Posts Tagged ‘Power’

To Be Remembered 11-24-19

This sermon for Christ the King Sunday is based on Luke 23:33-43. It is perhaps strange to consider a passage in which we hear of Jesus on the cross as the basis for his kingship in the kingdom of heaven, and yet that is precisely what we find.  Christ’s example reminds us that true power and authority is not found in strength or military might, but in weakness.

You can list to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/to-be-remembered-11-24-19

Note that this was another extemporaneous sermon, so there is no text to follow along with.  Likewise, the audio is weak, so you’ll need to turn up your volume about the 1:26 mark.
(As I continue with this experimental style of preaching, I’ll be exploring alternate audio recording options to overcome this current situation.)

Epiphany 1-6-19

In this sermon for the day of Epiphany, based on Matthew 2:1-12, I explore the visit of the Maji, which starts off a season of texts in ways that Christ is revealed to the world.  In this story, we switch focus away from the Magi to the reaction of King Herod the Great. His action reveals truth about those who cling the illusion of power and authority in the world.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/epiphany-1-6-19

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

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

You’ve probably heard me talk about some of the congregations that I’ve been connected to in the past…both large and small. I grew up in one about the same size as Underwood. I provided monthly pulpit supply at a tiny country church for a couple of years where a dozen people was a good Sunday…but on the flip side I’ve been at some pretty big ones too.

My internship congregation was about 1200 people…and for about a decade, my wife and I were members and staff at the largest congregation here in our Synod, which at its peak had nearly 2000 members. Now the thing about a congregation that size…there’s a lot kids…and therefore…there was a pretty good sized Confirmation program…and it took a lot of people to make that happen…small group leaders, prayer partners, mentors, and of course…teachers.

Now that church had 2 pastors on staff…but with the large number of kids and classes, they needed more than just the two pastors to teach…and so by the time I was about 25…they started asking me if I’d help out…but let me tell you…I resisted that like the plague…I never thought of myself as a teacher of any sort…and so I kept saying no.

This went on for about 3 years…until finally reaching the point where I knew I’d be going to seminary and becoming a pastor…and since teaching confirmation comes with the territory, I figured it was about time that I start saying yes.

And wouldn’t you know it…it became one of my favorite things to do. I love teaching…and as you might have seen I do so in a lot different ways and formats…but teaching confirmation is one of the most enjoyable…and not only that…but I’ve got a favorite lesson that’s grown over the years.  Of all the different subjects that we cover in the 2 year cycle of confirmation…hands down…my favorite one is the Birth of Jesus.

I love it…because over the course of the lesson we debunk a few traditional aspects of the story that aren’t actually present…for instance…many of you have heard me point out that there’s no donkey for Mary to ride anywhere in the story…but the other one that always comes out…ties us into today’s story.

Epiphany…a focal point that only pops up here in worship on rare occasions…its always the same day of the year…and so it is typically happening during the week…but every once in a while it lands on Sunday…and we get to hear today’s gospel.  Now…I can’t help but think that a moment ago as I was reading the lesson…that someone out there…at least one person, reacted to our story like this. (Pause) “THE MAGI?  Wait….Christmas was like 2 weeks ago…they’re just showing now?” (pause)  Yep (and nod).

There is a common misconception that the Magi or wise men or three kings, whatever we chose to call them…were part of the nativity…but…they…weren’t. And based on a few bits of info we’re given throughout the course of their story, the best guess is that they showed up anywhere from a couple months up to a couple years after Jesus was born.

Now…as much as I love the Magi…we really don’t know a ton about them.  We know they’re from the East…and tradition has filled in all kinds of possibilities about them that we really can’t confirm…including names and even ethnic varieties…but best guess…they were likely from Persia…the remnants of a once large and powerful empire…and their title of Magi indicates that they were likely the court magicians or astrologers…maybe even the “scientists” of the day…and in their work, they’ve witnessed the rising of a special star…an event that has told them of the birth of someone with incredible importance…and so they’ve come looking.

History does tell us that this sort of thing occurred…there are records of Magi visiting the Emperor of Rome at one point…but this time around they head into Jerusalem…apparently whatever sign was present in the heavens through this star…it only led them so far…and they needed some assistance. And so…they go right to the top…stopping off at the palace to inquire with King Herod about the one born king of the Jews.  You know how the rest of the story goes…they figure out Bethlehem…Herod tells them to go and find the baby and then come back to let him know so that he can go worship as well…wink wink…they go searching…the star pops up again, pointing them to the right house…in they go and there is Mary and Jesus…they kneel down….open up their gifts…worship him with joy…and angelic warning dream points them away from Herod and they depart…very likely into the sunset with a lone violin playing a poignant song…and other than one brief reference back to them a few verses later…their part of the story is done.

