Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

Authority-Its Tricky 9-28-14

In this sermon, based on Matthew 21:23-32, I explore the notion of authority. Jesus’ authority is challenged and he responds with a parable about obedience. This leads us to think about how we recognize authority and how we respond to it.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/authority-its-tricky-9-28-14

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

If you have ever watched me in the final moments right before worship starts, you know that I am a pacer…when nervous energy starts in I have the tendency to just keep moving…and particularly, I pace…a lot.

I also have the tendency to get up and walk around when I’m thinking about something…sermons for instance…and this week was a perfect example. As I was trying to get my brain into sermon mode Friday afternoon, I was walking around…and as I walked I realized that I was also doing something with my hands…(hold up whistle, step out and start twirling it).

Yes I have a whistle…yes, I twirl it. (pause) But as I was doing, just that, I got to thinking about other people that have whistles…the refs at my son’s football games…teachers when they are out with the children at recess…lifeguards overseeing the safety of swimmers…and as a self-professed fine arts guy, one that I greatly appreciate…drum majors.

And thinking about drum majors reminded me of being at the football game here in Underwood just last week for the Homecoming game…as well as quite a few other home games over the past year…and something unique that I’ve only ever seen from the marching band right here in town.

At the beginning of halftime, the band marches across the field from the backside…each coming to their assigned starting position…and the drum major turns away from the band…facing up towards the crowd and the announcers box. The announcer asks if the band is ready…which the drum major acknowledges with a salute…and we hear the announcement “The field is yours.” With that brief exchange, control…or perhaps it would be better to say…authority over the field and what happens on it…transfers over to the drum major. (pause)

It’s the notion of authority that brings us into the gospel lesson for today. We find ourselves in Jerusalem…Jesus has finally made it…and upon arriving, he has gone into the temple…and Jesus does not like what he finds…and just before today’s lesson…just before our story picks up for today…Jesus has had a divine temper tantrum…losing his cool and going off on the merchants and money changers…clearing things out in the event known as the cleansing of the temple. (pause)

And as our story picks up today…the chief priests and the elders of the people confront Jesus…wanting to know just what he’s up to…why he’s justified in his actions…for what reason or purpose he feels the need to upset the status quo…or perhaps more specifically, why he’s challenging the way things work here…on their turf…where they are supposed to be in charge…in short…they question…his authority. (pause)

Now, in Jesus day, teachers…or rabbis as they are called…receive their authority from their own teacher…who in turn had received it from their teacher…and so…proper authority to teach or issue commands as Jesus has done should be backed up with two-fold…or perhaps two-name…credentials…but as we all know…Jesus tends to buck the status quo doesn’t he? And the “regular way” of doing things just doesn’t tend to apply in matters that catch his interest.

And instead of quickly snapping to the “right answer” to appease human standards…Jesus answers the challenge in his normal way…by posing a question right back at them…You question my authority? Well how about this…who gave John his authority? God…or humanity…whad’a ya think boys?

And rather than cause any sort of commotion, we see the priests decide among themselves to try and maintain the peace by walking the middle ground…by giving the easy answer…they don’t want to recognize John as having had divine authority, because he made them look bad…and yet they don’t want to deny him, because the crowds backed him and the priests don’t want to lose the favor of the people…and so they shrug their shoulders and say “we don’t know.” (pause) And Jesus responds by refusing to name the source of his authority…which of course we recognize to be the same as John…divine…but that’s getting ahead of ourselves just a touch.

And within the story, Jesus decides to explain things in yet another normal “Jesus fashion”…with a story…But admittedly, at first glance…this parable seems oddly disconnected from the present situation…Jesus is asked about authority…and he responds with a story about obedience.

