Posts Tagged ‘New Life’

Do We Expect the Spirit 10-15-17

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In this sermon, based on Matthew 22:1-14, I explore the parable of the wedding banquet. Do we expect to be changed when we encounter God? Maybe we should.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/do-we-expect-the-spirit-10-15-17

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

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

Many of you are familiar with the fact that in my former life, or the time before I became a pastor…that I started off my career managing golf courses. During that season of my life, I was employed on the maintenance crew at 2 different courses…the first through my college years, and the second for about 2 years after graduating.

Now as is the case with most things…different golf courses are going to be managed in different ways. The first was larger with a bigger crew, the second had a smaller crew…and this became most evident on the weekends.  Pretty much every course that I am aware of works an abridge schedule on the weekends. It’s the busy time for the course, so the workers show up, perhaps a touch earlier than on a weekday…they do the bare minimum, which is usually mowing the greens and raking the bunkers…and then they get out of the way. This was actually the case at both of those courses. The difference emerged when we looked at when crew members were on weekend duty. The first course offered a rotation…and we were pretty much on duty every other weekend, both Saturday and Sunday…but the second was a little different. A couple guys worked Saturday morning, and a couple of us worked Sunday morning…me included.

Now my boss there knew that I was a church-goer…and given every possibility that I wanted to make it to worship…and typically that worked ok…we’d get done what we needed and I’d have to time to get home, get cleaned up and head to church.

But there was one time that things were a little different…and it happened to occur on the day that one of my nieces was going to be baptized a couple towns over. Long story short…the service would take place earlier than I normally needed to be at church…and we had some extra going on workwise…and I got out, with just enough time to make the mental decision about either stopping off at home to try and clean up…or to show up for the baptism in my grubby clothes. (pause) Long story short, that day I set the record for the fastest I’ve ever gotten ready. In the door, shower, dressed in a full suit, and out the door again in 6 minutes…Now I easily could have shown up for the baptismal service grubby, and no one probably would have cared…but I felt like I needed to be a little more presentable. (pause)

Now that very idea brings me around to the gospel. Another parable…another story told by Jesus to illustrate the importance of our response to the invitation of the Lord into the Kingdom of Heaven…and its an interesting one.

A king is throwing a banquet for his son’s wedding. The invitations have already gone out to the king’s chosen guest list…but for whatever reason…once everything is ready and the king sends his messengers off with the call to show up…everyone on the guest list declines…some offer excuses…some get riled up and literally killed the messengers…the king in turn…he gets all riled up as well, sends out his soldiers to kill the perpetrators and burn down their city…which is lovely to say the least. But then the king tells his servants, go out…and anyone you find, invite them in because this banquet honoring my son…it will be filled…and this is precisely what happens.  And you know its interesting…the king doesn’t discriminate does he…bring them in…the good and the bad. And the wedding is filled.

Now here’s the thing…how many of those people out walking the streets…or working in the fields…how many of them do you suppose were carrying a wedding robe at the time?  (pause) Think about it? Why would they…there’s no reason for them to think on this particular day that the king was going to invite them into a banquet…but if a representative of the king grabs you and says “come to his banquet” you go…period…right then and there…there would be no option of stopping off at home for a 6 minute clean up session so they could arrive with a suit on.

But apparently there are robes aren’t there? There must be…because, as we hear…there’s an issue on this basis…one we’ll talk a bit more about momentarily…and so…it raises the question of just where are they getting the robes?

It stands to reason that the host provides them…that as they come in…they follow social decorum…knowing they need to accept the robe…and the host knows he needs to provide them…and everyone follows decorum…and the party gets going…and the king does a walk through and everything is peachy…until the king lays eyes on this one guy…this guy who has the audacity to NOT…be wearing a wedding robe.