That’s the story of the Magi…the story of Epiphany. Now Epiphany in itself is important…by its very definition it means a dramatic reveal or revelation about something…and that’s what we see. Jesus…the divine made flesh…is being revealed to the world…and as we move through the season of epiphany through the next several weeks we’ll continue to find stories of similar nature…as Jesus continues to be revealed. We see it in many different settings, with different types of people…some quite small and intimate…others on a much larger scale.

And that’s true today as well…because the story of the Magi following the star and stopping off for directions in Jerusalem points us to some intriguing facts about this big reveal.  Now remember, Bethlehem is only a couple miles away from Jerusalem…and even though Jerusalem was no longer the ultimate center of life in the region at this time…it was still important and the political and religious big wigs spent a lot of time there…so you’d think that by this time they’d have caught wind of the messiah’s birth…months, maybe even a couple years have passed…but based on their reaction to the Magi…it would seem that they are oblivious…

What we do hear…that with this news…with this inquiry about the one born King of the Jews…they loose their minds.  Some translations say Herod and the city were frightened…others say they were disturbed…but when we dig in we find that their reaction was earth shattering…the type of thing that you see in a fear filled mob…and to understand just why that is…we need to step away from the Magi and focus in on Herod…who might seem like just a secondary character…but who’s presence actually casts a really wide shadow over this whole deal.

Now when we hear the name Herod…it could mean a lot of people…the Herodian dynasty lasted the better part of a century…and included about 3 different generations of individuals who all went by the name and held various roles of leadership as granted by the Roman government…but in this case…we’re talking about the original…the OG Herod…Herod the Great.

History remembers him…as a strong leader…as a great builder…but also as a backstabbing, blood-thirsty tyrant. This was a guy who claimed power by marrying into an important family…finagling his way into the title of king by sucking up to the Roman authorities…and then promptly terrorizing anyone and everyone that might threaten his position…up to an including murdering several of his own kids…not to mention countless officials.

If you started to gain any popularity…or maybe gave an inkling of future plans…Herod would have you killed…because you can’t be a threat if you’re dead right? And honestly, this knew no bounds…because if we continued reading through Matthew chapter 2 we would see that once Herod realizes the Magi avoided him, he had every baby boy in Bethlehem 2 years and under killed…simply because of the rumor of a future king.

I can’t help but think that this reveals insecurity…and fear.  Even though he had been given pretty much the ultimate power in the region…I can only think that Herod was secretly terrified that someone would take that power away again. (pause)

Now I don’t know about you…but when I hear the name Herod…and when I think about this whole story and all the stuff he did…I just think…man, he’s just the worst. But then I stop and think about it…and I think it sounds pretty familiar.

We live in a world that is pretty constantly defined by might makes right…an idea that my way is the best…and I’m right…and you can join me as long as you agree with me…but if not I’ll destroy you.  We see it in our interactions…we see it in our conflicts…we see it between individuals, we see it between nations and political leaders.  We blame the other…we demonize…we shout them down…we threaten…we dig up dirt…we do whatever we can to destroy or discredit ANY opponent to get them out the way.

And what’s the motivation? It might be a lot of things but I think the base of it all is fear…fear that we have been given will be taken away…fear that the illusion of power and authority that we hold might crumble…fear that the things we’ve come to rely on will fail and we’ll suffer because of it.

Herod was guilty of this…all because some random guys from the east showed up asking for the one born to be king of the Jews…because if there is one born to be king…then that means Herod’s not…no wonder he reacted with turmoil and fear…lashing out to kill a helpless baby. (pause)

Now here’s the thing…you’ve all heard me say this before…but whatever it is that God is up to through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…whatever God is accomplishing by the divine becoming flesh and dwelling among us…it shows all the world that might makes right doesn’t cut it anymore.  God is showing us that there is a new authority…a new definition of power…but to those who hold to the world’s way of thinking…to the illusion of control…that’s a threat…and they’ll do anything to beat that down.

In Jesus God was showing us the new way…a way of humility…of love and humbleness…a way of care for our neighbor…and harmony with one another…and the world…the apparent powers that be…killed him for it.

