Posts Tagged ‘Parables’

Celebrate 3-31-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, I explore the parable commonly known as the Prodigal Son, along with the two short parables partnered with it, that reveal a call to celebration over the lost being found.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/celebrate-3-31-19

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

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

Many of you have heard me share that Spring is my favorite season of the year…after the slog of winter, the warm fresh air, the beautiful sunshine…the birds singing and the signs of all the plant life perking up…all of that is just wonderful…and I always get a little charge out of the first time that these wonderful spring conditions allow me to walk over to the post office to get the mail.

Its an odd thing to notice and appreciate…but admittedly I do it…and I had that joy for the first time about a week and a half ago…and in the days since, I’ve had several more opportunities to repeat the process…including a couple of absolutely gorgeous days earlier this past week… and each time I made that brief excursion across town, it was wonderful and all was right and good in the world.

But then…as you may recall…the weather took a bit of a dip…getting cloudy and cooler, not to mention a little windy and drizzly here and there…and while it was still typical spring weather…it wasn’t QUITE as nice.  That, as you may recall…was the case on Friday…and yet…about 11 o’clock, I threw on my jacket and set out for the post office anyway.

Now when I stepped outside, I noticed it was cool and there a breeze…and while it was slightly uncomfortable, I didn’t think too much of it…until I left the post office and turned myself back towards the church…and it was only then that I realized that our gorgeous spring weather from earlier in the week, had in fact given way to 40 degrees, cloudy and nice blustery north wind slamming in the face. In that uncomfortable instant I said to myself…maybe this wasn’t too well thought out…You might say that I woke up…or that I came to myself….about the truth of my current situation.

Now granted…this wasn’t the end world…5 minutes later I was back in the church office none the worse for wear…but that moment of sudden realization of reality put me in mind of our gospel story today…and this parable that Jesus shares.

Now its worth noting that the setting of this whole deal is part of a bigger moment from Jesus, through the parable itself is long enough.  But Jesus, in a moment of interaction with the religious authorities of the time, is catching some flack…he’s being criticized for the company he keeps…for the fact that he is often found sharing a meal, or simply spending time in the company of “sinful folk.”

When Jesus hears their remarks…he responds with a series of parables…three to be exact…all of which fall under a pretty similar theme…We’ve got the parable of the lost sheep, in which the shepherd leaves behind the flock of 99 in order to search out and find 1 lost sheep…and once the lost sheep is found, he calls together his community so they can celebrate together…because the lost has been found.

Following that, Jesus tells a story of women with 10 coins, who suddenly realizes that one is missing and she searches HIGH and LOW, until finally finding it…and likewise, she calls together her neighbors, probably spending one if not more of her coins in order to celebrate that the lost has been found.

And then, in the story that we heard, Jesus shares a rather extensive narrative about a father and two sons…a parable that is pretty well-known…arguably one of the two most familiar parables in the gospels…and one that’s even become synonymous with individuals who wander off in one way or another before finding their way back home…the prodigal son.

This oddball idea that a younger son would demand his inheritance so he can traipse off and live out a crazy lifestyle, only to run out of money and face the consequences…then coming to his senses…and realizing the prosperity and even generosity of his father to the entire household…and with that, its time to go home…but he’s not without shame, and he plans to reveal himself, not as a wayward son, but simply as an individual willing to become a servant in order to be taken care of.

But that’s not what happens…and this amazing father, who has stood there day after day, looking for his son, when he finally sees him approaching…he runs to him in joy, for what was lost to him has now been found…and the son is restored…the fattened calf is slaughtered and prepared so that the entire community can celebrate, for what was lost and was as good as dead, has been found and is alive again. (pause)
But the story doesn’t stop there does it? And that’s why I’ve often thought that calling this the parable of the prodigal son does a disservice…because we’ve got the older brother too don’t we? The dutiful one…the one who stayed home, and to hear him talk, he has slaved away for all this time…doing what was expected of him…all without fanfare or recognition.

And when big brother learns about the celebration going on in the house…and discovers the reason…he’s angry…he’s upset…and he refuses to go in and participate…and so that same loving father, who looked every day for his wayward son, goes out in search of the other, because now, this older son, too…is missing.

We know how it ends…they go back and forth…the entitlement and perhaps victim complex of the older brother comes out in his complaint against the younger and against the father…and yet the assurance is there…you are always with me…all I have is yours…but we MUST CELEBRATE…for he who was lost is now found.

That’s how the parable ends…and in fact that’s how the whole passage ends…we don’t know if the older son comes in to join in the celebration…to join in the festivities…the party which is ongoing throughout this entire exchange over what’s right or wrong…over who’s deserving or not. (pause)

One long parable, part of a larger batch of three which all reveal the same thing…when someone or something of value is lost and then found…its worth celebrating…and not just by the one who found them…but with the whole community…everyone is invited.

And as I thought about all that…I went back to the setting in the first place…Jesus, like the father, has been criticized for how he responds to certain people…and then, there are those who seem to put their stock in appearances…in following the rules…have been blinded to the invitation into fellowship and celebration.

Is that’s what going on here in the big picture…that whatever it is that God is accomplishing through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…that it is worth celebrating…and that the invitation is universal…that somehow we are all part of the party whether we chose to act like it or not?

Is that’s what’s happening? Like the community that surrounded the father and the younger son and all the rest of the household who joined in the celebration…they lived that moment accepting that they are a part…or like the older brother, who is always with the father…and therefore is a part of the celebration as well…but chooses to act as if the opposite is true…is that what’s happening…as Jesus breaks bread and shares a meal and joyful fellowship with so-called “sinners?” Are they the ones accepting in the invitation and living out this moment as part of the celebration…and are the ones being so critical missing out on the fact that they are included too…and living out this moment in a way that reflects it? (pause)

I often wonder if that’s what’s going on with this whole Kingdom of Heaven thing that Jesus has assured us has come near.  We often talk about how the kingdom is both now and not yet…and that we catch little glimpses of it in this life…and how we are invited to live our lives as if the kingdom DOES exist now…and that maybe, just maybe that’s how God is at work to bring it into existence in the life to come…that Heavenly banquet…that heavenly celebration that God has promised us.

