Posts Tagged ‘Relationship’

Motivation 3-6-19

In this Ash Wednesday sermon, based on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, I explore an ironic passage in which Jesus warns us against public displays of piety on the one day in the Lutheran world when we publicly display our piety.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

When I got into the office this morning, the very first thing I did was move around the church to bump up the heat for this evening…so I went down stairs to the two different thermostats in the basement, and then I came into the sanctuary to bump up the temperature in here.

And as I walked up the aisle towards the thermostat located right over there…I noticed something…with our maroon colored carpet here in the sanctuary…any salt left behind by people’s shoes is blatantly visible…and considering the weather and the amount of salt that each of one us is walking over every day…you can imagine the MULTITUDE of salt that was left behind last Sunday…and since the cleaning ladies aren’t here until Thursday, that salt wasn’t going anywhere.

This is one of those moments that qualifies in a job description as “any other duties as required.”  And so I busted out the vacuum to give the carpet a quick once over and clean up the majority of the left over salt. Now as I was vacuuming, I just kept thinking about a statement that Jesus makes very pretty early on in the Sermon on the Mount…about a chapter or so before the portion that I shared just a moment ago…one that perhaps sounds familiar to you. (pause)

If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored. It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. (pause) But…evidenced by my work this morning…what Jesus failed to tell us with that pithy little saying…once the salt is trampled underfoot, it sticks to our shoes, and it will be carried back inside again.

And with that realization…along with awareness of what today is, I present to you a new statement…Remember that there is salt…and the salt it will return. (pause) Now its not much of a stretch to go from that statement to our actual statement that applies tonight. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. A phrase which is spoken to each one of us tonight…as a reminder of where we came from…as well as where we will return…a statement that we will hear along with the tradition of smearing ashes on our foreheads…a visual sign of our mortality…a tradition which we do each year to kick off the season of Lent.

This action is a physical statement of our faith…an action that we participate in as a way to physically live out that faith…and there’s a word for this type of thing…piety…a way that we show reverence to God or a way that we act that fulfills a religious requirement…that’s what piety means. And tonight…in one of the rare instances here in our Lutheran tradition…tonight as we hear those words, and receive those ashes on our foreheads, we publically practice and display our piety…

And I don’t know about you…but I can’t help finding a sense of irony tonight…because on this night when we do just that…public displays of piety…our gospel lesson is a warning from Jesus against…public displays of piety. (pause)

And with that…we have a couple of different choices right now.  I can stop now, offer up a prayer of repentance, we could all say amen, and sheepishly sneak out the back…or we could take a closer look at just what Jesus is talking about here…I’m gonna lean towards the latter if that’s ok. (pause)

Now sure enough…Jesus does offer this warning about 3 different types of religious practices…but what’s strange about it…is that none of these things are bad.  Giving alms…offering as we know it…though giving directly to the less fortunate would probably be a better description…that’s a good thing.

Praying…nothing wrong with that one…its something we do here in worship every week and its something that we do individually whenever we talk to God…prayer’s good right? (pause)  And fasting…maybe not the most common practice in our tradition…but fasting as a way to focus our attention back to God isn’t a bad thing either…and many participate in this spiritual discipline.

So I gotta ask…Jesus…what are you talking about in these three warnings? I wonder…why is he warning us against them…or is he?  Does Jesus tell his followers not to give alms…not to pray…not to fast?  Or does he give a warning about the motivation behind these actions? (pause)

If we consider each of the three statements…I think we’re getting closer to his intention.  When you do these things…when you practice your piety…do not be like the hypocrites…they do these things publically…and they act to draw attention to what they are doing…so that they might be seen by others.

The motivation behind our actions…behind our tradition and our practices…that seems to be the key…because who are we doing it for? Who is our audience? Is it other people? Or is it God? That’s the big question that we need to be asking ourselves…especially tonight as we have gathered to do something similar…and maybe, just maybe…the whole thing can boil down to the final statement that Jesus makes for us tonight.  Where your treasure is…there your heart will be also.  Jesus is talking about our ultimate desires…because if we’re simply playing the crowds…or we’re acting in a way to get ourselves something that the world tends to value…we need to remember that all that is fleeting…but treasures in heaven…I think that’s something altogether different. (pause)

I’ve had a lot of conversation over the years about what these heavenly treasures might be…conversations that are often tied to questions about what heaven’s going to be like…what will we experience in the afterlife? What will we see or hear…what will we think or feel?  And when we’re honest in those conversations we have to acknowledge that we don’t know…but when I find myself in these conversations…often times with an individual who is looking at the rapidly approaching end of this life…I tell them that whatever it is that they will experience…they won’t be disappointed.

And that right there probably brings us around to the important aspect of this day…and this worship service…and this public display of our piety that we will all participate in.  In a few more moments, each one of you will come up this aisle…and I will look you in the eye, smear ash on your forehead and tell you “remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”

Those words refer to your mortality…they refer to your death. They are an acknowledgement that this life you are leading…is fleeting.  I’ve shared with you before, that this action that we share tonight is one of the most personal and powerful moments that I have every year…because with each passing year, the depth of the relationship that I hold with you as individuals deepens.  I’m your pastor…I consider many of you friends…I have family sitting out there.

For some of you, I have buried your spouse…or your parents, or your siblings.  Some of you young ones out there…I baptized you…the nature of our relationships differs from person to person…but as I look you in the eye and say words that speak of your death, its hard.

I’m not sharing this to toot my own horn or to make you feel sorry for me…but rather I want to highlight the importance of relationship that lies between us…and not only that but to remind you of the importance of the relationships that you hold with one another…and to go one step beyond that…perhaps most importantly tonight…to remind you of the relationship that you hold with God.