But if the Christ event taught us anything…its that this tiny baby…would grow up…would continue to show us that that the old way of thinking…the old way of being…the old notions of power and authority can’t win…they might of killed him…but not even death can shut this news up…and three days later he walked out of the tomb…overcoming that which should be the last word.

And that should make us sit up and pay attention.  We don’t have to look very hard to find present day Herod’s…and if we are honest with ourselves, we probably even see him when we look in the mirror…I know I do more often than I care to admit…and maybe, just maybe that’s why we hear this story and we think about the atrocities that he committed and we think “he’s the worst.” Because then we don’t have to feel so bad about ourselves…but those same tendencies are alive and active today. (pause)

But…the promise also remains that somehow God has already overcome those powers…even if it doesn’t seem like it when we turn on the news…see the junk that’s going on…and hear our “authorities” screaming about who’s to blame for it.

The promise remains that in the end…God wins…and no matter how messed up the world might be…and no matter how hard we ourselves crash and burn as we try to live out our lives…the love of God will never be taken from us…and that true power lies in vulnerability…something God showed us by bringing ultimate power into the world in that which is ultimately vulnerable…a tiny baby who’s very birth threatened those the world called powerful.

And that promise…that’s earth shattering…it’s a revelation…and when we hear it…and I mean really hear it…we might even call that an epiphany. Amen.

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

Power or Weakness 1-1-17

In this sermon, taken from Matthew 2:13-23, I explore the illusion of power within the world, and just why God entered the world in a powerless fashion.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/power-or-weakness-1-1-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Considering that my college degree is Horticulture, you’d think that I’d have a lot more plants around than I actually do…at least inside plants. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t have a lot. We have a couple house plants that sit in our front window at the house…and currently, I have one small plant sitting in my office window. And that’s it.

But that being said, the other day I was standing in the kitchen over at the house, looking out over the parking lot, and I could see my plant sitting in the windowsill in the office, just soaking up the sunshine. And in that instant, I got to thinking about just how amazing plants really are.

Plants are pretty much the most passive life that exists on this planet. They are rooted into the ground…meaning they stay put…not a lot of movement in plants…and through the amazing process of photosynthesis, they are able to just soak up the sunshine and somehow get energy…their power…comes from sunlight.  (pause)
Now admittedly, the idea of energy within a plant is a very different meaning than we usually associate with the word power. Power is typically understood as strength or force, or perhaps authority. But yet as I thought about a plant passively living its life, and the power of the sun feeding it…I somehow came around to thinking about today’s gospel story. (pause)
Now admittedly…as we find ourselves 1 week after Christmas Day…still in the midst of the season of Christmas…still in the process of celebrating the savior…the messiah…coming into the world…today’s gospel lesson likely comes across downright shocking doesn’t it? A story known as the slaughter of the innocents…Not exactly something that gives us a lot of warm fuzzy feelings as we are still riding high from the holiday celebrations. (pause)

Now admittedly, chapter 2 of Matthew’s gospel is really the story of Herod the Great. He’s an interesting character…he’s the king of Israel…appointed and authorized by the Roman emperor…a man who literally fought tooth and nail to get himself into this position of authority within Israel…a man who is so obsessed with his own political standing that he literally kills 2 of his own kids and one of his wives who he suspects is conspiring against him…not only, he’s so obsessed with his standings when viewed by the rest of the known world that he commonly bankrupted the nation with his expansive building projects.  Certainly…this is a man consumed and obsessed with his apparent political power.

Matthew chapter 2 starts off with the arrival of the wise men…so yes, today’s story is slightly out of order as we typically celebrate the wise men at Epiphany coming up in a few more days…but we see them arrive in Jerusalem, looking for a newly born king…as they have discerned from a star…and they quite literally end up on Herod’s door step.

Needless to say, this comes as a great shock to him when these foreigners come asking about a new king. (Pause) A NEW KING? I’M THE KING!  And Herod’s alarms are going off…but through some quick thinking, he conspires to use the Wise Men to find this supposed new king…and kill him. That was his MO…if there’s even a slight chance that someone is going to oppose his power…kill him…because they can’t challenge you if they’re dead.

Now this is where the story picks up today…the wise men get an angelic warning…something that is apparently pretty common right about this time…and they avoid Herod…but he’s still on the warpath and goes after the baby king anyway…and using the information that he’s gathered, he sends his soldiers off to the Bethlehem to kill all the baby boys younger than 2. (pause)
Shocking isn’t it…this abuse of power…that those innocent children would get caught in the middle of one man’s quest to hold on to his power.  It’s a sad reality…that those innocent lives were lost…that those families were shattered by the event…and honestly it raises the question of just why Herod was so paranoid in the first place.

