Posts Tagged ‘Preaching’

The Incarnation 1-5-20

In this sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas, I explore John’s version of the Incarnation. God enters into the world as the Word became flesh to dwell among us…but we also are reminded that God’s fingerprints have been present since THE BEGINNING, as the light shines in the darkness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-007-the-incarnation-1-5-20

Jesus and Silent Joe 12-22-19

In this sermon, based on Matthew 1:18-25, I explore the divine announcement of Jesus’ pending birth as well as the birth itself. Matthew aims the action at Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. His actions reveal a great deal about the connections that humanity holds with the Messiah.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-004-jesus-and-silent-joe-12-22-19

(Note that sermons will now feed into my Podcast, The Rambling Rev, available on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify. Subscribing on any of those feeds will automatically bring you the audio of my future sermons as they become available.)

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

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

As someone who has a background in acting, not to mention a fair amount of public speaking…I’ve got an appreciation for skills related to this type of thing…and in particular, I’m thinking about the skills needed for non-verbal communication.

It goes without saying that this takes on a lot of different forms, but I’ve always appreciated individuals who can convey a message without words…they use expression and mannerisms, and of course their actions to convey what’s going on with their character.

I’m sure there are a lot of examples of this type of thing, and a couple come to mind for me…and in both of them…the non-speaker is part of a duo…now the first set are entertainers in the realm of illusion…Penn and Teller…Penn talks constantly during their act…and in the midst of it all…Teller is busy doing the magic…and his expressions and actions make up his side of the show.

The second example actually comes out of a series of movies that came out back in the 90’s and early 2000’s…humorous but REALLY lowbrow…a pair of characters known as Jay and Silent Bob.  They’ve got a lot in common with Penn and Teller…Jay talks A LOT…but Silent Bob…well its right there in his name isn’t it? He’s silent…and its his expressions and actions that tell his side of the story in whatever scene they pop up in.

This idea of a silent character is where I’m connecting into today’s gospel story…Matthew’s account of the divine announcement of Jesus’ pending birth, relayed angelically to one of his parents…not to mention, in an almost throw away comment…we hear of the birth of Jesus as well.

Now Matthew’s account, this passage which we have just shared, is unique within the three year cycle of the lectionary and the passages that come up here on the final Sunday of Advent…its unique because of the presence of Jesus’ birth within the passage. Granted, most of it is still anticipatory in nature…looking forward to the birth…which it should be as we are still in Advent for a couple more days…but with Christmas coming right up on us in a couple more days…I don’t think it’s a bad thing…in many ways today is a transition from a sense of anticipation into celebration of the Messiah’s birth. (pause)

But that being said…the unique aspect of Matthew’s account of this story and the focal point did grab my attention.  Perhaps its because we’ve just come out of year highlight Luke’s gospel…one in which there is a stronger emphasis on the Good News and its effect on the marginalized. We see this in many moments, but one of the earliest happens when the angel of the Lord shows up to announce the pending Messiah and interacts with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In Luke’s account they have a conversation…Mary is given some agency…even a choice in the matter…but Matthew presents things a little differently doesn’t he…and that was blaringly obvious to me as I started working towards today’s message….the angel shows up to Joseph.  Joseph is given direction…Joseph is given divine assurance of what’s happening…and even though as “righteous man” he’s determined to follow the law in regards to his now-pregnant fiancé, Joseph receives divinely inspired direction aimed at taking the unexpected action in this story.

Its all about Joseph isn’t it…and where’s Mary?  She’s in the background…completely passive…she’s got no choice in this matter, She’s powerless…and like Teller on stage, and Silent Bob in the movies…she’s given no voice in this VITAL moment of history.

And I’ll be honest…that REALLY bugs me…because while Luke reveals her choice and her agency in this whole deal…Matthew glosses over it…she’s lucky she even gets called by name…and I wonder what she was thinking…is she standing there in the background wanting to smack Joseph upside the head. What makes him so special that all of the focus falls in his court? (pause)

That was my first thought, one that I wrestled with as I explore Joseph’s role in this story…and not just within this immediate passage.  I took a look at the different times that Joseph pops up…because he does fill an important role in the early life of the baby and then child Jesus.