That’s the good news of this passage…that the invitation to join in the party has already been extended to all of us…for we are ALL a part of the community…and what joy to celebrate together all that has been lost, which is now found…to celebrate all that was dead and is now alive. (pause)
Now that being said…something had to happen in order for the celebration to begin within this parable…anyone catch it?  Before the party could start…the calf had to be killed…something had to die in order for this particular celebration to occur…and maybe, just maybe, that is a sober reminder of where we look for Jesus…because it was in the death and then subsequent resurrection of Jesus that the kingdom celebration became possible…that’s a sobering thought…but a timely one as we inch ever closer to Good Friday and the cross.

But thanks be to God that the cross isn’t the last word in this story…and that on Easter Christ rose from the grave…and somehow, someway, we have also been promised the same…that we have been made heirs of the same promise…and that we have each been claimed as beloved children…and that is what we are celebrating today…as Cameran and Dilyn will be brought to this font…where they will be washed in the waters of baptism…and the claim of God upon their lives…the invitation into the celebration, which has already been offered through Christ…will be made manifest in a physical way for them.

And what a joy it is for us…the community who surrounds them…to be here today, to join in THIS particular celebration…a celebration which has already begun…and a celebration which God has promised us will carry on in the life to come. Amen.

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This Isn’t Up To You 6-17-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 4:26-34, I explore two brief but connected parables of Jesus aimed at the growth of seeds. Its a funny thing, how seeds grow isn’t it?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-isnt-up-to-you-6-17-18

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

If we were to turn back the clock by about 8 years to 2010, my family was in a period of flux. I was about half way through my seminary work by that time, but still working on it remotely. My wife was coming up on 10 years in youth ministry at our old congregation up in Okoboji, and I was beginning to transition away from the job that I held at that time in the trucking industry.  We both felt like there was a change coming…and sure enough…early that fall she was offered a position in Faith Formation at a church in the Twin Cities, which itself gave me the opportunity to transition into full time school and shave some time off my expected seminary work…and so we made the decision that we would relocate to the Cities.

Now one of the steps that we needed to cover in this transition was selling the house that we owned there in Okoboji…and if you’ve ever tried to sell a house in the upper Midwest, you probably know that fall moving into winter is a really bad time to list it…and yet that’s what we did…hoping against hope that the house would sell and that everything would work out for our planned relocation at the very end of the year.

So when the house went on the market, which was roughly mid-October, I found myself trying to make it sell. Willing it to happen…thinking that if I just thought about it hard enough…or focused my attention deeply enough…or worried about it long enough…that I could make it happen…and this dominated my attention as October turned into November and then December.

I was stressing about it so much that it began to effect my normal mood, until one day when a co-worker who knew me pretty well at that point, came in my office and shut the door…he looked me straight in the eye and said “You aren’t you lately…talk.” So I told him what was dominating so much of my mental energy…and then he said “Scott…can you physically make this happen…do you really think that someone else making the decision to buy your house has ANYTHING AT ALL to do with you?” And as he presented me with these incredibly grounded questions I had to answer “No.”  And then he said “No…This isn’t up to you.” (pause)

Now I’d like to say that was the only time I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to control something that I can’t…but it wasn’t the first time it happened…and it wasn’t the last time either. But it serves as an important reminder of the ways that we try, at times SO HARD, to control things that we simply have zero influence over…and that’s where I’m connecting into the gospel for today.

2 brief parables, both aimed at seeds growing, perhaps expectantly in one case and unexpectantly in the other. Parables that, perhaps, make us wonder just what it is that Jesus wants us to understand…or perhaps that make us wonder what truth he was hoping to reveal to his audience on that particular day.

2 parables…One of them about a man who tossed out a bunch of seed in a wheat field…no lined up corn or bean rows, but thrown out all willy nilly, and then he goes about his business while the seeds get to work…and another about a mustard seed that starts off so tiny and ends up a giant bush big enough to provide shade for the birds.

Now full disclosure…every single time I bump into the parable of the mustard seed I grimace…because what Jesus describes does not line up with my experience with mustard. I know it as a weed…a prickly thorn that will spread like crazy and take over a field if you let it…but it doesn’t make a bush…it sure doesn’t grow into a tree like the other gospels describe it…and no one in their right mind would willingly plant it. I hear this parable and it just seems wrong.

So I thought to myself this week…maybe I’m hearing it wrong…maybe there was a different type of mustard plant back in 1st Century Palestine that a farmer would plant in his fields that grows up into some sort of great big bush…so big its almost tree-like…and pretty soon I found myself falling down the rabbit hole of just what Jesus…MIGHT…be talking about…and it dominated my attention so much that I realized I might be missing the point of the parable…

Now let’s shift gears and talk about parables for a moment. Many of you have heard me talk about parables before…about how they aren’t my favorite type of scripture to try to base a sermon on…and I’ve wrestled round and round with myself and have had several conversations with trusted individuals in order to try and figure out just why this is.

Maybe its because parables seem to be aimed pretty directly at us as individuals…posing the question “who am I in this story?” or “where do I connect?” or “what about this makes me uncomfortable” or maybe on the flipside “what gives me hope?” (Pause) These are all valid questions to ask when we encounter a parable…when we encounter a story, whether very brief or sometimes quite extensive, in which Jesus tells us that the kingdom of Heaven or the kingdom of God, or sometimes the age to come is like this…or its like that.  When he takes a concept or an idea or even a promise that represents something WAY too big or wide or complex or deep for us to grasp…and he compares it to something familiar…something that we recognize.

That’s what a parable is…in fact it literally means to “place alongside,” literally lining up two things that really have nothing to do with each other, and yet the comparison serves to reveal something to us. (pause)

Now its possible that I’ve struggled with parables because it can get tricky to try and tell others how they should interpret the stories that Jesus shares…and perhaps the safest thing to do is propose possibilities…that a particular parable might be pointing you this way, or maybe its pointing that way, depending on your own perspective and experience and even your current point in life…as these things can change from person to person or moment to moment. (pause)
I found myself pondering at great length this week on this tension that I feel regarding parables…and then I happened to read the last portion of this text at just the right time…With many such parables he spoke the word to them…as they were able to hear it. (pause) As they were able to hear it.

