Posts Tagged ‘Peter’

How Revolting 5-19-19

In this sermon, based on Acts 11:1-18, I explore the mind-blowing action of the Holy Spirit moving across cultural boundaries in the expansion of the church. This action is still going on as we are invited into deeper levels of inclusion.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/how-revolting-5-19-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord be yours, now and forever. Amen

There is a scene from the movie Highlander that I love.  In a flashback to the mid-1500’s the main character, who is Scottish by the way…is trying to learn proper balance by standing up in a row boat…and when his mentor shakes the boat he cries out “You stupid haggis!”  “Haggis…what is haggis?”  “Sheep stomach stuffed with meat and barley.” “And what do you do with it?”  “You eat it.”  “How revolting.” (pause)

Its kind of a silly thing…but it reveals a certain truth. There are some things that might seem quite common to one person…but because of countless differences between individuals…that same thing might seem utterly crazy…disgusting…revolting even.

Based on that example…we’re probably thinking of odd or exotic foods…like haggis…or lutefisk for us Scandanavians…but this idea can certainly expand into a lot of different realms as well…like jobs or tasks that an individual might take on…even be used to it…but to someone who is unfamiliar it turns the stomach…like someone who works in a sewer treatment plant…or a caretaker in a big industrial chicken farm…or the poor guy who has to drive the rendering truck around and pick up dead animals. (pause) I’m sure we can all think of those types of things…something that just seems utterly wrong…so wrong that our reaction is revulsion. (pause)

Now “revulsion,” that’s a strong word isn’t it? One that we probably don’t really use that often…but it’s a good one…and I think it expresses an extreme reaction…not just dislike…but the sense of being completely repulsed by something…or even someone.

And that sense right there…I want you to hold onto that…because this very sense helps explain the mentality that Peter was facing in today’s story that we heard out of Acts. (pause)

Now at this point…the Jesus movement…or the way of Christ, or the church, or Christianity…whatever we want to call it…its pretty well been limited within the confines of the Jewish faith up to this point.  Jesus’ own action and ministry, with a few notable exceptions, has been aimed at the lost sheep of Israel.

Following his ascension right at the beginning of Acts, the tiny group of his followers are empowered by the Holy Spirit during the festival of Pentecost…and following an impassioned sermon from Peter, 3000 Jewish people became believers.  A couple chapters later we hear about 5000 more…but up to this point…we’ve yet to see the Gospel REALLY cross those cultural boundaries and reach the Gentiles…

That is, until Acts chapter 10…when Peter has a vision regarding Jewish dietary restrictions that repeats itself a few times until he starts to get the bigger picture…and then he’s summoned off to Caesarea and the home of Cornelius…a Gentile and Centurion in the Roman Army…Peter enters his home…having learned in his repeating vision that God shows no partiality and that the “unclean nature” of Gentiles should not stop him…he shares the gospel…the entire household believes…the Holy Spirit shows up just as it did to the disciples at Pentecost…and moved by the Spirit, Peter baptizes the entire household…all that happens in chapter 10.

But hold on a sec. Look back at your bulletins…doesn’t it also happen in chapter 11?  Didn’t we read pretty much that exact thing in chapter 11? Yah we did…so why the repeat?  Why, when Luke was putting all this together did he feel the need to tell the story, and then have Peter turn around and tell it again? Why the repeat? (pause)

Well…when someone repeats themselves in scripture, its usually important right? And as we hear today…Peter is telling this story to the believers in Jerusalem…and especially to his critics…who we hear are the circumcised believers. (pause)

Let’s take a second here.  Circumcise believers…Jewish believers…those who follow the Law…those who cling to the idea that followers of Christ, must be Jewish…that its open to anyone, as long as they’ve first fulfilled the law…and you know what part of that Law says?  That you should not break bread with Gentiles…you should not even enter their house…because to do so makes YOU unclean…and therefore unfit to come before God. (pause)  And did you notice…that’s their complaint…as Peter shares the news of this AMAZING new development empowered by the Holy Spirit and the shared gift of the Spirit beyond cultural boundaries…the only thing they pick up on is the revolting reality that Peter entered the house of a Gentile.  (pause)
Can you believe that…that these guys are SO caught up in “the rules” and proper order or whatever we want to call it that they seem to completely miss the enormity of what Peter is telling them.

But you know what…its not just “the rules.” It seems to go deeper than that…these guys seem to be utterly disgusted…revolted at the very idea of sharing space and time and food with Gentiles…it just does not compute as even being possible…and yet…as Peter shares his experience…as he shares what he witnessed…how the hearing of the good news of Christ brought the Spirit and the gift of faith upon this household, regardless of their culture or nationality…regardless of their background…and Peter shares the mind-blowing insight that he has learned…I know that God shows no partiality.

I can only imagine how amazing this was for Peter and the fellow believers who were with him…for the gift of the Holy Spirit comes upon Cornelius and his family in exactly the same way as it had for Peter and the others…no differences…we find that in the first account of this story…and in his own joyous astonishment, Peter says “If God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God.” (pause)

Who are we to hinder that which God is up to? (pause) I think that’s a question that we all need to be asking ourselves…because the Spirit blows where it will…bringing the gift of faith into countless places and people that we think are lost causes…over and over again we hear in the scriptures…and sometimes we see with our own eyes…the way that God shows up where we least expect it…even among those who we think are unworthy…even those who we have no desire to associate with…even those who we might find revolting if we are honest with ourselves. (pause)

So who is that?  Who might the Holy Spirit be working among…having brought the gift of faith…who might God be calling even if we think it breaks the rules?  That’s a question that the church has long wrestled with in countless different situations…some of which seem to have settled…and some of which are still ongoing.

Here in the Lutheran church…or at least our branch of it…we’ve been ordaining women for almost 50 years…and that’s a good thing…because they are called and they are empowered by that same Spirit…and yet there are many, both individuals and groups, who still deny their legitimacy…who try to make them somehow less because of their gender. And what’s worse, they use scripture as a weapon to do it.

That’s just one example…there are countless more…and I can only think that when we fall in this trap, we are somehow denying the very personhood…the true identity of the individual…denying their mutual humanity and the truth that they are bearers of the divine image.

Who is God calling that we don’t agree with?  Who is God empowering that we just can’t wrap our heads around…because its been drilled into us by tradition that “it doesn’t work that way.” Or because our own personal prejudice or more often fear of the unknown whispers a lie in our ear to make us believe that they are somehow less…or unacceptable…or maybe Christianity’s favorite trope…that they are too sinful. (pause)

Over and over again, the story of scripture reveals mind-blowing ways that God continues to invite us forward…and this tends to reveal itself with ever increases examples of inclusion that crosses the boundaries created by society…and each and every time a line is drawn in the sand about who is in and who is out…we find Jesus on the other side. (pause)

Peter says “who am I that I could hinder God?” God will not be hindered…the Holy Spirit will not be limited because of our narrowmindedness, whether we like it or not…because the Gospel of Christ is WAY TOO big for our petty limitations to keep under control, and we find this in the very end of the book of Acts, as the Gospel of Christ and the kingdom of God is proclaimed with all boldness and WITHOUT…HINDRANCE.

