Posts Tagged ‘Parables’

What Are You Doing Here 9-29-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 16:19-31, I explore the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. At face value this seems to tell us that economic status determines our eternal destination. But if we look deeper, we find something else at play.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-are-you-doing-here-9-29-19

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

As we begin today, a tiny little tidbit about me…I’ve recently begun Chiropractic care in order to get my spine back to where it should be…over the course of the past couple years my wife has done the same thing and its really helped, and since I’m not getting any younger, I’ve started the same process.

Friday morning, I was at the office, and sat down with one of the office staff to discuss scheduling and payment information, all that logistically type stuff…and in the midst of the conversation, the staff member and I both commented that we recognized each other. Neither of us could figure out where from…but clearly we have crossed paths at some point in the past…who knows where.  But I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure it out with zero success…just one of those situations where I recognize the face, but CANNOT place the setting.

But as I’ve thought about that, I’ve got to thinking about the flipside of the same coin…and those times when you see someone that you instantly know…but in a setting where they have no business being…I’ve talked about this type of situation before…like when I randomly met a guy from my hometown in the hotel lounge in Bethlehem of all places…or the time when I ran into a former coworker from Minnesota while at camp in the mountains of Colorado.  The type of situation when you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing and all you can say is “What are you doing here?” (Pause) Now, tuck that sense in the back of your minds…and let’s get into the scripture for today. (Pause)

Once again, Jesus regales us with a parable…a story that he makes up intended to illustrate a point or a perspective…to in some way or another illuminate an aspect of the kingdom of Heaven. We’ve had a lot of them lately. Some a little more accessible than others.  Last week we had the dishonest manger.  We’ve had a lost sheep and a lost coin. We’ve got a guy building a tower or a king going out to war, both counting the cost of their endeavor. And another one about where to sit when you are invited into a banquet…no shortage of illustrations from Jesus…right up to today and our story of the rich man and Lazarus. (pause)

The gist is pretty simple today isn’t it? We’ve got this rich guy…wears purple…eats a feast everyday…sounds like he’s got a nice house in a gated community somewhere…although he doesn’t get a name…that little detail seemingly slipped Jesus’ mind as he puts this story together…so let’s just call him Richy Rich shall we? (pause)

So we’ve got Richy Rich riding high…enjoying life…and at the same time we’ve got this poor homeless guy named Lazarus…lays outside at the gate…longs for the table scraps…he’s covered in sores which apparently taste pretty good to the neighborhood dogs. (Pause)

2 guys…2 different people, seemingly NOTHING in common except the community they live in…and with that brief description…BOOM both guys die.  Lazarus get’s picked up by angels and hauled off to hang out with Abraham in the afterlife…while Richy Rich gets buried and finds himself on the fiery side of some giant chasm in Hades…side note, Hades is the place where dead people go, in case you’re wondering…and its worth noting that they seem to be in the same place, just on opposite sides of this impassable canyon. (pause)

Now it probably goes without saying that Richy Rich is used to the finest hotel establishments…and this torturous environment that he finds himself in is just NOT up to snuff…and so he looks across the canyon, and he sees Lazarus enjoying himself alongside Father Abraham…and he makes this small request.

Father Abraham…send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch my tongue…send him over…grant me this tiny instant of relief…for I am in torment…Abraham refuses…it would seem that even though they’re close enough to see each other and communicate…they can’t cross the barrier…we can’t get to you…and you can’t get to us.  Bummer right?

And Richy Rich says “Yah that is a bummer.” And here’s an interesting switch…realizing that he’s out of luck…that he can’t talk his way out of his current situation…that no one can relieve him or free him from it…probably for the first time in his existence, he starting thinking about someone besides himself.

Father Abraham…why don’t you send Lazarus back to the land of the living, into my father’s house…I’ve got 5 brothers…and I don’t want them to end up here.  They’d be in torment too…not to mention they’re all younger and really annoying and they’d just bother me if they showed up…yah I made up that last part…but isn’t that interesting?  Send a dead guy to warn them…and Abraham says…No…they’ve got the scriptures…if they don’t believe that, they won’t believe a dead guy either.

And that’s it…that’s the parable. (pause) Now what do we do with parables?  We tend to ask some basic questions don’t we?  And the first one is almost ALWAYS…who am I in this story?  Or maybe we come at it from a slightly different direction and we make the comparison…and if we do that…the obvious conclusion that we reach…wealth, or money, or status or prestige…these things are bad…and to be poor and lowly is ultimately good. (Pause) Yah?  Is that what we get here?  Seems like it right?  Rich guy has it good, but then suffers…poor guy has it bad but is rewarded. (Pause)  So then ask the next question…who am I?  (Pause) And we all REALLY want to say that we’re Lazarus right?  But are we?  Or are we Richy Rich?