I don’t know if you want to call this a “eureka moment” for me…but in that instance, I found a freedom within the parables that I’d never experienced before. Maybe just maybe…the way that Jesus’ audience would have heard the parables on that day…namely if they would have thought about a great big bushy plant that grows from a teeny tiny seed…maybe that doesn’t matter for us today…and that my experience with mustard being compared with the kingdom of heaven…calling the kingdom of God something prickly and invasive that will take over once it gets a hold is equally valid.  And so is your experience…so what do you hear? What comes to mind when Jesus describes a person planting a mustard seed, which starts off so small you can barely see it, but that it grows up into the greatest of the plants in the garden? (pause)

Or what do you hear when he speaks of casting out a bunch of seed on the ground and letting it simply do what its supposed to do?  That first parable…it caught my attention more than the mustard seed to be perfectly honest…because having grown up on a farm….and having been around farmers for most of my life, I can’t help but think that the way Jesus describes the work of the man, or the lack there of in this case, doesn’t quite add up.

I can’t help but think that the title farmer indicates some of the hardest workers in the world…but not only that…I also think that farmers might just be the best example of hope that we can point to.  Because despite all the work…all the planning…all the effort of prepping the fields and spraying and fertilizing and everything else…once they put those seeds in the ground…how much control do any of us have?  And yet, year after year…in field after field…we see the farmers faithfully put the seed in the ground, hoping…TRUSTING…that its going do what its supposed to do…maybe thats what Jesus is talking about when he says the man sleeps at night and rises during the day…going about the activity of life while the growth happens on its own….the growth of that plant…it isn’t up to you is it? All we can do is plant the seed and trust it…and hope for it. (pause)

And maybe just maybe…this is a message for us here in the church today.  Things are not the same as they were a year ago…or 10 years ago, or 50…because things change…and God continues to invite the church, and all of reality for that matter, forward into new realities…time after time…and no matter how much we might worry…or think its completely dependent on our actions…its not. We plant the seed…whatever that looks like…

And yes…planting seeds takes on many different forms…and I’m not saying that we can all simply sit back on our laurels and watch the church grow grow grow…and so it is important that we ask ourselves the question here…what does it look like for me to plant a seed? Even if its something that I’ll never get to see bear fruit? That something to ponder on.

And yet as you ponder…I don’t want you to hear this message today as some sort of moral imperative to live up to…because that’s not the case.  The truth of the gospel is that through Christ, whatever it is that God is up to has already been accomplished for you. You have already been claimed…and that seed, if we want to call it that…its already been planted and somehow God has grown that seed up into a beautiful life of faith…and perhaps that’s that the take away today…that when it comes to matters of faith or the church or the activity of God here in the world…its not up to us…and yet we are here today, a living breathing example of how the seed which is planted by another can and does grow within you. Isn’t it refreshing to hear that you aren’t responsible for spiritual growth…but that God will make that work in God’s own time…Does it give you a sense of peace to know…it isn’t up to you? But its been done for you out of God’s amazing love and God’s amazing grace for all people. Amen.

We Are Looking At Now Now 11-19-17

now

This sermon is based on Matthew 25:14-30. This is the parable of the talents, as Jesus reminds us with one lesson (that’s part of a larger teaching) to live our lives today in a way that reflects the coming of the kingdom of heaven.

Note that the overarching theme of this sermon is based on a scene from Spaceballs.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-are-looking-at-now-now-11-19-17

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

As a person who tries pretty hard to avoid taking things too seriously, I appreciate a good joke…especially when the target is good natured enough to take it. On that note, it probably is no shock to hear that I’m a fan of movies that do this. In my younger years there was a popular movie genre known as spoofs…whole movies that were made to poke fun…to make jokes about existing…and typically quite popular movies.

Now in my opinion, there is no greater example of the spoof movie than Spaceballs…a Mel Brooks classic that pokes fun at the first few Star Wars movies. The whole movie is great, but there is one scene that never fails to make me laugh.

About half through, the bad guys are trying to track down the good guys…but they can’t find them on radar…and so they try searching the home video of the movie itself. Apparently a new technology allows the release of films before they’re even done making them…that’s the first joke.

So they pop in the VHS copy of the movie and pull it up on the monitor and one of the characters is surprised to see themselves projected. They are looking at themselves in that exact instant…and in his surprise we hear this back and forth banter…

What am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie? Now…you’re looking at now sir. Everything that happens now is happening now.  What happened to then? We passed it. When? Just now. We’re at now now. Go back to then. I can’t. Why? We missed it. When? Just now. When will then be now? …Soon.   (pause)

Maybe its silly…but as I think about the overarching setting of today’s gospel lesson, I’m reminded of this scene. If you were here last week, we talked about this…about how Jesus’ words today are part of a larger teaching through 2 chapters of Matthew’s gospel…a long batch of teaching that is a response to the disciples asking the question of when they can expect the end times….what will be the sign of your coming? They might as well be asking that same question…when will then…be now?

Jesus response could have been limited to the very simple statement…no one knows the day or the hour…but instead Jesus gives us A LOT to go on…several separate and yet connected teachings about the unexpected time of his Glorious Reappearing…that the End Times…the Last Days…whatever we want to call it…that’s its going to happen…but it will occur unexpectedly.

This long teaching includes today’s gospel…the parable of the talents. The master is going off on a journey…but before he leaves he calls in three slaves and hands off to each of them something of enormous worth. The parable calls them talents in various amounts…one gets 5…one gets 2…the last gets 1…each according to their ability. Keep in mind that a talent as Jesus is using it, refers to 15 years’ worth of wages for a regular worker. And so all three of these slaves are being handed something incredibly valuable. Interestingly enough the master gives no indication of what to do with it…no instruction…no warning that he’ll be back looking for anything…he simply hands them off and goes on his merry way.

Now you know the story…the first two slaves put their talents to work…we don’t know exactly how…but somehow, they both manage to double the money…the one with 5 makes 5 more, the one with 2, 2 more. Call it what you will…good business…wise investing, whatever…but it seems that they thought it was worth the risk of their master’s property…and through whatever events transpired through the unknown amount of time that the master was away, they each end up with more.

Funny enough…that part of the story, while seemingly positive…is really boring and repetitious…did you notice that? The only thing that changes in the language of that part of the story is the number of talents. Likewise with the master’s response to them in his return. Then the one with 5 talents came forward, bringing 5 more talents saying “master you handed over to me five talents, see I have made five more talents.” His master said to him “Well done good and faithful slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things I will put you in charge of many things; enter in the joy of your master.” And then we hear the EXACT same thing from 2-talent man. Its almost laughable…and its almost boring.