Here’s the thing folks…the Spirit’s not done yet either…whatever was going on when Peter interacted with Cornelius…you better believe it was mind-blowing…Peter himself had to experience this vision 3 different times before he finally started opening up to it.  Then his critics in Jerusalem had to hear evidence, not only from him, but from 6 other people that the Spirit had in fact acted across racial and cultural boundaries before they could accept it…this was no easy thing…and I’m guessing it wasn’t just cut and dry…easy peasy…for any of them.

But that’s the radical nature of God’s amazing Grace made manifest through Jesus Christ…it goes beyond all logic…it goes beyond all understanding…and it breaks EVERY barrier…it has to, or its not grace.

So who might be our Cornelius?  Who might God be calling US into faithful relationship with…into shared communion…into this ONE body of Christ on earth?  That’s something we always need to be paying attention to…because the moment we wrap our heads around one mind-blowing situation on inclusion, God’s probably starting to prep the next one for us.

And you know what, that’s a good thing…because if God’s grace is really THAT big…well that means that its big enough for me…no matter how revolting that might have been for someone else, that God would chose to love me. That’s the amazing grace of God folks…and it really is THAT big.   Amen.

Who Am I 9-16-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 8:27-38, Jesus poses a question “Who do you say that I am?” Its a big question, and a difficult one to answer. And yet its worth pondering on.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here: (note this looks differently than simply listing the link as in past postings…listen by clicking the orange play button in the top left corner).

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

A few days back I had a conversation with an old friend…and we got to talking about the irony of cell phones.  Pretty much everyone walks around with a phone in their pocket these days…which means that it should be incredibly easy to get a hold of each other.

And yet…no one answers their phone do they? Maybe we can blame it on caller id…when the phone rings…if its not someone’s name, or a number that we recognize…we let it go to voice mail don’t we? This was what my friend and I were discussing…and in the midst of this discussion she said “You know, its probably the telemarketers fault.”

She said it in passing…but that statement stuck with me long after the conversation was over…and it made me think back to my younger years, before everyone had a cell phone…when we’d answer the old landline at the house…and that coupled with remembering countless conversations with telemarketers…calls that would go along these lines…Hello…a long pause while the robo-dialer connected on the other end…and then…Hello…is this Mr DaHlen? (cringe and hang up the phone).

It was in this moment that I recognized a pretty major pet-peeve…I hate it when names get mispronounced…an issue that happens with my last name with a LOT of regularity. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know why this bugs me so much…but it does…it feels like the person calling me by name really doesn’t know me…and vice-versa in the times when I’m the one doing the mispronunciation, it probably feels the same way to them……and I can only think that it points to a sense of unfamiliarity…a lack of understanding…or relationship…whether intentional or not…its just not a good feeling.

And I can’t help but think that this sense is present in our gospel for today…this lack of understanding or familiarity…and Jesus is still making the rounds during his ministry prior to his intentional turn towards Jerusalem and what will ultimately culminate in his death.

We are right about the half-way point of Mark’s gospel with where we pick things up today. And it would seem that Jesus thinks its about time to check in and see what people are saying…and so, as he walks around with his myriad of followers in tow, he asks the simple question.  Who do people say that I am?

The disciples respond with the various chatter that they’ve heard. Some call him John the Baptist…others Elijah or one of the prophets…and none of these are really out of line…his ministry and his message certainly have similarities with these different figures who came before in Israel’s history.

But Jesus apparently isn’t satisfied with this answer…because maybe its not enough to simply explore what people in general are saying…and so he gets a little more personal, particularly with the 12 disciples as he asks Who do YOU…say that I am?

I can’t help but think that this is a good question…an important one…and one that the disciples should really be able to answer by this point. They’ve been following Jesus for a while…clearly they’ve formed a solid connection and relationship…they’ve seen the miracles and listened to his teaching time after time after time…if anyone should have insight into just who Jesus is, its them.

And as we hear…Peter takes his normal role as spokesman with a divinely inspired response…you are the Messiah…the Christ…God’s anointed one. Peter is the first person to give Jesus this name…this identity…and Peters not wrong…but he is still in error.

Because as soon as Jesus starts to reveal to them what it means to be THE Messiah, Peter starts squawking…rebuking Jesus…which leads Jesus to start some pretty major rebuking of his own…Get behind me Satan…you have your mind set not on divine things…but on human things. (pause)

Here’s the rub. Sometimes I sorta feel bad for Peter when I come across this story…of course he’s got his mind on human things…he’s human…just like we are. So come on Jesus…maybe tone it down with calling him Satan…that seems a little on the harsh side. (pause)
And yet…its worth noting that Peter’s expectations of the Messiah, whatever they point to…are off.  It stands to reason that his expectation is more of a political figure.  The kings of old were anointed to be rulers…and prophecy had stated that the Messiah would again sit on David’s throne.  All signs probably pointed him in this direction…and Peter’s own experience with Jesus might have pointed that way too…somehow he’s made this assumption…although it would seem, based on Jesus’ response…that Peter is unfamiliar with just what the truth is of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.

Now, all else aside…I can’t help but think of the magnitude of this question from Jesus in the first place. Who do you say that I am? (pause) I don’t think he’s merely posing this question to 12 dudes who followed him around for 3 years prior to his execution on the cross…but I think this is a question that Jesus poses to each one of us…and it’s a hard question.  Who do you say that I am?

I think this is a hard question because our answer not only reveals something about how we think of God…but it also reveals something about us doesn’t it? Think about that question and how you would answer it.  Is Jesus just some wise 1st century Jewish rabbi?

Is he someone who showed up to tell the religious elite that they were doing it wrong?  Is he just some nice guy in a story that may or may not be true? (pause) Or if we go with the title assigned to him today…what does it mean that he’s the Messiah? What does the anointed one of God mean?

What are some of the other names or titles that we use when we think of Jesus? Lord…the lamb?  Emmanuel. God…the Son…savior, teacher, friend?  These are just a few of the various titles that we can and do apply to the one who our faith is named after. But I wonder, do any of them really do justice…or is Jesus, God in human form…the all-powerful creator of the universe made man…simply too big for any of us to wrap our limited understanding around…even though we try to do just that on a pretty regular basis.

The thing is…every time we try to assign meaning or identity or whatever we want to call it…all we pretty much end up doing is placing God in a box…even if that particular box might be an aspect that’s true…we can not begin to limit God to anything that we can come up with…because our assumptions, no matter how good our intentions…will always…fall…short.

I really doubt that Peter had poor intentions when he pulled Jesus aside to dispute the very notion that the Messiah would suffer and die at the hands of the religious and politically powerful…much less to suffer the utter indignity of the cross…a cursed death intended to be a brutal example of what would happen to you if you opposed the Roman government.

And yet…this is the reality of Jesus…and what does that reveal to us? That maybe, just maybe the Messiah is one who will ALWAYS align himself with those who are marginalized…those who the powerful say are unacceptable or even less than human…and that not only will Jesus be found with them…he will love them…and will show us, time and time again that there is another way to live in this broken and yet wonderful world that we have been given.

Maybe the Messiah is the one to show us that there is a way that we can chose to love one another and treat everyone as a fellow human being, regardless of social standing or status…but that’s a challenge to those whom society deems to be the powerful…and those with the illusion of power will often do anything to hold onto it…and this is why Jesus died.