But the more I think about that…the more I realize that the power that Herod possessed…was nothing more than an illusion. (pause) Think about it…because I think we often end up falling into the very same trap don’t we? The illusion of power…of control…this idea that we are in charge.

Maybe it’s a cultural thing for us in this day and age…but we like to be in control don’t we? We like to think that we’ve got everything figured out…and that we can direct the outcome of what’s going to happen. (pause) But let’s be honest for a second…can we?  Despite all the planning…all the prep work that we like to do…all the worrying about what may or may not happen…how much do we actually control? (pause)

I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently…and I’ve had conversations with many of you along the same lines…and I think we can agree that this past year has been rough, especially the past few months…a lot of death…a lot hardships and heartaches.

Now I’ve never been one to say that God does this to us intentionally…or that these things that happen are God’s doing…because I don’t believe that…but hardships do happen…they are a reality…and they do provide us with opportunity to learn and to grow…and if these past few months…have taught me anything…it’s the sober reminder that tomorrow is not guaranteed. We expect it…we plan for it…but the truth of the matter is that we are finite beings and tomorrow may not happen for us.  And no matter how hard we try to fool ourselves into believing the opposite…we are powerless against it. (pause)

And this…is exactly where the Christmas story becomes so vital…because God…the creator of the universe…the absolute epitome of power…enters our reality as one of us…the ultimate power, who comes simply in order to overcome the forces of sin and death and darkness in our reality…does so in utter-powerless-ness. (pause)
Let me say that again. God gives up all power when he enters our world as a helpless baby.

This is on display in today’s story…Herod, the political bigwig…is so threatened by the mere notion of the Messiah, who had traditionally been the one anointed to be the future king…that’s literally what Messiah means…Herod is so paranoid that he tries to kill him…Herod tries to kill a helpless baby.

Now through some angelic intervention, Joseph heads off into Egypt with baby Jesus and Mary in tow…and here’s the thing that I find kinda funny. Several times in this short passage, we hear of Joseph acting, and bringing along “the child and his mother.” 4 times in 10 verses we hear that phrase…and through the repetition, we are reminded that Jesus was utterly passive in this moment…he was helpless…a very small child…utterly dependent…period. The ultimate power in everything…God…was in the world in an utterly dependent powerless fashion. A baby, cared for by political refugee parents, moved around from place to place to avoid death at the hands of those who were threatened by his very existence.

And the funny thing about all this…is that it worked. Herod…died, and Jesus was still alive. Later on, Herod’s decedents would still go after him. And not only that, but the religious power would one day go after Jesus too…because he was a threat to their authority.

It seems that Herod, and later on the Pharisees and Sadducees put too much stock in the authority that was granted to them by other people. Because that’s all this illusion of power is…that other people respect it. When it gets right down to it…power as we like to think of it…is nothing more than another person giving in to you. (pause)
And in contrast, God choses to be revealed to us in the physical sense in utter powerlessness…and why? (pause) Because that is where we are. Maybe you’ve noticed in your own lives…it almost always seems that God is revealed within the absolute worst moments in our lives…in those times when we realize just how powerless we really are…how broken we really are….when the world seems to be throwing absolutely everything at is and we know there’s nothing we can do about it.  It’s in these times that God seems to show up in our lives…though often times in the way we least expect.  (pause)
No one expected the Messiah to be a helpless baby, and yet somehow, some way, that baby defied the power hungry tyrant. (Pause) No one expected the savior of the world to die on a cross…and even more so, once he was dead, no one expected him to be raised up again…but it happened. (pause)

And I’m guessing, that when 2016 started, 1 year ago today…none of us expected that our community…that so many of our families…would be rocked by the loss of loved ones…and yet through each of those deaths…our community gathered around one another…bearing the burdens of one another…and in doing so, shining the light of God into the darkness that is still fighting tooth and nail against his divine light.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it…but not for lack of trying. Just as Herod fought tooth and nail to hold on to his political power….just as the religious elite fought tooth and nail to hold on to their cultural authority…and just like countless different examples of stuff in the world today…the darkness fights tooth and nail to hold on to its power here in our reality…but the glorious truth is that when Light shows up, darkness loses.