I can’t help but think that we’re really supposed to zero on in 1-talent man…you know 1-talent man. He’s the one who’s scared…the one who’s so paralyzed out of fear…he’s caught up in how he perceives the master…and so he goes out and digs a hole…he hides the talent so that when the master comes around again, he can present it back to him…nothing ventured…nothing gained…but nothing lost.

The back and forth between the slave and the master is telling though isn’t it? I know that you are a harsh man…taking what isn’t yours…helping yourself to that which you did not earn…and low and behold…his judgement of the master is pretty spot on to the judgement that he receives. You wicked and lazy slave.  Take it away from him and give it to the other…and cast him out into suffering. (pause)
That’s the story…and as per usual, we’re faced with the question of interpretation…we’re left trying to make heads or tails of the message that we’re supposed to receive. (pause)

Now admittedly, we could hear a lot things in this passage. Its stewardship time here in the church…and we hear the word “Talent.” So maybe we think about the gifts and talents that we’ve been given in our lives and how we are called to share them in the church and in the world. Ok.   Maybe we hear talents and think about it from a financial standpoint and think its about giving to the church, about making solid financial moves with what we’ve been given, so that when the master returns we’ve got something to show for it. Ok. I don’t think these are wrong…but I think there’s more going on here than what we might pick up at face value.

And on the flip side I fear that there’s interpretations that can get into trouble as well.  We hear that 5-talent guy and 2-talent guy doubled their money and that’s what got them into the good graces of the master…that they had to earn it…that they had to somehow “buy” their way into whatever he’s talking about when he says “enter in the joy of your master.” And since, on the other hand, 1-talent guy didn’t produce anything, he’s cast out.

Make no mistake…we cannot hear this story and think that Jesus is telling us we’ve got earn God’s favor…there is no checklist…there is no scoreboard…there is no money tally…let me be clear. THAT’S NOT HOW THIS WORKS.  This parable is not about anything that we say or think or do or earn that somehow guarantees us a spot in the kingdom of heaven whenever it comes to fruition. (pause)

But saying that raises an important point…remember that Jesus is still teaching his followers that they SHOULD NOT be concerned with the end times…that they should not get all wrapped up in when it happen. We could even stick this into that Spaceballs scene….Jesus when will the end happen? When will then be now?   Soon. (long pause) BUT…NOT…YET.

We hear over and over again, Jesus tells us to be prepared…live right now in a way that reflects the coming of the kingdom…and remember that we have this sense that the kingdom is both now and not yet. That the promises of God are given to us now, even if they haven’t come to completion yet. That we are called to live out the reality of God’s love right here right now…and not only that but that we are called to share that same love with everyone around us…That we are called to risk it…we are called to do something. Not because we have to earn the master’s favor but because the master has already given it to us and we show our gratitude by sharing it with others.

God’s love and God’s favor and God’s grace are for everyone…period. That’s why Jesus said to love God and love your neighbor…and he tells us to do it now.  This theme is all over Jesus’ teachings here in Matthew’s gospel.

You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth.  So be salty…be light…now…not just when we you think that someone’s watching and it gets you somewhere. Jesus also tells us don’t worry about tomorrow, today has enough cares of its own.  What do you think he’s saying there? Maybe he’s saying that if you’re wondering when is the right time to follow that little nudge in the back of your mind that tells you “I know what I’m supposed to do or say or offer to this other person.” That if you’re wondering when to do that…today…now.

Because God is going to show up unexpectedly…2 chapters of Matthew’s gospel tell us this over and over again…and maybe just maybe we need to stop looking for Jesus shining in the clouds and huge booming trumpets and angels singing all over the place and realize that God shows up in the face of the hungry…of the sick…of the lonely…that the king that we’re all waiting for and that we’ll celebrate next Sunday on Christ the King…he shows up as we face the reality that I was hungry and you gave me some food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was in prison and you visited me…for just as you have done to the least of these you have done to me.

God shows up unexpectedly…every…single…day. So are you going to live your lives stuck in the future expectation, wondering how you can be ready…essentially living in the fear that you’ll be turned away? Or are you going to live in the reality that its now….live in the now…and live your life in a way that reflects the glory of the gospel…that God has already claimed you…that the promise is already yours…and that you are a beloved child of God? (pause)
That’s the gospel…and its WAY too good to sit on…or to throw in a hole.  If we learn nothing else let it be this…1-talent guy sat on it…this thing of immeasurable value…because he was too scared to run any risk. (pause)
What are you willing to risk? You’ve been given the best news in the world…that you are loved by the one who made you…are you willing to share that same love with another…are you willing to risk loving the one that’s different…the one who thinks different, or talks different, or looks different…or even the one who we might think isn’t deserving of that same love of God? Are you going to sit on it, or are you going to do something with it? (pause) We don’t act to earn ourselves anything, because we’ve already been given everything by the one who made us and loves us…and not only that, but the one who has invited us to share this same gift with the world…that is why we act…that is why we risk…because at some point the end times are coming…When will then be now? Soon…but not yet. Not until we all do our part to make it happen…not until we live out this moment in a way that reflects the realty of the kingdom…and maybe just maybe when we do that, then ALL the world will experience the joy of our master who loves and adores and treasures every single one of us. Amen.

Be Prepared 11-12-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 25:1-13, I explore an odd parable of 10 Bridesmaids, and the instruction to be prepared.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/be-prepared-11-12-17

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

Any fellow movie buffs out there will likely agree that there are very few new ideas making it to the big screen anymore. Sequels and reboots seem to make up the vast majority of the box office any more…and this has even started to effect one of the most creative movie studios out there…Disney.

Most recently, we’ve started to see the rash of Disney live-action remakes…taking their popular animated films from years past and through the magic of cgi, bringing them to life. We’ve seen it with Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast…we’ve seen it with Jungle Book. I hear that Dumbo in the works…and so is The Lion King.

Now admittedly, I’m kind of excited about the Lion King…it’s a great movie and they’ve got James Earl Jones to lend his voice to Mufasa again…so you can’t go wrong. But thinking about the Lion King reminds me of just how well Disney has perfected their storytelling. There’s always the hero going on the hero’s journey…there’s always a love interest…and there’s always the villain.