The relationship that you hold with the one who made you in the first place…remember that you are dust…know where that comes from?  Genesis…and God making humanity out of dirt…and God being a little on the nose in naming this mud person Adaam…from the Hebrew Adamah which literally means dirt. And then following the creation of humanity out of dirt or dust, God calls us Very Good…and being there in relationship with this very good creation that in which God finds delight.

God finds so much delight in you…that God will not be separated from you…and so through whatever it was that God was accomplishing through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ…God is making that ongoing relationship with you a reality…one that not even death can stop.

Because despite our brokenness…God has offered us healing…and we will hear that tonight as well…because immediately after you hear the words that speak of your death…you will also hear the body of Christ broken for you….the blood of Christ shed for you…and remember this has been done for the forgiveness of sins…it has been done…for…you.

This is a promise that we cling to…and that is faith…believing the promises that God has made for you and to you…let us each hold on to that faith…let us each hold on to that promise, and be motivated by the love of the one who made us in the first place…and let us act accordingly…whether we are doing it in public or in private…may we each be motivated by gratitude to the one who loves us and made us in the first place. Amen.

I Will Drink to That 1-20-19

In this sermon for the Second Sunday After Epiphany, I explore the miraculous sign of water into wine at the wedding in Cana.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

The Grace and Peace of our Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

I’ve noticed that people have the tendency to collect some odd stuff…though some are stranger than others.  Admittedly, I’ve never really collected anything overly out there…about the only thing that comes to mind was the period when I tried to collect the quarters minted with the different states on them…a collection which eventually ended up getting used to do laundry.

Some others though…they get a little stranger.  I remember one of the older brothers of a good friend of mine…during his college years he started collecting beer bottles of different types that he had sampled…and at some point…he actually ended up with 4 bottles of what I believe was Coors Light…and these 4 bottles were shaped like baseball bats…I’m not making this up…you can find them on google.

Now the really odd part of this whole deal…while the rest of his bottle collection were all empty…these baseball bat bottles of Coors Light were still sealed…and they sat on that shelf for a long time…probably a decade or longer…until one day, my friend’s mom insisted that the collection get cleaned out…and since a batch of us were all sitting there…it didn’t take long for one of us to ask the inevitable question…Should we drink it? (pause)

We learned something that day…10 year old beer is NOT something you want to drink…and I think its also safe to say that a bottle of beer is not intended to be a collectable…its meant to be enjoyed…but I got to thinking along those lines…and I think there are some who might disagree with me…if…the beverage in question is wine instead of beer.

There are some people out there who are wine collectors…and their wine cellars are truly something to behold…with hundreds of bottles just sitting there…and some will spend unbelievable amounts of money for the right bottle of wine…The most expensive bottle of white wine…$117,000…bottled in 1811…and on the red side…the 4 most expensive bottles…a 1787 worth $225,000…an 1869 at $230,000…a 1907 worth $275,000…and the most expensive bottle ever…a 1947 worth $304,375.

Can you imagine that? Paying that much for a bottle of wine…I’ve got to admit…just thinking about that raises the question “is it worth it?” And you know what…those people, who clearly have money to burn…will probably never know…because to pay THAT much for a bottle…that’s an investment…meant to be put on display…and never ever…to be opened. If they did…that wine better be good…it better be downright heavenly with an angelic choir singing behind you when you take that first sip.  But they’ll never know…and those ungodly expensive bottles will just sit there, year after year…never to be enjoyed. Might as well be a paperweight.  (pause)
Now I’m guessing you know where I’m going with this…it probably isn’t difficult to make the jump between super expensive wine and our gospel lesson for today…the first of Jesus’ signs at the wedding in Cana.

Now this story is interesting to be sure…wildly different that what we’ve already been encountering through the past couple weeks here in the season of Epiphany…as Jesus continues to be revealed to the world in different ways.

2 weeks ago we heard about the magi and their visit to the baby Jesus out of Matthew’s gospel…and we heard about how the very rumor of that baby’s eventual fate was enough to drive those in power crazy.

Last week we jumped into Luke’s gospel for the baptism of Jesus…and surprisingly, found Jesus to be pretty secondary…totally silent…and pretty passive in the action going on as the Heaven’s rip open, the Holy Spirit starts flying around and the big booming voice of God the father announces to the crowds that THIS IS MY SON.

And now…here we are in John…and for the first time this season…we see Jesus begin to take some ownership in the big reveal…but…even now…it seems like he needs a little coaxing doesn’t he? (pause)
On the 3 day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…and Mary was there…and Jesus was there too…and he brought his entourage of ragtag followers with him…and for whatever reason…part way through the week-long celebration…the wine jars run empty…its worth noting that this is a HUGE blunder on the part of the hosts…it was expected that you would provide for this long celebration in its entirety…apparently open bars were all the rage back in 1st century Palestine…but somehow they’ve misjudged and the servants who go back in the kitchen looking for another pitcher to top off everyone’s glass…they come out empty handed.

At this point…for reasons that escape us…Mary…the mother of Jesus…jumps in…but she doesn’t run off to the store for a new barrel…no…she walks over to her son…and tells him “they have no wine.”  I can’t help but think that Jesus is a little snarky in his comeback as he pretty much says “so what? That’s not our problem?”

Now it would seem that Mary knows something no one else does because she turns back to the servants and says “If he tells you anything…do it.” And then I imagine she turned and looked at Jesus with an expression that says “Your up sparky…wha ‘cha gonna do now?”