If you’re wondering about that…think about this…does this parable sound like good news or bad news to you? (pause)  Good question to think about…because all too often it seems that what sounds like liberating good news to one person, sounds like bad news to another.

But…should it? Should the gospel sound like good news to some and bad news to someone else?  Is that how it works?  Is the gospel some sort of pie…the type of thing where a portion is removed for one person, leaving less available for everyone else?  I don’t think so.

Think about the parable…does the eternal good fortunate of Lazarus come at the expense of Richy Rich? Doesn’t seem to…but if we want to think in terms of limitations and scarcity we might start to think so. And we’re conditioned to think in those terms aren’t we?  That’s how our society works…if you gain something, then someone or something has to lose it right? (pause)

But…here’s Jesus…giving us an illustration that reminds us…over here in the kingdom…that’s not how it works…its not just that the wealthy and the high and mighty end up burning, while the lowly go to heaven…because there’s a third person in this parable…and think about who that is.

Abraham.  Now what we know about him?  Hung out in Genesis…predates the Holy Land being the Holy Land…predates Moses…predates pretty much everything beyond a garden, and an apple, and a flood. WAY before Jesus…and yet…where do we find him today?

He’s on the good side of the chasm…we might say heaven. And maybe we think “duh, its Abraham…of course he’s in heaven.”  But Abraham died rich…like SUPER RICH….he had good things in life…so shouldn’t that land him in hell?  I mean…if we think “great reversal” then Lazarus should have shown up in heaven and been like “ABRAHAM? What are you doing here?” (pause) Or, since they can see each other…Richy Rich should have found in himself in the flames and been wondering “Abraham…shouldn’t you be over here with me?” (pause)

So what’s different? What does Abraham have that Richy Rich doesn’t?  What does he share with Lazarus that landed each of them on one side of this great divide rather than the other?

What do we hear about Abraham in the New Testament…his name comes up a lot…and typically when it does, he is called the father of faith…that he believes what God tells him…and it is credited as righteousness.
Well if he’ believes what he’s told…then someone needs to tell him right? Something must be announced…it must be proclaimed. And what was announced to Abraham?  A promise.

What about Lazarus…we don’t hear much about him…except for the action that happens to him…like when angels come and carry him off.  But do you know what an angel is?  Angel, or angalos in the original language means one who bears a message…Lazarus is carried off to heaven…by one carrying a proclamation. (pause)

Now think about Richy Rich…he wants someone to come to him to relieve him of torment…and when that doesn’t work he wants someone to go announce things to his brothers. (pause)

It would seem that this separation, this chasm…that Jesus is illustrating today is revealed with the presence OR the absence of a proclamation of God’s promises. And what are those promises? That you are loved…that you are accepted…and that the brokenness that is a part of your existence has been overcome by the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus. That’s the gospel. You can’t get there on your own…You cannot fulfill righteousness…so God has done it for you through Christ…that is the good news…that is the promise…that is the proclamation…and THAT is what carries Lazarus away from torment into whatever lies on the other side of that chasm…whether we want to call it heaven or paradise or eternal rewards…or simply being in the kingdom. (pause)

So that’s mean for us?  Well…it seems to indicate that faith comes through hearing the proclamation of the gospel…and it reminds us that salvation or faith or heaven or any of that…its not self-generated. Lazarus didn’t do anything to receive it…he was completely passive in this whole story…we never even hear him talk, much less do anything.

And so, we realize the importance of proclaiming the gospel…because it needs to be heard before it can nestle in our hearts…and before the Holy Spirit can use it to create faith. And this is why we stress the importance of the priesthood of ALL believers.  Proclamation is not just limited to the person wearing a weird little white tab on Sunday mornings…we are ALL called to share the gospel with those that we encounter…so that they can hear it to…so they can hear that announcement…and be carried off to be with Abraham…whatever that might entail.

And this is the case whether we like it or not…God’s grace is not up to us to determine who gets it and who doesn’t. That’s the beauty of God’s grace and mercy…and that’s also the curse…because anytime we start trying to decide who has it, or on the flipside who doesn’t, then Christ calls us forward to his table where we receive the bread and wine along with the promise that his body and blood has been broken and shed for the forgiveness of sins…and that it is for all people…and when that person that we think doesn’t deserve it faithfully receives the means of grace while believing the promise of the proclamation…they are forgiven…and we have to deal with it.