Some might argue that the villain is the best part…or at least the most entertaining…especially when they take the time to explain their grand plan to their lackey’s…who are always portrayed as bumbling or foolish for the purpose of comic relief…and more often than not in a Disney film…this scene is going to involve a dastardly song…and in the Lion King…we hear Scar…awesome name by the way…explain things to his silly hyena sidekicks…with the grand song and exclamation to (sing) “BE PREPARED…” and then one of the hyenas pipes “Yah be prepared…we’ll be prepared…(pause) For what?” (pause)

Scar

Now I can only think that this is a perfect example of where we find ourselves today, here in the final couple of weeks of the church year…and the turn in our texts to all things…apocalyptic…to the theme of the end times. This is the natural theme that emerges every year at this time, as the season of Pentecost winds down…and since Pentecost is aimed at the life cycle of the church following the Ascension of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, it makes sense that we think about what will happen…what will occur…what its all gonna look like. (pause)

Honestly…these are pretty common questions…questions that I bump into pretty regularly as I talk with people…curiosity about what to look for. Or when we think its coming…or is it already here. And you know what, if you have those questions…you’re in good company…because people have been asking those same questions since Biblical Times…wondering about the Day of the Lord…or the Glorious Reappearing…

We hear this theme in the reading today from Amos…and I don’t know about you but it didn’t sound so pleasant there did it? It came up a lot in the years following Jesus’ walking around.  The Apostle Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians about it 20 odd years after Jesus…knowing that Jesus had promised that he was coming back…but now some believers are starting to die off and Jesus isn’t back yet? What’s that mean?

The gospels addressed it…and while the stories date back to Jesus’ time, the gospels themselves were recorded quite a few decades after the fact…so those audiences had been waiting and wondering. (pause) And not only that…but as we hear…Jesus himself talked about it…and his closest followers…the 12 disciples…the ones who you’d think would be able to understand…well they come up short too. That’s the reason that Jesus tells this story…this parable today…its part of long teaching…one that covers 2 whole chapters of Matthew’s gospel…and it is in response to the disciples asking the very same questions that we are still asking today.

Jesus and the disciples are leaving the temple…and the disciples are impressed at the structure…but Jesus says there will be day when not one stone is left upon another…and after a few minutes of scratching their heads, the disciples ask him “Lord when will this be? What will be a sign of your coming?” They might as well be asking how can we be ready….how can we…be prepared? (pause)

Now as I mentioned…Jesus gives them A LOT to go on here…including this parable about the bridesmaids that we’ve shared today…and what’s interesting about this parable is the switch that we find right at the beginning. We’ve hit a lot of parables in the past few months…and all of them start with Jesus telling us “The kingdom of heaven IS like…” Well today, that’s different…and we hear “the kingdom of heaven WILL BE like…” We switch our focus from present tense to future tense…but in doing so, Jesus lays a doosy on us doesn’t he?

There’s a wedding…and 10 bridesmaids go out into the street to wait for the groom…so that they can join in the wedding procession. Now admittedly, we don’t know a ton about 1st century Jewish wedding customs…but we do know that they were a big deal…and that every in the community was involved in the celebration…and all we can say is that the groom is coming to get his bride and he, along with the rest of the wedding procession, will escort her to his father’s house where they will celebrate. (pause)
And so we’ve got these 10 bridesmaids with lamps. I don’t know why…but they’ve got them…and as we hear we’ve got 5 foolish ones who bring no supplies…and we’ve got 5 “wise” ones who bring extra oil. Now, take note…that these two descriptions aren’t exactly polar opposites…because the original language could call the second set wise, or it could mean shrewd or crafty…so when you hear wise, take that with a grain of salt.

But that being said, we hear of the delay…the groom is late to arrive…so late in fact that all 10 fall asleep, wise and foolish alike…EVERYONE was sleeping when finally…at midnight…when EVERYONE is in the midst of the deepest slumber…this guy that is SO Late, finally shows up…Behold here is the bridegroom.

And in their freshly awoken stupor, the bridesmaids all kinda freak out and try to light their lamps. The 5 foolish ones quickly realize that without oil their not getting much fire are they…and they ask…maybe even demand that the others share their oil…but the wise ones…well as we hear, they aren’t having it. “No, for there will not be enough for you and for us. Go get your own.” And as we hear, the 5 foolish ones run off to do just that. (pause)

Now typically, when I’ve talked about this story with others…I’ve heard the same response…we need to be like the wise ones…we need to be ready…we need to be prepared…and when I hear that my response is just like the hyena in Lion King. Yah we’ll be prepared…wait…for what?

Now some will say that the wise ones were “prepared” because they were ready to wait…but here’s the thing…what if the groom had waited till morning? What if he’d waited longer? It would be light out and they wouldn’t need their lamps would they? What if he’d come earlier before it got dark…same deal right?

And so what are to take from this? That their “preparation” of extra oil was beneficial because of dumb luck? I don’t think so. Maybe all we can really take from this is the sense that the bridegroom is coming, but we have no idea when its going to occur.

In this story we hear that he shows up late…but right before this, Jesus uses an example where the master shows up early…unexpected both times…but zero sense of when or how…and that’s the tricky part about trying to “prepare ourselves” for the end times…for the glorious moment when Jesus will come again.

Because I fear when we start down that road…we all fall into the trap of creating the checklist…what do I have to do? What do I have achieve…or what do I have to avoid in order to KNOW, that I’m okay…that I’m good to go. We all do it don’t we…and we can call it whatever we want…though self-justification is a pretty good lable…as we get stuck in the trap of thinking I’ve got it together…because as long as I follow “the rules” I know I’m safe…or maybe we compare ourselves to someone else when we think well I’m not perfect, but at least I’m not that bad.

That’s the trap…and its based on fear isn’t it? I’m afraid that I’ll be left out…and I want to be assured that I won’t be…Did you notice that all 10 bridesmaids got stuck in the same trap?  The 5 foolish ones were afraid that without a lit lamp…without oil to burn, the groom would turn them away…and so they literally ran away from him as he was arriving in order to complete the checklist.  And the 5 wise ones…did you notice that they had same fear. “If we give oil to you there won’t be enough for you and us.” They might as well have been saying that if we help you, we’re afraid that we won’t have our checklist done, and we’ll be left out too. (pause)

Its funny…Jesus tells us “Keep awake” but all 10 of them were sleeping weren’t they? (pause) Here’s the thing…and I know I’ve said it before…and I’m sure I’ll say it again. There is no checklist…there is no cosmic scoreboard…there is no indication that you’ve done enough or said enough or completed enough…that’s not how this works.