We know how the rest goes don’t we…Jesus spots the 6 HUGE jars of water…simply there for the Jewish participants in this whole celebration to ceremonially wash up when needed…and he says…fill ‘em up with water…and when they do, he tells them to pull some out and take it to the steward…and somehow…someway…that water turns into wine…and not just any wine…the best wine…and not only that…but SO MUCH of it…those jars were enormous…like 4 or 5 feet high and wide…we can estimate that Jesus was producing somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 bottles-worth of this mind-blowingly good wine.

Its so good that when the steward gets a sip he can’t believe his taste buds and he runs off to the groom…who by the way is utterly oblivious to this whole deal…and the steward…who is also oblivious to just what’s happening…spouts off about how a normal wedding would be serving nasty old swill by this point…but that this is the BEST wine.

That’s the story…and the only other thing we get is a bit of narration about how Jesus performed this sign…revealing his glory…and his disciples believed in him. (pause)

That’s the story…and it’s a great one…but admittedly, as I think about it…it raises way more questions than it answers.  Why did Mary get involved? (shrug)  Why did Jesus spout off like he did, talking about his hour not being here? (shrug)  Why water? Why not just miraculously refill all the wine containers? (shrug)  Why not tell the steward or the groom and the guests for that matter what happened? (shrug) Why so much wine? And why here…and why now? (shrug)

Admittedly…there are times when we take a look at scripture and the individual stories within and we can begin to notice things…and often times these things start to reveal a big picture…maybe an underlying point that the author of the gospel wants to make…and as I was working with the text in preparation for today I was trying really hard to find something like this…that subtle point that brings it all together…and I was getting nowhere…and this went on to the point where I reached out to one of my old professors, who’s PhD was actually on John’s gospel…and I bounced some theories off her before she finally asked me a pretty simple but important question.

What if the only thing going on here is Jesus making wine? (pause) Yes, there is a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes…questions that it raises of who or how or why?  But what do we know…Jesus was present at a wedding celebration…and that joyful celebration among people who must have loved being in one another’s company was in danger of ending prematurely…and so Jesus…who is God made flesh…who is the literal voice that spoke creation into being…acted in order to allow that celebration to continue.

Maybe that’s all that matters…and as Jesus reveals his glory in this way…maybe he’s simply showing us that in all of the divine glory of God, which goes far beyond our ability to comprehend…God desires that we enjoy the simple moments of being found in community with one another…in relationship with one another…and that God will act in a way to continue to make that possible.

Within the initial statement of hesitation…Jesus says “my hour has not yet come.” But do you know when his hour has come?  He tells us…and its right before his arrest and torture and death…which is a really strange way to think about Jesus being glorified…and yet we know what comes next…because he came back.

We profess that the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus was God’s way of making ultimate moments of relationship and community possible…especially the relationship between God and humanity…and that his divine favor rests upon each of us…that perfect favor…which I can only describe as being “the best.” (pause)

Apparently there are some really expensive bottles of wine out there…just taking up space…collecting dust in a cellar…might as well be a paperweight for all the good its doing…but you know what…a few days back I opened a bottle of Apothic Red…you can get it for about $12 bucks at Hy-vee.  I opened that bottle and poured a glass…which I sipped on while talking with my wife about her day.

I can’t tell you exactly what that wine tasted like…beyond the inkling that it was pretty good…but I can tell you how much I loved that moment…because of the time I spent with someone I love…we might go as far as to call that moment….glorious.

And we have a God who makes the conscious choice to reveal himself in a way that makes moments like that one possible…and maybe, just maybe…this is all that’s really going on in this mind blowing, miraculous moment when Jesus turned water into wine. I’ll drink to that.  Amen

Divorce Take 2 10-7-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:2-16, I talk about the painful reality of broken relationships, which has manifested in the reality of divorce. It is, however, not limited to this, and permeates all of our relationships.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

Today is a little strange…because my sermon prep process has gone a bit off the rails. I sat down on Friday to write the sermon for today, as I usually do…and after a lot of back and forth I wrote one.  Admittedly, there have been plenty of past weeks when I walked out the office on Friday not quite sure about the sermon that came out…but then went a head with it anyway.

Not this time.  This time I wrote about 3 different sermons all crammed into one…a batch of ideas that felt all over the map…and didn’t actually focus in on the truth that needs to be said.  So I scrapped it and started over, because I fear that my first pass would do a disservice to quite a few of you sitting out there today.

There are several different passages that come up in the Lectionary that rub me the wrong way, and I grimace when I open up the Bible on Sunday following worship to see what next week’s text is going to be…but then I get to work.  This one is different.  Today’s passage stinks.  I knew it was coming up, but when I saw it this week, knowing that I’ve tackled it a couple different times already…my first instinct was “nope…not this year.” And I planned on preaching out of Hebrews instead.

But then I went to text study on Tuesday…and I listened to the comments and conversation, particularly from one colleague who is currently in the process of divorcing…and I know this individual well enough to be able to read him…and to also be able to hear some of the things that he “wasn’t saying” if you know what I mean.

That conversation stayed in the back of my head throughout the week…likewise I also thought about conversations I’ve had with several of you over the years that have centered around this particular text.  And as I did, I kept thinking to myself…nope, skip it…don’t even reference it…just use the first two readings and skip the gospel.

But I knew in my gut that wasn’t right…and in further reflection I knew that if I skipped the gospel reading altogether, you would wonder why, and you would probably turn your bulletin over, and since Mark 10 is already printed…you’d read it…even if I didn’t.

And here’s the thing…when this passage comes up, you can’t not talk about it. Because the reality of divorce is too real.  Its not metaphorical…its not debatable…it’s a reality within our society, one that apparently has been around for at least 3500 years…and regardless of the differences that various societies and cultures have placed upon it, I’m guessing that its been equally painful for the people involved for as long as its been around.