This is what I love about the gospel of God’s grace and mercy through Christ…God’s grace is all in, or its not grace…and it means that one day in the resurrection, whatever that’s gonna look like…I’m going to see the LAST person I ever expected and in astonishment I’ll say “What are you doing here?”  And they’ll look at me, equally astonished…and ask me the same thing. Amen

I Get Knocked Down 9-22-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 16:1-13, I explore the utterly confusing parable of the dishonest manager. In this strange teaching, Jesus compares the way the world works with the freedom that is offered through the Gospel.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

I am a big fan of music…and particularly the music of my formative years, the late 90’s and into the early 2000’s. And an interesting aspect of music for me is the creativity that is expressed through the names of bands. There are some amazing…albeit strange…band names. Admittedly I have no idea what these names are supposed to mean…but they sound cool.

Now some of these bands are still popular today…others are probably still around, but they’ve faded into obscurity…and others have broken up…but their names remain seared into my consciousness. Names like Matchbox 20…The Goo Goo Dolls…Hoobastank…we’ve got others like The Urge, or Clever…Mr Plow was a popular Ames band when I was in college…and then there’s one that probably wins the title of “creative yet utterly weird” band name…Chumbawumba…a one-hit wonder from 1997 with a song title that is equally as strange as their name. Tubthumping.

Now the song itself was really catchy, although there weren’t a whole lot of lyrics…I mainly remember the opening line…(Sing) I get knocked down…but I get up again…you’re never gonna keep me down (repeat once…then pause).

I can’t help but think that there is a guy in Jesus’ parable for today that can relate to that song…or in the very least…the opening phrase…I get knocked down…

The parable of the dishonest manager…admittedly one of the BIGGEST headscratchers in Jesus’ repertoire of parables. Picture if you will…a wealthy individual who employs a manager.  Now this manager…he’s really bad at it…so bad that his boss walks up and pretty much says…you’ve got to the end of the day…and then…you’re fired…and the manager…he hits the panic button.  WHAT? I’M FIRED?!?! What am I gonna due?  I have no marketable skills what so ever. I’m not strong enough to dig, so manual labor is out of the question…and I’ll never land another management gig…and I’m not going to become a beggar, that’s TOO embarrassing. WHAT AM I GONNA DO?  (pause) He might as well be singing that opening line. I get knocked down…

But then in a moment of inspiration that continues to reveal just how lousy he is at managing his master’s property…he comes up with an idea that will soften the blow he’s about to endure.  And he calls up the different individuals that are in debt to his master…You there…how much do you owe?
And I can imaging the guy on the other end is like “What? Shouldn’t you know that? You’re really bad at your job.” And the manager is like “yah I know…but seriously…what’s the damage.”  100 vats of oil…okay cool…ummm take your receipt and make 50.   And you there…how much do you owe?  And while the second guy is probably thinking the exact same thing he says “I owe 100 batches of wheat.” Yah that’s cool…ummm let’s make it 80….and then in a moment truly inspired by the Godfather…the manager might as well be saying “Just remember that I have done you this favor.” (pause)

Why does he do this?  Because he’s about to be destitute…but maybe just maybe if he butters up his master’s clients…they’ll invite him to come in and stay as a guest…he’s still gonna be fired…he’s still knocked down…but maybe, in some small way…if he plays his cards right…he can get back up again. (pause)

Now that’s weird enough by itself…but in the major twist at the end…we hear that his master…the guy who’s property has been mishandled all along…and who just got cheated even worse…he actually applauds the guy for his shrewdness.

So I don’t know what we’re supposed to make of this Jesus.  I don’t know who we’re supposed to relate to in this parable. I don’t know what lesson we’re supposed to learn…none of this makes sense on its own.

But…that’s actually pretty common when it comes to the parables of Jesus isn’t it? Think about it…in many instances when Jesus uses a parable to illustrate a point he’s trying to make…the message tends to go over the heads of his audience doesn’t it? Even the disciples…how many times do we hear that Jesus has to explain things to them.  So maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising.

Jesus is in an exchange or a debate of some sort…and he illustrates it with a parable…but what got me this time, as I thought about that normal teaching style of Jesus…is that this time it almost seems like Luke wrote it down out of order.

