Posts Tagged ‘Powerlessness’

I Can Do That 9-9-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 7:24-37, I explore 2 divine healings performed by Jesus, though one of them includes a troubling encounter. Through this, we see an appeal to the one who is able to act in the face of our powerlessness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-can-do-that-9-9-18

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

At one point Friday morning, I left the office and walked over to the post office to pick up the mail. Many of you have seen me do this before…its something I often do during the portions of the year that are warm enough to be outside.

As I was walking along the highway, I was looking around, just taking things in as I often do, when something caught my eye laying on the ground. At first glance, I thought it was just one of those little fake cards that come in the mail…designed to look like a credit card…and thinking that’s all it was I took a couple more steps…but then I realized that I had seen a chip in it…and so I backtracked those couple of steps to look a little closer…and sure enough…it was a real credit card lying there.

And not really knowing what else to do, I picked it up…it crossed my mind that the individual had probably already canceled it…and so I thought I’d just throw it away…but then as I kept on walking I thought of some other possibilities…and the next idea I had was to call the customer service number on the card and report to them that I had found the card…and that they could advise me on either disposing of it, or they could contact the individual to let them know it had been found.

Finally, as I had walked most of the way back to the church, it occurred to me that the individual’s name was on the card…and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of effort on my part would locate them…if I was willing to expel that effort…and that little voice in my head said “Yah, I can do that.” And sure enough…about 2 minutes of mild Facebook stalking, coupled with a quick back and forth on messenger, allowed me to place the lost card back in the hand of the individual who lost it in the first place…problem solved, all within about 10 minutes of the card catching my eye in the first place. A little bit of effort coupled with the willingness to get involved, and the recognition that “I can do that.” (Pause)

Now what’s that got to do with today’s scripture? It is, perhaps, the realization of our limitations. Today we have not just one, but two different stories of times when individuals were stuck in a situation that they were not able to do anything about…and so they seek out the help of another who is able…and as we see, in both instances, healings of the divine nature.

The interesting thing about the various healings that we see Jesus perform…is that there is no rhyme or reason to just how they happen. In every single instance, Jesus goes about performing the miracle in a different way. Sometimes he heals from a distance, just speaking the word and telling the individual who came to him that they’ll find it done when they return. Other times Jesus lays hands upon the individual in need of healing. Sometimes he debates before acting…other times he moves quickly.  There are times when he delays action…and not just momentarily but for extended periods of time…and then sometimes he pokes a guy in the ear and touches his tongue while telling the man to “be opened.” (pause)

Now there are often times when I come across a story of Jesus healing someone in a miraculous fashion…and I tend to think of it as a display of his divine power…of the work that God is up to in the world to overcome the problem of the individual…to free us from that which hinders us from wholeness.

But in today’s lesson, with both of these instances, I find myself really zeroing in on the individuals…and the encounter that they had with Jesus in this moment…and to be perfectly honest, the woman’s encounter catches my attention more than the guy. Many of you have probably heard me preach about this encounter before…it shows up here in Mark as well as in Matthew, and so we’ve come across it a few different times since I’ve been here…and perhaps, like me, you are troubled with the way that it goes down…Jesus is in Gentile territory for some unknown reason. And when news of his presence spreads, this foreign woman debates with him, Jesus seems to respond to her request in a derogatory…maybe even racist fashion, she owns it…and then continues to push until she gets what she’s asking for.

All troubling aspects aside, I found myself trying to find the headspace that the woman was in…because this healing isn’t for her. She’s acting on behalf of her daughter, who is possessed by a demon. We don’t know the specifics. We don’t know how long its been going on or how it effects the young girl…but what we do know is that…momma is on the case…and something tells me she’s tried everything up to this point…but this is beyond her ability to handle…no matter how hard she tries to cure her daughter…she can’t do it.

I wonder…have you ever been there? Have you ever felt that powerless feeling…as you look at someone that you love more than life itself, and you can’t do a thing to help them? (pause) Maybe it sounds almost cliché…but it is utterly devastating to experience.

In a bit of levity…I’ve joked before that both of my kids are lucky to be alive. When my son was about 3, I gave him an underdog, he fell off the swing and hit headfirst…even got a grass stain in his hair. And while that was happening my daughter who was 1 slid down through the stroller and got her head stuck…I thought I killed them both within 5 minutes. A few years later I watched as my son clotheslined himself off his bike by running full speed into a tree branch as he hadn’t learned to slow down and turn yet. And just about a month ago, my daughter tried to jump up on me, thinking I would catch her. I wasn’t paying attention and she fell, and was within a fraction of an inch from cracking her head on a rock. Now in every instance, they’ve been ok…but in that instant, it’s the worst feeling in the world.

How many of you have had that moment of powerlessness.  Of sitting at the bedside of your child in the hospital as they fight some unknown illness…or watching your fully grown son start back down the same old road of addiction…or seeing your spouse or your parent go through mental deterioration?

It happens doesn’t it? And we see it time and time again…and its bad enough when we watch a full grown adult in one of these battles…but when it’s a child…its that much worse…and I think we can all agree on that.

And this is the situation that the Syrophoenician woman finds herself in. No one can heal her daughter…no one except this random traveling Jewish rabbi who has shown up unannounced in her community…and yet…in her desperation, she appeals to him…thinking maybe, just maybe the stories are true…maybe he can help…that he has the power to act in a situation where everyone else is powerless…and nothing is going to hinder that possibility…not even some strange back and forth that makes zero sense to us as we read it 2000 years later.

And maybe, just maybe, we begin to see some hope as we consider the way the woman addresses Jesus in the first place.  Now in our translation she calls him sir…but in the actual language that she was using, she calls him Lord…she literally addresses Jesus as Lord…and interestingly enough…she is the ONLY person to do this in the entirety of Mark’s gospel. Not even the disciples use this word with Jesus…only her.

She is appealing to the one who is able to act…to the one who can do something…to the one who can say “Yah, I can do that.” For she is appealing to the Lord…regardless of her status as a foreigner…regardless of anything…she get it. Now this is not a new idea. In fact we even heard the same thing in our Psalm that we shared earlier today. Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help, whose HOPE…is in the Lord their God…The Lord opens the eyes of the blind…the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous…the Lord cares for the stranger…the Lord sustains the orphan and the widow. (pause)

In the middle of this back and forth…in an exchange that might almost be called an argument or a fight, and in the very least seems to be a debate…she calls him Lord…the one who acts…funny, the Psalm also says the God of Jacob, who you might recall wrestled with God until he received the Lord’s blessing. (pause) Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

So what does that mean for us today? Especially in light of the suffering that we see…the suffering that happens to those we care about but are powerless to do anything to stop? What do we do when our pleas and our prayers seem like they are falling on deaf ears? (pause)

We hope. And we cling to the promise that we have a God who can act…even if the action doesn’t look like what we think is right…because sometimes that action is simply the promise that the Lord will always have the last word in our story, or in the story of the ones we love.

Happy are those whose hope is in the Lord their God…we hope…because we have a Lord who sees every single one of us with that same love that we feel…for we have been claimed as beloved children…each and every one of us.  We have been claimed by the one who, in one way or another…will ALWAYS say…Yah, I can do that. Amen

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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.

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.