And even if I can’t speak from personal experience, I know it’s a painful one for some of you out there…and I’m guessing that almost every single person sitting in this room today has been touched by it…and I don’t think any of us would deny that divorce carries stigma…particularly here in the church.

It might be viewed in a lot of different ways…but it seems that the sense of failure is pretty universal within it. Divorce marks a legal distinction to a failed relationship…and while I fully believe that there are marriages that should end…and that in many cases it is the best thing for everyone involved…I think we can all agree that its not a good thing…and that it hurts those involved in it.

This is a blunt reality…and these are blunt statements that I’m making…statements that seem to be mirrored in the extremely blunt statements made by Jesus today…statements around the legality of divorce…and statements that dredge up feelings of guilt when he brings the idea of adultery into the conversation.

Now we have the tendency to categorize bad stuff don’t we? Categories that, perhaps we use to justify ourselves…or make ourselves feel a little better.  Divorce is bad…and adultery is worse…but at least I didn’t kill anyone…I may have done this, but at least I didn’t do that. (pause)

This is evidence of the human condition…it is evidence of our brokenness…that we recognize our shortcomings and the things in our lives that just don’t feel right…and we want to try and feel better…and yet we don’t…and we see over and over again that this brokenness results in fractured relationships…and we also know that no relationship, no matter what form it takes, no relationship is safe from this truth of our broken reality. (pause)

Worse yet…it seems, at face value…that Jesus himself is condemning it here…and as a result, this passage, as well as the one from Genesis that we heard today, have been used to condemn and bully countless individuals…and maybe just maybe that in that pesky voice of doubt and fear that lives in the back of our minds, we say the exact same things to ourselves. (pause)

Here’s the thing…this situation is not limited to individuals who have either experienced divorce or those who look at their present circumstance and wonder if its an inevitability.  This tendency to see our own shortcomings and failures…as well as the ability to see the brokenness and failures of those around us…this is simply evidence of the greater underlying reality of sin that has permeated this life that we live.

And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…this breaks relationship…it rips apart the harmony that exists in true relationship…and that’s at the center of this entire thing.  Genesis tells us that all of humanity is created bearing the divine image of God…God who exists in divine relationship among the Creator God, the living Word of God, and the Spirit of God.

And when God placed humanity in the garden, whether that was an actual event or just a story that a culture told themselves thousands of years later…the story of the garden reveals that pretty much as long as humanity has been around, that harmony intended by God has been broken…and as a result our relationships suffer with God and they suffer with one another.

And I think that this is the point Jesus is trying to make when he starts talking about “in the beginning it was not so.” The intention of God, as we consider the creation stories…was for harmony between individuals…and I think that maybe, just maybe, what Jesus is trying to tell us is that in the kingdom of God, whenever that will be and whatever it is going to look like…that harmony will be restored and the brokenness that manifest in the death of a relationship in any form will no longer be a reality.

Jesus keys us into the fact that Moses allowed for divorce…just as our laws today allow for divorce, because broken human relationships are a reality…and if the scriptures tell us anything…its honest about this fact. (pause) And so, if you hear this text today and it stings? If it pulls up memories and thoughts of failure or judgement…or maybe it brings up that same old thought of “I should have been able to do more” or “what if I had tried harder,” and you aren’t hearing much else that I’m saying today…then please hear this…

The truth that the gospel reveals to us is that when it comes to the way our broken sinful selves manifests itself in ways that break the harmony that God intends for creation…you can’t do it…no one can…whether its divorce or something else.

None are righteous…not one…and yet God has come near to us anyway. That’s the gospel…that in whatever it was that God was up to in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…in whatever it was that he meant when he said it is finished…the promise remains that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…and that even our brokenness will not hinder God from coming near to us and claiming us beloved children. (pause)

This passage stinks…period…but you know what…scripture often does…but let us remember that this same scripture reveals a God who can, who does, who already has created new life out of death…and that we are not only invited…but we are gifted this same resurrection…this new life…over and over again…and that even when harmony is broken, our God will always gather us up into a loving embrace and bless us, with unwavering love and grace and favor…just as Jesus did with the children at the end of today’s passage…made possible through the body and blood of Christ, which was broken and shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins…body and blood that we will share in just a few moments…a physical embodiment of God’s grace and love for every single one of us. Amen.

Be Welcomed 7-2-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 10:40-42, I explore Jesus seemingly odd connection between welcome and reward, which wraps up his teaching to the disciples as they prepare to go out and do ministry.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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
Its been my observation, that as kids go through their formative years, beginning around junior high and going through high school and college, they bond with a core group of friends…and typically within that group, their ends up being 1 house that becomes the go-to hangout…I can remember exactly where that place is within my own history…the home where two of the guys who happened to be brothers, grew up.

Now maybe you had a place like this in your history…and you were around so much that the parents of your friends pretty much become like a second set of parents to you…so much so that even years later you still call them Mom and Dad.

This house was that place for me, as well as the rest of our crew. They had a room in the basement which was our typical hangout spot…it served as home base for the various things we did together…and our presence was so common there, that it became one of those places that you don’t even have to knock before you walk in.

I can remember countless times of parking out in the street and walking up the driveway towards the garage…and as I approached the door I could look in through the front window into the living room and see Mom and Dad sitting there watching tv…and they’d just wave. Maybe you know that wave…that wave that says hello…it says come on in…don’t bother knocking, the boys are downstairs…and even now, decades later…on those rare occasions when I make it into my hometown I know I better stop in to say hi to mom and dad…and as I walk up the driveway I’ll see that wave that tells my I’m welcome…that wave that tells me I’m known. (pause)

Now the theme of welcome should be familiar and I’m guessing that it comes as no great shock that I bring it up considering our brief gospel passage for today…the theme of welcome is all over these three verses…but what’s interesting is just where we’re at in this passage.