We’ve got the parable first…and then the teaching that needs explanation comes right after it.  And admittedly…that one is almost as confusing.  The children of this age are more shrewd with each other than the children of light.  If you can’t be trusted with a little how will be trusted with much?  You cannot serve two masters…for a slave will love one and hate the other. (pause)

Now that teaching…it’s a little vague…but its kinda makes sense…and maybe just maybe if we think about that…and then swing back around to the parable maybe we realize that Jesus is throwing the most exaggerated wink in the history of winks as he tells it.

You cannot serve both God and wealth…WINK WINK…there’s a manager that’s SO BAD that he tries to utilize every possible legal loophole just to save his own keister…WINK WINK…and this one moment of craftiness is SO good…WINK WINK…that the guy who got swindled says “nice job.”  WINK WINK.

Like, maybe Jesus is in on the joke here…and he’s giving us the nod that lets us in on it too.  Because…he really seems to be saying….all this stuff over here…that’s how the world works…the world where everyone looks out for themselves…where people are crafty…wise though maybe not in a good way…they find the loopholes…they use the system…and its all geared at the idea that we look out for number 1.  We exploit everyone and everything to make sure that we come out on top.

I think that’s one way of looking at the action of this odd-ball story…another might be Jesus saying “look what happens when you try to accomplish everything according to the rules…to the law…it doesn’t work does it? And…that’s kinda eye opening isn’t it?  Because our society…our entire way of life…its all based on that idea isn’t it? That the dollar rules all…and that no matter how hard all the rules and regulations try to cover every contingency…it never quite works out like its supposed to…and people end up hurt because of it…I think we could see that idea in this story as well.  That the crafty are gonna be crafty…and the powerful are gonna applaud them for it. (pause)

But then there’s Jesus…and he says that’s all over here (hold up one hand)…but that’s not how the kingdom of heaven works over here (hold up the other one). And even more eye opening…Jesus is also indicating that its one or the other…and even though we’ve done a really good job in this country of trying to marry the two sides together…we’re lying to ourselves…and we see that as we consider the uncomfortable language that Jesus uses when he says that we’re a slave to one or the other…A SLAVE…

We don’t like the idea of slavery do we?  It’s a big ugly stain in our society that we’d rather pretend doesn’t exist but its there…And I think Jesus uses it on purpose…and its supposed to uncomfortable…because a slave has no agency do they?  They are completely at the mercy of their master, whatever or whoever that master is.

And that’s why Jesus holds up this mirror to a system that exists only to perpetuate the well-being of the self. Because when we put every egg in the basket of “I need more no matter what it might cost someone else” or “I gotta look out for me above everything” then we’re serving the master of stuff…and the master of this myth known as wealth and money. (pause)

Now is money bad? No, we need it. Working is good. Careers are good, compensation is good.  But when that dictates our entire existence, and we exploit every loophole in that system to get ahead…then we’ve made it a god. And that my friends is known as idolatry.

And when we realize that we’re stuck in it…and no matter how hard we try, our efforts to free ourselves are in vain…that’s when we realize the truth…that nothing I do can ultimate save me…nothing I achieve will ever really be enough.

And its in that moment…that you are truly susceptible to the saving truth of the gospel.  That any idea of righteousness isn’t something that we can ever achieve through personal effort or  shrewd dealing.  Our intellect isn’t gonna get us there.  And its only in knowing that there is NOTHING you can manage, that you will finally be willing to cry out for help.

But…the gospel tells us that this help has already been offered…and that’s the other side of the coin that Jesus is pointing us at today…the world works like this…and when you realize that’s not gonna get you anywhere, then the kingdom of heaven is over here on this side and the promise has already been given to you…and the Spirit will take this truth proclaimed to you and make it real.  That’s the gospel…and that’s what it means to be a slave to God…weird as that might sound.

Now saying that…to be a slave to God…its not saying that you just have to do everything that God says…but because faith…salvation…the gospel, all of that…its beyond your control. (Pause)

Think about the idea of being in love.  Do you step into love?  Do you sit down into love?  Do you make the choice to be in love?  No…what do they say? You…FALL in love…and to fall means you are out of control…the result is out of your hands…and so is faith. We hear the promise…that the love of God, the grace of God…the mercy of God is made real through the life and the death and the resurrection of Christ…and the Spirit uses that proclamation to free you from the burden of trying to earn it on your own. (pause)

And now the really wonderful thing about all this…is that we get to live out our lives in the reality of this truth…of this kingdom…of this way of being that is so UTTERLY OTHER than the way the world works…we get to live in the joy of THAT truth right here right now.

Salvation is not just about getting to heaven some day when we die.  Its not just some get of jail free card in some cosmic game of Monopoly. Salvation gives us freedom to live…fully embraced in the love of the one who knows you can’t do it on your own…and even better…is we get to share that same amazing news with others…we share it so they can hear it and the Holy Spirit can free them from serving that same crazy cycle that dominates this world.