A man had 2 sons…he told them both to go get to work…one said no, but then changed his mind and did it…and the other said okay…and then totally blew it off…which one was obedient to the father? (pause). Perhaps Jesus is actually asking us “which is more important? Being honest but eventually listening…or paying lip service and not following through?” (pause) But if we limit this parable in this nature…if we try to sum it up that easily…I think we miss the point…and if we stop here then perhaps we all walk out of worship today with nothing more than moral guidance and the notion that we just need to shape up and follow orders…or worse yet the idea that we can chose to walk the “right path” and earn our way into salvation…and if we do that we truly miss the connection to just what Jesus is really talking about.

Because remember, Jesus is addressing the notion of authority…where it comes from. (pause) Now perhaps it goes without saying that the religious leaders recognize that Jesus does, in fact…have authority…but what they can’t figure out is where it comes from…he doesn’t have the right 2-fold rabbi deferred credentials…and by their established human standards…they find themselves confused.

But think about authority for a bit…think about how you recognize it…who carries it…and how we respond to it. If I asked the question of which direction authority flows, what would you say…at least of the top of your head? That authority flows downhill…that it stems from the top? I don’t think you’re wrong to think that…for certainly there is evidence that this is true…all we have to do is take a look at the structure of the military to see that…but when we stop and think about it…perhaps we also begin to realize that authority is granted from the bottom up as well…because if the proposed authority fails to inspire or persuade those it is trying to influence…then is the authority really there? (pause)

In short…we grant authority to those that seek to exert it…whether we realize it or not…true authority is followed…it is respected, perhaps even earned…but most importantly…authority…is bestowed…it is given…and much like faith…it is never self-generated.

And so we see that the flow of authority…or perhaps the power within it…flows back and forth between individuals…those with the proposed authority…and those following it. (pause)
But you know what? As I stand here talking about this today…I’m struck by how much it seems to resemble a motivational speech…or perhaps a keynote address at a business leadership conference…and that is not what we need to be talking about…and so how do we begin to switch our minds over to matters of faith…I mean, just what does the question of authority have to do with us here in worship today? (pause)

And the answer is this…if authority really is a two way street…and we grant authority to those who are attempting to influence us…then the question really becomes who are we gonna listen to? (pause)

Because there are a lot of different thing flying around these days…notions and ideas that try to persuade us one way or another…things that try to make us think one way or another…things that make us try to feel one way or another…and all too often, that message…that feeling that blares in our day to day lives is the flat out lie that you…just…aren’t…good enough.

Whether its subtle advertisements that let you know that you’re life will only be complete if you lose 15 pounds…or if you have this new flashy phone…we are constantly bombarded…and it seems like we always have that little whisper in the back of our mind that calls us “worthless.” (pause)
But…we also have a God that loves us so much…that cares for us so much…that desires to be in relationship with us so much…because we are of worth…and he tells us so…he tells us that we are loved…that we are accepted…that we are…of worth…regardless of our inadequacies. (pause)

And so today, I pose you this question…which voice are you going to grant the authority to? The sly one in the back of your mind that whispers the lie that no one cares about you…that you are worthless? (Pause) Or are you going to grant the authority to the voice that says my beloved child…I love you…and there is nothing that I will not do to show you that? (pause)

We hear in the story today, that the tax collectors and the prositutes…those who were socially outside the fence…those who were considered “unacceptable” in the eyes of the religious elite…they were the ones who recognized the need to listen to that second voice…that voice that told them despite their flaws…despite their failings…that they are loved…that they are accepted…and that their minds are changed. (pause) A better way to say this…at least according to the original language…is that they turned away…that’s what it means to repent…to turn away from the sin…but its also important to note that its passive here…they are turned away by something else…by the loving voice of God, who loves them enough to forgive their sin…just as he loves you enough.

And rest assured…he loves you enough…and so today, I’ll leave you with the question one more time…there are two different voices trying to take authority over you…one that says you are without worth…and one that loves you so much that you are priceless and worth any cost…so which voice are you going to listen to? Amen.

Who Is This 4-13-14

In this sermon, which occurred in the context of Palm Sunday, I explore Jesus’ obedience to the will of God and how his obedience, through his death and resurrection, connects us to him through our baptism.

