Posts Tagged ‘psalms’

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble 10-20-19

In this sermon, based on Genesis 32:22-31, I explore the story of Jacob. Specifically we look at the brief story of his all-night divine wrestling match that results in a change in his identity to Israel.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lets-get-ready-to-rumble-10-20-19

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

I always wanted to develop my own catch-phrase…I have yet to accomplish this feat…but I still want to…because a great catch phrase is amazing.  I’ve heard a lot of them over the years…those simple phrases that immediately key you into something specific…and if the phrase is good enough, it always works.

Think about it…I’m gonna lay down a phrase, and see if you can name the product its associated with. (Tony the Tiger) “They’re GREAAAAT!” (pause)…Frosted Flakes. See how well that works? It just sticks in our minds doesn’t it?

Now there’s another catch phrase…it’s a little bit longer…but I’ve heard it SO many times…it is utterly engrained…and the second it begins I both picture the specific person…and I know exactly what coming next.  Now if I say the name Michael Buffer…a lot of you know what’s coming next don’t you?  But don’t worry if you don’t know the name, because you’ll probably recognize the phrase.

He walks out to the middle of the venue…and begins “Are You Ready?” And the crowd cheers…then after a pause, he repeats himself, a little stronger this time “ARE YOU READY?” And the crowd goes nuts…and then he really goes for the gusto… “To the thousands in attendance…and the MILLIONS watching…around the world…Ladies and Gentlemen…LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!!!!” (pause)

Don’t you just love that? Its exciting…and it’s the perfect opening to what comes next.  This phrase has been everywhere…its in movies and tv shows…but most commonly it happens at the beginning of sporting events…events like boxing, or MMA…and the one where it happens most frequently…and the one place where I actually heard it in person once…at the beginning of wrestling matches.

I don’t know quite why…but its perfect for this type of event…because it implies that the people involved…the opponents…they are gonna throw down…they’re going to battle…they are going to contend with each other for dominance.

And that my friends…is the perfect segue into today’s scripture lesson, the Old Testament reading of course…and the story of Jacob’s divine wrestling match…that’s our focus…but before we get into this oddball hours long, overnight main event…let’s get a little history about Jacob.

He’s one of the individuals that we tend call the Patriarchs…and that distinction starts 2 generations before Jacob with Abraham…you remember him…random dude, hanging out in Genesis…God tells him “hey, go somewhere, I’ll tell you when you get there…also, you’re gonna have tons of offspring.”  Abraham nods…years pass…he has a kid with his wife’s slave…weird I know…and then more years pass and he finally has a child of the promise in Isaac…but what’s weird is the way inheritance works in those days. The oldest son is the heir and gets everything…So Isaac should be out of luck…but God chooses him anyway.

The story sorta repeats, or at least has a lot of similarities. Isaac eventually gets married…he and his wife ALSO wait a long time for kids, but then finally have twin boys.  The first one is born all red and hairy…so they name him Esau, which is Hebrew for…anyone know? Red and hairy…keep in mind Hebrew names are usually pretty on the nose.

But when Esau is born, his twin brother is holding his heel…so when HE’s born a moment later…they name him Jacob…anyone know what it means? Yah, it literally means “He grabs the heel.” I know, Hebrew is weird but we’ll go with it.

Now Jacob…from the get-go, he’s crafty.  He cheats his brother out of his birthright…and later, when Isaac is about to die and he’s too blind to see the difference, Jacob tricks him into thinking he’s Esau, and so he gets the blessing of the heir.  Once again…God has shined a light on the younger brother…the one we wouldn’t expect…especially not this trickster.

But you know, it doesn’t stop there.  Esau is so mad at Jacob that Jacob hightails it off to his uncle Laban…promptly falls in love with Laban’s younger daughter…promises to work for him for 7 years so he can marry her…then Karma catches him ever so slightly as Laban tricks HIM into marrying his other daughter…then Jacob works another 7 years to marry the daughter he loved in the first place.