Because in the life of Jesus, the one called the Messiah, God was showing us that there is another way…and that we can live in harmony with the world around us…and those that we share it with…and even with the one who made it…and the world…said…no. The cross, tame as it has become for us over the course of 2000 years of history and separation…the cross was a BRUTAL answer to the new way of life that God was showing us, something we call the kingdom of heaven…but the cross wasn’t the last word…because 3 days later he rose again to show us that not even death can silence the love of God that is actively breaking through into our reality. (pause)

Now I need to back up just a bit…and come back around to Peter…because I still think its harsh to consider Jesus’ response…Get behind me Satan…but its worth noting that Jesus doesn’t say Get away from me…he simply says get back in line behind me…and Satan is simply a Greek word for an adversary…so he isn’t actually calling Peter the devil here…Jesus is telling Peter that he needs to come back behind Jesus…and keep following him…even if that leads to the torment and torture of the cross.

Peter didn’t have the whole story yet…because he hadn’t seen the resurrected Lord…the living Lord who is a physical example that not even death can beat the good news that God has brought into our realty. Maybe Peter was singing a different tune once Easter rolled around and he saw things first hand.

And here’s the thing that we have in common with Peter…even with the benefit of hindsight…we don’t have the full picture yet either. Yes Jesus is alive…yes the tomb is empty…yes it is finished…and yet, we still view all of this through our limited human understanding.

But there will come a day when we will see these things clearly…a day which has been promised by the very one who lived and died and rose again in the first place…and in the meantime we live in hope and expectation of that day, and not only that…but we live out each day as if it is true…whether we can wrap our heads around it or not.

Jesus asks us…Who do you say that I am? (pause) It’s a big question that we need to continue to ask ourselves…and as we do so, let us each continue to follow the one who makes the promises to us…for that is our place in our identity as followers of Christ…we follow behind him, whether we really get it or not. Amen

Even These 5-6-18

In this sermon, based on Acts 10:44-48, I explore the utterly unexpected way that the Holy Spirit acts in bringing more and more marginalized people into fellowship.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/even-these-5-6-18

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

Ever heard the phrase “Truth is stranger than fiction?” There are times when this statement utterly spot-on.  Earlier this week I was scrolling through social media and found a picture of a book…And looking at the cover art may have temporarily broken my brain…Jesus, riding a rainbow unicorn, holding a machine gun in each hand, all while firing lasers out of his eyes.

It was like someone took My Little Pony, Superman, and Rambo…put it all in a blender…and then poured it on the gospels…and the biggest kicker was the name. The Bible, Part 2. (pause) I’m not making this up. Now, I don’t know what was actually in this book. I don’t know if it was satire, or a coloring book, or some weird comic…but it did get me wondering just what we would find if there actually was a sequel to the Bible. (pause)

Now, while we can’t answer that question, we can take a look at the theme of scriptural sequels and find some evidence…and that lies with the book of Acts…Now I can’t help but think that Acts, or Acts of the Apostles as its officially known, is one of the books of the Bible that tends to get glossed over more often than not…but when we take the time to really start digging into it, we find some pretty amazing, not to mention pretty mind blowing situations faced by the earliest church.

Now that right there…the earliest church, that’s what the book of Acts is really about. The 4 gospels highlight the Christ event…the story of God entering into our reality as a man named Jesus…his birth, his time in ministry…and of course his subsequent death and resurrection…all vital to the narrative of “THE GOSPEL” itself…and of course vital to our faith. But once the gospels are finished, it raises the question of what came next…and we find that in Luke’s second written volume of the Book of Acts.

Now Acts picks up with a tiny little overlap with the ending of Luke’s gospel…as the resurrected Jesus leads the apostles outside the city of Jerusalem. He tells them that they will be his witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit which will come upon them, and carrying the good news of the kingdom of Heaven…beginning in Jerusalem, then Samaria, and even to the ends of the Earth. With that, Jesus is taken up into heaven in the Ascension…an event which we’ll actually celebrate this coming Thursday…and with that the apostles head back into the city of Jerusalem where they hang out for 10 days…before the utterly mind-blowing event of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit come blowing in and empowered the apostles to speak in various tongues, proclaiming the greatness of God in the languages of countless Jewish people there for a festival…and with it, we begin to see the explosive growth of the early church…of the body of Christ, connected and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is really what the book of Acts entails. Early on we hear of the various exploits of the original Apostles…the places they end up, the people that they encounter and the miraculous events that occur, and then in the back half of the book we hear about the Apostle Paul, his conversion, his interactions with the original apostles and his subsequent ministry throughout much of the known world…as the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of the kingdom of Heaven continues moving outward, just like Jesus had said at the beginning, before Acts comes to a close by telling us that the gospel is being proclaimed in the world boldly and unhindered. (pause)

Jesus came into our reality to change it…to overcome the powers of sin and death and brokenness…and then he empowered his followers to carry that message forward…and that’s where we pick up today. With Peter…arguably the most relatable of the apostles because he’s just so human isn’t he?  He’s the one who constantly puts his foot in his mouth…the one who boldly makes divine proclamations about Jesus in one moment, and turns around and denies him in the next. And yet, he is the one who Jesus calls the rock.

Now Acts chapter 10 as a whole marks a transition for the church, and Peter is right at the heart of it.  Up to this point, while there has been explosive growth in the number of believers…its pretty well been limited to Jewish Christians…so much so that the earliest church was considered to be a Jewish sect…an offshoot of the same faith.

And because of this fact…this distinction, these earliest believers would have been followers of Jewish law…they would have been shaped by this cultural identity and with all of the rules and regulations that came along with it.  But now things are about to get shaky.

And it all starts as two different guys have visions. Now one of them is Peter and the other one is this random Gentile named Cornelius…a Roman centurion…and officer in their army, known and respected by the Jewish people around the city of Caesarea…one who even knows and fears God…but still a Gentile…and now he has a vision instructing him to send for Peter who’s hanging out in a nearby city…and so he does.

Now at the same time, Peter’s sitting on a rooftop having a vision of his own…as he sees a sheet descend from heaven, carrying pretty much every type of unclean animal…animals that Jewish law prevents them from eating…and as Peter sees all this he hears a voice saying “get up, kill and eat.”

Now in his vision Peter kinda freaks out, because he follows the dietary rules and always has…he won’t break them…he follows what can called ceremonial law…and he says “by no means, for I have never eaten anything profane.” And then the voice says “What God has called clean you are not to call profane.”

Now if the story stopped right there we could be thankful, because it allows us the joy of eating bacon, which I do believe is a gift from God…but joking aside that’s not where it stops…and Peter is told that there are Gentiles coming to find him and that he should go with them.

Now this leads Peter to the home of Cornelius, and he’s not alone…as we hear that there are circumcised believers with him…Jewish believers…probably numbering among the 3000 that were present and witnessed the Holy Spirit’s activity empowering the apostles at Pentecost….they’ve come along as well to see just what’s going on here.

Now as this group enters the home of Cornelius, he explains why he summoned them…and that in his vision he was instructed to listen to Peter and that his whole household is ready for Peter’s message., whatever it will be.