While Joseph had seemingly died by the time that Jesus’ ministry begins in his adulthood, Joseph is still around during each moment we’re given while Jesus is growing up…filling that role of parent…of provider and protector…and we find evidence of THAT specific role of parental protector of the baby Jesus…when his divine dream radar just keeps going off.

The angel of the Lord just KEEPS showing up in Joseph’s dream…we’ve got today’s passage.  And then after the birth of Jesus, when the king is trying to kill him off, Joseph gets a dream warning to haul the family off to Egypt.  Then after the king dies, another dream pops up telling Joseph to come on home…but then upon their arrival back in Palestine, another dream comes up warning of the king’s son who is now in charge and is just as dangerous, and Joseph takes the family north to Galilee. 4 times within 1 chapter of the gospel in which Joseph’s dream radar provides divine direction.

And each time, Joseph takes action…and good for him…We’re proud of you Joseph…but still…why’s the focus on you and not Mary…why doesn’t she get a voice in the matter and you do? (pause)  Or does he?

Here’s the mind-blowing thing that I realized after fitting and stewing on this most of the week.  Joseph…while he receives divine direction…he’s given divine assurances…and he takes action…throughout his ENTIRE story, in ANY of the gospels, Joseph…never…speaks.  Not one time…as we look at the larger story we might call them Jesus and Silent Joe, because JUST LIKE that character…its not words…its his actions that matter. (pause) So What does Joseph do?

He defies social decorum, not to mention religious regulations to accept Mary as his wife…despite logic saying that she’s committed adultery. He takes her into his home, no doubt facing public shame and ridicule…and then, when her pregnancy comes to a close and the baby is born…we hear that Joseph…named him Jesus.

Now for us…that seems like an throw away comment, one that we take for granted…BUT the significance of Joseph taking this action cannot be understated. In this time…it was the role of the father to name the child…ESPECIALLY if the child is a boy…something that we find in a few different scriptural stories as well.

And so…for Joseph to claim this responsibility…to give the name to the baby…Joseph is, for all intents and purposes…claiming this child as his own…he’s essentially Adopting the child that he knows is not his…this baby that is born of both flesh and spirit…human and divine in nature.  When Joseph says “I give him the name Jesus,” he is claiming Jesus as his child.

Now I can’t help but think of how HUGELY significant that fact is as we consider the overarching story of the gospel…a story which is hinted at as we consider the names given to the child. Jesus is the Greek version of Joshua…in fact it would be have been pronounced Yay-shua…and that literally means God saves…and not only but that but we also hear the prophet Isaiah referenced as the child is called Emmanuel…God with us.

And that’s the gospel isn’t it? The God who saves is with us. The divine will be found in the midst of us. The God who knows we are unable to save ourselves will dwell among us in order to accomplish that which we cannot. And this same God who took on flesh…while utterly different…is ALSO far more like us than we realize.

The savior of the world…the word made flesh…Emmanuel, is claimed by his earthly father…he is adopted into the family of Joseph…he is given a name by one who claims him as his own…you see where I’m going with this?  We are given the promise in the waters of baptism…that we too are claimed by a parent…we are adopted…made heirs to the promise as beloved children of God.

But the similarity doesn’t stop there either…there’s another that we find in this story…when Joseph is told that the child in Mary’s womb is begotten of the Holy Spirit…somehow, in ways that go beyond our ability to comprehend, and beyond my ability to explain…the humanity of Jesus is created out of the presence of the Holy Spirit…the Spirit which we hear dwells within him at his baptism…and the same Spirit which has promised to dwell within us through the waters of our baptism.

This same Holy Spirit empowers us as followers of Christ…and it unites us together into the one body of Christ here on earth…we REMEMBER that the very spirit of God which somehow incarnated the living word of God in the first place…resides within us.

And this promise opens up a whole new understanding of what Emmanuel means, what God with us…means…that not only do we have a God who walked among us. But that which is divine is found WITHIN us…within those who created bearing the divine image of God in the first place…and in whom God delights to be found in the presence of the Spirit. (pause)

As we move from this season of expectation into the season of celebration, remembering once more that God has dwelled among us…may we all remember in the midst of dark times, both literally as we consider the dark season of winter which is upon us…as well as metaphorically as we consider the darkness still present within this broken world that we live in…may we remember that to look in the face of one another is to see the presence of God IN one another.