How great is that…that no matter how hard this world smacks us around…no matter how many times we’ve gotta sing that phrase “I get knocked down…”  We’ve got the promise of one who lifts us up…who frees us from it…and maybe just maybe…he even gives us a wink as he’s doing it.  A wink that says “Now YOU’RE in on the joke…that all that stuff, it doesn’t ultimately matter. What really matters is the joy and the love of the one who frees you from it. Amen

Lost 9-15-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 15:1-10, I explore two of the three “lost” parables of Jesus, the sheep and the coin. The similarities that we find in the parables point us to an important question…what does it mean to be lost?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lost-9-15-19

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

It probably goes without saying that we all have stories about getting lost…some might be personal experiences when we were the one who got turned around…some stories are from the times when it was someone that we know who ended up in the wrong place. They take on many shapes and forms.

But if there’s one thread that slides through them all…it’s probably a sense of unease…maybe even borderline fear…that comes creeping in…and since we’ve all lost our way at one time or another…we have the tendency to teach others important safety steps to take if and when they find themselves in something similar…and this is probably most common between parents and their kids.

I remember dad drilling into us what to do if we ever got lost in a cornfield…YOU FOLLOW THOSE ROWS IN A STRAIGHT LINE…oh and when you get to the end of the row, start counting…you’ll cross either 8 or 16 and then you’ll find the edge of the field.

I also remember mom’s instructions for if we ever found ourselves separated from the family.  Look for someone in uniform…an officer or security guard…or if you’re in a store…go to the front desk and ask them to send a page. I first heard these instructions from mom after my older brother disappeared in the local mall…and I remembered them a couple years later when I was the one who wandered off.

But maybe the most telling is the way that I internalized those instructions…and apparently passed them on to the next generation…and this came to a head back in our days living in Minnesota.

The kids were pretty small during that 2.5 year period in our lives…small enough that the idea of “getting lost” was something we had to be aware of…and it happened one day when my wife took the kids to the public library…now by this point, we’d already lived there for a bit and had one specific location that we always went to…but on this particular day, Emily took the kids to one of the dozen different library locations…one that everyone was unfamiliar with…and sure enough…at one point she stepped around to the next aisle…and a moment later Jack realized…I’m all alone. (pause)

Now proud parent moment…his training…kicked…in. He knew what to do…the exact same thing his grandma had taught me years before…go to the front desk and have them send a page…but here’s where things took a bit of an odd turn.

As Emily heard the page come over the speakers, here’s what she heard…Would the LOST MOM…please come to the front desk. (pause) Interesting distinction isn’t it? In my son’s mind…he wasn’t lost…she was. (pause)

Now that idea of being lost in one way or another…that catches my attention today…and that’s probably understandable isn’t it? Today our lesson features some parables of Jesus…quite well known…two of the three known simply as “the lost parables.”  Illustrations that Jesus puts out there in light of another round of criticisms coming his way for who he choses to spend time with…for the company that he keeps…even going so far as to breaking bread and celebrating with them. (pause)

If a guy’s got 100 sheep and he discovers 1 is missing…will he not leave the 99 out in the middle of nowhere and go looking…looking everywhere…high and low…over hill and dale…behind rocks and in caves…until he finds that pesky one all by itself. (pause)

Or if a woman has 10 coins…and oh no! She discovers that somewhere along the lines one has been misplaced…she’ll grab the flashlight and look EVERYWHERE!!! Upstairs, downstairs…in the basement…under the rugs…she’ll yank the couch cushions out of the way…strip the bedding…she’ll even dig into the sink drain if she needs to…she will look…EVERYWHERE…until she finds that pesky coin. (pause)

Two short parables…two different examples that, honestly…have a whole lot in common don’t they?  The situation that Jesus presents in both is pretty much identical…and the end result is as well…something that we maybe even take for granted simply because of the familiar nature of these parables.

In both cases…the lost sheep and the lost coin…when the lost is found…the results are the same…Joy on the part of the one searching…and then they call together their friends and neighbors for a celebration…COME TOGETHER…Share my joy! Because I have found that which was lost to me. (pause)
Even Jesus’ explanations come across pretty straight forward in both of them…I tell you…there will be MORE joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents…than over 99 that have no need of repentance. (pause) Its sorta like “DUH” right? Like for once…the point that Jesus is trying to make is SO ABUNDANTLY CLEAR…that we could just leave it right there.  I could seriously just say Amen and sit down couldn’t it? (pause) But I won’t…because there’s more to explore here than just the face value of these parables about being lost.

