Posts Tagged ‘Passion Prediction’

This Is Not Normal 10-21-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:32-45, I explore Jesus’ final Passion Prediction and the strange way that the disciples continue to react to it. It shouldn’t be normal…and in light of a tragedy in our community, it seems quite fitting.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-is-not-normal-10-21-18

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

The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Yesterday I spent I pretty big portion of the day in the car, as my family road tripped up to the central part of the state for the funeral of my wife’s aunt. As we were driving in the morning, both my wife and I commented that it was strange that there weren’t very many farmers out in the field yet…with the mild dry and breezy weather that we’ve had the past few days finally making harvest work a possibility.

But that was the case…very little activity in the fields as we traveled in the morning.  But then on the way home, it was the polar opposite. Combines in almost every field…the tell-tale presence of a large dust cloud as the crops are pulled out…and as we drove along, it crossed my mind “now that’s more like it….this is what I expect to see this time of year…this is normal.” Year after year of history all adds up for us to build these images of normal, as we witness or even experience those things that just end up being common.

Now that being said…I can’t help but think that today’s scripture reveals something else that is starting to become normal. Now, as I mentioned, I included an extra couple of verses in the reading today…because the setting is important.  For the third and final time, Jesus has shared the prediction of his pending passion…his betrayal and arrest…his persecution and torture…his death on the cross…and perhaps most importantly…the good news of the resurrection that he will also experience.

We’ve heard the other two predictions in recent weeks…as all three occur in a fairly brief portion of Mark’s gospel…now here’s the thing.  Jesus doesn’t deviate much in terms of the details that he shares each time…but the thing that’s starting to become familiar…that’s becoming…normal…is the reaction on the part of the disciples.

The first time Peter makes a proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah…and Jesus responds “You betcha…now here’s what that means.” And Peter oversteps his bounds…rebuking Jesus, likely due to an misplaced expectation of just what the earthly Messiah means.

The second time around…Jesus predicts it again…and this time the disciples sorta clam up in front of him, but as they continue walking along they start bickering about who’s the greatest among them…and Jesus has to stop and redirect them again.

And now today…he makes the same prediction for the third and final time…and this time, its James and John who come up to him with this off-the wall request…now…I can’t help but think that they know this probably isn’t the smartest thing to be asking for…so maybe, just maybe they have been paying attention to what happened the first two times…but they come up to Jesus and say “Teacher…we want you to give us whatever we ask of you.” And Jesus…who probably already has a pretty good idea of what’s coming, poses quite the question back at them…What do you want me to do for you?

And with that…we hear this request to hold the places of honor, at the right hand and the left hand of Jesus when he comes into his glory. (pause)
Seriously…its bad enough that the disciples never seem to fully grasp what’s going on…and not only in these three instances…but honestly throughout the course of the gospels it constantly seems like they lack any shred of comprehension…like their boneheaded responses are just the normal thing that we come to expect from them.

But you know what…it shouldn’t be.  These 12 guys…these men who follow Jesus around to witness the ministry first-hand…never seem to get it…and what’s worse…in two out of the three passion predictions…it’s the big 3…Jesus’ inner circle of Peter, James, and John…who misread things…and honestly…the gospel of Jesus Christ…the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us through the incarnate word of God made flesh in Jesus…that’s WAY to big to get brushed off with these boneheaded responses of the disciples…maybe we think its normal…but it shouldn’t be normal. (pause)

Now with this…I need to switch gears…Friday morning, I walked into the office with an expectation in mind…but I was a little off…because as I had taken my kids to school, I had seen and heard several patrol cars as well as the firetruck and ambulance go flying up the hill out of town…and for some reason, the thought went through my head…this is a big one.

Admittedly…I was already a little edgy going into the day…many of you sitting out there probably know the significance of October 19th here in our community…but I sat down at my desk and started working…only to get a message a few minutes later with some of the worst news we can get.