Now the pieces are starting to click into place for Peter, and he begins by acknowledging something vital…I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…and with this, Peter begins sharing the story…the message, the good news of Jesus Christ with all those who are present. (pause)
Now here’s the funny thing…as the lesson picks up today, we hear that the Holy Spirit interrupts Peter. Apparently his sermon is getting a little long winded and the Spirit doesn’t want to wait anymore…for “while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word…and these Gentiles…these non-Jewish people….these individuals who are not members of God’s chosen people, begin speaking in tongues and exalting God…which if memory serves me correctly is the EXACT SAME THING that happened to the apostles at Pentecost. And seeing that the Spirit had truly come upon them, Peter insists that they be baptized.

Now this event is not without repercussions…and as the narrative continues Peter starts catching some flack and has to explain himself…funny enough, not because he baptized these Gentile believers…but because he dared enter into the house of a Gentile.

And that right there…that’s telling of the problem that the early church was facing in this moment…because they all seemed to be stuck in that sense of ceremonial law that we mentioned earlier…that there are rules to admission…that you’ve gotta become Jewish…aka get circumcised, before you can become a Christ-follower.  Peter catches flack over this…later on Paul will butt heads over this…Paul even wrote the letter to the Galatians because of this exact situation.

Now its sorta funny. We read this today and think it’s a no-brainer…of course the gospel is for the Gentiles…it has to be or we wouldn’t be here would we? We’re not Jewish…so clearly that boundary was overcome…that line in the sand was crossed…and its because of this event involved Peter and Cornelius.

It’s a no-brainer for us…but at that time it was shocking…it was scandalous…offensive even…and we hear this if we pay attention to the astonished reaction of the Jewish believers who accompanied Peter…as they were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit, had been poured out…EVEN ON the Gentiles. (pause)

That simple little statement speaks volumes.  Its shocking to them that God would show favor to GENTILES…who’s next? Samaritans? Oh wait, Didn’t Jesus already do that? Well at least they’re half-Jewish…but Gentiles? No…surely not? But Jesus has already broken that barrier too hasn’t he?  And remember his instruction to the earliest church, that tiny handful of disciples. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.

Now I can’t help but think, the ends of the earth seems pretty all-encompassing doesn’t it? (pause)  It seems to be pretty inclusive…and that maybe, this whole situation…Jesus’ words mixed in with Peter’s vision, and the reality of the Holy Spirit coming upon these Gentiles serves to show us that when it comes to the Gospel, we can’t think its “us or them.” But rather it’s a question of “we.” Namely, humanity….because we have each been made bearing the divine image of God…we have each been called good by the one who made it…and we are all included when we hear that God so loved the world.

And so I pose the question today…who are those that fall on the other side of the line?  Who are those who tradition or society or whatever have pushed to the margins? Who are those that fail to follow the ceremonial law that we are all stuck in, whether we realize it or not…who are those that do things differently or think differently or talk differently or act differently than we do?

If the earliest believers struggled with anything here its that “the rules” that they had followed didn’t seem to apply where these newest believers were concerned…or perhaps more specifically they don’t apply where the Holy Spirit was concerned.

As members of the human race we are all really good at creating boundaries…now maybe we do so out of nefarious reasons or maybe we do so in order to give ourselves reassurance that we are, in fact, ok…but regardless, the scriptures show us time and time again that God seems to side with the marginalized…the ones pushed to other side of that line.

And so I ask the question…who are those that we have placed on the other side of the line? Who are the ones that our ceremonial law deems unacceptable that maybe just maybe the Holy Spirit is falling on anyway, whether we like it or not?

This is an important question that we in the church need to be asking ourselves…because if the gospel shows us anything…its that the grace of God is big enough…it is generous enough…it is so full of mercy, that it can overcome my brokenness (pause)…and it is given to me because of God’s perfect all-encompassing sacrificial love for me because I am made bearing the divine image. And the same is true for you. God’s grace is given to you because you are made bearing that same divine image. And if that’s the case then we better believe that same grace is given to everyone else bearing it too.

So ask yourselves…who is it? Who are you shocked to discover that the Holy Spirit has been poured out…even on these?  Amen

All Y’All 2-11-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:2-29, I explore the confusing situation of the Transfiguration. We don’t fully grasp just what went on, but that’s okay. We just need to remember to listen to what Jesus has to say to us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/all-yall-2-11-18

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

In recent years, I’ve gotten a lot of experience in dealing with young people, particularly junior high and high schoolers…not to mention the fact that I’m raising a couple of kids in that range…and in that time, I’ve observed something that has now become a bit of a motto.  Every 15 year old is a moron…just try not to be much of a moron.

Namely, yes you will make mistakes, but try to not be stupid.  (pause) Now in recent history, there has been news of this “15 year old syndrome” spreading around…apparently the hip thing was to record yourself eating a Tidepod…one of those little packets of laundry soap…and then posting the video online.

I really hope that this trend has already played itself out…but if not…and you are considering the Tidepod challenge…don’t. Its stupid. And because of this I can’t help but think that Tide has been concerned about their image and that the marketing department felt the need to do some scrambling…and what better way to go viral in the positive sense…than to take advantage of the huge viewership of the Super Bowl…and with that, we saw commercial after commercial…situation after situation, all the way through the game when a working actor named David Harbour pops up out of nowhere to tell…Tide Commercial. No stains…bright colors…Tide Commercial.

And I couldn’t help but think that if Jesus was walking around these days and not 2000 years ago…this is what the scripture would say…And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white…such as no one on earth could bleach them…No Stains…Tide Commercial. (pause)

Super Bowl marketing aside, we find ourselves here at the end of Epiphany…and one last story of how Jesus is revealed to the world…the Transfiguration. We hear story at this time every year, just before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent…and it’s a familiar one.

Jesus grabs the big 3 disciples…Peter, James, and John, and they walk up a mountain, just the 4 of them…and up on that mountain…something unexpected and amazing happens…the transfiguration. Jesus is somehow changed…even his clothes take on dazzling appearance…Old Testament big wigs pop up…Moses the giver the of the Law and Elijah the greatest of the prophets…and they’re standing there talking with the Jesus.

Now I can only imagine what the three disciples must have been thinking in this moment…I can only think that it must have been incredible to witness…this amazing transformation that Jesus undergoes, even if its momentary…and honestly…I find myself a little jealous of what they witnessed. It must have something to behold…something amazing to see…something that honestly probably goes far beyond the ability to truly describe.

Now the authors of the gospels try to clue us in…this story pops up in 3 of the 4 gospels and they’re all pretty similar so apparently whatever it was that Peter and James and John experienced that day…whatever it was that they saw…this was the best that they could explain it.

But honestly…what happened? We don’t have a whole to go on do we? Jesus is somehow changed…his clothes get super bright…and 2 random dudes who should be dead pop up out of nowhere…That’s the transfiguration…that’s all the detail we’re given before Peter starts acting like Peter and starts blabbing, apparently succeeding in putting his foot in his mouth…because his words seemingly prompt God to show up…or in the very least for a thick cloud to overshadow them and the voice of God to come booming out all around them. “This is my son, the beloved…Listen to him.” (pause)

Now as we hear…whatever it is that’s going on, even before the cloud and the voice of God show up…its terrifying…and I’ve often times found myself wondering just what it is that Peter and the other two guys are experiencing…and honestly it can get a little frustrating that we’re actually given so little to go on.