Our faith gives us hope to cling to in these times when the darkness looms…and we know that it does…and the amazing thing about the Bible is that it doesn’t sugar coat this. The darkness exists, and we don’t have look very hard to know that’s true…because we see just as much shocking stuff in the world…and on the news, and even right here in our community…shocking events that are right on par with a 1st century tyrant ordering the deaths of innocent babies.

In our weakness there is power…but it not our own…and God in the flesh…a helpless baby, hauled off into political exile in order to save his life against the apparent authority in the world…this is how God reminds us that he is with us always…in the good and the bad…in the triumphs and the struggles…and that this helpless baby would grow up and then be willing to undergo that same powerlessness on the cross in order to prove it…and that’s where God meets us. Amen.

Its Not About Death But Life 11-20-16

In this sermon for Christ the King Sunday, taken from Luke 23:33-43, I explore the crucifixion of Jesus. This is an odd place to look for our king, yet we realize that the ultimate display of his power is the acceptable of weakness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-not-about-death-but-life-11-20-16

You can 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

Have you ever had a time when you happened to be standing in just the right spot in a restaurant or a store…and from where you were standing you could see the back side of the counter? (pause) Admittedly, I’ve always been fascinated by little things like this…to see the things that most people aren’t supposed to see…in short…to see behind the scenes, or from the opposite perspective.

I was thinking about this very notion last Friday as I walked into the Presbyterian church up in Shelby in order to lead a funeral. I spent a moment just scoping things out, getting familiar with the layout, including the backside of the pulpit…and in my head it was just one of those moments in a restaurant, seeing what most people don’t see.

Now its worth noting that this was the 6 funeral I’ve led in the past couple of months…and if this rather regular schedule has done anything, its given me something of sense of routine…and while every single funeral is, of course, different…there are things that I can pretty count on happening.

One is actually the way I chose to open pretty much every funeral sermon…by acknowledging the hard reality of the day, and by commenting on how those who gather look to one another for support, recognizing in one instant we can offer support to another, and in the next the pain of the day catches us and we in turn need to be supported. (pause)
And that builds on the next thing that I expect to see…I’ve got a pretty unique perspective, either from a chair or standing in the pulpit…and I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the emotion catch people…sadness and pain…evidenced by tears and often gasps or sobs…but what isn’t routine, and what often surprises me, is who that individual actually is…the person who is overcome by painful emotion.

The first experience I have with something of this nature actually occurred in a completely different setting…my older brother’s wedding. I remember it is a similar fashion though, because as his best man I was standing right up next to him facing out towards the congregation, and so the perspective of my observation was pretty similar to how it is now as the pastor…Now about midway through the service, my late grandfather was overcome by emotion and he broke down crying. I honestly don’t know what prompted it…but it happened…and that moment seared itself into my memory.

Now my grandfather died just a couple of years later…and due to circumstances, I wasn’t able to get to his memorial service…and a couple more years went by…and finally I traveled to Arizona to visit my grandma, and one of the things we did was go see Grandpa’s grave…and I had a very unexpected reaction…I looked at his gravestone, and I lost it…the pain and sorrow that I’d been feeling for more than 5 years at that point came rushing out…and I learned in that moment, just as I have seen in many different situations as pastor…pain, sorrow, emotion, weakness, whatever you want to call….it demands our attention…it demands to be felt. (pause)
Now this notion of weakness…and pain…this is where we jump into our gospel today.  Today is Christ the King Sunday…and strangely enough…as we have already heard, our gospel features the crucifixion of Jesus…a strange place to think about a king right? In the midst of torture and weakness?

Downstairs in the confirmation class we’ve been talking about the history of Israel…and in recent weeks we explored the establishment of the monarchy through their first three kings, Saul then David then Solomon…and how each of those these men managed to expand the kingdom, bringing more territory under their control…and we talked about just what that meant at the time…that as king, you could control as much area as you were strong enough to defend…and so the tougher you were, the more you had…but we’ve also seen the flip side…and that as soon as someone bigger and stronger comes in…you are out of luck…and if you happened to be the king of the conquered nation, chances are you’d end up dead…maybe even crucified at certain points in history. (pause)
And so, how strange is it to hear about the crucifixion of Jesus on the day when we celebrate him being king. Admittedly, it seems like total nonsense…like a total reversal of all logic…and yet that’s exactly where we find him.

Jesus is nailed to the cross…and he suffers…and throughout the entire time…he is continually mocked…and interestingly enough that mockery carries a theme…three different groups of people, all with a very similar message.