I want you to think about WHAT was lost for just a moment. A sheep…and a coin…and bonus points for you if you know what’s lost in the third parable that comes right after this one…not just one…but two sons who are in some way lost to their father…the common thread between all of these things…they are valued by the one who lost them…treasured by the one willing to look high and low…who will forsake everything else, until the lost is found.

But the question that is really rattling around in my head…how did they get lost in the first place? Prodigal son aside…because we know that he went off on a whim, and his older brother was lost in stubborn judgmental pride….but let’s just think about the sheep and the coin.

First the sheep…well, that could have happened in a variety of ways.  We all know a sheep isn’t exactly the Einstein of the animal kingdom…so this pesky little oddball could be lost due to a lot of different circumstances.  Maybe it wandered off looking at a particularly tasty looking tuft of grass.  Maybe it managed to get its foot stuck in crevice…or it fell in a hole and was physically unable to follow along with the rest of the flock when the guy moved them along…maybe a predator came along and spooked it so it ran away…or who knows, maybe this was the weird sheep that the other sheep didn’t like, and he wasn’t lost so much as they kicked him out…who knows. (pause)

The coin…well that’s a little easier to put our finger on…a coin can’t just up and walk away…so clearly the woman somehow misplaced it…she was responsible in one way or another…and even though the coin was lost…we can’t exactly place the blame on an inanimate chunk of metal. (pause)

So what do we take from this? That maybe, just maybe…there are a lot of different ways to be lost…and that sometimes, the one we think is lost might not even realize it.  That sheep might have been having the time of his fluffy life…and the coin sure didn’t care.

And maybe…another way to think about this falls in line with the way my son was thinking at the library all those years ago…he was exactly where he was supposed to be…and MOM was lost…maybe the sheep was right all along and it was the flock that was misplaced. (pause)

Now its possible that I’m overthinking things here…but this was the question that really came to the forefront as I worked with this text through this week…what does it mean to be lost? (pause) And not just in the “scriptural” sense…but in our reality? How can we start to connect this concept that Jesus is presenting with our regular day to day existence?

How do we feel lost? And how do we view others that makes us place them in that same category?  I can generalize…we’re lost in our ability to overcome the brokenness and sinfulness that is inherent within our regular lives.  Some of us might feel lost due to our present circumstances…when the world just seems to have it in for us and we are swept up in things that we are powerless to control or stop and all we can do is bounce along in this painful ride.

Maybe we look and see someone lost in an addiction of one kind or another…and no matter how hard they try…or on the flipside no matter how hard we try to offer them a hand to step back out of that battle…they’re stuck in it. And like the coin, they don’t even realize it.

Or maybe it’s the presence of mental illness…something that goes beyond anyone’s ability to control or manage or maintain…and the person that we know…the person and the personality that we expect…that person just isn’t there and they are lost to us.

This list could go on and on…and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if we went around the room, pretty much everyone in here could list a way that they feel lost…and a way that they see someone else who is lost as well…should we raise hands on that? (pause)

So all that being said…where do we go from here?  Is there some good news to be found?  It seems like it right? Jesus is talking about celebrations in heaven…and he’s talking about repentance and joy…so yah, it seems like there’s some good stuff sneaking around.

And maybe to find it…in order to put our fingers on it…we need to back up to something we just talked about a week ago. If you were here…you remember that in the midst of a REALLY difficult teaching from Jesus…we had to skip ahead to these parables in order to remind us of the good news that we have a God who willingly took on that role of the man looking for a sheep…of the woman looking for a coin…not to mention a father looking for both of his boys.

We have a God who WILL NEVER stop searching for us…we could even say shining that light like the women in the parable…the diligence of the one who made us…the one who values us beyond measure…it is never ending…and it goes beyond all logic.  That perfect love of God…that grace…it finds us when we are utterly lost and incapable of doing anything about it. And not only that…it will look past all those who are presently accounted for, leaving them behind to go in search of you.

That’s the amazing thing about God’s grace and love for you…no matter what your situation…no matter what situation has you wrapped up and knocked down…utterly lost…we can look to our God who took on flesh and dwelled among us…that God who became tangible…showing us that when we can’t get to him, he’ll come to us…and realizing that no matter what this messed up broken down flawed reality might throw our way…or even what our own brokenness might make us throw at ourselves…we can look to God and confidently say “Your grace will fight for me. It’ll leave 99 to go in search of one…and I…am…that…one.” (pause)

No matter which direction we want to look today…whether we are the sheep trembling in the wilderness…or whether we look and see someone who’s the coin…not even aware enough to know they’re lost…we are all on even ground as we realize that the gospel is the same for each of us…and that gospel says that YOU ARE THE ONE, who Jesus will not give up on.  Amen.