And maybe for those 10 bridesmaids, instead of operating out of fear that the groom would reject them because they weren’t ready, and instead they had taken the time to look the groom who had already arrived…maybe they would have found that groom was gracious…that the groom simply wanted them all to come along…and that the light of 5 lamps was more than enough to light the way for 10 people. Maybe, just maybe “being prepared” simply meant that they were there to greet him when he showed up.

So what’s that mean for us, here in the 21st century…as we are still waiting? How are we prepared? If there’s no checklist…then how do we respond to this? And maybe, just maybe the only thing we can take from this is to know that whenever it happens…whenever the bridegroom arrives looking for you as an individual, all you can do is rely on the promise that the groom wants you to come along into the banquet.

We wait for the second coming when the entire world will know that he’s come back.  We wait with anticipation and we trust in the promise that through Christ God has claimed us…that invitation has already been extended. And we live each day secure in this promise…whether we see Jesus in the cloud today, or tomorrow, or next week or next year…or if something else happens to us in the meantime.

I can only imagine 1 week ago…those 26 people who had gathered together for worship in Sutherland Springs Texas…those 26 people who gathered to offer up their praise and thanksgiving…the last thing they expected was death…and yet I believe that in that moment, tragic and horrific as it was…the groom showed up for them…just as he has promised to show up for each us as our life ends.

Maybe being prepared simply means believing that no matter what happens, that promise is true…and in the meantime, living out today in a way that reflect that promise to everyone else.  Jesus reminds us to love God and love our neighbor…and he also reminds us that whatever you have done for the least of these, you have also done for me.

We don’t earn our invitation into the banquet…its given to us…and that’s news worth sharing with the world through our words and our actions, so that we might mirror God’s perfect love for all the world. 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.

Grace Isn’t Fair 9-24-17

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In this sermon, based on Matthew 20:1-16, I explore the parable of the generous landowner. God’s grace and mercy isn’t really fair…but that’s actually a good thing.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/grace-isnt-fair-9-24-17

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

When I was really young, like “too young to go to school yet” young…we had some neighbors that lived on a farm pretty close to my parents farm…and they had a couple of daughters…one of which was about my age…in terms of a class in school, I was one of the really young ones, and she was one of the really old ones…so even though, by my understanding, we were the same age, we really weren’t.

But regardless…we grew up together…often playing together while our parents socialized…and so, when we started kindergarten, all I knew was “she’s my friend.” A little bit of time went by, I can’t really tell you how much…but it wasn’t long before my friend, who could already read, was jumping up to work with the 1st grade class in reading…and then pretty soon, since she was technically old enough, she was jumping up to 1st grade.

Now of course they didn’t explain everything that was going on to the rest of us in the class…and even if they did we probably wouldn’t have really understood what was happening anyway…but all I knew was that if my friend was going up to 1st grade…then I should be able to do it too…and when I said something to my parents and they told me no…I reacted exactly how you would expect a 5-year old to react. “THAT’S NOT FAIR!” (pause) I think its safe to say that this was my first lesson…the first of many lessons that I am still trying to learn…that life…and many of the different aspects of life…just isn’t fair.

This brings us to the gospel for today…a parable in which Jesus is attempting to reveal yet another truth about the kingdom of heaven…and interestingly enough, Jesus is sharing this parable as a response to a question posed by Peter…a question that seems to be aimed the issue of fairness.  You see, Jesus has been talking about entering the kingdom of heaven and just how hard it is and Peter pipes up “Hey Jesus, we’ve left everything to follow you. What then will we have?” (Pause) Peter might as well be asking “hey, look at how much we’ve given…so we do we get out of it?” And with this, Jesus rockets into a story.

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who defies all logic…over and over again. He goes to hire workers…which the landowner would never by the way…he’s got people for that…but regardless…he rolls himself out early enough to be out in the marketplace at 6am…and he grabs a batch of people…promises them the normal daily wage if they go work for him…and sends them off to work.

So far, the only odd thing is that he went on his own…but then a few hours pass…and for whatever reason…he ventures out again…and low and behold…there’s some more people standing around doing nothing…Yo! Head off into my vineyard…I’ll give you what’s right…interesting.

He wanders out again at noon…and then again at 3…seriously, doesn’t this guy have anything better to do than wander around the unemployment line? Regardless, when he finds more idle workers, he sends them off too. (pause) And then…defying any and all logic, he heads out again at 5…seriously, there’s only an hour before the closing whistle blows…and yet, here’s more people…and when he asks them why they’ve been standing around all day, they respond “because no one has hired us.”

This makes no sense at all…but with no mention of compensation…not to mention zero thought as to if he needs any more workers or not, which he wouldn’t have by the way…the landowner sends these guys off to work as well. (pause) Now, you’d think that this would be the end of it…but we’re just getting started aren’t we?

Because when quitting time roles around…we see that it’s time for paychecks…and for whatever reason the landowner has…he tells the foreman to pay the guys he hired at the end of the day first…pay them in reverse order…this makes no sense at all…none…seriously why would the landowner want to show off like this? You’d think, knowing what he was about to do…that if he ever wanted the credibility to hire workers again in the future, he’d have done things in order that they were hired…but that’s not what he does.

And as we see…the people who had only toiled for an hour get a full day’s wage…and everybody else start getting excited…especially the group that have been working since 6am. “Look how much he gave for an hour…imagine how much more he’s gonna give us.”  But then they reach the front of the line…and the foreman drops a denarius in their hands…precisely what they had been promised. (pause)

They might as well be a batch of 5 year old kindergarteners who’s friend got jumped up to 1st grade. THAT’S…NOT…FAIR! (pause) Look at how much we have done…look how long we have been here…look how hard we have worked and how much we have endured…and you have made them equal to us…you have given them the same as us…They don’t deserve it…That’s not fair. (pause)

That sound familiar? I’m guessing it does…I think its likely that we all see evidence of life not being fair with quite a bit of regularity don’t we? Younger siblings crying out “that’s not fair” when the older one is given more privileges. Someone on the job who does their work and keeps their head down, only to see co-workers constantly slack off without issue, and muttering under their breath “That’s not fair.” Watching the news and seeing some big-shot business person accused of corruption and getting off with a slap on the wrist, instead of facing the consequences like anyone that can’t afford a bunch of big-shot lawyers and we think “that’s not fair.”