And as this is true for you as you look at another…know that it is ALSO true as they look back at you.  This is the glory of the gospel that goes beyond all understanding…that the ultimate creator and sustainer of everything, everything which is seen and unseen…this God has chosen to dwell…in…you. Amen.

WOE!!!! 11-3-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 6:20-31, I explore Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Not only does Jesus speak of blessings, but he also offers the wake up call of Woe.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/woe-11-3-19

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

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

We live in a time that is ripe with good storytelling…and it comes to us from a lot of different sources. I’m a big fan of the visual mediums like movies and tv shows…and as a fan…I’ve never been the type to get bogged down when a story seems unrealistic.  Just tell me a good story.

Now there are a lot of good examples of this type of thing, and I love it…if the story is engaging, I don’t care…and while there are a lot of good examples, its probably safe to say that Disney and Pixar do the best job of this.  Take, for example…the recent movie Finding Nemo.  A great story in which we learn in this reality that clown fish are neurotic…seagulls are greedy…pelicans have Australian accents…and sea turtles talk like surfer dudes.

That’s probably my favorite aspect right there…and we learn it from the instant we first meet one…now this sea turtle…named Crush by the way…first enters into the story after the main character, the neurotic clownfish named Marlon, he has a run in with a bunch of jelly fish…and promptly passes out…and when he comes too, he finds himself riding on the shell of Crush the sea turtle…and we hear “Dude….oh HEY DUDE!!!!” And then Crush introduces Marlon, who he calls the Jelly-man to his son…and we hear “Allow me to introduce my offspring…Offspring, Jellyman…Jellyman, Offspring.”

And finally the surfer dude image culminates as the Jellyman tries to remember what happened and Crush tells him “Oh dude, at first you were like WOAH…and then we were like WOAH…and then you were like…woah.” (pause)

Now given our gospel lesson that we shared just a moment ago…you probably see where I’m going with this. Today we hear Luke’s account of the Beatitudes…part of a larger teaching of Jesus…a long sermon…one that covers almost an entire chapter here in Luke…but one that we also hear elsewhere…this whole sermon from Jesus, including the Beatitudes are also found in Matthew’s gospel…and to be honest, his account is longer and more in depth…

But that reveals something very common within the gospels…often times, the same stories…the same teachings…they are found in more than one gospel…but even when the different authors record them in similar ways, there are still differences…and we certainly see that here with the Beatitudes.

We hear about the people who are blessed…that sense is present in both accounts…but in Matthew, Jesus talks a little longer…there are more of them…they could probably be called a little more spiritual in nature, Luke is a bit more on the nose.  Matthew kinda generalizes, using language like “theirs” or “they.” But in Luke its more direct, as Jesus addresses “you.” (pause)

But the main difference…the thing that really sets Luke apart from Matthew in this particular instance…is the presence of the Woe-statements…Crush would be impressed. (pause) but in all seriousness, Luke gives us a very different sense with these woes listed along with the statements of blessing.

What really seems to be happening as Jesus teaches…is that we’re hearing two sides of the same coin…the statements all partner up and they’re very much connected…something we see if we mix them together rather than listing them separately.

Blessed are you who are poor…but woe to you who are a rich.   Blessed are you who are hungry now, but woe to you who are full.  Blessed are you who weep now, but woe to you who laugh…and finally blessed are you when people hate you and exclude you and defame you on my account…but woe to you when all speak well of you. (pause)

Isn’t that interesting, how that little shift really highlights these reversals that Jesus is talking about? The ups and downs…the back and forth…which…I can’t help but think…that sounds like life…one minute we are on top of the world and the next everything falls to pieces….but maybe what’s most eye opening here…are some of the specific words that Jesus uses through this teaching…words that don’t really work when we really stop and think about them at face value…

Words like “blessed.” Think about that one…what images come to mind when you think of something as blessed? Or what other words could we use? Maybe the most prominent word is…happy? (pause) But does that work?  Are the poor…happy?  Are the hungry…happy?  Are the ones hated…HAPPY?  And here’s the real kicker…blessed are you who weep now…HAPPY!?!  I don’t buy it.  (pause)

Well what about the flipside…and all those “woes?”  Admittedly, Woe isn’t a word that we throw around much is it? So what does it mean?  If we take this whole thing at face value…and if we consider the ongoing theme of a great reversal that Jesus is bringing about…the ultimately switch in things in the kingdom of God as opposed to the reality of this world….well then maybe we hear about blessings and then woes…and we think that woe equals damnation…

Fair assumption on my part? If we keep things surface-level we hear Jesus say blessed and we think happy, and we hear woe and we think that person is damned…I think we can make that jump…but only if we take things at face value…because digging a little deeper brings some better insight.