You can hear the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-is-this-4-13-14

You can follow along with the sermon text here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.
The last time I preached on Palm Sunday was two years ago…I was in the midst of my year of internship in a large congregation in Eden Prairie, MN…and in a bit of a “training exercise” my supervising pastor thought it would be good practice for me to do 2 sermons in rapid succession, and so he had me preach Palm Sunday, directly followed up by preaching again on Maundy Thursday…if nothing else, it was good practice…and we’ll find out if I’ve really gotten the knack for it this week as I’ll preach three separate sermons over the course of 7 days.
But looking back at that Palm Sunday, 2 years ago…I had a little different tactic come into play. First of all, it was a different gospel account. I utilized Luke’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, kicking off the final week of his life, and all of the vast experiences that he had during that week.  And Luke’s account, while similar to Matthew’s, does pose some differences. It is a little more confrontational than Matthew, and there is a really strong division between those cheering for Jesus and those centered around the Pharisees who attempted to silence the celebration.
I was pretty proud of myself…that Palm Sunday sermon…proud enough in fact that I utilized it in my approval essay…a very long multi-section piece of writing that helped some of the faculty at Luther Seminary as well as a batch of pastors and lay people from the Western Iowa Synod to approve me for ordination.  Some of you might have even heard this particular sermon before as well, because if memory serves me correctly, I included it along with a few others in an email to Gary Leaders about a year ago as the congregation here at Underwood and I flirted with the notion of me becoming your pastor.
But that was then…and this is now…and this year, we heard Matthew’s account, much less confrontational…and focusing much more on the celebration that was Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem. There are no nay-sayers…though we do hear that there is a bit of confusion as many from the city, unfamiliar with just who this random donkey rider is ask the question… “Who is this?” (Pause)
Who is this? (pause) That’s quite a question isn’t it? Who is this guy that lived 2000 odd years ago that has touched so many lives? (pause) Great question.
Now some of you might be wondering just why we switched up the readings today. Most of you are probably used to the regular format…someone else steps into the lectern…reads from the Old Testament…and then a reading from the New Testament…and then I walk up here and read out of one of the Gospels…and so you’re probably a little confused as to why Tonya read the gospel account a moment ago, and I wrapped it all up by reading from Philippians.
Well…I did so because I think the Philippians reading really gets to the heart of the question posed by those in Jerusalem…who is this? Who is this Jesus guy?  This great prophet…this amazing teacher…who is this man that healed the sick…who is this man that challenged the religious elite…who is this man that raised Lazarus from the dead? Who…is this man…that acts…as if he were God? (pause)
He does so many amazing things…surely he must be someone great…perhaps it is even as they say…perhaps he really is…God. But how can that be? How can anyone be both man and God at the same time…and that my friends…is the million dollar question right there isn’t it?
Do we believe that its true? Can it really be true…that God…the amazingly incomprehensible creator and sustainer of the universe and everything in it…was found in this simple Jewish carpenter that sat on the back of a donkey as it came riding into town? Really? (pause) And to that question I say yes.
But how can that really be? (pause) Well, because in the beginning was the word…it was there long before any of this happened…long before there was even a world to come into…He was in the form of God…and why? Well quite simply because he was God…but he became something else…humbling himself and taking on humanity. Jesus Christ, who was, is, and forever shall be God…took a look at himself…recognized equality with the Father…recognized that he was ONE with the Father…and put that equality on the shelf…Jesus, emptied himself…he voided himself of that equality because he recognized that divinity was not sometime to be exploited…Jesus Christ…God himself in human form…took on humility instead…because he was obedient to the will of the Father…the will that wanted to do something about the human condition. (pause)
And now that whole human condition…that’s really something isn’t it? Humanity…created by God…in the image of God…created to be in relationship and blessed harmony with God…but flawed…corrupted…voided of our relationship due to the presence of sin in our lives…and twisted because of it…in constant conflict with each other and within ourselves.
You see, humanity has this amazing ability to reflect God…and we find that in an absolutely beautiful capability of love and compassion for one another…and yet simultaneous, we each possess and equally strong capability to hate and destroy…and that unfortunately is what we tend to hear about more often than not don’t we.
Yet again this week…the news broke of a young man, who for reasons beyond our ability to comprehend…pulled out a couple kitchen knives in a school and started cutting…and stabbing…and yet again…lives were shattered…and while I wish we could call this an isolated incident…we all know better don’t we…because this is the reality of humanity. (pause)
But…God did something about it…in the only way that would actually work…God got his hands dirty by becoming one of us…through Jesus Christ, casting aside equality with God…he took the same form that we posess…remaining obedient even to the cross…and because of his obedience God gave him the name that is above every name…so that one day, every tongue will confess that name together…calling Jesus Christ…Lord. (pause)
And while this name for Christ reveals his divinity…and his mastery…we also know that God gave Jesus another name…when the heavens were ripped open…and the Holy Spirit came down like a dove and God himself called Jesus…my SON…THIS IS MY SON…THE BELOVED…and it all happened on the day when Jesus himself was baptized.
And that my friends is a name, given by God, that we, the fellow baptized also share.  In a few moments, Avery Taylor will come to this font, presented by her parents and God-parents…she will be washed in the water…and we will declare that she has a new name…one shared by Jesus Christ himself…beloved child of God.
And we believe that in that act of baptism…the sinful self that currently resides in this precious little child will die…drowned in the water…but she will rise again a new creation…named and claimed by God…to take her place among God’s people. (pause)
And so, in the future when someone takes a look at her and asks “Who is this?” There will be two answers that can be given. The obvious answer is Avery Taylor…but perhaps the more important answer is beloved Child of God…and that is an answer that each and every one of us share…because it was granted to us in our own baptisms…and perhaps in those moments, if we call Avery…or any other precious child of any age…child of God…the person we are talking to might just say…Oh yah…just like Jesus right? (pause)
And yes, that is right…because, in our baptism, we join with him in a death like his, and by doing so we also join in resurrection like his…and because of his amazing sacrifice…because of his obedience to the will of God…because of his humbleness even unto death on the cross, which we will experience along with him through this coming week…we are able to join with him in everlasting life, cleansed of our sin and all the junk that comes along with it…where forever we will declare in one voice that Jesus is Lord…and that…is worth celebrating.
Hosanna in the highest heaven…and blessed…is the one who comes in the name of the Lord… (pause)  And who is this? (pause) Well Its you…child of God.  Amen