First the leaders…He saved others, let him save himself. (pause) But he doesn’t.  (pause) Then the soldiers start in…If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself. (pause) But he doesn’t. (pause) And then finally, one of the fellow condemned…one of the guys hanging right next to him…suffering the same fate…this guy throws it at him too, along with a little personal venom…Are you not the messiah? Save yourself…and us. (pause)

In addition, his opponent keep dredging up the past…he has saved others…he has performed miracles…he has even brought the dead back to life…SURELY he is able to save himself….so why…won’t…he…prove it.

I think in the end, that’s what they’re all looking for. They don’t really believe the claims that Jesus is the Messiah, nor do they understand what it means…and so as far as they can tell, if he can’t save himself from the cross…then all that stuff they’ve heard is nothing more than rumors…there’s no truth to it at all…and perhaps as they mock him….they are thinking to themselves “he’s going to be dead soon…and all this, will be over.” (pause)

But that, right there, that raises a pretty important point today…when our passage end, Jesus is still alive…we don’t hear about his death today, even if we know that it happens shortly after this…when we leave off, Jesus is alive…and so as we consider Christ as King, our entire context…the entire story given to us to try and understand this idea involves Jesus ALIVE on the cross. (pause)

Christ the King is found in the midst of ultimate weakness…in the midst of pain…in the midst of sorrow and suffering…and this is a very Lutheran idea…we don’t look for our king in the same way that the world looks…we find true strength in the midst of that weakness…when we acknowledge the truth of it…when we acknowledge that it exists…and that we are equally broken. (pause)

This is the important and yet subtle truth of the gospel…and the cross…its not about death, but life. (pause) The gospel doesn’t work simply because Jesus died on the cross…but rather because Jesus lived on the cross…Jesus suffered on the cross…Jesus endured the cross in the midst of ultimate weakness…and all the while, HE…DIDN’T…HAVE TO.

If you are the Messiah, save yourself…and he could have. At any time, Jesus could have come down off that cross, healed his wounds, and passed through the people, ensuring his own safety…but Jesus wasn’t up there for himself…and his example opens our eyes to the truth…

Jesus was mocked for not saving himself…and in doing so we realize that we are not able to save ourselves…and so, just as the people stood by watching…we stand by as well, watching the one who lived on the cross…who lived in the pain…because we recognize that in our brokenness, pain and sorrow demands our attention…we cannot deny it, because it is our reality.

But the glory of the gospel, is that while we were sinners Christ died for us…we don’t have to clean all our junk out before it becomes true…its already true…its already done…Christ has already lived the pain of the cross…that penalty, that wage of sin, whatever you want to call it…has already been experienced for us. (pause) And by Jesus living on the cross, we are saved from it.

Here’s the thing…all too often we think of Christianity…or faith, or religion as the idea that I’m switching away from doing all the bad stuff to now only doing the good stuff…this isn’t some social club where we’ve got a list of moral attributes that we have to achieve…rather, living by faith is recognizing that Christ did all that in order to save us from that which causes our pain and suffering in the first place…broken relationship and the mental anguish that it causes us.

We are broken people, living a broken life, in a broken reality…one that is so broken that the good relationship…the good interaction that happened between God and Humanity way back in the garden can no longer occur…and yet in the midst of this, God does something about it.

That’s what the cross is all about…its God’s way of showing us “There is nothing I will not do to prove to you how much I love you, and to show you that I claim you as my own, even if the world refuses to acknowledge you.” (pause)
Luke’s account of the crucifixion is unique, as we hear about the one I’ve come to call the “good criminal.”  At the mocking of the other man, he cries out “Do you not fear God, since we are under the same sentence? We deserve what we receive but not him.”  With this first statement, the good criminal acknowledges the truth of his existence, that he is rightly condemned…sorta sounds like confession right? (pause) But then after that, he recognizes the Lordship of Jesus…Jesus, when you come into your kingdom, remember me.

This man sees the king in the midst of the pain…he sees the true display of Christ’s power in the midst of the weakness…and that power is on full display as Jesus answers. You ask me to remember you, I’m going one giant step farther…for today you’ll be with me in paradise. (pause)
Now paradise is an interesting word. We usually think of it as heaven…or eternal life…but remember that paradise is the word that was given to the garden, when Humanity was able to walk and talk with God directly…and so perhaps through all this, we see that the cross of Christ is not about death, but life…the good life with God that Jesus has made possible…and not just out there in some unknown future, but the hope we find in this truth…allows us to live in the joy of the kingdom today. (pause)

Jesus wasn’t dead when this story stopped today…because the kingdom isn’t about death, its about life…and the glory of God…the power of Christ…the Lordship of Jesus is something that we discover in the midst of our brokenness and pain, because it demands to be felt.  It commands our attention and pulls us away from any false notion of strength that we posses, and turns our attention to the one who was powerful enough…NOT to act…He was strong enough to NOT…save himself…because in his weakness, he was too busy saving us. Amen.

