised…and then he gives him back to his mother…the crowds are astonished…and he walks away…and honestly we don’t even hear about him walking away…the story just sort of ends at this point…and that’s true in all three instances of Jesus raising someone from death. It happens and the story just sort of stops.

There doesn’t seem to be much focus, hardly any even on the life after death…in fact each story, this one included…seems to focus more on the death itself…and I found myself wondering just why that is…wouldn’t you expect that the gospel…the Bible…this Holy Word of God that contains the promises made for us that God is doing something about this flawed reality that we live in…wouldn’t you expect it to focus on the good part…the part where the woman gets her son back…where death is beaten and we see life after that? (pause)
As difficult as it might be to consider…the Bible…this story of what God is up to…this good news of Jesus Christ, actually seems to give more focus to the reality of death than to the rare instances when Jesus literally does something about it…and maybe that’s a hard pill to swallow.

But its true…and as I thought about that…I found myself reliving pretty much every conversation I’ve had with a family or an individual who is in the midst of grief…and while every single situation is different, I’ve often times heard the question of why…or how did this happen…especially when the person who was lost is young, and the circumstances are tragic.

I’ve seen individuals who were utterly lost in the pain of loss…just as the mother was in the story today…and the difficult thing about this…is that those families…those individuals didn’t get a random rabbi walking up in the midst of the funeral to bring their loved one back to life…and I’ve seen the anger and the pain…and I’ve even heard someone ask the question “where was my miracle?” (pause)

More often than not, when we are faced with situations like this, and yet we are facing it from the outside looking in…we feel like we have to say something to make the person feel better…but in truth, there is nothing that we can say…because there are questions with no answers…there are realities with no explanations…and the lack of sense is what strikes us as so difficult.

And because we don’t know where to turn…or who to blame…and we can’t make sense…its been my experience that the individual often turns the questions and the blame towards God…and the questions come out…Why would you take them? Or why didn’t you step in on this…and while I believe that God has very broad shoulders and will take it when we holler out those emotions His way…I also believe that we need to remember that God does not cause these things to happen…and in fact…God has compassion on those who are experiencing it…just as Jesus had compassion on this woman who was probably too far in shock to even realize he was standing there.

Make no mistake…God is not a fan of death…and while it is a part of this reality, I believe that God mourns it…so much so, that God has ultimately done something about it because he loves us far more than we realize.

Just as we experience death as a separation from those that we care about…death also causes a separation between God and humanity…something that ultimately God WOULD NOT…stand for…and so, in Jesus Christ…in his life…and his death…and ultimately his resurrection God HAS already done something about the reality of death.  It is not gone…but it is overcome….and Jesus ultimately took the cross to show us that there is NO length that God will not go to for those that He loves. (pause)

I’ve often wondered just who was the recipient of the miracle in today’s story. We could argue that it was the man who Jesus raised from dead…and there is a certain truth to that…but Jesus acts out of compassion for the mother…and in the end, he gives her son back to her…the miracle enacted upon one was intended for another.

Jesus himself is a miracle…God in human form…because isn’t that something that is impossible? That God would become human? And even more than that…that God would die? And yet this has happened…and the ultimate display of God’s miraculous power was raising Jesus from the dead…taking away the power of death over our eternal existence…but that wasn’t done for Jesus…it was done for us. (pause)

That’s the good news of Jesus Christ…that God has done this for us…but in the here and now, we still feel the effects of sin and pain and loss and death…that’s a hard fact of our reality…and so in the midst of this, we must cling to the hope that we receive in the promises of God…that nothing can cancel out those promises…and so in these moments of pain and struggle, sometimes we have to remind ourselves…and sometimes we need to remind one another of this…that I AM convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor ruler, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor ANYTHING else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

We feel the pain of loss…but the promises of God remind us that on the other side of death, he meets us and holds us in His arms…made possible because of what Christ has done….In the end…the miracle of Christ…is intended for you. Amen

Pay No Attention 7-26-15

In this sermon, based on John 6:1-21, I explore two of Jesus well known miracles; the feeding of the 5000 and walking on water. I then explore the common notion of trying to explain them away and why we should never underestimate the power of God.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/pay-no-attention

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

Most of you probably know that I’m a lover of movies…and I really have been since a pretty early age. I can tell you that the first movie I saw in the theater was Lady and the Tramp…and one of the earliest movies that I watched repeatedly was The Wizard of Oz…that 1939 classic which features a bunch of great quotes like “There’s no place like home” and “I’ll get you my pretty” and “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

I was think about that last line quite a bit the other day…and how the line was intended to serve as misdirection so the 4 main characters wouldn’t realize the truth behind the illusion…that the wizard was just some guy with a projector and really loud speakers.