Today’s lesson marks the end of what has become something of a sermon series. Those of you familiar with my style know that’s not really the type of thing I tend to engage in as I preach week to week, but on occasion we’ll see the ongoing narrative bring us through a larger story that is all connected, and this is, of course the case today.

If you’ve been following along over the past few weeks, we’ve been in a larger story of Jesus preparing to send his disciples out…fully empowered to join in the work of ministry that Jesus himself is already doing. 2 weeks ago we heard of his compassion for the great crowds, that the way that he grants the disciples the authority to proclaim the good news of the kingdom as well as authority over demons and diseases and even death…in short, to join with him in the same work that he’s already up to.

But then, over the course of the next rather large section of gospel, Jesus begins to lay out that rather dire look of just what they can expect as they go out empowered to do this work…and we heard about that last week…and boy, its not a pretty picture…opposition…legal troubles…condemnation…division…you name it. (pause)
But now…finally, Jesus wraps it up with this very brief portion…and as he doesn’t I can’t help but think he sounds a little bit like a broken record…saying pretty much the same thing over and over again. Welcome welcome welcome welcome…and reward reward reward reward. (pause)
Now at first glance, one of these things gets me pretty excited…and the other one, well it makes me a little nervous…can you guess which one is which? (pause) The idea of welcome…well this one that I hope we’re all familiar with…the idea of hospitality…the idea of bringing in the stranger, of making them feel at home.  We hope that we as individuals are welcoming to those around us…we hope that our communities and especially our congregations are a place of welcome, where someone new can come in and immediately feel right at home.

We embody this with our greeters every Sunday…with our invitation to shake hands and greet one another…with the language at the beginning of worship that whenever we are in our Father’s house we are home…we go out of our way to try and be welcoming…and that’s a good thing.

But funny enough…I don’t think that’s quite what Jesus is talking about as he instructs his disciples on what to expect as they carry the gospel out into the world. Jesus isn’t telling them to be welcoming…rather, he’s telling them to go be welcomed. Go out and do ministry…at the mercy of those you are ministering to…and you know what, that’s pretty daunting…that’s really putting yourself out there…

To do this very thing…is to make yourself vulnerable…and that’s something in our individualistic, dog eat dog world that we just aren’t that good at are we?  Because to be vulnerable is to open ourselves up to the very things that Jesus was warning us about last week.  Make yourself vulnerable, you risk rejection. You risk ridicule…you risk opposition or even in extreme cases…retaliation.

But here’s the thing…as we consider the context in which Jesus shares these words, we remember that we are doing the exact same thing he is…and that the results that we experience are the same as his…and in realizing this…maybe just maybe we start to see that in the life of Jesus…in the ministry of Jesus…or maybe we can say in the event of Jesus, God becomes vulnerable…In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God risks rejection…God risks ridicule…and as we see, God risks…God flat out experiences violent retaliation.

And so perhaps realizing this we ask the question of just why would God do that in the first place…why would God willingly enter into our broken reality, becoming fully vulnerable…knowing full well that it would end up like it did….WHY GOD? (pause) Why would you risk it…and why do you ask us to risk the same? (pause)

Now maybe in order to answer that question…we need to take a look at the second theme of today’s brief lesson that makes us good Lutherans a little uneasy…Reward. Jesus talks about the reward several times…a prophet’s reward…the reward of the righteous…the reward of the one to welcome one of his little ones.

And I don’t know about you, but I hear reward…and my brain instantly goes to the idea that we have to earn it…and the Lutheran theologian in me goes into red alert…because we know we can’t earn it right? That’s not how this whole deal works…God’s grace is free right? It has to be or its not grace. So just what is this reward that Jesus is talking about?

I went round and round and round with this one…trying to put my finger on just what he’s talking about…and as I thought about reward or treasure…or wages…things that we put a lot of stock in…and suddenly I was reminded of something that the Apostle Paul says in one his letters…he lists off all these human accomplishments…and then he says I count it all rubbish…trash…or something a little bit stronger language-wise…when compared with knowing Christ my Lord….for Paul, it seems that the reward…the ultimate goal is knowing Christ…is being known by Christ…in short being in relationship with Christ.

And that right there…is where I finally found a connection between the idea of being welcomed and reward…because maybe, just maybe the reward is being in relationship…something that is engrained with us…it’s a desire that is some deeply rooted within our very being…and if we stop and think about it…we can’t be in relationship without the presense of welcome on one side or another.  Because what else is the idea of welcome or receiving another, besides inviting them into a relationship, whether for a moment that is only long enough to offer a smile, or a drink of water…or for a season of life…or for a lifetime…we welcome…and we are welcomed…and the life we share together in that moment of time is our reward.

And if you find yourself wondering just where this deep seeded need for relationship and community comes from, you just need to look back at Genesis 1 and remember that when God was getting ready to create humanity God said “Let us create humankind in OUR image” and it was so. The God that made us in the first place already exists in relationship between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…all of which were in some way present in the beginning…and we were made bearing the divine image of God and I believe that is why we need relationship…that is why we are willing to risk being vulnerable with one another…of being fully present with one another…of opening ourselves up to the possibility of pain and rejection at the hands of another…not because we chose to be…but because that’s how we were created to be.

That’s why we form relationships, because its in our very nature…our nature that reflects the nature of God, who desires community not only within the Trinity, but with us as well…and that is why the divine word of God became flesh…to show us that it is possible for the divine and the human to exist together…and to invite us into the vital work of sharing that truth with the rest of the world.

May we be a people that welcome without question…without pretense…without restriction…and may we be vulnerable enough to go out and be welcomed in the same way…knowing that we bear the image of the one who will never turn us away…the one who became one of us to show us we’re welcome…to show us we are known. Amen.