I Am Not That Big 6-21-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 4:35-41, which is the story of Jesus calming the storm. In it I address those powers in the world that remind us how small and powerless we are, leading into addressing the shootings in Charleston SC.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-am-not-big-enough-6-21-15

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

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

There are times as a runner…when I think I’m pretty fast. At my normal pace…I can cover a mile in about 8 minutes…give or take…its not record setting by any means…but its not bad…unless you compare me to car….because 8 minutes in a car can take you from the truck stop out by the interstate up to Neola to park at the Community Center…a little more impressive…or take it up a notch to a plane flying along at the speed of sound, where 8 minutes is sufficient to cover about 100 miles…but even that pales in comparison to the fastest speed that we know of…the speed light…where 8 minutes can cover the distance from the Earth to the Sun…8 minutes to cover nearly 93 thousand miles.

Light is pretty fast isn’t it…and it has to be as it covers distances that we can’t even fathom. 8 minutes from the Sun to the Earth…but what about some of our friends out there at the far reaches of our solar system…take Pluto for example…the same light that takes 8 minutes to get to us…takes 330 minutes to reach Pluto…that’s 5.5 hours…a far amount of time…but then considering that the light has to travel 3.67 BILLION miles…maybe that’s not shabby…because Pluto…well…it’s a long way out there…but you know what…the Galaxy…that might as well be beyond measure…That light from the sun…which gets to us in 8 minutes….and covers almost 4 billion miles in a few hours…takes more than 4 YEARS…to reach the nearest star.

Kinda mind boggling isn’t it…when we try to wrap our heads around just how far away things are, even within our Solar System…in fact its almost impossible to judge just how big the universe is…but when we try to…doesn’t it make us feel pretty small? (pause)

Have you ever experienced something that made you realize just how small you are…or perhaps how powerless you are? (pause) I’ve heard many different stories over the years of people who have found themselves in a situation like this…for instance, standing at the base of a mountain, looking up…or being on the seashore, looking out over the ocean…other stories have included events, often natural disasters the unleash the power of the world we live in…like earthquakes, or tsunamis, or giant storms like hurricanes or tornados…these moments when we witness the fury of nature…the destruction…and as we stand there looking straight it, doesn’t it make us feel small…insignificant…or even…powerless?

That realization…that there is nothing that we can do to overcome the power being unleashed against us in that moment…regardless of our wisdom or ability or strength, we…are…powerless…ever had an experience like that? (pause) Because that is exactly what’s going on in today’s story. (pause)

Following a day of teaching the crowds here on the homefront…Jesus decides that its time for a change of scenery…and so he tells his disciples…hey guys…let’s head across the lake here…head on over to the other side…and in an important side note, we also hear that its evening…and so as they set out to cross the sea of Galilee…a trip of somewhere between 8 and 13 miles depending on their direction…night is falling.

Night time on the sea…which, incidentally…is exactly when fishermen would be out on the water in their boats…trying to catch fish…and if you recall…at least 4 of the disciples were fishermen…and so for them, this would be nothing new.

They know how to navigate the sea…they know how to handle a boat…and they’re familiar with the fact that storms can and do, come up out of nowhere…and also, keep in mind that at this point, all of the disciples are still alive, so it stands to reason that these guys have lived through storms out on the water before….they’ve got the ability…they’ve got the know-how. (pause) Until…this time.

Because as they make it part way across the water…long enough for Jesus to konk out on a pillow…up comes a storm…but apparently not just any storm…this is one of those storms that I talked about earlier…one of those storms that makes the disciples realize just how small they are…and they completely…LOSE it.

How crazy must this storm have been…how strong was the wind…how big were the waves to have this sort of effect on these experienced sailors? (pause) One can only imagine…but how ever intense it was…however daunting it was…for these guys…this is it…its all over…and believe it or not…the one person who can do something about it…the one person they trust to get them out of danger…is sleeping…JESUS!!! TEACHER!!! Don’t you care that we are dying? (pause)

I’ve been thinking a lot about that this week…and not just giant storms and crashing waves…but those things in our lives…those events…those oppressive forces that act upon us…sometimes out of nowhere…that have us reeling…those things that make us lose it…those things that show us in that moment just how small and powerless we are…and as I’ve thought about it, I know that those things look different for each of us…but they happen…and for several of you sitting out there today…you’re still facing those events right now…you are staring that storm in the face…and in fact, when we’re honest with ourselves…aren’t we all in that boat…facing a storm that too much for us? That storm that is showing us just how much we are NOT…in control, no matter how much we like to tell ourselves that we are?