Just what actually happened up on that mountain? (pause) This is a question that scholars have pondered on for 2 millenia…with many different attempts to explain it…ways to rationalize or to consider the few small details of this epic event that we are given in the narrative.

But admittedly, I’ve never found anything that adequately revealed just what went on…every explanation that I’ve come across…and honestly even some that I’ve tried to offer in the past…they all come up short…and I can only think that our language, and not only that but our ability to understand and comprehend will always be lacking when it comes to the divine…and I can only think that this is what was somehow happening on the mountain…that in this brief instance…in this amazing and yet terrifying situation, somehow the divinity of Jesus was shining through the human.

We don’t know what exactly that means…and apparently beyond referencing a tide commercial and the lack of human ability to produce the effect of what’s going on with Jesus…maybe that’s all we can say…that in this instance we are reminded that this man who was walking around…this man who could perform miracles…this man who possessed amazing authority was…in fact…God the son…The word made flesh…the creator of the universe and everything in it who has come among us as one of us…and for just a brief fleeting moment on top of a mountain…that divine eternal all-encompassing entity came shining through the man… (pause)

To call this moment a revelation of Jesus’ true identity perhaps goes without saying…but then we get divine confirmation when the voice of the Father booms out. This is my son. (pause) Transfiguration aside…that’s a big deal too…Jesus is only called the Son of God 3 times in Mark’s Gospel…and all three occur alongside something pretty incredible.

Jesus is baptized and we hear that the heavens are ripped open and the holy spirit lands upon him…and we hear the voice of God. You are my beloved Son…Here Jesus is transfigured, whatever that means….and we hear again, this is my son the beloved…and the third time occurs during Jesus’ crucifixion…as the sun has gone black for several hours and the curtain in the temple spontaneously rips in two…and the centurion standing there before the cross says Truly this is the son of God.

3 times…3 divinely empowered events…3 proclamations of the true identity of this man named Jesus…the beloved Son…but what makes today special…what makes the Transfiguration stand out among these 3 events…is that God also gives us a command.

Now we hear God say, this is my beloved son, listen to him…but its worth digging just a little bit…we pick up in the original language that God isn’t just talking to Peter in response to his bonehead comment about staying put and building tents to live in…God is talking to everyone…like if we were in Texas God would be talking to All ya’ll.

Like…All ya’ll listen up to what my sons got to say. (pause)
Now funny enough, Jesus doesn’t say a ton here, other than waiting until after he’s raised from the dead to talk about what has happened….but we do get a clue as to what we’re supposed to listen to…and its kicks off today’s reading.  6 days later. (pause) 6 days later than what?

If we back up in the narrative we find the exchange between Jesus and Peter when Peter calls Jesus the Messiah…and Jesus promptly lets him in on just what that means…that the messiah will be betrayed and killed but on the third day raised again…and Peter wigs out, rebuking Jesus before Jesus calls him Satan…that’s what happened 6 days before the Transfiguration.

But that’s not the only time we hear this message from Jesus. Right after this story, as they get down the mountain, Jesus cast a demon out of boy and then repeats the same message. The Messiah will be betrayed and crucified but on the third day he will be raised.

And not only that…but Jesus shares this message a third time. (pause) You’ve ever thought about the importance of repetition? That if something keeps popping up its probably worth listening to? Seems to the case with this message that Jesus proclaims…this message that he is the Messiah and that he will be betrayed and killed but that through his life and death and then his resurrection God is truly up to something new…something utterly different…something utterly beyond our ability to fully grasp and understand.

But we are given little glimpses aren’t we? Little bits in the scripture about the presence of the kingdom of heaven which has come near to us…and the promise that we have a place in it because of what has Christ has done. This is the message that he has come to proclaim…the message that he has come to embody…the message and the promise that he has come to deliver to each one us.

We are flawed broken people…utterly limited in our existence and our ability to comprehend and grasp things that are divine…utterly inadequate to fully describe moments when we encounter the divine before us…and yet, we are still recipients of God’s divine favor, shown to us simply because of God’s amazing, all encompassing, way bigger than we can fully understand, love for each one of us.

And through the life, and the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, the divine is taking action in our reality to show us that there is no length that God will not go to in order to be with us.

That’s the gospel…that’s his message to all the world…so All Ya’ll…listen to him. Amen

Math Doesn’t Cut It 9-17-17

math

In this sermon, based on Matthew 18:21-35, I explore the parable of the wicked slave. The lord forgives an astronomical debt, but the recipient is unable to show the same mercy.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/math-doesnt-cut-it-9-17-17

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

I think at one time or another, every single young person tells themselves that they won’t turn out like their parents.  That when the roll is reversed and they are the parent, they won’t act the same way, they won’t think the same way…and they sure won’t talk the same way…When I have kids…I’ll be different.

Parents…how’s that working for you? (pause) I think its inevitable that certain patterns are going to emerge, because we have been shaped by those who came before us…and I recently realized this in conversation with my kids over the subject of homework…and specifically math…because I have heard from both of them “I hate math…I wish I didn’t have to do it.”

And just like every other parent that has come before…not to mention every math teacher who has taught…we say the same thing “You need to learn it, because you’ll use math everyday.” (pause) Now the old adage is true…math is everywhere…but…up until this point, I never really needed to worry about using math here in the context of preaching, (long pause) until….now.

Jesus is teaching his followers about forgiveness…reminding them of how important it is…how vital it is…especially among believers within the church. There is sin and brokenness…and there is repentance…and there is forgiveness…all of it aimed at the ongoing reconciliation that can and must occur among individuals.

Now as this conversation is going…Peter raises his hand…and I can’t help but picture Peter as the kid who squawks in math class saying “I’m never gonna need this.” (pause) Well actually Peter raises a more direct question…because Jesus has just told them that fellow believers…that other people are going to sin against them…and since Jesus has also given instructions on how to go about seeking reconciliation…I think Peter wants to clarify just how far we need to take this whole forgiveness thing.  “Lord…if a brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive?” He goes on a bit too, and actually Peter has probably given this a bit of thought because he doesn’t just pull a random number out of the air when he proposes a cap on the forgiveness scale…he says 7 times…and 7 happens to be the number of completion as far as the Jewish culture goes…after all, God created the world in 6 days, and on the 7th established the Sabbath…and Peter knows this…and so…to offer forgiveness to the same person 7 times…that should bring the matter to completion right?

But that’s not quite what Jesus has in mind is it…and here it is…math in the gospel. “Peter…dude! Not 7…but seventy times seven.” (pause) With this Jesus gives us a tiny little glimpse of the ongoing nature of forgiveness and reconciliation…when we think we’ve completed it…we’re just getting started. (pause) But as we see today, Jesus is just getting started…and following this little mathematical tidbit…he jumps into a parable to illustrate his point. And wouldn’t you know it…we have the opportunity for some more math in the midst of it.

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who’s ready to settle debts…so he starts calling in his markers…and low and behold…in walks one of the high rollers…a guy with a debt that goes beyond our imagination…10,000 talents. Now 10,000 of anything seems like a lot…but if we do a quick bit of math we begin to see just how astronomical his debt really is. A talent is equal to 15 years’ worth of daily wages for a laborer…15 years per talent…so this guy has got a bill worth 150,000 years of salary.