How Much You Got 9-8-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 14:25-33, I explore a troublesome teaching from Jesus about the cost of discipleship. He asks for all that we have, implying that even that isn’t enough…and yet…there’s some good news in this difficult passage.

You can listen along to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/how-much-you-got-9-8-19

You can also follow along with the text here:

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

There is a character from a series of movies that, in my opinion, fits the bill for the quintessential title of dad who JUST wants to do the best he can for his family…and give them a great experience. And that character is Clark W Griswold Jr…played by Chevy Chase in about 4 or 5 different National Lampoons Vacation movies made through the 80’s and 90’s.

Now this guy, bless his heart…he tries hard…but in movie after movie…situation after situation…things never seem to go quite right…and that trend is established pretty quickly in the very first Vacation…in the midst of a cross country road trip…somewhere out in the middle of a desert…he misses a detour sign and promptly ramps his car right off the dead end of a construction site, messing up the car and blowing all four tires.

Following a few more hijinks…they finally get the car hauled off to a shop in a tiny isolated town…and when Clark goes to pay the bill…the shady shop owner asks him “How much you got?” (pause) They never actually say exactly how much the guy fleeces him for….but something tells me it costs him every dollar in his wallet…everything he has to give. (pause)

Now today’s gospel story doesn’t have any shady mechanics shaking someone down for cash…but in one similarity with the movie…Jesus is back on the road again.  We know he’s been slowly making his way towards Jerusalem…and at this point, we’re only about halfway through the whole travel narrative…and we continue to see Jesus moving around…sometimes hanging out in a community for a while…sometimes out in the wilderness…sometimes on the road.

And that’s where we find him today…on the move…and as per usual, he’s got a following.  I often wonder just what these scenes would have looked like…as the large crowds are following him around…listening to him teach…hoping for a healing…wondering what he’s going to do next. It stands to reason that the individuals in these crowds came from a wide variety of backgrounds…each with different expectations of what they think the Messiah is up to…

But in the simple act of following along… there’s an expectation being implied…to follow a teacher…or a rabbi…or a messiah, whatever term we want to use for Jesus…the person who takes this action also has a name…a disciple…and to be following along means that they are engaging in discipleship.

Now discipleship’s not easy…it might seem easy at face value…but there’s way more to it than just walking down the road behind someone.  To be a disciple means you carry an openness to what they can teach you…and with that comes the expectation of change…and change isn’t always easy is it? Because the things that need to change aren’t always something that we want to let go of.

In short…the idea of discipleship seems to indicate cost…it will cost us something…but if that’s true…and I think it is…then the next logical question is…what’s it gonna cost me?

And that’s the topic that Jesus is talking about today. Now admittedly…Jesus’ statements make me kind of uncomfortable today…maybe you as well…because he’s not really painting an overly pretty picture is he? (pause)

Anyone who do does not hate father or mother…spouse and children…siblings…even your very life…cannot be my disciple. (pause) What? You mean we have to be willing to sacrifice our family?  The people that love and care about us…that support us? That connect us into our communities and into our culture…and Jesus seems to say…yes. (pause)

Anyone who does not carry the cross and follow me…cannot be my disciple. (pause) What? You mean we might risk civil disobedience? We might have to stand up to the government, risking our freedom…maybe even death…and Jesus seems to say…yes. (pause)

Anyone who does not give up all your possession…cannot be my disciple. (Pause) What, we have to be willing to give up everything we have?  You don’t mean everything do you Jesus? Everything?  And Jesus seems to say…yes. (Pause)

I don’t know…this is pretty heavy Jesus…I’m not quite sure I really understand what you’re saying here…but HEY!!!! He tells a couple brief parables right? I bet those will shed some more light on just what he’s REALLY trying to teach us.

A man plans to build himself a tower…but before he does so he sits down to calculate the cost…making sure he has enough resources…enough to spare…enough to give or trade so that this project will come to completion and fulfillment…because on the flip side…holy cow…if he lays his foundation and then runs out of resources…well then there’s physical evidence of this guy’s inability to do it on his own…and everyone will mock him….hmmmm.