Vaya Con Dios 5-22-16

In this sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday, I explore Romans 5:1-5. God has chosen to be revealed to the world in many different ways, but all because of the love that God has for us and the rest of creation.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

Ever since last week, which of course was the day of Pentecost, I’ve been thinking about how the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples, and at least in that moment, gives them the ability to speak in different languages…I’ve been thinking about it, because I think that particular Spirit-given gift would be a really great one to receive…but if my own linguistic abilities are any indication…the Spirit passed me with that particular gift.

Because I am pretty much the poster boy for being mono-linguistic…aka, I know one language. Anything beyond my knowledge of the English language is minimal at best.  I can insult someone in German, which I learned from an exchange student…and I know just enough Spanish to survive…and barely at that…What little I know is all based on the same phrase…so see if you recognize any of these.
Donde esta es el banjo….Where is the bathroom? How about this one…Donde esta es agua…Yep, where is water? Then there’s this one that would have possibly been helpful in my days of being single…Donde esta es la senioritas…yep, where are the girls?  And finally, my personal favorite. Donde esta es el cervesas?  Some of you recognize that one…and if you don’t know, ask the people laughing now…they’ll tip you off. (pause)

Now beyond that, there is one more phrase in Spanish that I do know and I think its pretty cool. Vaya con dios…Now this phrase serves as a farewell…and actually means “go with God.” It’s a way for individuals who are parting from one another to offer a brief blessing in their departure…as you go, may God be with you…that’s really the basic gist of this phrase.
I bring it up because today it seems sorta fitting. Today is Holy Trinity Sunday…which always falls the first Sunday after Pentecost…Today serves as a time when we focus on the Trinity…one God in three persons…and its fitting to do so now because as we move through the church year, we have now reached the point where all three members of the trinity have really been on display. We’ve encountered the God of creation…we’ve been through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our Pascal Lamb…and now following Pentecost, we celebrated the arrival of the Holy Spirit which empowers us as the church…as the body of Christ here on Earth until such time as Jesus returns. (pause)
This is where we find ourselves today…kicking off the long season of Pentecost as we continue to recall and remember the ongoing growth of the church throughout the centuries which ultimately will culminate in the return of Christ in the last days…and over the course of our history, we have come to an understanding of the Trinity…or the Triune God…this notion of One God in Three persons…one God who has been revealed to humanity in three specific ways.

But admittedly, as I’ve said before…the notion of the trinity is really hard to wrap our heads around. It tends to be one of those teachings here in the church that we accept to be true but can’t really put into words…and yet, year after year, in countless settings, pastors stand in pulpits in front of their congregations, and many attempt to offer insight and descriptions to shed some light on the truth of the trinity.

And most of them…in fact probably all them…fail. Because the trinity is not something that we can describe…its not something that we can explain…it is only evidence of the truth that we have a God who has chosen different ways to be revealed to us.

I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a close look at the three stain glassed windows that are out in the narthex…they were placed there during the last building expansion but used to be at the back end of this sanctuary…but if you think about it, take a look when you walk out today…because at the center of each window is an image that represents one of the trinity…there’s the all seeing eye that depicts our all seeing God overlooking all of creation…and then there’s the image of a lamb representing Christ who is the ultimate Passover sacrifice…and finally the image of the dove representing the Spirit descending at Jesus’ baptism. (pause)

These are simply 3 images…and yet they remind us of the truth that we have a God who WILL be revealed to us…and there is no limit and nothing that hinders God from being revealed…Have you ever noticed how different individuals share their vastly different ways of having experienced the presence of God? Each one is vastly different than the one that came before, but if they have anything in common, it’s the notion that the presence of God is revealed to the person in some way that is personal and meaningful to them…a way that reminds them that God is with them in that moment, and every moment…that regardless of what goes on they go with God…they vaya con dios. (pause)

Now perhaps this raises the question of why? Why does God do this? Or what is God’s motivation for being revealed to us? And if we refer back to Paul’s words from Romans that we heard earlier, we see that in all things, God works to reveal his divine love for us…because we are a part of his creation…God made it…and God takes delight in it…joy, love for all that he has made…including us…but since the powers of sin and death have entered this world, creating a rift that our Good God cannot tolerate…God continued to reveal his love for us…his desire to be with us…by taking on flesh and dwelling among us as one of us…and in the end, through the death and resurrection of Christ…our price is paid…and whatever sense of justice needed to be filled…we hear that we are justified through our faith in Christ…and we have peace with our Creator…and what is faith? Well, its simply believing that God will do what God promises…and we receive the promise that God claims us as his own, drawing us to himself through the power of the Holy Spirit…and why? For the exact same reason…simply because he loves us. Not because of anything that we do, or say or think…but simply because of who we are…his beloved creation.

The Trinity exists in such a way that we can begins to see that we have a God who exists to be in relationship…and already was before our reality became reality…and likewise, as we are created in the image of God, we also exist to be in relationship with one another and with the one that created us in the first place….and nothing, not even our foul ups are going to hinder God from that relationship. (pause)

Perhaps you’ve heard of the idea of an elevator pitch…the notion that if you had the amount of time it takes to go a few floors in an elevator, what would you say to another individual to peak their interest…and I’ve shared it before…my elevator pitch for the gospel…God made it, we messed it up, Christ redeemed it, and through the Spirit we are invited to join with God in the work of reconciliation.

What a blessing to be invited into this work…and even more so to realize that God intends that we join in this work in the midst of our day to day lives…we don’t need special training…we don’t need to go around the world…we simply recognize that we are empowered to share our story of what God has done…of what we have seen and heard.