There’s been a car accident…and a student from the high school has been killed…now at this point it was only a rumor…but one that prompted me to reach out to the principal up the hill…and to quickly receive confirmation that yes…that’s what happened…and with that I jumped in the car to go be present and help out at the school in any way that I could.

When I arrived, the students were all in their classrooms…and they were being told what had happened…and as I sat there in the commons, talking with a few of the administration, I knew what I was going to see next.  I was going to see students come back out into the hallways crying…I was going to see them utterly devastated…clinging to one another in the shock…some would continue to walk around the school with that shocked look on their face…some would call their parents and go home…and over the course of the next couple of hours, the school day would continue on as many of them defaulted back into the familiar…upset and shaken…and yet trying their best to go on with things.

And that’s exactly what happened…now here’s the painful thing about this…I knew what to expect…because this isn’t the first time I’ve been at that school when something like this has happened. 3 times in the past 4 years our high school has experienced the tragedy of the death of a classmate…a life lost far too soon…and this should not be normal.

(pause) Now please don’t think that I’m trivializing this in anyway…its heart breaking…utterly devastating…and I know enough of those kids up the hill to feel the anguish of having been through this, not just once, and not twice, but now three times.  And to know that as devastating as it might be for the school and the community…that there is a family who has now experienced the nightmare that you don’t wish on anyone.

And if you have heard the news report about the accident…you know how bad this is without me needing to say it…and I’ve had conversations with several different people in the meantime…conversations that pretty much end up saying “this doesn’t make sense?” or “I want to know why?” And usually once they say that, they follow it up with “and I know I can’t know, and that’s not right.”

There’s a lot of truth in that…when a tragedy like this happens…something that we can’t make heads or tails of…it usually leaves us with a bitter taste in our mouths…and we’re either really sad or we’re really angry…and often we look for someone or something to aim that emotion at.

And as we consider that…maybe, just maybe…Jesus response to James and John is fitting today…what do you want me to do for you? The quick answer…is that we want God to take it away…to snap his fingers and make it just a bad dream that didn’t actually happen…but our broken reality has also shown us that this is not what’s going to happen…because Jesus did not come into our reality in order to serve as something of a magic lamp…to grant wishes to us…I can only think that Jesus had something much bigger and more profound in mind, not only as he predicted his passion…but as he actually experienced it.

Because in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…God was doing something about this broken reality that we live in…a reality that includes pain and suffering and death…whatever it was that Jesus was accomplishing…the promise of the gospel assures us that whenever death rears its ugly head…it doesn’t get the last word…God does…because God mourns this reality just like we do…and God knows that while it might feel normal…it shouldn’t.

This is the gospel…that while we were sinners, Christ died for us…and this is true whether we feel good about it or not.  I don’t know about you…but in light of this tragic death…just like the others like it that our community has experienced…sometimes these promises of the gospel feel kinda bitter…but the truth is that the promises don’t change based on how we feel. (pause)
Once more, our community has experienced a tragedy…and now together, we will all try our best to find the new normal going forward…and as we do, whether this feels trite right now in the moment, or if it is a comfort…we have a God who is walking this road with us…a God who has promised to never forsake us even in the times when we find ourselves hollering and screaming at him…God will take it…so if that’s what you need to do…if that’s what you need to feel…feel it, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

This is not normal…nor should it be…but regardless of how we find ourselves feeling right here, right now…know that God doesn’t think its normal either…and even if it doesn’t feel like it, God HAS already done something about it. Amen.

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Who Is Called Greatest 9-23-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:30-37, I explore Jesus’ second passion prediction, and the way that it leads to expectations of personal greatness and prestige. Jesus is up to something different.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-is-called-greatest-9-23-18

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

Over the course of the past couple of years, I have gotten into the habit of watching tv shows that focus in on life in the political spectrum. I’ve made our way through several different series, the most notable being The West Wing.

It was a great show that zeroed in on the lives of several of the prominent senior staff that surrounded the President of the United States in the hectic day to day activity of the White House. The show ran for 7 seasons, and a pretty major feature of the final season was the presidential race that would culminate in the final episode with the inauguration of the new president and the subsequent change over in staff from the old faces to the new ones.