Once that’s done, he uses some sort of divine inspiration to start earning great numbers of livestock from his father in law…and even though Laban keeps changing his wages, it still works out pretty good for Jacob…but after a batch of years…he’s grown rich…he’s got 2 wives…he’s also got 2 concubines, weird but he did…he’s got a dozen sons and bunch of daughters…he’s got tons of servants…dude is doing well…

But always the fickle one, he decides to go home…pretty much running away from Laban in the process…Now Jacob remembers that Esau, his big brother…was REALLY mad at him and wanted him dead…and as they approach Esua’s land, Jacob finds out he’s on his way, along with 400 of His men…and Jacob gets scared…and he starts taking steps to outsmart his brother.

He divides his whole household into two camps…he then sends tons of bribes to his brother ahead of him…then he sends his wives and children out in front of him…all the while thinking that if Esau is out for blood, Jacob will be able to figure it out and get away.  Nice guy huh?

And yet, this is the one that God has chosen to carry on the ultimate blessing that originated with Abraham. This crafty trickster who has taken every advantage he could finagle his way into to bring him right up to this particular moment.  A moment in which he’s tried to utterly separate himself as much as possible in order to ensure his own personal safety…right down to sending his family and property across a river towards his brother…and he’s gonna the spend the night on the far side.

But as soon as night falls…Michael Buffer shows up with the divine announcement “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE” and Jacob finds himself in an overnight test of wills…in what the scripture describes as wrestling match.

Now all thoughts of Professional Wrestling with its light shows and pyro technics, not to mention high flying aerial acrobatics between contenders aside…this wrestling match seems to be a little different. They aren’t try to pin each other…they aren’t going for the coveted 3 count or a tap out due to a submission hold.

It actually seems like they are scrounging around, trying to maintain a grip on one another…and it lasts all night.  To be honest, I can kinda relate…my son is every bit as big as me now…and in the rare moments when we get into a wrestling match, I’m to the point of simply trying to hold him off as long as possible because eventually I’ll get tired, he’ll get me in some sort of a choke hold and its over…I just try to last as long as possible.

Jacob and this divine being…seems to be the same thing…and somehow, they appear to be evenly matched.  It must be a pretty violent struggle, as we hear Jacob’s hip gets wrenched out of place…but as it goes on, neither can get away from the other…and as day begins to break…its time to be done and this divine being begs him to be let go.

Jacob refuses…because he wants another blessing…apparently every other blessing that he’s finagled his way into, all the tricks that he’s pulled off, or the mental battles he’s won and benefited from…those weren’t enough…and he wants this one to.

But before he gets the blessing, this divine being asks his name.  Jacob…the one who grasps the heel…the trickster…And now here’s the thing…he gets a new name…before he is blessed…there’s a change in identity…and Jacob becomes Israel. (pause)

Now, what have we already established about Hebrew names?  They mean something right?  Israel is no exception…this name means “he who contends” or “he who wrestles” And specifically…he who wrestles with God. (pause)

Now of course, Israel is also the name of the culture and the eventual kingdom that his descendants will ultimately become…and just like the man Israel who has contended with everyone including the divine…we later hear that the entire culture continues to wrestle with God in one way or another…and so this name is fitting.

But…what do we take from this whole deal?  Is it just some story? Some oddball little moment that the author decided to stick in there?  Or is there something for us to learn?  And I think there is.

Nowhere in Jacob’s story, do we hear him condemned by God because of his behavior…as we’ve already mentioned, he’s just one of the line of recipients of God’s ultimate blessing…even if he’s the unlikely choice.  And so maybe, just maybe as we hear that God GIVES him this identity as one who contends with God, maybe God is actually in favor of this type of thing.  Not the cheating…not the swindling…not the craftiness…but the actually wrestling…the contending.

And so what does that mean? (Pause) I think it means that in our encounters with the divine…wrestling…contending…questioning, seeking, wondering…battling…these are not bad things…but rather, we are encouraged to do just that.  These are not signs of weak faith. These are not indicators of issues in your spirituality…doubt, fear, questions…they are indications that you are paying attention to the reality you are a part of…and that you care enough to go to the source with it.