And it really stems from the original language of Woe…because it implies emphasis…like there needs to be an exclamation mark with it…and its not the only word like this…there’s another one that we usually translate as See or Behold! And you can’t just say (flatly) behold…its (boisterous) BEHOLD!!!!.

I discovered this week that WOE…is the same way…its not “woah.”  Its WOE!!! (pause) Plug that in there. WOE!!!! To you who are rich for you have received your consolation…WOE!!!! To you who are full now for you will be hungry…WOE!!!! To you who are laughing now for you will mourn and weep…WOE!!! To you when all speak well of you….

It seems like Jesus isn’t say you’re out of luck…it seems like he’s trying to get your attention.  Maybe we should say “YIKES” or “WAKE UP.”  Pay attention!  This is a wakeup call…and honestly I think it goes both ways because of the truth that life swings us both directions doesn’t it…this wakeup call is for those called to be content in their present circumstances every bit as much as it is for those he cautions against getting comfortable in things that are fleeting.

This whole thing…the entire first portion of today’s scripture is all about reminding us that we are all in this together…and that we are equal in the grand scheme of things regardless of how our present creature comforts are treating us.

And so hearing that wakeup call, maybe we need to perk up our ears and pay attention to what comes right after it…something we could probably call the golden rule section.  Love your enemies…do good to people who hate you…bless those who curse you…turn the other cheek…offer your shirt and your coat…give to whoever needs it….and like our mom’s taught us…do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Now I don’t know about you…but I hear that and its like “Duh!”  (pause) Or at least it should be.  But is it? Does life really work out that way?  Do we act like that? Or do we foul it up? (pause) This whole deal…this entire thing…it all serves to show us how the world works…and how that’s utterly opposed to the kingdom of God that Jesus has brought near to us.

The world says ‘this is what’s right…this is power…this is authority.” It even tries to tell us “this is what’s blessed.” But Jesus is over here “uh-uh…not even close.”  But we get caught up in it don’t we?  That selfish nature takes over…and time after time…we foul it up…putting ourselves first…cuz I gotta get what’s mine right?

And so as much as we might think we are the ones who fall in the “blessed are you” category…when we’re really honest maybe we hear Jesus sparking off that “WOE!!!” in our direction…and we should…because that’s what the gospel is supposed to do…its supposed to remind us that we can’t pull it off…no matter how hard we try…we need God’s grace…and you know what…in that instant when we recognize it…its there…every time.

And what’s wonderful is that we’ve been given gifts to receive that grace from Christ…and we find that in the sacraments…one which we will share today…and for some of our young people…today they will share it for the first time…what a blessing to be here in community with them, as we all gather around this table…equal in our need for grace…and as we cling to that grace throughout the course of our lives…we are also reminded of the faithful witness of those who have come before us…those who have now gone on ahead into whatever it is that lies on the other side of death…those who are now experiencing first hand…the fullness of the kingdom which we have only glimpsed.

This is a wakeup call that is worth having…one we should be aware of every day…one that should fill us with gratitude…because we have God who cares enough about us to get into the midst of it with us…as one us…We have a God who gets right in our faces with a hearty “WOE!” So that we might rely on his grace…and be recipients of his blessing. Amen.

What Are You Doing Here 9-29-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost 9-15-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Do YOU Read

Greetings all.

Looking through here you can find my sermon from this week…July 14th, 2013. The text is from Luke 10:25-37…You can read the sermon here…pardon all the weird punctuation and indications to pause…that’s how I write out my manuscripts.

You can also listen to the sermon here.
http://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-do-you-read-7-14-2013

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

Well, it’s been a week…Over the course of this week I have met many of you, and in several of those meetings I’ve heard “Oh Pastor, you must be a runner…We’ve seen you out running in the morning.” Well, yes, it’s true. I am a runner.