In one of the final scenes, the new senior staff walks into the West Wing and they all pause for just a moment, before pealing off in different directions to find their new offices…and in one instance, we see the overlap as the outgoing character picks up his belongings…shakes the hand of the new guy…and then stands there for a brief moment watching as the new guy sets down his stuff…and excitedly begins arranging his new office.

It makes me think of the expectations that this character must be feeling…the ideas of what things will be like in this new role…of the work that he’ll be doing…whether he’s accurate in his assumptions or not. (pause)

Now the theme of expectations is one that we keep bumping into here over the course of several chapters of Mark’s gospel, including today’s lesson.  There’s a stretch of Mark that features several different teachings from Jesus that appear difficult…unexpected…maybe even a little harsh…teachings that maybe, just maybe make it difficult to even want to be a follower of Christ…some of these teachings or themes are unique…and others pop up more than once.

We’ve mentioned before that when something repeats itself within the scriptures…its usually worth paying attention to…and if you happened to be here last week, you might have noticed something that sounds familiar.  For the second time…Jesus predicts his upcoming betrayal and arrest…he predicts his suffering and death…and he predicts that three days later he’ll rise again…its nearly identical to what we heard back in chapter 8…and funny enough…it would seem that 2 times isn’t sufficient…because a chapter later…in a passage that we’ll encounter a couple more week’s from now…Jesus is going to do it a third time.

3 times he shares this prediction with the disciples…this honest and open revelation of his eventual fate…of how things are going to culminate at the end of his ministry. (pause) Now, the disciples’ reaction today is interesting…we hear that they lack understanding of just what Jesus is talking about…and even though they want to ask him questions…they remain silent.

Maybe, just maybe they are remembering the last time Jesus brought this whole deal up…and Peter getting a little testy with Jesus before getting a verbal smack-down. Maybe that’s why they dummy up and don’t ask the questions that are clearly on their minds…not even Peter in this instance.

But instead…as they continue walking along towards Capernaum…their conversation takes a turn…and they start bickering. Now maybe their debate has something to do with Jesus’ prediction…but maybe it has something to do with this location as well. It seems a little specific to name that they are in Capernaum…unless we know a little something about this community on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee.

Capernaum was an important city in those days. It was located right along a major trade route…it was also a boundary between two different territories and as such it was a taxation point.  The Roman government and military both had a presence there…and the residents, Jews and Romans alike, benefitted from all this with wealth and affluence.  It was a place of prestige…of authority and influence…in short…this was a place a power…and I’m guessing, as this merry band of Christ followers approached the city with words about this Messiah walking in their midst, the topic of authority and power seemed pretty important. (pause)

Now once they get into town and settle into one of the homes there, Jesus starts asking some questions…namely what they’d been bickering about…because it seems that their conversation escalated into an argument over which one of them would be called the greatest…who would hold the most authority…who’s the most important among them. (pause)
I can’t help but think that this starts to reveal a little bit of similarity in the expectations the disciples hold with what we heard out of Peter a week ago.  Jesus, you are the Messiah…and Jesus says yes, now let me tell you what that means…and Peter says No lord…the Messiah cannot be killed…you’ve got important political work to accomplish…take back the throne…free us from oppression, bring about this kingdom of heaven that you keep talking about…obviously you can’t do that if you’re dead. (pause)

It’ll be the same sort of thing when we encounter the last Passion prediction too…Jesus shares what will happen…and two of the disciples hit him up with a request to sit at his right hand and his left when he comes into power.

And today…same deal…Hey guys…Jesus is talking all that Messiah stuff again…I don’t know why he’s so set on the idea that he’s gonna die…I don’t know what that’s all about…who knows…maybe he’s being metaphorical…but you know what…when he takes control…its gonna be awesome…and we’ve been following him around…I wonder what spot we’ll each get.