And you know what, you’re not alone in this…and we find this in the biggest batch of prayers that we have in our faith tradition…the psalms. The psalms are prayers and they cover the gambit. Joy, celebration, praise, questions, concerns…laments…and the laments…are the biggest batch of them. So if we find the psalms pointing out the legitimate nature of questioning God…and we find Jacob rewarded with an identity that LITERALLY means he battles with God…maybe we see that its okay when we need to do it to…and those moments happen in our lives and for some of you, I know these moments are happening right now.

But there’s one more thing we need to take note of…this encounter with the divine…this moment that results in a new identity…it leaves a mark on Jacob. And he limped for the rest of his days.

Likewise, we cannot expect to wrestle with God, in the good stuff and the hard stuff…and not be changed by it.  These divine encounters do leave their marks upon us in one way or another…but thanks be to God that they also result in a new identity…one given by the divine.

Jacob ceased to be the one who grabs the heel, and he became the one who contends with God.  And in our encounter with the divine, we are claimed as God’s beloved child…and this is made possible through the ULTIMATE divine wrestling match…when God became flesh…and took on death itself…

That encounter left its marks too…which we know because Jesus himself told his followers to put their fingers in the nail marks and their hands in his side.  Not even God can escape being marked by divine encounters…but thanks be to God…that this has all been done for us.

And so, today and every day…don’t be afraid to contend with God…God’s got broad shoulders…God’ll take it…but don’t be surprised…if you ultimately…end up changed by it.

What do you think everyone?   Let’s get ready to rumble. Amen.

Confirmation Questions 10-27-13

My sermon on Sunday came out of John 1:1-5, 9-14. You can find that sermon here.

As usual, the confirmation students posed some great questions in their sermon notes. I’ll try to address them here.

-Why would God encourage us to be mad?
Great question. Rather than saying that God encourages us to get mad, I think its better to say that God fully accepts the full range of emotion that humanity experiences. When I talked about this subject in the sermon, I was trying to make the point that God wants us to be honest in what we are feeling and thinking. Sometimes that includes anger. God does not condemn our anger or our questions or our worries. God experienced all those same emotions through Jesus Christ. God lived a life as part of humanity and because of that God knows our struggles having experienced them himself.   Psalm 6 and 13 are great examples of this. If you would like to see more, go to www.biblegateway.com and do a word search for “how long.” You’ll find a whole list of psalms that approach God in this way.

-Is God our only source of light in times of darkness?
Great question. John 1 discusses this question quite well. We read there that the light or the Word (aka Jesus, he is both things) is God (verse 1 and 4). Jesus is the true light…and so God is the true light because God and Jesus are one and the same.  A couple of verses later we hear that John (the Baptist) was sent by God “as a witness to testify to the light so that all might believe through him. He himself was no the light, but he came to testify to the light” (verses 7-8). We are also called to testify to the light. So in answer to the question, I would say that yes, God is the only source of light, but as believers we reflect the true light of God for others.

-Where does evil come from?
Another great question…and a tough one to answer. Evil is probably best defined as doing or seeking that which is contrary to God. The first being that did so was Lucifer. Lucifer actually means “light bringer” and we believe that Lucifer was the highest of angels…second only to God, but Lucifer wanted to be God and led a battle in Heaven. Lucifer, also called Satan was cast down from heaven with a third of the angels…those that also opposed God. Jesus mentions this briefly in Luke 10:18 “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” God created heaven and God created the angels, and we know only that these creations predate the creation of the world as we know it. So in Genesis 1-2, when we hear the creation story, including the Garden of Eden, we hear about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Evil already exists at this point, because Lucifer had already challenged God, but humanity had not yet experienced it. That’s why the serpent is also present to tempt Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve challenged the will of God who had told them not to eat the fruit of the Tree, but they disobeyed. This is how evil entered into/was experienced by humanity.

The Light Still Shines 10-27-13

In this sermon, I abandon the lectionary reading and preach from John 1:1-5,9-14. I address the recent school shootings as well as other examples of darkness that is still present here in the world.

Listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-light-still-shines-10-27

You can follow along with the text here. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause.

Before I read the gospel lesson for today, I’d like to say a quick word. I had high hopes for this week’s sermon. I had a lot to choose from. I could have focused on the Reformation and Martin Luther which we are celebrating in worship today…I could have come from the direction of our new members…and how our congregation is changed by their presence. That we are a new creation today…and with their gifts do that much better of a job of representing the body of Christ on earth. (pause)
I could have talked about freedom or enslavement or sin…topics brought up in the assigned Gospel text from John 8 printed on your bulletin…but considering some of the stuff going on in the world lately…that just didn’t seem fitting…that didn’t seem like the message that needed to be spoken today, and so I’m going off topic and I ask that you bear with me.
(read the Gospel lesson…John 1:1-5, 9-14)
I woke up Friday morning and I thought I had a pretty good plan for the day. Hang out with my kids as they were out of school. Do some housework. Take in the Underwood football game, and enjoy the company of some family that we had coming into town…and somewhere along the way, knock out a sermon for this morning.
As I already mentioned, I had a lot of different options for that sermon…a lot of different directions that I could go…but none of them really felt right…and none of them felt applicable, or hopeful…none of them were sitting well with me, and I couldn’t really put my finger on why. (pause)
As the day progressed, some different things happened that started to shed some light on things…although perhaps that’s not the best choice of words…perhaps a better way to say…some different things happened that started to shed some darkness on things. (pause)
Most of you have probably heard by now, that there was another school shooting this week. Last Monday, a 12 year old boy snapped…he pulled a gun and injured two fellow students…then he turned the gun on a beloved teacher and former US marine…killing him…and then he turned the gun on himself. (pause)
2 days later, on the other side of the country…another young man snapped…a 14 year old boy killed yet another teacher, this one a 24 year woman…3 people dead…more injured…and we don’t have to think very hard about other examples violence displayed in schools over the course of recent memory.
Every time we hear about things like this, I think it gives us pause. And we think to ourselves “That’s terrible…I can’t believe it happened again…I can’t imagine what those people are going through…I just hope that never happens here.” And we hug our kids just a little bit tighter for a few days…and we say some prayers for nameless strangers on the opposite side of the country for a few days…but then we sort of go back to normal don’t we? We try to forget the invasion of darkness into the world and pretend that everything’s okay. (pause)
But everything isn’t okay…and its not just school shootings. Darkness takes many forms…and it finds a way to get at us…it finds its way into our lives.  Maybe it’s violence…or maybe it’s a kid getting bullied…something all too common these days…or maybe it’s a foreclosure…or a failed business venture…or maybe it’s a terminal diagnosis…maybe that one sounds familiar to you.
In the last week, one of our members got that news. Cancer…the word that you never want to hear in a doctor’s office…the news that we never really want to admit to…that our days are numbered…or on the other hand that someone you love gets that diagnosis, and you have to sit there and watch them struggle…you have to watch them wither away until their strength gives out and they die. (pause)
We live in a world filled with darkness…we see it every day…we read about it in the paper…and we hear about it on the news. Often times it seems like there’s nothing good happening…nothing good at all…this is our reality.  Its messy, its ugly, it hurts…and we’re all stuck in it…and we all contribute to it…that darkness…it resides in each and every one of us…we might not want to admit it…more often than not we don’t want to cop to it…but like it or not that darkness that fills the world…that darkness that shows its ugly face in violence and disease and death starts right here.
We’re all a part of it, and though for some of us the darkness stops short of pulling a gun and shooting up a school room, we cannot deny the reality that sinfulness runs every bit as deep in our existence as it does in those 2 young men this week…those two young men who were so filled and overcome with darkness that they were able to justify taking lives this week. (pause)