Now the second guy, he’s got a debt too…and here’s the last bit of math…100 denarii…which figures out to about 3-4 months of daily wages. Still a decent amount…but nothing compared to the first guy. This second slave…he can probably do something about it, but the first guy…not a chance…and yet…they both answer the same exact way. “Be patient with me and I will pay you everything.”

They are both buying a myth…regardless of the cost…we like to think that we can solve it don’t we? We like to think that given enough work…given enough time…given enough effort…we can earn our way back to even…like we’re playing Jeopardy and we’re in the hole because of answering too many questions wrong…but if we start answering them correctly we can get ourselves out of that hole.

And here’s the thing…at first…it seems that the king is buying into this system as well. Because he knows that there is no way that the slave is going to be able to repay that debt…and maybe just maybe, the king realized that he was kind of stupid to allow a debt that large in the first place…and so in order to soften the blow, the king follows the system and orders that the man and his wife and his kids all be sold…so in the very least he gets a tiny bit of value back. That may seem a little barbaric to us…but that’s the way things worked back in Jesus’ day.

Now when faced with the reality the slave begs for patience…and not only does he receive it…the king cancels the debt completely. Its done…its gone…the man is free from it…because the king chose to step away from the old system. Now by rights, this should just trickle down past the slave himself…this gift…this forgiveness of what he owes should benefit everyone else that’s a part of the system as well.

Consider this…for the slave to have this much of a financial burden to the king…he’s gotta be pretty high up in the whole system…with a lot of layers underneath him…a lot of different moving parts and people that all add up to an enormous financial responsibility…and so, if the king is still going to demand payment, then this slave needs to turn the cranks on everything and everyone below him in order to bring in what he’s response for.

But, on the flips side…if the king forgives the debt…if he erases it…which we know is exactly what he’s done…then this freedom…this blessing…it should trickle down through all those different layers as well…isn’t that amazing…that the act of mercy for one person, would affect the lives of so many others? (pause)
But what actually happens? Does the first slave make good on this wide spread blessing? Is he changed by it? Or does he keep playing by the same set of rules…by the same system that got him here in the first place?  (pause) We hear that he goes out and finds one of the slaves that owes him money…a tiny portion of the astronomical sum that was just removed from his responsibility…and rather than letting the blessing flow downward and outward…the first man keeps playing the game.

Give me what you owe…the second man responds in the very same way…word for word…be patient with me and I will repay everything…but he refused…and as we see, when news of his wickedness reaches the ears of the king, he’s punished…and the judgment which the first slave passed on, is the judgement that he in turn receives.  (pause)

Now here’s the thing…I’ve been talking about math and money…and debt and repayment…a lot of things that we’re familiar with…things that can be quantified…things that we can assign a specific value to…even if some of those values are so amazing huge that they go beyond our ability to really comprehend.

But what if there is no value…what if there is no scoreboard…and all we can really say about this whole parable is that the mercy of the king…who’s God just in case you were wondering…is beyond measure. No slave is ever going to earn 150,000 years of wages…you might as well call it a million years…or infinite…there is no amount that we can assign, nor should we…because when we fall in the trap of assigning a specific value or amount, then we’re still stuck in the same old system.

The system that says you’ve got to do this…or you have to avoid that…that you have to earn it…or even, that the mercy of God…the grace of God…the forgiveness of God is something that you can lose. (pause) The first man was forgiven and it should have affected every single relationship that he has. His family is safe from condemnation…and every other person that’s beholden to him in the system should be freed from it.

This is what the grace of God does when it truly lands within the heart and mind of the individual…because we realize in that moment that living in the reality of the kingdom of heaven right here, right now…it frees us from the burden of the system. And in turn we are freed to pass that same mercy…that same grace…that same freedom on to every other person that we are relationship with…whatever that relationship looks like.

But the guy in the parable couldn’t do it. Because the gift of the king never reached his heart…and his own brokenness…whether greed, or fear, or whatever it was that he was clinging to kept him trapped…and that’s why he was unable to show the same mercy to the second slave…and the result…torment…he found himself outside of the grace-filled gift of his Lord. (pause)
Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven has come near…and I believe that we are given the opportunity to live our lives each and every day in a way that reflects the kingdom that will be. Yes we are still broken and flawed…and yes we do still harm one another…but we also live in the freedom from the old system that requires us to earn it.  That’s the freedom that the man in the parable misses out on…he finds himself imprisoned…because he was never really free in the first place.

Truly…the grace of God…the forgiveness of our sins is beyond measure…and its foolish for us to even begin an attempt to quantify it. Because math just doesn’t cut it when we’re talking about the gospel…it is so utterly other to our limited minds…but the amazing thing about it…is that the freedom that we find within it…it already offered to you…the king has already canceled any and all debts…so let us live our lives in that freedom…and let us mirror that to all those around us…so that they too might encounter and embrace the same freedom that is so freely given through Jesus Christ. Amen.

What Stops a Hero 9-3-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 16:21-28, I explore the continued back and forth between Peter and Jesus following Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as Messiah. Its an odd situation that reveals the human expectations of Peter.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-stops-a-hero-9-3-17

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

Earlier this week I saw a headline that grabbed my attention…that after months and months of rehab, Tiger Woods has been cleared by his doctors to start swinging a golf club again…and as I thought about this I realized just how far he has fallen.

Now putting aside all the regrettable personal decisions that Tiger has made in his life…there was a time when watching him play golf was the most exciting thing in the world. From the time he came onto the PGA tour in the mid 90’s he had one goal in mind…total domination…to be the greatest golfer of all time. And it didn’t take long for the rest of the golfing world to take notice.

He won his first major in 1997, crushing the competition to take home the Green Jacket of the Masters…and from there on out, there was no stopping him. Now it was right about that time that I really developed my love for the game…and you can bet that when Tiger started knocking off major after major with his eyes set on the prize of passing Jack Nicolaus and his record setting 18 majors…that Tiger quickly earned the distinction of hero in my book…and not just mine either.

I think pretty much everyone agreed that it was only a matter of time before he took the record…getting his major victories up to 13 by the end of 2007…and then he managed to knock off number 14 by winning the US Open in 2008, all while nursing a major fracture in his leg.

Admittedly that was the first time I saw a crack in the armor…and he had to sit out the rest of the 2008 season following surgery on his leg…but midway through 2009 he was back on form and going into the final major of the year, Tiger held the lead going into the final round. I was elated, because he had a record…Tiger had never been beaten in a major when he held the lead going into the final day. And I was confident my hero was going to walk away with major number 15.  But then a little known South Korean golfer with only 1 other win on the PGA tour caught Tiger…and beat him on the final day of a major…and Tiger hasn’t won another one since.

Looking back, that was the beginning of an important lesson for me. Inevitably, without question nor exception…our heroes will fall. Sometimes it’s the result of time taking its toll…sometimes its something more extreme like a severe illness or even death. History has shown us this time after time…whether it’s a sports hero…or the leader of some political movement…or a religious situation…every single one has fallen. (Pause)

Now maybe this is a bit of a downer today…but we are seeing evidence of this within this story of the back and forth between Peter and Jesus.  If you were here last week, you caught the gist of what’s going on here. Jesus has asked the disciples who they say he is and Peter makes the divinely-inspired public proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah…and as we discussed last week…there’s a pretty big misconception on Peter’s part of just what that means. He’s got history working against him here…so maybe it’s understandable.