That’s the debate…Jesus is here to bring about something UTTERLY new…a new way to live…a new way to be in this world…claimed and loved by God…and freed from the power of the brokenness that is still so prevalent…and in the midst of all this…the disciples are bickering over what cabinet position they are going to hold “in the kingdom.” Of who’s gonna be second in command…of who will hold more authority or prestige or status.

3 times Jesus tells them plainly. (slowly) I am going to die and rise again. It will be brutal, it will be painful, and you will all abandon me…and in three different ways, they reveal the same thing. What can we get out it? (pause)

I wonder…do we fall in the same trap? Do we get caught up in human expectations over what Jesus is going to do for us…of how we’re going to benefit from this identity as a follower of Christ? (pause) Is that how we look at our association with the congregation…or our identity and position within the greater community because of our membership here in the local faith institution? Do we wonder…or even seek out…the self-image of being called great? (pause)

That’s the rub in the disciples debate…they are arguing over who will be the one to be called…or named great.  Funny enough, they know better…because when Jesus calls them on it…they don’t say a word…its almost like they’ve already figured out that this isn’t what Jesus is all about…and yet it’s the issue most important to them.

Maybe its because the world works that way…their society was not that different from ours in that regard.  Power and influence and prestige and authority and fame and glory and riches were the currency of the day…just as they are now.

But Jesus proposes something different doesn’t he? It is not these things that will make your name great…you will not be called great because of these things…you want to be called great…welcome the least of these.  And he places a child in their midst.

Now in Jesus’ day, children were the lowest of the low on the status ladder…lower even than slaves…but Jesus could have also grabbed a begger…or a lepper…or a foreigner or a tax collector.  Anyone who their society dictates was unacceptable…Jesus says put them before yourself…serve them…and then you’ll be called great. (pause)

I’m drawn to that idea of being called great…maybe its subjective, because depending on the moment we might call a lot of things or people great…but Mark’s gospel really doesn’t. In fact…there are only two times when this exact phrase is used…to be called great…this is one…and the other is when Jesus answers the question of what commandment can be called the greatest.

Anyone remember how he answers?  Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.  Place others ahead of you…that’s what Jesus calls great. (pause) But maybe, just maybe that doesn’t compute. Because this is an idea that is so utterly foreign in a dog eat dog world…a world where we have to look out for number 1…a world where we bite and claw our way to the top…but I always wonder…where does that get us?

There’s an old saying “the one who dies with the most toys wins” (pause) but there’s another saying that refutes it “the one who dies with the most toys still dies.” It’s a sober reminder that this life has an expiration date. (pause)

But…Jesus is doing something different…utterly different. This kingdom of heaven…whatever the heck that means…its different…it doesn’t focus in on power or authority or prestige or status.  None of those things that the world tells us you have to have in order to be complete will actually get you there.  But a promise that there is something more…that you have been claimed by the one who created you…that you are loved and accepted and treasured as you are right now…and that no matter what happens that everlasting love will not be taken away from you and not even death can get in the way of it.  That promise gives us hope to cling to in the midst of all the mess of this world that we are constantly surrounded with and bombarded by.

Trust me…there is plenty of stuff in this world that can drown us in despair…and there are plenty of times when that hope of the promise might just be really hard to see…and this is why we need one another…to reflect that light of life that Christ has brought into this world…to shine that light so those stuck in darkness have something to look to…to be the hands and feet of Christ, even in some tiny way…just to show this world that no matter how hard it rants and raves…and no matter how loudly it screams that might makes right…or that gaining just a little more and a little more at the expense of another will make you satisfied…no matter how hard the powers of darkness in this world rave that light WILL shine brighter…because when light shines darkness loses…that’s the simple fact of the matter…even when it doesn’t feel like it. (pause)

The future is unknown to us…we might have our plans or expectations…we might have our hopes and our dreams…but the reality might turn into something completely different.  May we find hope in the one thing that will remain constant…God’s promises for you have already been made real in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s something that we can call great.  Amen

Don’t Get Distracted 10-18-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 20:32-45 I explore Jesus’ response to James and John asking for an honor that is not intended for them. Jesus reminds us to be who we are called to be, nothing more and nothing less.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-get-distracted-10-18-15

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

Mark 10:35-45 (also including 32-34)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

There’s a type of character that commonly pops up in movies aimed at young viewers…and this is particularly evident within animated movies from Pixar. The character type…the goofy sidekick. That unexpected character that pops up part way through the movie and comes alongside the main character, often times serving as comic relief within the story line…and in my opinion…more often than not, that character makes the movie.