But that’s the thing about illusions isn’t it? All questions of misdirection and wonder aside…in our present time we no longer have magicians…we have masters of illusion…which speaks to the truth of the situation…that there’s nothing overly supernatural happening…but rather a trick…something done that only appears to be magical. (pause)

Now undoubtedly, when we are young, we still believe in the magic when we see it…but at a certain point as we grow up…the reality sets in and we accept that there’s a trick to it. But honestly…when we know the trick…isn’t it a little bit of a let-down? (pause)

I remember sitting in art class when I was about a freshman or sophomore in high school…and the art teacher was showing us various card tricks…and one in particular…it was the usual trick of being able to take a card out of the deck, put it back in, then cut the cards and still be able to find the right card…and as the teacher continued to show us this trick over and over again…one by one the various students figured out the trick…except me.

I could not get it…no matter how hard I tried and how many times he’d give me a pretty major hint, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that if you already know what the bottom card is, then when the deck is cut, that bottom card will now be sitting on top of the right card…(pause then with flourish) ABRA CADABRA!!!

But finally I got it…finally I realized what he was showing me…and from that moment on…the trick just wasn’t as cool anymore. I don’t know why…but maybe we just like being fooled…maybe deep down we don’t really want to know the secret, because that removes the mystery…it takes away from the effect…it takes away the fun. (pause)
But isn’t that telling of the world that we live in these days? Truly we live in a society that loves to explain…everything. Advances in science and technology and understanding…it seems like we have done a pretty excellent job of explaining away the mystery of just about everything…and if we bump into a situation where we can’t definitively figure out what’s going on, then we’ll make our best hypothesis…we’ll present the most promising theory as a means explaining that which we can’t quite grasp.

I was thinking a lot about that tendency this week as I approached our gospel lesson…which as you heard a moment ago includes 2 different stories…both likely familiar…as Jesus feeds the crowd of 5000 people with a few loaves and fish…and then a little while later as he takes a hike across the surface of the water to get to the boat carrying his disciples.

2 amazing situations…2 moments that defy everything that we think can or should happen…2 experiences that can only be described as…miraculous…and here’s the thing…as I was working with the text of these two stories…I was quite surprised to read…in Biblical commentaries mind you…possible physical explanations for both miracles…or signs as John likes to call them.

First off, the feeding of the 5,000…the only miracle to be found in all 4 gospels mind you…when the disciples and Jesus face the immense need to provide food for this enormous crowd who have followed them out into the middle of nowhere…and all they have available is 5 loaves of barley…and 2 fish…and somehow…some way Jesus manages to provide enough for everyone to be satisfied, and then they pick up 12 baskets full of left over scraps.

Within the context of this story…two possible explanations were offered as to just how Jesus managed to pull off this amazing feat. First off that the tiny amount of food was used to give each and every person a tiny morsel…nowhere close to a mouthful…but because it had been given to them freely they were fulfilled or satisfied in the “spiritual” sense. (pause) Interesting theory…though if you listen to the language of the text and hear that everyone ate as much as they wanted, that seems to shoot a hole in this first theory…and so onto the second. (pause)
The second possibility…that once the small boy brought out his 5 loaves and 2 fish to willingly share…then everyone else was moved to share what they had…and in the first ever Lutheran Potluck supper…many different sources of food were shared in order to feed everyone…thus resulting in the 12 baskets of left overs…nothing miraculous…just inspiring…which sounds an awful lot like the story of Stone Soup…if you happen to be familiar. (pause) 2 different explanations…plausible? Perhaps…but miraculous? Well, not so much. (pause)