Each and every day it seems like we see something, or hear something, or experience something that continues to pile on the evidence of this truth… “its not fair.”

But what makes this really eye opening, especially coming back around to the parable…is when we remember that Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven…and he’s talking about wages, or rewards, or compensation…and we start to wonder just what’s that all about…and perhaps we begin to consider the possibility that the daily wage that the workers all receive, regardless of how many hours they put in…was entrance into the kingdom of heaven…or salvation…or eternal life…whatever we want to call it…but all of it, or any of it contingent on the grace of God being shown in our direction…on God’s mercy being shown our way.

This seems to be the thing that the workers are taking issue with. “We’ve done it all…we’ve been around long enough…we deserve it…they don’t.”  Or maybe just maybe that if they’re going to receive this much…we should get a whole lot more. I don’t know what to call this…greed…pride…something else? Whatever the cause…the generosity of the landowner draws the anger of those who have also benefited from it.

Now part of me starts to think that this is something that we can understand…and if we’re talking about grace and mercy of God…well then that also makes sense in Jesus time…but you know what…it goes back way farther than that…this anger at God’s mercy.

Take into account the story of Jonah that we heard today. Now, Jonah’s best known for getting swallowed by a whale only to get barfed back up on land 3 days later after he learns his lesson. But the big story of Jonah is important. God had given him a task to go to Nineveh and proclaim their need to repent and turn towards God. But this is the last thing Jonah wants to do.

Now Jonah was around about 700 years before Jesus…shortly after the northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by the superpower of the day known as the Assyrians…anyone want to guess where the capital of Assyria was? (pause) PSST…IT WAS NINEVAH!

Jonah has been sent to proclaim the need to repent to the very heart of the people that had conquered his people…and Jonah knows that if they repent, God will show them mercy. (pause) Now do you think Jonah considered the Ninevites…the Assyrians…the enemies of “God’s chosen people,” do you think he considered them worthy of God’s mercy? I’m guessing no…and low and behold when he finally does get there and start preaching, and his sermon is really lousy by the way…seriously, you should read it, the whole book is only a few chapters long…but wouldn’t you know it…they repent…and God’s shows mercy…and Jonah loses his mind over it…and then God corrects him. Should I not be concerned about this great city with more than 120,000 people in it…people who do not know their right from their left?”

Jonah gets ticked off when God shows mercy to those that he thinks are unworthy…The laborers who spent the full day in the vineyard get ticked off when those who have done less receive the same thing they do…and maybe, just maybe we get all up in arms when God’s mercy and grace is shown to the people that we think are undeserving. We do don’t we…its offensive that God’s grace is given to them. (pause)

But here’s the thing about God…here’s the thing that’s revealed by the actions and the worlds of the landowner in the parable…when he hears the grumbling he pulls one of them aside…doesn’t matter which one…it could be any of them…it could be any of us…and the master says “Friend…I do you no harm. Are you jealous because I am generous?”

The grace of God isn’t fair…which is probably a good thing because if it was fair and we got what we earned…then none of us would receive it would we? Grace is free or its not grace and whether we like or not, we benefit from it because God freely gives it to those that he loves…those that he takes delight in…those who God has made in his image…and if I’m not mistaken that includes all of humanity…whether we think they deserve it or not. God will show grace on whoever God choses…and we can either get offended by it, or we can recognize it as cause for celebration…that another person has been touched by the joy of belonging…the joy of knowing they have been claimed by the one who made them.

The amazing thing about the Grace of God is that there’s no limit…Its not like God’s grace is a pie…and if someone else gets a piece there’s less available for us. This is why the master says “I have done you no harm” when he generously offers others the same as he has offered you.

Grace isn’t fair…its not supposed to be. That’s what makes it grace. Amen.

 

What Are We To Say 7-30-17

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In this sermon, based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, I explore a batch of “mini-parables” from Jesus, wrapping up a 3 week stretch of sermons on the parables from chapter 13. Its an odd mix of teachings which reflects the craziness of the lives that we lead.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-are-we-to-say-7-30-17

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

We find ourselves today at the end of a three week long dive into the parables of Jesus…and we’ve heard a lot of different things.  We’ve heard how the kingdom of heaven is like seed sown on different types of soil…some of which seems wasted and some of which seems to flourish.

We’ve heard about a wheat field planted carefully, only to have an enemy come in on the sly and plant weeds that grow up right in with the good crop resulting in the good and the bad all mixed up together.

We know of plenty of other parables of Jesus as well…stories about prodigal sons, lost coins, and wayward sheep…stories about rich men and poor men and their experience in the afterlife…or an injured man who finds help from a Samaritan, the least likely of interaction.

And now today, we have 5 more…much shorter in length…but still offered up by Jesus as a glimpse into the kingdom…today we hear about mustard seeds growing into trees, a tiny amount of yeast mixed into a huge amount of flour…a guy stumbling across treasure in a field, and a guy going all out to collect a pearl, before finally wrapping it all up with a fisherman dragging a net through the water and pulling up all kinds of different fish. (pause)

And as we consider all of these different parables…and as we try to discern in our minds what it is that we as individuals learn from Jesus in the hearing of the different parables…maybe all we can really do is repeat the question that we heard from the Apostle Paul out of the Romans passage today…What then are we to say about these things? (pause)

Now for many of you out there…perhaps hearing me say that particular phrase strikes you as familiar…it should…it is a question that I pose within the opening of nearly every sermon that I preach in a funeral…In that context, I’m being honest about the confusing, painful, and emotional reactions that we tend to have in and around the event of a funeral, particularly when the individual was one that we were close to. (pause)
But today, I find myself asking that same question when faced with a whole lot of little bitty glimpses into what our Savior says that Kingdom of Heaven is like…because when I hear these particular passages, admittedly, I hear some pretty strange stuff. (pause)

Some guy goes out to plant mustard in his field…WHY? Mustard is a weed…and it’s a pretty nasty one…it spreads like crazy…the body of the plant is prickly and thorny, making it a pain to pull…if its left in a field it will utterly take over…and no farmer in their right mind would ever intentionally plant it…but even more strange…this comment from Jesus that it will grow up into a tree big enough for the birds to nest in. (pause) No it won’t. Mustard plants don’t do that…they don’t become trees…what Jesus is suggesting is not just unexpected…its impossible. (pause)