Where would Shrek be without Donkey cracking jokes? Who can forget Olaf, the living snowman that traipses along beside Anna and Elsa…Aladdin’s furry little friend Abu…or my personal favorite…Dug, the talking dog from Up.

I love Dug…and in my opinion, the best scene is his introduction as he meets the main characters and displays his mechanically wonderful collar that allows his thoughts to be heard.

Its an amazing scene, as Doug acts like any friendly dog…jumping up on the chest of the main character to express his instant affection… “HI THERE…My name is Doug…I have just met you…and I love you….SQUIRREL!!!!!” (pause)
That’s my favorite spot right there…as Doug is distracted by a squirrel…something any dog would do…and yet…it makes the scene unforgettable…so much so that in recent years the word “SQUIRREL” has become synonymous for someone being easily distracted…and that’s where I’m jumping into the gospel lesson for today. (pause)
Now as I mentioned…I included a few extra verses at the beginning of today’s gospel lesson…and those verses included Jesus’ third and final passion prediction here in Mark. We heard the first two out of chapters 8 and 9 a few weeks back…and now, as Jesus and the disciples are finally nearing Jerusalem…Jesus shares the same message for the third time. Its not any different from the previous two…and he shares, quite clearly…the Son of man will be handed over and will be condemned to death…he’ll flogged…and beaten…and mocked…and he will be killed…and after three days he will rise again. (pause)
And immediately…right on the heels of this…James and John come trotting up to Jesus with this bold request. And I can only wonder…were they just listening? Or were they completely caught up in something different…utterly distracted…Honestly…I kinda hope so…it would explain quite a bit.

Maybe…just maybe, while Jesus is talking to the disciples about this tragedy that is coming right up…James and John are having a little side conversation because they are already planning on asking Jesus this…important question.

Psst…James….you ask him…no John, you ask him…well, maybe we should ask him together…I dunno…you think we should pull him aside…something tells me the other’s aren’t going to like this very much. (pause) SQUIRREL!!!! (pause)

I’d like to think that’s what happened…that they were simply so caught up in what they were about to ask Jesus that they completely missed what he was saying…because Jesus’ predictions about his suffering and death seem WAY too momentous to simply ignore right? But isn’t that what seems to happen?

I’m going to die and rise again…Hey Jesus…in your glory can we sit beside you? (pause) WHAT? They couldn’t have heard him could they? I mean, seriously. (pause) But what if they did? And what if this response is simply more evidence of the incredibly blatant point that Mark likes to make…that the disciples JUST…DON’T…GET IT.

We’ve seen this theme a lot haven’t we? They are constantly failing to understand Jesus’ teaching…or his miracles…or his healings…and when he comes around to teaching them…directly and plainly…about his death and resurrection…its more of the same. The first time, Peter rebukes him and gets called Satan….the second, we plainly hear that they don’t understand and promptly start bickering about who’s the greatest among them…and now…James and John…two brothers who likely have the normal sibling tendency to think alike hit him up with “Hey Jesus, let us sit in the places of honor beside you in your glory.”