But regardless…Jesus begins to reveal the truth of what it means that he is the messiah…and that this movement that he’s begun…this ministry that he’s been leading…its going to lead them all to Jerusalem where he’ll be betrayed and tortured and killed by the powers that be…Just like every other hero in history…Jesus’ time is going to come to a pretty dramatic close. (pause)
Now for us…as we consider this through the lens of hindsight, its not that shocking…but imagine what it would have been like for Peter…Jesus is the hero…but not only that…he’s their friend…their mentor…the one who has healed diseases…he’s the one who has performed miracles…he’s the one who has stood up against the hypocrisy of the religious elite and even challenged the political power of the Roman occupation…and at this point…all of that is still going really well.

Now if you’d have told me back in about 2005 that Tiger was going to stop winning majors…that he was going to destroy his back to the point of not being able to swing a club…and only that but that he was going to turn out to be a a-1 sleazeball within his personal life…I wouldn’t have believed it either…because in the midst he was my hero…and he untouchable. (Pause) Maybe my response would have sounded a lot like Peter…God forbid it…this must not be. And yet, in both cases…Tiger Woods and Jesus of Nazareth…that’s exactly what happened.

Now Tiger aside…I can’t help but feel bad for Peter in this instance…he’s just been called the Rock on which Jesus will build his church…something so strong and powerful that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. But now, when he expresses his utter shock at the prediction that Jesus has made his status is immediately knocked down to a stumbling block…and even worse…Get behind me Satan…and Jesus points out that Peter’s focused on human thoughts.

But you know what…I can’t help but think that Peter’s human thoughts…are just a reflection of the way that the rest of the world works isn’t it? Peter’s shocked at the news…because if Jesus dies, its over…we all know that…if someone dies there’s no coming back…and whatever mojo they were bringing into their particular sphere of influence, its over…and so if Jesus dies, this movement…this new way of thinking and acting and being in the world its over too.

Now while Peter sees this with shock and fear…the powers that be look at it as a more satisfying conclusion. Think about it…Jesus has been subverting the status quo…he’s been undermining the influence and power of the religious elite as well as the Roman Oppressors…and if you’ve got power…and you don’t want to lose it…you’ll go to any extreme to silence the source of the opposition won’t you…maybe even to the point of killing him? And as we know…that’s exactly what ends up happening in the long run isn’t it?

Eventually Peter’s fears…Jesus’ prediction…and the scheming of the worldly powers comes true and Jesus dies…and everything we have ever heard points to one truth…that this should be the end. (pause)

But…its…not. (pause) Because, through Jesus…through the event of God entering into our reality through Jesus…God’s doing something more.  Because God’s not just pushing back against the human made powers of the world…but God’s pushing back against another power that exists in this world…the power of death.

We’ve already been talking about it today…how death is so permanent…that it is so final…and because of that it can be…and often is quite scary…both for those who face it…and for those who find themselves left behind because of it…and I saw both this week.  I sat down with an individual this week who shared the words “brain tumor” and together we talked about the scary nature of what that could entail. And then, later on the very same day I got the news that one of my seminary classmates suddenly lost her husband…a young guy only a year older than me. Bloodclots formed and just that quick he’s gone, leaving behind his wife and son, who incidentally turned 4 two days later.  Death doesn’t care…and it doesn’t discriminate…and we can’t beat it can we?

But here’s the thing about death…as much as we hate it…as much as we fear it…we also know that God is well aware of it…and through Jesus…amazingly enough through the brutal death of Jesus on the cross…God is doing something about it.

I discovered something new this week as I worked with this text…particularly the crazy back and forth that Peter experiences…because I can’t hear one part without thinking of the other part…but in the midst of this I realized something. When Peter makes his confession, Jesus calls him the rock on which he will build the church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Now, I always thought of that phrase as Hades…which by the way is the realm of the dead…the place where dead people are…I thought that meant that Hades was attacking the church…but Jesus said the gate…and what’s a gate do?

Well, it either keeps something in…or it keeps something out…it’s the barrier…so what if we are being reminded that the church of Jesus…which includes not only his followers…but him…and the Holy Spirit…and the Gospel…and not only that but the divine power of God which goes WAY beyond our ability to comprehend…all of this…is invading Hades. Death’s not coming after us…through Jesus God’s going after death…and he’s bringing us along for the ride.

Now death’s funny…it’s the result of sin in the world…whatever the heck that means…but we’re reminded that the wages of sin is death…and we’re also confident enough to be able to recognize and call out the sinful brokenness that resides within each of us…and God sees it too…but amazingly, because of the perfectly love for each of us made manifest IN Jesus Christ…God’s grace for the world is revealed.

And God’s grace is invading enemy territory. God’s grace is invading the realm of death…and the gates of Hades will not prevail.

Now I say all that and yet I know that death is still a reality for us. We see it in those around us and we will experience it…but we have God that makes new life out of death. I don’t know how…but its true…and it is the promise that is made to us by Jesus that we have joined with him as heirs to eternal life, whatever that’s gonna look like. (pause)

Heroes fall…because our heroes are human…and given enough time even the strongest will falter…which if you think about it…should help us cut ourselves some slack every once in a while…I mean, even Jesus died…and he was God.

But the amazing thing about these powers that flair up in the world…whether human or otherwise…is that ultimately they too will fail.  In the life of Jesus, God tried to show the world that his love was bigger than anything we could throw at it…and the world got so offended that they killed him…the cross is the world’s way of saying no to God…but remember that we have the gift of hindsight…and we know that three days later that tomb was empty…the cross might be a no…but it wasn’t the end of the story…because God looked at the world and said “Oh you think I was finished?” And God looked at an angel and said “Here, hold my beer.” Because in the resurrection of Jesus, God takes the world’s “no” and God says “yes” anyway. How’s that for a hero? Amen

Imagine What You’ll Know Tomorrow 8-27-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 16:13-23, I explore Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, followed up by his misconception of what that means.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/imagine-what-youll-know-tomorrow-8-27-17

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

There are a handful of actors who have made a solid career out of playing the same type of character over and over again. Tommy Lee Jones is one of these actors. Over the course of the past couple of decades, he’s pretty much played the role of the older, wiser guy who’s seen it all…and he’s perpetually annoyed as he teaches the new young guy the ropes.

And there is one example that perfectly captures this sense…Men in Black…the very first one…came out back in the late 90’s and tells the story about a secret organization of agents, dressed in black of course…that help police the presence of aliens on our planet.  Fairly early in the movie, his character sits on a bench next to the new guy talking about this strange reality.

Inevitably the question comes up “Why don’t you tell everyone…people are smart, they can handle it.”  Tommy replies with the fact that people in groups are foolish and dangerous…and that there are certain things that they simply cannot accept in their current experience…and I love what he has to say. (pause)

1500 years ago, everyone KNEW…the earth was the center of the universe.  500 years ago everyone KNEW…the earth was flat…15 minutes you KNEW…that humans were alone on this planet…imagine what you’ll KNOW…tomorrow. (pause)

Throughout the course of our history…human beings have learned a lot…but with every new discovery…we tend to find an old way of thinking has to give way…the old thought…the old “fact,” whatever it is that we used to KNOW.