But all that being said…we also know that this life as believers…this life that we live, having already been justified in the eyes of God through Jesus Christ…this life is not easy. We are not excused from suffering, or hardships, or troubles…and in fact if the Apostle Paul is to be believed…our life as believers tends to ramp up the troubles that we experience.

But the blessing of all of this…of knowing that our Triune God has many ways to reveal to us the simple fact that we are not alone…then we realize that there is something that we can cling to in the midst of these hardships…and in the long run…as difficult as it may be…God can and does use the hardships of our past to work in the future.

No one knows better than you what hardships lie in your life…in your existence…but rest assured that you are not alone in it…and God will find a way to reveal himself to you…may our eyes be opened to recognize His presence in whatever way we need to…whether its in the peaceful feeling of the sun shining on our face…or the joy in hearing just the right song and just the right time…or the presence of a caring person who is willing to sit there in silence with you in the midst of your pain…not trying to take it away…but just to sit there with you while it is experienced…God is present in the pain.

And so may you know today that no matter where you go when you walk outside of this room today, you will go with God…because God is already with you, whether you are looking for him or not…Vaya con dios my friends…Amen.

Part of the Flock 4-26-15

In this sermon, based on John 10:11-18, I explore what Jesus is saying when he calls himself the Good Shepherd. What does it mean to be in relationship with one that knows us?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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
It never ceases to amaze me how little things will pop up that give me insight into preaching…conversations that occur, moments that I witness…things that I overhear…there are countless ways…and this time around it was a short video that made the rounds on facebook of a mom laying down with her quadruplet sons draped all over her. The dad is behind the camera making funny faces or noises or something that is making the 4 boys laugh uncontrollably….the video itself is hilarious…but as I watched it I remember thinking to myself “Wow…4 identical babies…how in the world do those parents tell them apart?”
In all honesty, this is not a new concept for me either. I have often times found myself in the situation of encountering multiples…typically when they are quite young…and being unable to tell them apart…most recently, the twin sons of one of the pastors at our church in the Twin Cities…now my wife, who worked with the pastor and encountered the boys more often, she could take a look at them and usually be able to tell which one was which, but I was lost…couldn’t tell one from another. (Pause)
But then I got to thinking some more about this week’s gospel lesson…a portion of the Good Shepherd discourse…a section of John’s gospel that is featured here on the 4th Sunday of Easter every single year…for it is informally known as Good Shepherd Sunday…and this year, we hear the go-to section when Jesus actually calls himself the good shepherd…and not just once but a couple times through the course of this brief section. (Pause)
Now the interesting thing about this whole passage, not just the portion we shared today, but actually all of John chapter 10…is the theme of sheep…Last year, during Lectionary year A we heard the first portion…that there are sheep, and they are in a pen…and some individuals try to climb over the fence and steal the sheep, but Jesus is the gate and the sheep know him and follow his voice. (pause) Next year in year C we’ll hear more of the same…of the sheep following the voice of Jesus and that by following him the sheep have eternal life. (pause) And this year, its really more of the same…sheep sheep sheep…but more importantly…in today’s portion, we actually hear the famous words. I AM…the Good Shepherd. (pause) This year Jesus actually says it…but even more importantly he talks about by being the good shepherd…he knows the sheep and the sheep know him…and that’s why we hear in the other passages from the other years that they are so keen on following him…because there is an intimacy there…a relationship.
And that’s why I am constantly unable to tell twins apart…something that their parents can so easily do…because their parents know them…they know everything about them…and can tell them apart easily. (pause)
But I thought about that notion a little more…and then since we’ve been talking about sheep so much I got to thinking about livestock. Now…how many of you have ever driven past a herd of livestock…or better yet walked up to the fence and looked at that herd…really any kind of animal…and thought to yourself…how can you tell them apart? They all look the same? Ever had that experience? (pause) I know I have…but I’ve been on the other side of things too.
Many of you know that I’m a farm kid…and in my younger days…up till I was about 16 or so, we milked cows…and it is certainly safe to say that I knew those cows…It didn’t matter if they were in the barn, locked into their stanchions…or out wandering around in the pasture…I could tell at a glance which one was which…even though someone unfamiliar would look and see a big mass of black and white animals that all look the same…I could tell you which ones were easy milkers…I could tell you which ones would always step into the wrong spot to eat the feed of another…which ones were old, which ones were young…and I could darn sure tell you which one had most recently hauled off and kicked me…and I could tell you all of this…I could distinguish between them simply because I knew them…I was familiar with them.
And that’s the important aspect of what Jesus is telling us today…he is the shepherd and we know this because he knows the sheep…he loves the sheep…he’s familiar with them…he’s in relationship with them…we can even say that he’s intimate with them.
That’s the basis for the word that Jesus uses when he says that I know my sheep and they know me…just as the father knows me and I know the father…this Greek word “to know”…it implies intimacy…not just casual acquaintance…in fact it is the same word that describes the intimate way that a husband and wife “KNOW” each other…and if you aren’t catching my drift there ask me after the service and I’ll be happy to clarify for you.
And this is how Jesus describes the relationship that he desires…and the truly amazing thing about all of this is that Jesus desires this relationship with those that have been cast out of other relationships. (pause) He tells us that he has other sheep that do not belong to this fold, and he must bring them in also…and while that may seem somewhat clear…its important to note that this entire story…every single bit of this is actually in response to something that Jesus has already done.
Prior to the good shepherd discourse, Jesus has healed a man who was born blind…and throughout the entirety of John chapter 9, this man who can now see is going back and forth with the religious leaders who flat out refuse to believe that Jesus should be able to work this miracle…and in the end…when the man refuses to throw Jesus under the bus, the leaders cast him out of the synagogue…essentially they kick him out of their church…telling him that he has no place among them anymore…that he is no longer worthy of being in relationship with them….and after all of this has happened…Jesus finds the man…and Jesus, brings him into relationship…
This whole discourse…all of this talk about sheep and pens and shepherds…all of this comes down to the simple fact that Jesus…the one who calls himself I AM…the one that is God in the flesh dwelling among us…Jesus…desires to be intimately known by those that HE…already knows intimately. (pause)
And that includes not only this one guy cast out of the synagogue…but that includes each and every one of us…across time and around the world. (pause) I love it that Jesus says that he has other sheep that he needs to bring into the fold…because this tells us that the work of Jesus isn’t done yet…its still going on…it didn’t stop with those 12 disciples and a few ragtag other followers….that work is still going on…because the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God in the world today continues to bring more and more into this one flock with Jesus as the shepherd…
If that wasn’t true…then none of us would be here today would we? If the work of Christ to continue to come into relationship with all of his sheep wasn’t still happening then we would have never heard of him would we? (pause) But we have…because the voice of Jesus Christ is still calling out…the gospel of Jesus Christ is still moving through the world and will continue to move through the world until that one glorious day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord…that Jesus is the shepherd for his sheep…that he is the one who loves and protects us…that he calls out to us and one by one we recognize his voice and follow along after him. (pause)
But at the same time, we know that work isn’t done yet is it? Because all we have to do is look around in the world today and we see plenty of hurt…and plenty of pain…and plenty of that pain is inflicted between us…from individual to individual…and this, painful though it may be to see and to experience is simply evidence that the work of our Good Shepherd isn’t done yet. (pause)
I once heard someone talk about happy endings…and they mentioned that it sure seems like real life doesn’t have happy endings…and you know what there’s something to that…but I also heard them say that in the end there is a happy ending, and God has already promised it to us…so if everything’s not happy then its not the end…and I believe that is the case because I believe that this life giving work of our Good Shepherd isn’t…Done…YET…but I believe that as his followers…as those of us who do recognize his voice and follow along after we are called to join in the work of spreading his voice around so that one day we will…in fact…reach that glorious day that I mentioned earlier. (pause)
Now there are days when this task that God has called us as believers into seems pretty daunting…and there are days when we look around at the world and think its too much…its too hard…its too far gone…truly those times happen…and perhaps we get discouraged in those moments.
But on the flip side…we have other days like today…days when we welcome new members into our congregation…new members into this little corner of the worldwide flock of Jesus Christ…and we have days like today when a precious little child is brought to this font…where in a few moments Sophie Thorne will come…and like Sophie that individual is washed in the water…and they are marked with the cross of Christ…and for the first time…they are called Beloved Child of God.
Today Sophie is claimed as Christ’s sheep…one that he knows…and more importantly as one that Christ is willing to lay down his life for…that is the power of our baptisms…that we join with Christ in a death like his so that we may also join with him in a resurrection like his…for as he has told us…He lays aside life in order that he picks it up again…and in the waters of baptism we believe that Sophie, along with every other believer, has her eternal life taken up by Christ…not out of anything that she has done…but because He knows her…and he loves her…just as he loves you. Amen.