The king asks him why…he of course has no good answer and is standing there silenced out of his guilt in the face of the king and host…and as we hear…there are consequences. (pause)
Now I’ve run over this in my head time after time…and I’ve wondered…what’s up with this guy. He knows the expectations…he walked in with everyone else…he showed up at the party…but when he reached the door and one of the servants offered him the robe…I can only think that he looked at them…checked out his own attire and thought… “Nah…I’m good.” (pause) But considering what ultimately happens…it would seem that no, he’s not good as is…and the change was expected. (pause)
So what’s that mean for us today? What’s this robe? What’s this wedding banquet? What are these expectations that Jesus is trying to broadcast for us? (Pause) I’ve wrestled with these questions quite a bit…because to talk about banquet in the scriptures seems like a pretty obvious reference to the heavenly banquet that we’ve been invited to…and if we proclaim, over and over again…that God invites as we are…and yes I believe that to be true…then what are we supposed to learn from the guy who takes a look at the robe offered by the host and thinks “Nah I’m good.”

Maybe the only conclusion that we can reach is that simply showing up at the banquet isn’t enough…maybe its insufficient to think that we can just be here and then walk out the same as when we walked in.

What are the “clothes” that we might need to change? What are the practices or understandings or ways of thinking that we might be called to set aside? What things might God ask us to take off and set down, so that we might emerge different than when we came in? (pause)

As I think along these lines, I find myself asking an important question…do we, as believers in Christ, enter into situations where God is present expecting to see change? What do we expect? Do we anticipate the Holy Spirit to be active…to blow through and change us? Or do we think that we can just be present for the event…whatever it is…and then walk away as if nothing significant has happened?

Now there are a lot of different events or situations that we could consider…but perhaps the easiest one to think about is worship…do we show up here at 10:15 on Sunday morning with the expectation that there will be something different about us when we walk out at 11:30? Because if we don’t, we are selling the Holy Spirit short in a big bad way. (pause)
There’s something that I do every week that perhaps you’ve noticed…and I’ve been asked about it before…at the end of worship, in the midst of the final hymn…once the acolyte walks out, I step out of my pew and stand in the front of the aisle for just a brief moment…and as I do I say a prayer thanking God for whatever the Spirit accomplished during this worship time…but there’s another thing I do that no one probably notices…at the beginning of worship, right after the organist makes eye contact with me and I’m about to walk up the aisle, I ask for the Spirit to show up…and we never know how that will happen do we?

Sometimes the Spirit shows up when a child asks the perfectly timed question during the children’s sermon…sometimes the Spirit shows up when I sing Jesus Loves Me and the music for offering happens to be the same song…sometimes the Spirit shows up when I’m sermonating about God talking to us in many ways and someone’s phone rings.

These are just a few ways that have happened in this sanctuary…and there are many others, some that are blatantly apparent and some that perhaps we fail to recognize…but I return to the question…what do we expect of the Spirit when we enter into a situation…and do we come with the expectation that we will be changed in the midst of it?

The apostle Paul tells us that if we are in Christ we are new creation…and this isn’t something that we merely pay lip service to…but we need to think of this in the same way that Paul does in the original language…because they way he writes it implies some pretty serious astonishment at play…if anyone is in Christ…NEW CREATION!!!!!!

And we can rest assured that is what the parable is trying to tell us…because throughout the New Testament we continue to hear imagery of clothing ourselves…to be clothed in righteousness…to be clothed in Christ…and my friends this is very sacramental when think about it…for to put on Christ happens in the waters of our baptism when we are empowered with the Holy Spirit…and we are joined together with the body of Christ. And interestingly enough, the last time I preached on this passage one of our blessed children was being baptized in this font.

But this is not to say that the “wedding robe” that we put on only happens once in our lives…but we must remember that every single day…each and every moment we are called to embody the reality of death and new life…something that is literally happening in our very bodies every moment. (pause)

Did you know that in your body…in any given moment about 300 million cells die…and in that same moment, your body gives rise to 300 million new ones to replace them? You are literally dying and rising again during every single instant of your lifetime…and even more amazing…you were intentionally made that way by the one who has made new life possible through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (pause)
God created us to quite literally, become new every moment…so let us live out every day, every moment, every situation in a way that reflects this…let us live our lives in a way that reflects the change that comes upon us through the presence of the Holy Spirit…the presence of God in us and around us.