Well maybe the second one…what king…as he plans to go out and meet another king in battle…will he not first sit to determine if its possible with his 10,000 fighters to defeat the other guy…who’s marching up with 20,000?  Well that makes sense right? 2-1 odds?  Pretty sure this first king is gonna end up dead, or in the very least disgraced if he tries that…better to do the alternative…and send out a delegation to ask for peace right?  (pause) Or is it? Because in that scenario…king number 1 is at the mercy of king number 2…and whatever deal they strike to keep #2 from laying waste anyway is probably gonna cost #1 pretty dearly…so maybe neither alternative is really all the great. (pause)

And so…with these two illustrations, we consider Jesus’ teaching…his rather blunt statements about the cost of discipleship and it leads to the obvious conclusion of (Long pause)  WHAT?

It kinda seems that Jesus is telling us that discipleship does come with cost…and in all likelihood…it might be more than we are willing to give…because discipleship…following Jesus might just cost us absolutely EVERYTHING we have…and even that might not be enough…and if his parables are to be believed…it almost seems like Jesus is saying “if you aren’t willing to give what its gonna take…you might as well just stay home and not…even…try.” (pause)

I don’t know about you but that strikes me as a pretty tough pill to swallow.  Isn’t Jesus the one who tells us “come follow me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light?” Isn’t he the one who teaches us over and over again that all are truly welcome and included…even the ones who have pushed so far to the margins that we forget about them?  Isn’t he the one who calls all who are weary and he will give us rest?

Yes…all of those things are true…but in this difficult teaching from Jesus it seems like discipleship is asking more of us than any of us are willing to give…and maybe even more than any of us are even CAPABLE of giving. And if that’s the case…then what do we do with it?  It is a lost cause?  Are we a lost cause?  Should we just throw up our hands and go home and figure “Well we gave a shot, I guess that wasn’t enough?” (pause)

Here’s the thing…when we zero in on single aspects of scripture…single teachings…single verses or ideas or concepts…when we do this…all too often to try and prove point to someone we disagree with…we miss the bigger picture…context matters…overarching teaching matters…and the larger message of Christ matters.

And so…in order to try and make some sense of this oddball teaching from Jesus that sounds like “all is lost.” I looked ahead to the next chapter…anyone know what happens in Luke 15? (Pause) Jesus tells some more parables…about a shepherd with 100 sheep who leaves 99 to go find 1 that’s lost…and then a woman with 10 coins who searches diligently all over her house until she locates the one that went missing…and then a father with 2 sons, both of which go wayward in one way or another…and that Father looks longingly…for them…until they are brought back in. (pause)

The gospel teaches us that we have a God who made ALL of this…and even though we’ve done a REALLY good job of screwing it up in just about every way imaginable…this same God does not see us as a lost cause…and this is why Jesus was here in the first place.

Whatever it was that God was accomplishing in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…it seems that God was paying that cost that is too great for any of us to manage on our own…that somehow…God was offering a way to overcome that brokenness and division that exists in our reality…peace in the face of that which has divided us from one another and even from God. (pause) That’s what those three parables coming up in the next chapter reveal to us…that we have a God who will defy all logic and sense and do what we are incapable of doing on our own…of finding us when we are lost.
That’s what caught me…and knowing that, I circled back around to today’s difficult teaching to find the good news in a passage that seems devoid of it.

When the king realizes that he can’t do it…a delegation for peace is sent…but the gospel tells us that the one who actually sends the delegation is not the weaker king, its the stronger king. (pause)  Jesus was sent into the world to bring about peace on our behalf…knowing that we are unable to achieve it. (pause)
And now here’s the take away…especially today as we kick off another program year…what is it that we are doing here at church if not engaging in opportunities for discipleship? It takes on many forms, but its here…this chance to gather with one another and learn from the one who calls us, and asks for our entire selves.

Its not just a call to bring our kids and drop them at the front door…or to sit and listen to me jabber for 15 minutes once in a while, or to drop a couple bucks in the offering plate on occasion.  This call into discipleship asks for everything…and it might cost everything…we don’t know how all that’s gonna shake out.

And so what do we do with that? Are we gonna be lukewarm about it? Because if that’s the case Jesus seems to be saying you might as well stay home. And that’s blunt…but sometimes we need to hear a blunt word to remind us that the creator of the entire universe looked at everything…and decided the universe needed one of you.  And not only that…but that same creator of everything has offered you the life changing news that you have been claimed as a beloved child, not through anything that you have done…you have not earned it…but it has been given to you freely…So let that truth permeate everything aspect of your being…and together let’s be willing to give all of ourselves…and see where God is going to lead us. Amen.

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.

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.