And so now…what about the second story of Jesus walking on the water…we find that the first story feeds directly into the second…as Jesus works to send the people away, the disciples head off in a boat to cross the sea…something that we hear of them doing a lot in scripture…and as the night passes…and the wind and waves pick up…we hear that the disciples have traveled a few miles, but that they are struggling against the oars…until Jesus comes walking out to them. (pause)
And once again…the commentaries attempted to explain it away…citing ambiguity in the Greek translation…that perhaps the disciples had been traveling along the shoreline…and that Jesus was approaching them from the shore line…or that he was walking IN the water…rather than ON the water…and that this explains why the instant he joins them at the boat they happen to arrive at their destination. (pause)

Now…is all this possible? (pause) Certainly…I wasn’t there…so who am I to say that these theories of explanation aren’t accurate…but if they are…and the miracles of Jesus can simply be explained away…then I pose the question…are they really miracles? (pause) Are they really signs performed by God to display His power…are they signs performed by God so that living breathing people can witness the power of God present here within our reality? (pause) Are they signs performed and then written down so that we as readers may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah…the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name? (pause)

I don’t know about you…but honestly…I don’t want to know how Jesus pulled off feeding that crowd…because I’m afraid that if I witness the power of God at work, its going to be more than I can handle…because I believe that God is more than I can handle…at least now in this limited, frail human existence that I am living. And in all honesty…when I encounter an individual who wants to explain away the power of God, then I fear that I’m encountering an individual who’s sole purpose, whether they realize it or not…is to bring God under control. Because if we can explain how God does a miracle then we can stop it…and if we can stop it then we can control it…and if we can control it then maybe this work of salvation that Christ is up to in the world…this work of reconciliation between God and humanity…between God and Me…if we can control it…then I guess we don’t really need God do we…and perhaps what the atheists continue to profess is true…that we have this life and that’s it. (pause)

Well I don’t know about you…but I don’t buy it…because I have seen things in this life that point me towards a power that is bigger than me…a love in this world that is far greater than any unselfish grace filled love that I am capable of sharing…and I have stood in hospital rooms watching individuals literally breathe their final breaths and to see the look of joy and peace on their faces or to hear words describing what they are seeing as they cross from one existence into the next has left me with little doubt that there is more out there than what we are currently experiencing…and that there is power out there that is bigger than we can control or explain away. (pause)

Now does that mean that faith has given us all the answers? Of course not…and acknowledging that is to be honest about just what faith is…believing what is promised even without having physical evidence to support it…that’s faith. (pause)

And while I am saying all this perhaps you are asking the question of just what we are called to have faith in…and that’s a valid question…and as I think about it, I think this is why John chose to include the brief portion of today’s story about Jesus walking ON the water…because the rest of John chapter 6 is tied to the feeding of the 5000…first the miracle itself…and then Jesus teaching about it…talking about it…butting heads with people over it…and so why is this unneeded…seemingly unrelated snippet of a story included? Well…because Jesus reminds us…in this moment…just who he is. Many of you have heard me talk about John’s gospel and Jesus’ tendency to call himself I am…the name of God given to Moses…and you know what…John chapter 5 talks about Moses…and so does a lot of chapter 6…and in the midst of walking on water, Jesus doesn’t say It is I? He says in Greek…ego emi…translated literally I am.

Who is it that can take 5 loaves and 2 fish and feed 5000 in abundance…with an abundance left over? I Am. Who is it that can defy the laws of physics and walk on water? I am…Who is it that is willing to enter into our reality and die so that we might be with him? I am….that’s who.

And so, the next time you encounter someone who wants to explain away the miracle, whether its one recorded in the Bible…or a miracle that you witness within your own life, just remember…that whether we believe it or not…God’s power is not limited to our feeble explanations…and I don’t know about you…but I for one…am grateful that its not just some trick…that where God is concerned…there’s no man behind the curtain that we need to ignore…because through Jesus…we have a God who’s power is out here in the open for all to see. Amen.

Patience is Hard 6-28-15

In this sermon I explore the healing within a healing from Mark 5:21-43. A man seemingly loses his chance for a miracle when Jesus is distracted by another miracle…yet with God, nothing is impossible.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/patience-is-hard-6-28-15

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.

Each and every week as I’m writing my sermon there are two phrases that are the easiest…the shorter of the two is my closer…Amen…and this is also my favorite word to write because it means that the sermon is finished.