Confirmation Questions 3-9-14

Last Sunday I did not preach as Underwood Lutheran hosted Western Iowa Synod Bishop Rodger Prois. This sermon was not recorded, which is why I have not posted the latest sermon. It will return again after this coming Sunday. However, the sermon was based on Matthew 4:1-11, which is the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan.  As usual, an important question was raised in the sermon notes by the Confirmation Students, and I’ll attempt to address it here.

-What can’t one person be obedient?
Great question, and one that I believe also stems from the additional scripture passages that highlighted the story of original sin by Adam and Eve. In the sermon, Bishop Prois discussed how the original sin was not so much about eating the forbidden fruit, but more importantly that it was being disobedient to the command of God. In the garden, Adam and Eve had one command…”don’t eat from this tree.” Now I could go on and on about theories as to why they chose to disobey God. But in the end I believe that it really comes down to a combination of two things. First, Satan is really good at his job. The deceit and lies that Satan spins to trap us do their job well. Secondly, for whatever reason (and I don’t claim to know what it is) our nature is to focus on ourselves rather than to love God and love our neighbor. We are just selfish…its in our flawed human nature.  Adam and Eve were tempted to become “like God” in the knowledge of good and evil. This was a lie that Satan told them, and they wanted it.  Likewise, it is in the nature of all of us to be self centered…to place ourselves above others and even more so above God. We may not intend to do so, but yet we still do.  So, long story short, why can’t we be obedient? Because our selfish nature is stronger than our own ability to obey God. But praise the Lord, because Jesus has overcome the condemnation that our sinful nature warrants.