Diseases…financial problems…emotional issues…family strife…these are just a few of the storms that rage out there that we face in our lives…and there are others too…other forces…other powers that exist in the world whether we want to acknowledge them or not…and one of these powers is the power of sin…the power of darkness that continues to flow through this world and when we stop and think about it…when we are brave enough to admit the truth…then we realize that there is nothing that we can do about it.

And now I’m not talking about those petty little things that we do each and every day like stubbing our toe and swearing about it or getting short with one another…I’m talking about the power of sin in this world…the power that has warped our reality and our existence into that which is against the will of God…the power that has lied to us to make us think that it is all about me…and that I’m the only one that’s important and everything else needs to just get out of my way…

When I think about that power…the image that comes to mind is that of a giant wave rushing in at me as I stand on the shoreline, knowing that in mere seconds I am finished and there’s nothing I can do about it.

That’s the power of sin in this world…whether we want to admit it or not…and we are CONSTANTLY being reminded of that…and we constantly face evidence that this power is still present…and that power manifests itself in the hate that we are still so capable of…the hate that rears its ugly head and shatters lives…the hate that exists for no reason what so ever…regardless of our tendency to deny it or to try and explain it away. (pause)

Last Wednesday evening…that needless hate manifested in the cold blooded murder of 9 people as they gathered in a church around the word of God…the murder of 9 people condemned to die because of the color their skin….9 people hated because they are different. (pause)

When I first heard of this tragedy in Charleston SC, I was shocked…and as I added it to the mental checklist of so many other tragedies that keep happening, my initial response is that I feel powerless…powerless because I don’t understand it…I cannot wrap my head around the notion of this needless…pointless hate…this judgment passes on another human being based on the color of their skin…yet this is a battle that we have been fighting in this country for decades…and as much as we might want to tell ourselves that we’ve come so far…moments like this show us that no we haven’t. (pause)

Judgment….prejudice…it runs rampant…everywhere…and I’m not just talking about racial tension here…because the second I think I’m above that sort of thing I look in the mirror, and I recognize the needless judgment that I pass in my mind against individuals for different reasons…and as we look around society today…its everywhere. Race, gender, age, orientation…political affiliation…economic status…and that’s just scratching the surface…and it stems from this lie that sin places in our heads that for whatever reason, I’m better than you. (pause)
But we don’t want to admit it do we? We want everything to stay pleasant…and maintain this myth that we aren’t prone to it…but I’ll say it…yes we are…we are not immune…I’ve seen in this part of the country…I’ve seen it here in our nice friendly state…I’ve seen it in our community…I’ve seen it here in our congregation…and yes…I include myself because I see it when I look in the mirror. (pause)

Now rest assured, its not my intention to get political here today…its really not…I won’t tell you how you should think, or what opinions you can or can’t have…and I sure as heck won’t be telling you how you should be voting…

But what I do hope for is that we can take an honest look at ourselves…and recognize this wave coming at us…this power of darkness…this power of sin that’s crashing over us whether we want to admit to it or not.

And in these moments when we recognize just how small we are…just how powerless we are, the only thing we can do is follow the example of the disciples and cry out to Jesus…because he does care…and just as he calmed the sea…just as he beat those waves that were crashing down on the disciple he has already beaten the wave of sin that crashed down on us…its already finished.

And in the meantime, we can and must continue to ask for forgiveness in those times when we pass needless judgment…when we place ourselves above others…and then we remember what Jesus told us to do…Love God…and love your neighbor…And maybe, just maybe when we start doing that through the power of Christ living in us and through us…well then maybe we’ll start representing the body of Christ on Earth…maybe we’ll start shining like that light in the darkness…and maybe, just maybe we can start seeing one another like God sees us all…as His beloved child….and I hope and pray that with God’s help, we will come through this storm to whatever glorious destination awaits us on the other side of the sea.

And it has to be with God’s help…because alone…I’m not strong enough, or wise enough…I’m not big enough…but God is…and thankfully through the blood of Christ spilled on that cross, He forgives us for being so small. Amen.