The other phrase is the opener…the one that never changes regardless of the topic or the scripture for the week…that opening phrase that serves as a simple reminder of the gift of God’s grace offered to us through Christ…you know the line…as I just said it…Grace and peace to you…

Some weeks I sit down at my computer and type out that opening line and fly right into the sermon without the slightest pause because the Spirit is flowing…other weeks, the Spirit is still stewing around, and the message just won’t come out.

That was the case on Friday. I had that opening line typed…pretty much all day…and I just kept staring at the blank page…and no matter how hard I was wracking my brain, trying to get this big jumble out…it wouldn’t happen…stuff kept coming up…breaking news, phone calls, emails…interruptions just kept coming and throwing off my normal rhythm…my normal routine, kept getting shunted to the background.

But that was sorta fitting this week…because that’s a pretty good description of the entire week…normal kept getting tossed out the window. It all started on Tuesday morning as I headed to town for text study with other area pastors, pausing on the way to drop off the glass recycling in one of the bins down in town…and as I stood there at the bin, a bottle fell out of the bag, broke on the ground and bounced up to hit my knee…cutting me open and slicing my pant leg all at once…and so instead of going to text study, I had to go home and clean up my leg.

With that, my expectations for the day changed…and things happened differently. Now, Wednesday…I had been invited to participate in an adult Bible Study down in town…and then following the study I had a scheduled meeting with a fellow pastor to discuss some upcoming activities…but once again…stuff happened…and just as we were wrapping up the Bible study my phone rang…and I learned that my father in law was in the hospital…you can imagine how that changed things up for the day…as we scrambled to figure out what to do, and how we could help…and as we experienced that helpless feeling of being too far away to do anything, along with the recognition that even if we are there, there’s nothing you can do anyway…nothing except hope…and trust that those who can do something, will.

The week continued that way…random things just kept coming up…kept getting in the way of the “normal.” And though none of these things were bad…they resulted in Friday coming and going…and my brain was a hot mess…and there was still no sermon.

Through all of that craziness, I kept thinking about the gospel…about this familiar story of two healings…of two interactions…this story, that comes across as a story within a story…a healing within a healing…this moment of interruption…and as we often experience when we dwell in the word of God…we find ourselves relating to a character…and for me, that character is Jairus.

Imagine for a moment…that your child is sick…and this is no ordinary head cold…this is a sickness which has no cure…nothing that anyone can do has helped…and your child is at the point of death…this is an unfortunate reality in our world…there are some that have experienced it first hand…perhaps some here today have walked that awful road of seeing your child suffering…fearing the worst…and in those moments we feel powerless…but if there is any chance…any hope…won’t we go after it with every ounce of our being? (pause)
That’s where Jairus is at today…and Jairus is no slouch…we hear that he’s the ruler of the synagogue…and in a Jewish community…this is a pretty important person…in line with the mayor…and as such he likely was a man of means…someone with the influence and wealth to bring in doctors….but nothing works…and now his young daughter…lies on the verge of death.

But Jairus has heard rumors…stories of a traveling rabbi…a man that some claim to be the son of God…a man that has healed many…a man that has cast out demons…a man…that displays the power of God…and Jairus believes that this man…this Jesus…is his last hope.

Nothing is going to stand in his way…he presses through the crowd…and with no shame, this important man falls at the feet of this traveling rabbi…and he begs…he pleads with Jesus…Please…PLEASE…my daughter is dying…come and save her.

Whatever it is about this instance…about this passionate request…Jesus recognizes the need…and without a single word, they set off together…I can only imagine how relieved Jairus must have been. He’s going to do it…he’s coming with me…my daughter will live…she WILL be healed. His insistence has paid off…and despite all the hardships…and despite the powerless feeling of not being able to help his daughter…finally he has procured the power of God to perform a miracle.

But he also knew they needed to hurry…they needed to make their way through the crowd to get to his house before it was too late…Surely Jesus…if he really is the Son of God…he will understand…he won’t delay…he’ll be just as forceful to get there as Jairus.