We’re all a part of it…and we’re all stuck in the midst of it and often times when we stop and think about it we ask the question WHY? Why does this keep happening? Why can’t we stop this? What does this all mean…and often times when we ask those questions…the one that we’re directing it at doesn’t come back with much of an answer for us.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there violence and death and disease? WHY GOD? (pause) We ask those questions and there are no good answers. And I can stand up here and try to tell you that all this crap that continues to happen in the world is simply a result of the way that sin has twisted our present reality…and while I believe that its true…it seems like pretty sour grapes in the face of all this darkness that keeps coming up again and again this week.
And as much as I might find myself questioning God…arguing with God…crabbing God out for allowing this sort of thing to happen…blaming Him…in the midst of those struggles…I get smacked with the verse “The light shines in the darkness” but I’ll be honest with you…I hear that and I want to call God out on that too…You know what God…there’s too much darkness happening…I can’t see the light!!!
But then I come back to it again…the light shines in the darkness. NO IT DOESN’T…NOT THIS TIME GOD…THIS TIME I’m CALLING YOU ON IT!!!!
The light shines in the darkness…and the darkness…has not overcome it. (pause)  Are you sure about that God because from where I’m sitting…it seems like the darkness has a pretty good hold on things…it seems like the darkness is still holding on pretty tight and I’d say its still pretty well established in the world…its all around us…and its in us…and you know what God…as much as I hate to admit it, when I get honest I see an awful lot of it in me! (pause)
Have you ever had those times…those times when the darkness overwhelms you…and you find yourself arguing with God? They happen…and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it because you know what…God can take it…he can take your questions…he can take your anger…and in fact…I believe that God encourages us to express it.
Ever read the Psalms…they’re prayers…plain and simple…and while they cover a wide range of emotion, the largest single type of psalm is lament…arguing with God, laying out our troubles and our concerns and our anger with God…and hey…if the Bible is the word of God which Martin Luther swore up one side and down the other that it is…and that the Bible is our soul authority…well then maybe we need to wake up and pay attention…
We face darkness in the world…and we face darkness in ourself…but God’s not immune to it…God hasn’t turned his back on it…quite the opposite…God got into it…and that’s why I changed up the scripture lesson this week….to remind us in the midst of some pretty dark times…that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
That…right there…that’s the incarnation in John’s gospel…that’s the first time Jesus comes on the worldly scene…when the light starts shining because Jesus is the light and try as it might…all that darkness…all the crap…and ugliness…and filth in the world…it can rage all it wants to but the light…its still shining….it is not overcome…and in the end…the darkness loses.
You see…darkness is the absence of light…when light shows up, darkness flees…it has to…try as it might it cannot defeat light…and even though we feel that darkness closing in…IT CAN’T WIN!!!
And despite the darkness, we are able to cling to the hope that in the end, everything is made new…its like going to the end of a scary story…reading the last couple of pages and seeing that the good guy wins…we can go back into the story knowing the ending and its not so scary anymore.
That’s the hope that we have…the hope that despite all this darkness and death…there’s more…we believe it…we proclaim it…and whether we want to admit it or not…it’s done (pause)
And by the grace of God…not by any merit we possess…its done for all of us…despite the darkness that we are surrounded by, and penetrated by…and yes even the darkness that we ourselves possess…we are freed from the powers of sin and death…we are freed from the powers of darkness in this world by the light itself…by God himself…by the one that calls himself I AM!!!
And the truly remarkable part is that gift of life…that gift of the light…its offered to everyone…regardless of who they are…its offered to you…its offered to me…and as much as we might like to forget it…its even offered to those two troubled young men who chose to take lives this week…and while we might find that offensive to hear…God doesn’t really care what we think on the matter…because when we stop and think about there are very likely individuals who are offended by the notion that we have been offered salvation from sin…the gospel…the good news…it is so radical…and goes so far beyond our own understanding.
This notion that God is willing to completely overlook…to completely forget the worst sins that we could possibly imagine…and offer forgiveness to ANYONE…even those who are so filled with darkness that they don’t realize it.
That’s the gospel we proclaim…that’s the hope that we hold on to. That the light shines in the darkness…that the word becomes flesh. (pause) That God enters our darkness…and no matter how much we might want to rage against it…He’s still there…and the darkness…even our darkness…CANNOT…overcome it. Amen.