We cannot expect to remain the same…for to try and remain the same is to deny the very being that God has made us in the first place. Amen.

Thought Word and Deed 10-1-17

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In this sermon, taken from Mathew 21:23-32, I explore a strange little parable in which 2 sons defy their father in different ways. We are reminded that our brokenness will manifest itself in different ways. Yet through the Cross, God has somehow overcome this brokenness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/thought-word-and-deed-10-1-17

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

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

Today is, of course, the first of October, 2017. We have now reached an important month…as 30 days from now…October 31st, will mark 500 years since the event which sparked off the period of church history known as the Reformation.

Now when I say the word Reformation…there are many names that could come to mind as important…depending on your particular view of history…Names like Tynsdale…or Melanchthon…or Wesley or Zwingli…and of course…considering our denominational heritage…Martin Luther.

He started it all didn’t he? And in 30 days, we’ll remember his defiant act of nailing the famous 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg Castle in Germany…and how his desire to reform the Catholic Church shaped the course of the past 500 years of history.

As Lutherans, we’ve been thinking about this for a long time…and collectively the various branches of the Lutheran Church have given a lot of emphasis on Luther and his teaching…on his writing and his theology. We’ve been doing it for the past year…and perhaps rightly so…500 years is a big anniversary.

But that being said…I’m going to share something with you that might be considered…unpopular…given our current setting. (Pause) I, Scott Dalen…ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America…am kind of over Martin Luther. (pause)
Don’t get me wrong…his theology is wonderful…his courageous action of standing up against the political and religious powers of the day were beyond commendable…and his views on the importance of simple faith in Christ where utterly life changing for me.

But, he wasn’t a saint by any stretch of the imagination.  Luther was considered arrogant…a bit of elitist. We can argue that in his younger years he utterly wasted the enormous cost of education that his parents had invested in him…and in his older years, he became quite bitter and much of the writings from late in his life were utterly anti-Semitic…long story short…as great as he was, a person could easily make an argument that Luther was kind of an A-1 jerk.

You know what though…Luther has good company…because if you take pretty much any person from the Bible…with the obvious exclusion of Jesus…it’s a fair assumption that you can probably make the same argument. Take any of the big names and they’ve got skeletons in the closet. Abraham tried to pawn off his wife as his sister to save his own skin. Moses was a murderer and whiner, and like to take credit for God’s actions.  Jacob was a schemer. Joseph was an arrogant trickster…David was an adulterer…the prophets all argued with God on a regular basis…and the folks from the New Testament weren’t really any better. But if there’s one lesson that I try to convey, its this…God uses imperfect people…God uses broken people…God uses A-1 jerks, and God does it with a fair bit of regularity.

Now what’s all this got to do with today’s gospel? Well…I can only think that Jesus shares a parable that might just illustrate this same point. A man goes out to his two sons…telling them both to go out and work in the vineyard.

The first son that the man approaches seems…a little snippy…doesn’t he? Son…I want you to go out and work in the vineyard today.  NO WAY DAD…NOTHING DOIN POPS…It ain’t happening…but then given a bit of time to think it over, he does in fact head out and gets to work.

In the meantime, dad has headed off to son #2 with the same instruction…You also, go out and work in the vineyard…and he hears the answer that he’s looking for. I will go sir…but then son #2 either spaces it off…or changes his mind…or more likely was just trying to keep dad happy with no intention of actually doing anything…and he fails to go do any work.