And this theme is all over today’s gospel reading.  (pause) Now this is a fun passage…we find ourselves in the midst of a temporary breather during Jesus’ ministry. He’s been out teaching, healing, interacting with individuals and crowds…he’s bumped heads with the religious elite…he’s performed miracle after miracle…all the while proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near.

All this different stuff that Jesus has been doing is causing word to spread all over the place…and so it would seem that Jesus is ready to test the waters…he’s curious as to what the word on the street is as far as he’s concerned…and so he turns to the disciples to ask the big question…who do people say that the son of man is?

The disciples stand there…scratching their heads as they think for a moment…Well Jesus…some say that you’re John the Baptism…we’ve heard some call you Elijah…or Jeremiah or one of the prophets…and you know what…maybe that makes sense…with his history of pushback against the religious elite, Jesus certainly fits the mold of those well known prophets that came before him in Israel’s history…but to simply call Jesus a prophet…to simply place him among that batch of individals…clearly that’s only picking up a portion of the work that he’s up to…and so…with that…Jesus dives a little deeper.

Okay…so that’s what everyone else says…but I’m going to put you disciples on the spot…you’ve been around me long enough now…who do YOU…say that I am? (pause) Now honestly, that’s not a bad question to ask…and its one that we should probably consider.

After all, if Christianity relies on anything, it’s the proclamation of the Good News….that personal testimony of what we as individuals have witnessed God do in our own lives…and in the sharing of these thoughts…these testimonies…that’s how our story really begins to connect into God’s greater story in our reality.

This is something that we continue to see throughout the course of the Biblical Narrative, as God somehow crosses paths with a group or an individual and invites them forward into something new…over and over again…humanity continuous to be invited to join with God as things move forward.

And as the event of Jesus walking around Israel 2000 years ago is the physical embodiment of God’s divine action of invitation for humanity in the world…then its important to consider the question “Who do you say that I am?” (pause)
Now I think it goes without saying that Peter serves as a pretty solid connection point for us within the gospel narrative…he’s just SO DARN human isn’t he?  Impulsive, quick to speak…quick to jump to conclusions…but often unsure of himself.  I think Peter is one we can relate to isn’t he?

But today…in response to this important question of Jesus…this question of who we say Jesus is…Peter lays out the ultimate answer. You are the messiah…the son of the living God. (pause)

Jesus…is…pleased. I can almost picture the heavens opening up, music beginning to play, and bright light shining down upon Peter as Jesus smiles at him…YES!!! Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah…for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you…but my father in heaven.

This gives us an important reminder…the ability to understand the truth of just who Jesus is…comprehension of his identity is not something self-generated. Peter didn’t just make up his mind that Jesus is the Messiah…it was revealed to him…and in this we are reminded that faith is not of us…but it is a gift from our father in heaven. (pause)

Now at this point in the story, we have a wonderful exchange as Jesus seems to issue a name change…and Simon son of Jonah becomes Peter…the rock on which the church will be built…and then…just like that…the lectionary stops us short today…and it would seem, at first glance anyway that Peter has learned all he needs to know…and Jesus might as well just hand over control of the church right then and there. (pause)

But the story doesn’t stop there does it? This is why I included the extra couple of verses at the end today…even though we’re going to hear them again next week…it’s a mistake to leave them out today.  Think about what happens. Peter has just made this divinely inspire proclamation, calling Jesus the messiah…the Christ…and then Jesus begins to teach them just what that means.  (pause)
Yah, so, we’re gonna go to Jerusalem, and I’m going to be betrayed and handed over…and I’m gonna get beaten and tortured…and I’m even gonna die…but then after a few days I’ll come back again. (pause) And Peter, the one who just won the gold star…loses his mind over it. He begins to rebuke Jesus who in turn calls him a stumbling block…calls him Satan and tells him that he’s too focused on human things instead of divine things. (pause)

All of this is a little wonky…admittedly, I sorta think that Jesus is getting a little on the weird side here…especially if we throw in that side comment about his command to the disciples not to tell anyone that he’s the Messiah…and so maybe the big question here is just what is going on in this back and forth exchange.

But the truth that we need to remember is that Peter hasn’t learned everything yet has he? He knows about the messiah…but clearly he doesn’t get just what the messiah is now…Peter’s operating on old information, not realizing that Jesus is doing something different…something new.

He’s the MESSIAH RIGHT? He confirmed it…so everyone, what’s that mean…and to answer that question we’ve got to back up about 1000 years and remember who else is a messiah…now that word…messiah or christ,  same deal…it means God’s anointed one…and the anointed ones were the kings…the ones that God had chosen to lead the people…Saul…David…Solomon…they’re all anointed…they’re all messiahs.

And so for Peter…and not just him but for the whole Jewish culture…the long awaited Messiah is a political figure…the one who’s going to rise up…retakes the throne of David…bring Israel back to glory and kick out their oppressors…who in this particular instant happens to be the Romans. (pause) Anyone remember what the Romans tend to do when someone rises up against them?  Its not pretty…and since Jesus’ time hasn’t come yet…no wonder he doesn’t want anyone calling him the messiah…because if the people try to make him king that’s gonna end poorly for him, although of course it ultimately will anyway…but it’ll also end badly for the people he has come to save.

And so where do we go from here? What do we learn from Peter today? Well, we see that Peter still has a lot to learn…he’s made a faithful confession…and in the name change we see a new identity bestowed upon him by God…something that sounds pretty baptismal if you ask me…but we also see that he’s not finished yet.

His understanding of the messiah is incomplete…and will continue to be until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. For no one can truly comprehend just what it is to THE MESSIAH until after Jesus comes back from the dead…Peter included.

And so we are reminded today that our lives of faith are ongoing…and its not about a single expression of identity or faith or belief at one time that’s going to be the end all be all for us…because even once we are claimed by God…once we are giving that identity, God’s not done with us yet…and we still have more to learn…more to experience…more to be revealed by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Often when we are young, we are foolish enough to think that we’ve got it all figured out…but I continue to learn the truth that the older I get the more I realize the less I know…and that’s okay.  But God continues to reveal new things all the time…and that can, and should…and does change the way we think about things…the way we understand things.

None of us are the same person as we were 10 years ago…and we are not the same person that we will be 10 years from now…for we have a God who continues to invite us forward into something new…a new way of thinking…a new way of acting…a new way of interacting with those around us…and isn’t it wonderful to know that the basis for all of this…the motivation for God’s continued work, both in the world and in our lives…is because God takes delight in us.

Who do the people say that Jesus is? (pause) Who do you say that Jesus is? (pause) This is a question that we should answer differently today than we did in the past…and a question that we should answer differently in the future…all depending on what God reveals to us in the midst of our lives.

Think of that song that we all learn as children…Jesus loves me this I know. (pause) When you’re a child that’s enough…that’s what you believe…that’s what you understand…that’s what you’ll know, and its different from what you understand…what you know, now… and now   imagine…what you’ll know…tomorrow. Amen.