I started running about 2 years ago…and when I first started, I think I could run about a quarter of a mile before I was ready to keel over from exhaustion…but like all those trainers and motivators continue to tell us…practice does help. Gradually over the course of about 9 months, I built up my ability to the point where I could run a 5k non stop…and a few months later, I ran my first…and honestly to date…only…official race.

I have to admit, that first race wet my appetite, and as I’ve continued running, I’ve started to set my sights a little higher. At this point, I’ve run 10k’s…unofficially of course…a few times…I’m proud of those accomplishments, but there’s this little needle in my head that says “Come on…go big or go home.” And typically that needle gets really pointy when I’m walking through a parking lot and see a car with one of those stickers that says 26.2…I’m sure you’ve seen them. It’s the trophy that a runner is awarded when they complete a marathon…needless to say…I don’t have that sticker…not yet anyway.

But I do know several people that do…and when I’ve asked them about the experience…what it’s like…how hard it is…things of that nature…the response has always been the same…We can’t really describe it…you’ve just got to experience it for yourself. Until you’ve forced your legs over every step of those 26.2 miles, you just can’t understand the accomplishment.

Now on one hand, I guess that makes sense. There are certainly experiences that we as individuals just can’t really wrap our heads around without actually doing it ourselves…I get that…but I’m a runner…I’ve run 6.2 miles before…I’ve experienced that so shouldn’t it be the same to run 26.2? The same…only…longer? (pause) I guess until I finally commit, and train…and then go out there and earn my 26.2 sticker…I won’t know will I?

Life is like that, isn’t it? I think back over my lifetime…and I think about the experiences that I never really understood prior to…actually experiencing them. I remember the first time I flew in an airplane when I was 19…I remember seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time when I was 22…A few years later, I remember seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time along with my son Jack, who was only 8 months old at the time…I’d heard about all these things…but I never really understood them…until I experienced them. (pause)

And speaking of Jack…that makes me think about a picture that I have sitting on my desk.  It’s a picture of him when he was about 18 months old…big enough to walk around on his own. The picture is taken from behind him as he’s standing in the parking lot of an apple orchard. You can tell from his body language that he’s just taking all of this in. All sorts of new sights and sounds…all new to this little bitty guy…and that’s how young children experience the world isn’t it? Everything is new to them…everything is an opportunity to expand their understanding of the world that they live in. (pause)

Now, perhaps you are wondering just what the heck I’m talking about.  Perhaps some of you sitting out there today…are thinking Pastor, you are not making a bit of sense so far…let’s get to the point.  Maybe you’ve been expecting a certain type of sermon ever since you sat down and looked at the back of the bulletin to see that today’s Gospel reading is the Good Samaritan…arguably the most well-known and familiar parable in the entire Bible…You all know the story itself…I probably didn’t even need to read it…a man gets beat up and robbed…the two guys that we expect to stop and help him flat out ignore him…and then the unexpected Samaritan…the foreigner that normally wouldn’t even bother crossing cultural lines stops and helps…then goes above and beyond to provide care for the hurt man.

You probably all know the application of that story as well. I don’t really need to explain it…Jesus is calling us to be a neighbor…and not just for those people that we tend to think of as our neighbors…those people that are just like us…but also to the unexpected person…and we need to be open to those times when we are seeking help and it comes from the unexpected source…the unexpected individual.

If you’re thinking that…I’d say you are pretty much spot on…and perhaps you’re thinking…yep, we got it Pastor…say amen and sit down. (pause)

Well, I’m not gonna sit down quite yet…because, like normal…the word of God is doing that whole living and active thing…and I think there’s a little bit more to focus on besides just the obvious…I think there’s a little more here for us to…experience…today…so at this point, just put the Good Samaritan out of your head…We could even pretend that we never heard that part of the story…and let’s back up to the first part…the part of this story that often gets glossed over as we rush towards the familiar.

Did anyone catch just why Jesus started telling this story in the first place?  He’s in a sort of debate, with an individual that we can only assume is a bit of a bigwig…Our translations tend to call him a lawyer…but he’s not exactly the type of lawyer that we’re all familiar with in this day and age…Rather, it would be a little bit better to simply call him an expert in the law…and specifically the Old Testament law…you know…that really lengthy list of rules found in Deuteronomy.  This guy has spent his life studying it…probably knows it backwards and forwards…and is familiar enough with it to know that it’s really complicated.