The kingdom is like a woman who outs a bit of yeast, or leaven in 3 measures of flour…this one requires a bit of translation…because the woman actually HIDES the leaven in the flour…and 3 measures is actually like 60 pounds. Now keep in mind that within Jesus time, talking about leaven was actually a reference to things of insidious nature…and so we start to question just why the woman chose to stick the leaven in the flour to begin with…but all that aside, putting yeast in with flour isn’t really going to do anything is it? You need water and heat and sugar for anything to actually happen…and so for a tiny bit of yeast, hidden in the midst of an incredible amount of flour shouldn’t do anything…and yet we hear that somehow, the unexpected happens once again. (pause)

Well now what about calling the kingdom like a random guy who stumbles across some random treasure in someone else’s field? Apparently whatever it is that he found seems so worthwhile that he runs off, sells everything he has, and pretty much defrauds the original landowner to buy the property, just so he can lay claim to this treasure that he apparently found while trespassing. (pause)

The pearl? Sort of the same deal…this guy is actually looking for pearls…he’s a collector…he’s got a business to run…but he finds one that is apparently…so wonderful that he, too runs off and sells all that he has…ALL THAT HE HAS…which would include his home…the clothes of his kid’s back…even his pearl business…all so he can buy this pearl and sit under a bridge somewhere staring at it. (Pause)

And finally the fisherman…he goes out in his boat and let’s his net down…and when he hauls it back up, he’s got all kinds of stuff in it….and so he sits down to separate the good from the bad…the desired fish from the undesired…he pulls out salmon…he pulls out tilapia…and walleye…probably some high grade ahi tuna to make sushi…maybe some tasty sea bass…and he throws all of them into a basket, where they will inevitably be eaten…and then he pulls out carp…and dogfish…maybe a gar, and I bet he had some nasty smelly bullheads and sheepheads too…all of which get thrown out to some unknown fate. (pause)

We hear all of this today…and so once more I ask the question…what are we to say about these things?  That the kingdom of heaven is prickly and invasive…or that it will result in what we consider to be impossible?  Or that its worth defrauding our neighbors for, or leaving our families and even ourselves destitute in order to achieve?

I can’t help but think that this little batch of parables is supposed to be a little on the confusing side…and I find myself wondering if Jesus was joking around a little bit…and that when he poses the final question “have you understood all this?” He maybe even had a bit of mischievous grin on his face? Like maybe he was messing around with the disciples just a bit…but if, and take note I’m saying IF, that’s the case…well then it seems that the disciples are in on the joke because when Jesus asks if they understand, they reply yes.

And if that’s the case…if they do in fact get it…well then I’m a little jealous…because often times with parables…and especially with today’s batch of mini-parables…I hear Jesus ask the question “have you understood all this?” and my response is “Well, I think so…but at the same time…no.” (pause)
Now maybe I say that and you find it odd…maybe you find it shocking, or disappointing to hear a pastor admit to not knowing something about the interpretation of scripture. I know the very first time I answered a question downstairs in the confirmation/adult forum with “I don’t know” I saw several jaws drop open…but the truth of the matter is that sometimes whatever truth it is that Jesus, or the Bible, or in this case a combination of the two, whatever it is that God so desperately wants us to understand is just too out there for us to make heads or tails of.

But funny enough…maybe this whole situation is just a parable…or a metaphor for this life that we live. Today we’re posing the question about the individual parables of What are we to say about these things…and we can pose that same question to the multitude of different issues and situations that are dominating our collective consciousness these days.

We can’t turn on the news, or open up the computer, or log onto social media on our phones without being utterly slammed by one uproar after another…and lately it seems like the controversies are coming at us faster than ever…and in this life that we live together, we’ve got all kinds of stuff that we are just trying to make heads or tails of.

What’s the big stuff this week? Whether or not transgendered people are fit for the military?  Whether or not an aging Senator is a hero or a heel for voting against party lines? If healthcare is a right or a burden. Whether our president is a breath of fresh air who says it like it is and is cleaning house or a unpredictable sociopath who’s ruining our country. Whether black or blue lives matter more than the other…or whether guns are the problem or the solution…if a refugee is a terrorist or a victim….and who knows what controversies we’ll be talking about around the water cooler tomorrow or next week or next month.

What are we to say about these things…because these are all parts of the life that we are living these days…and there are times when I think about all this and I just wish Jesus would hurry up and come back already.

But the truth of the matter is…this is life in July of 2017…and its messy and it’s stressful and at times it makes no sense what so ever…and we ask the same question “What can we say about this?” And maybe, just maybe the only thing that we can say is that life is messy…its prickly and thorny and the problems might just grow up to take over everything…or maybe…just maybe…we remember that the kingdom of heaven is like this too…because the kingdom is present right here in the midst of all this craziness that threatens to take over our lives…whether we are looking for it or not. (pause)

Now if this was a funeral sermon, I’d start talking about baptism and the promise that God makes…that we are claimed by God and nothing overcomes that distinction…and I would wrap it up with the tail end of Romans 8…a passage that gives me hope in the midst of a lot crazy stuff….I am convinced, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, 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.

Nothing…not the craziness of this life that we lead…not the pain that we feel…not the shortcomings that we experience…God’s love is made manifest for all the world…for every member of the human race…because God loves those made in the divine image, and that is EVERY single member of the human race by the way…and nothing in this crazy, warped, messed up reality that we live in can change that.

The only thing that does change…is how we react to it. How will we respond to this crazy invasive, sometimes wonderful and sometimes prickly love of God for each one of us?  Someone asked Jesus a question along those lines once. And his response…Love God and Love your neighbor…period. There is no fine print…there are no conditions. That’s it.

But you know what…that’s radical isn’t it? To love unconditionally…to love regardless of what it might cost us…regardless of what the world and the rules tell us is okay or not…Jesus did it…and it cost him his life…who knows…maybe he’s the guy in the parable willing to sell everything…to give up everything just to acquire a treasure…and if that’s the case, well maybe the treasure is you…maybe its me…maybe its all of us…including the ones that I don’t want to risk getting to know…or the ones that look different that I do…or the ones that talk different than I do….or the ones who voted differently than me.

Jesus says love God and love our neighbor…which seems to be pretty all encompassing…because everyone is your neighbor…everyone, whether we chose to believe it or not.   (pause)
What are we to say about these things? Maybe nothing, because maybe there’s nothing to say…maybe all we can do is live together in the midst of this prickly thing called life. Amen.