That’s the parable…and once Jesus has shared it…posing it in response the tension he’s experiencing with the religious elite…the big wigs from the temple…he poses them a question…which son did the will of the Father? (pause) Now the chief priests and the elders have an answer don’t they? They make a judgement call…even though they recognize that Jesus is wisely taking a pot-shot at them…they point out which one in the story is “the good son.” (pause)
But here’s the thing that catches my attention…as I think about these two brothers…I can’t help but think they’re both acting like jerks.  The first son disrespects his father in his words, even if his actions ultimately fall in line…and the second son disrespects his father by failing to follow through with his actions, even if his words show a false sense of honor.

And correct me if I’m wrong…but doesn’t the 4th commandment tell us that we’re supposed to honor our parents? In one way or another…in their thoughts or in their words or in their deeds…both sons fall short…now maybe we should keep that in mind when we…like the religious big-wigs that are butting heads with Jesus, start making a judgment call as to which one was good and which one wasn’t…because neither one of them are ultimately good are they?

Maybe that the subtle yet mind blowing point that Jesus is trying to make…it doesn’t really matter how we react…in one way or another, we are going to fail to measure up…our brokenness…the way we act towards one another will ultimately fail.

And I can’t help it…I’ve got to swing around to Brother Martin here…because he wrote about this when he said “Reflect on your place in life in light of the 10 commandments: whether you are father, mother, son, daughter…whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, lazy, whether you have harmed anyone by word or deed.”

And in considering that rather on-the-nose comment written a few centuries back, perhaps we are reminded of the way that our traditions of worship are reflected when we say…each and every week…we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves…we have sinned against you in thought…word…and deed…by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

There are times when I think that the English language lacks the words to properly convey or articulate the depths of our brokenness…brokenness that we feel within ourselves…brokenness that manifests in the way we tear another done when we see them doing something that we could have done or should have done, and in feeling guilty we attempt to make ourselves feel better by making them feel worse.

Brokenness that has manifested in our ability to utterly ignore the needs of our neighbor on the opposite side of the backyard fence or across the street…brokenness that has manifested in our tendency to stare at a screen thinking that it is our connection to the world as we ignore the person sitting in the same room with us.

Brokenness that ultimate leaves us feel utterly devoid even to the point of what people describe as “dead inside,” all while still sitting there breathing.

This is the truth of our existence…and it seems dire…it seems lousy…it almost seems like there is no hope…we can call this a lot of different things…in the past I’ve used the phrase “little deaths.”  These things that keep us down…broken…isolated. And as I’ve pondered on this reality, I’m reminded that as Christians we live our lives in the midst of tension…and we are Saturday people….living in the tension between death on Good Friday and new life on Easter Sunday.

This describes our lives, and the difficulty that we often find in living with the garbage on one side and the new life which God has made possible in the resurrection of Christ. Make no mistake, what God has accomplished in the brutal death of Christ on the cross is not simply limited to the forgiveness of sins…vital though that might be…but what God has accomplished through the death of Christ is showing us that resurrection is possible…and that nothing in all creation will separate us from the love and delight of the one that made us in the first place…not any little death…and not even death itself. (pause)

500 years ago God touched the heart of an arrogant pompous know it all monk…and reminded him that the righteous will live by faith…which might be better said that those who are righteous believe what God will do…and that God has already done what God said he’ll do…and what God has said is the righteousness that can try so hard for and ultimately fail in our thoughts, words, and deeds, is already given to us because God calls us righteous when he claims us as his beloved children.

2000 years ago God took on flesh and dwelled among us…and then died…and then rose again to show us…not just to tell us but to literally show us that resurrection from that which harms…resurrection from that which destroys….resurrection from that which kills…IS POSSIBLE. (pause)

I can’t help but find it a little bit ironic that today I’m talking about this tension that we experience in our life lived between Good Friday and Easter Sunday…between death and new life…because Easter is literally 6 months away…we are far away from it as we can possibly be today…and yet Christ continues to remind us, each and every day…that we are new creation…may we find life…may we find hope…in that promise. 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.