At this point in the lawyer’s life, he’s certainly lost the innocent curiosity of youth. I think we all tend to lose that after awhile don’t we? The natural curiosity to experience everything new and exciting becomes mundane…and I think we tend to become a little more analytical…and we start to wonder if there aren’t some shortcuts.

It would seem that’s where our lawyer is when he encounters Jesus in today’s story. This expert in the law stands up and asks the question “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (pause) Now, on one hand, at least he’s got the right goal in mind…eternal life? That’s a good start for the guy…but the way he comes at the question reveals the lack of true understanding. “What must I do?”  We could rephrase it, “Hey Jesus…wanna give me a checklist? I’m not getting any younger here and I wanna make sure I’ve got my ducks in a row…so what’s the minimum…what do I need to pay attention to?” (pause)

Now here’s the part that I really like…Jesus…seems to get the tiniest bit snarky with his reply…What is written in the law? What do YOU…read there? He might as well be saying…look dude…you know the LAW just as good as I do…so what are you asking me for?

But the conversation continues…and we see by Jesus’ continued responses, that the man is on the right track…Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and strength and mind…and love your neighbor as yourself…and surprisingly enough…this correct answer…is in fact found in the law…and I realize that as good Lutherans…we might get just a little nervous at that idea.

NOT LAW…GRACE!!! We hear the law as a reminder that we are flawed and that we can’t do it on our own…and then we hear the gospel that by the grace of God, Jesus has saved us from our sin…that’s how we inherit eternal life…that’s our experience. (pause)

And if you are thinking that right now…kudo’s, I completely agree…and I think Jesus agree’s as well…so why is he asking this guy what the law says?  Well, have you ever tried to love God with all your heart…or with all your strength…or all your mind…get’s a little tough it…right in the middle of all that love for God…that all encompassing, every atom of your being love…something else crosses your mind…something else catches your attention…might be something as simple as getting caught up in the fact that you’re hungry and it’s lunch time…or maybe you get caught up in worrying that the paycheck isn’t quite stretching to the end of the month anymore…or maybe the desire to watch the football game overshadows the opportunity to spend a little time with your maker…could be anything…all I’m saying is that in our lives, it’s really easy for God to slip to the back burner…

And once that happens, guess what…that Law that Jesus agreed with…was just broken…and we have fallen short of the glory of God…and eternal life…has just gone out of reach….and that my friends, is where Jesus comes in. We talked about that a moment ago…salvation from our sins through Christ which is only by the grace of God. 

We are given something that we did not…and CAN NOT…earn…there is nothing that we can do to inherit eternal life…and that is where the lawyer’s understanding and reliance on the law…is falling short for him.  There is no divine checklist for us to work our way through…but that being said…the lawyer did stumble across a grain of wisdom in what we would call his foolish question…did you catch it?

He says the word…inherit…Anyone here ever inherited anything? You didn’t earn did you? It was given to you by someone else…it’s a gift that you aren’t entitled to…but it’s given to you anyway…and that is exactly how we come to find the eternal life that the lawyer asks about…we inherit it, through Christ, from God. There is no other way but by Christ alone.

Now all that being said, I need to come back around to something. Just why did Jesus ask the question “What is written in the law? What do YOU read there?” (pause) Because the lawyer needed to experience the answer to the true question for himself…and I believe that we all share that need.  Jesus meets each and every one of us where we are. For this man, he met him in his own experience of the Law…and he pointed out the need for God’s grace within it. 

Likewise, we each need to experience the grace of God for ourselves…no one can relate this experience for you…no one can make you understand it by simply telling you the story…we can only point to the place where Jesus is…and my friends that is in the scriptures themselves.

The Bible is the largest best seller in the world…there are tons of them all over the place…and Jesus is telling us in this story to open it up and experience it for ourselves…it’s not always easy…not everything in that book is easy to wrap our head’s around…but the message of God’s love for the world…the message that He loves us so much that he is willing to sacrifice his own son in order to bridge that gap that we cannot cross…that message…is there…waiting for us to open it up…and experience it for ourselves.

You don’t need someone else to do it for you. You have direct access to the Word of God…and so I ask you…What do YOU…read there? Amen