But then…out of nowhere…Jesus…just…stops. Imagine being Jairus at that moment…Lord, what are you doing? We’ve got to keep moving…come on, before its too late…she’s dying…But Jesus just stands there looking around…and he asks the weirdest question… Who touched my clothes?” (pause) WHAT? WHO CARES? LOOK AT THIS CROWD…EVERYONE IS TOUCHING YOU…WHAT DOES IT MATTER…MY DAUGHTER CAN’T WAIT…LET’S GO.

But Jesus just keeps looking around…and all of the sudden some random woman comes up to him, falls at his feet and confesses that she touched him…but that’s not enough…she keeps talking…telling this story of her sickness and how she knew that all she had to do was touch his cloak and she’d be healed…and Jesus just stands there listening to her. (pause)

What do you think is going through Jairus’ head in this moment? Somehow I doubt that he’s just standing there calmly waiting while Jesus engages with this woman…he had to be going crazy…wouldn’t you, if you were in his shoes?

And sure enough…his fears come true…because as this exchange goes on between Jesus and the woman in the crowd…Jairus’ servants come up and tell him the worst possible news…your daughter has died…its over…you might as well leave Jesus alone. (pause)
NO!!! HOW CAN THIS BE? Jesus…you gave away my miracle…if you had ignored her, my daughter would have lived. (pause) We don’t hear what his words are in this moment…but wouldn’t that be how you would react…one moment it looks like everything is going to be okay…but then, because Jesus’ get’s distracted…because he get’s interrupted…you lose your miracle…your miracle goes a different direction…you lose out because God’s not paying attention.

Ever had a time like that? I time when you begged and pleaded for a miracle…a time when you prayed for something so hard…and didn’t get the answer you were looking for…and in that moment, it feels like God’s just not on your side. (pause)

I imagine that Jairus was in that boat…when his miracle goes the wrong direction…but the thing is that Jairus’ focus…his ability to comprehend…ends…with death. Because death marks a close for us doesn’t it? It represents a boundary that we can’t get across…a barrier that is insurmountable….but Jesus…well…Jesus has other ideas doesn’t he?

And as we see…death doesn’t stop Jesus…because the power of God…the ability of God…the miracles that are possible for God are not hindered by death…in this story…this encounter…this healing within a healing…this story within a story we are reminded that we have a God acting within our reality through Jesus Christ…that is not hindered by death…we have a God who’s power is greater than the power of death…we have a God who can and does act to do something about death.

And even in those moments when we can’t see that…in those times when our eyes are blinded by our own limitations…by our own lack of understanding…and all we can see is that which we fear…Jesus reminds us that we don’t have to afraid…we simply need to believe the promises that God has made that nothing in all of creation can separate us from His love…Do not fear…only believe. (pause)
Now granted, that’s often easier said than done…and there are times in our lives when those pressing issues…those fears loom larger than our faith…that’s human nature…but praise God that our shortcomings do not hinder him…and that even in the midst of these things God is still at work…that the saving grace of Jesus Christ still applies…and the power of the Holy Spirit is still flowing through this world…even in ways that are far beyond our ability to wrap our heads around.

We have a God who has acted out against the powers of sin and death in this world, even in the midst of situations that blind us to it…and thankfully God has given us signs…things that we can hold on to that serve as reminders for us…reminders of the promises that God has made…and one of these things is our baptism…when the simple act of being washed in the water along with hearing this promises of God results in a time when God comes to us.

In a few moments…Nate Maher will come to this font and we believe the promises that are made that God comes upon him…and he will be called Child of God…made an heir to the promise of eternal life…even if we don’t understand how it all works.

And so in times like this, when the world gets in the way…and when our limited understanding is hindered for whatever reason…we remember the words of Luther that mirror the promises of God…I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him…but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified me and kept me in true faith. In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith…in this Christian church day after day, he fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day he will raise me and all the dead and give me an all believers in Christ eternal life…This…is…most certainly true.

Truly there are moments in our lives when we lose sight of that…moments when our circumstances are too much…but praise be to God that this is not dependent on us…its not up to us…its already done…and even more amazing, there’s no limit to it.

Jairus may have been concerned that the woman got his miracle…that in order for her to win, he had to lose…but that’s not the way the grace of God works…for through the power of Jesus Christ, God made it possible for each and every one of us to experience this saving grace…and we see that Grace is not divided…it can only grow…this is…most certainly true. Amen.