I can only imagine the epic facepalm that Jesus gave them when he heard it. (facepalm) “Guys…really? You really think you deserve that?” And then we hear questions of cups and baptisms…and man aren’t the sons of Zebedee sure of themselves? Oh yes Jesus…we are able to do what you’re going to do. (pause)

Now granted…this whole exchange between Jesus and the brothers is a little odd…there’s a lot of debate about just what they’re really talking about here…is the cup Jesus’ death? Perhaps…and if so is he telling them that they will be killed? Its hard to say in the long run…because James was eventually martyred…but he wasn’t crucified…and John, well, he’s the one disciple who actually lived long enough to die of natural causes…so who knows what the cup is all about…and the baptism, well, that could be a lot of things…but regardless of that…Jesus makes the main point that to be the ones at his right and left hand is not what’s in store for James and John…that “honor” is prepared for different people. (pause)

Once again…when faced with the notion of Jesus dying, the disciples seem compelled to establish a pecking order…over and over again we see this…and today’s story is no different…they are so distracted by their petty human desire to be top-dog that they forget what Jesus has taught them over and over again…and so he reminds them once more…its not about trying to be great…serve one another…follow my example because the son of man came not to be served, but to be a servant of all…to give his life as a ransom for many.

And with that, we see the disciples finally shut up and listen. (pause) Over and over again Jesus has been telling these men that to be a follower of Christ…to be a disciple means a life of serving others…and yet it never sinks in…but this time, Jesus tells us that his life, which is about to be taken…will serve as a ransom…as a payment…because that’s what a ransom is…a payment to grant the freedom of someone that has been taken captive. (pause)
Maybe…just maybe…for the first time the disciples are starting to get it…even just for a moment…perhaps they are starting to see past their own petty distractions about what the Messiah is supposed to be…to see what the Messiah actually is…and where his glory truly lies. (pause)
All to often it seems like the disciples are focused on this amazing kingdom that Jesus is going to establish…and even more so…their place of prominence within it…and I fear that we get caught up in the same distraction…constantly asking the question of just what following God is going to get me. (pause)

But Jesus is revealing the point of his glory…and where it will be found…not in a kingdom…not in miracles or teachings or healings…but the glory of Jesus is found as he hangs on that cross…as he embraces a cursed death…taking on the curse of sin for all of humanity…paying the ransom to free us from that which holds us captive. (pause)
Maybe this is why the disciples seem to clam up after this third and final prediction…and why James and John don’t push the issue anymore…perhaps they are finally beginning to understand, if only for a moment…the true reality of what Jesus is talking about as he predicts his death.

James…John…you want to be beside me in my glory…you can’t…its not prepared for you…Maybe Jesus is predicting that they will all run away and abandon him…which we know they do…but…when Jesus is hanging in excruciating and degradation pain on that cross…he’s not alone…and this is why we say that he is in his glory…because the only time in all four gospels when anyone is described at his right and at his left…its two criminals…hanging up on crosses on either side. (pause)

This is the utterly unbelievable aspect of the gospel…that God would die…and not only that, but that God would willingly endure the most painful, humiliating, cursed death imaginable…and that he would do it surrounded…not by his friends…but by condemned criminals…revolutionaries…the lowest of the low…and that God would do this willingly to ransom us from the powers of sin and darkness that are so present in this world…holding us captive…and not only that…but that God would do all this for individuals that are often too distracted to notice…too distracted with worry…or with ambition…with anger…or with fear. (pause)
I can’t tell you what it is that distracts you from recognizing the incredible act that Jesus accomplishes on that cross…but I know that we all have those distractions in our lives…and yet, Jesus willingly does this for us anyway…and in the midst of all this…his words to James and John, as well as the other disciples, serve as an important reminder for us as well.

One day we all drink from the cup of death…the same cup that Jesus himself asked the Father to remove…and likewise…we share in the same baptism as Jesus…washed in the water and gifted with the holy spirit…and throughout all of that, we are not called to be anything more than what God intends for us…the places of honor…to be at the right and left of Jesus in his glory were prepared for two specific people…and God has prepared something specific for you.

And so, as we leave this place today, reminded of the incredible cost willingly paid by God on our behalf…remember…do what God has called you to do…be who God has called you to be…and while that looks different for everyone…there is something that we all have in common…that God has called us his beloved children and nothing can take that away. Amen.