One Big Wilderness 2-22-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 1:9-15, and features the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness…always the featured story for the first Sunday of Lent. I explore the temptation and what it means for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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
This past week holds an interesting distinction for me…this week I had the opportunity to write 2 different sermons at home. First my sermon for Ash Wednesday which I wrote on Monday…and then since the kids were out of school on Friday, I wrote this one at home as well.
And as can sometimes be the case…I was stuck on this one for a pretty good chunk of the day…and so finally at one point I asked the kids “Hey guys…what should I preach about on Sunday?” Jack suggested that I just not do it…which was sort of tempting…but then Ava piped up with her idea… “Kittens.” (pause)
Now here’s the crazy thing…we never know what God is going to use to spark off an idea…but in this case…kittens was the spark. Because as I sat there thinking about the domesticated cat and their offspring, I was reminded of many instances where cats show their wild side. There have been the recent “dear kitten” commercials produced by Friskies…one of which involves the cat going all ninja crazy town on the dog…this in turn makes me think of our cat and her odd tendency to simply go off on Emily…you may pet me 3 time…no more…or I will bite you. (pause)
But finally, this got me thinking about an article that I had read not so long ago that named house cats…yes…house cats…as the single most dangerous, diverse, equal opportunity hunter in the world. Cats are responsible for the deaths of more birds and small animals than any other predator out there. (pause) And when I remembered that I realized that cats are the best representative of what today’s gospel lesson calls the wild beasts. (pause)
Now if today’s story sounds somewhat familiar, it should…this particular passage in Mark is highlighted three separate times within the first few months of the lectionary this year. We heard the first portion at the baptism of Jesus back in January…and we heard the final portion when Jesus proclaims that the kingdom has come near shortly after that when Jesus calls the first disciples…and now we hear it all again…simply because it also includes the temptation of Jesus…as this story happens to be the featured lesson for the first Sunday of Lent each and every year.
And why is that you ask? Is it because Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and Lent is 40 days? Maybe. Is it a reminder that even Jesus endured dark times which serves as a reminder for this dark season? Again, maybe. Or maybe, in the long run there isn’t really a good explanation and we simply accept that every year at this time we’re going to hear the story of the temptation.
But now here’s the kicker…Mark, as we’ve discussed before is kind of stickler when it comes to detail…he just doesn’t include much of anything does he? And because of this…maybe that’s why we get the overlap of two other stories that we’ve already heard and focused on in the past 6 weeks…simply because the lectionary needed to add a little filler into the gospel lesson for the week.
In all honesty, if this week is supposed to cover the temptation in the wilderness…we could have stuck with the two verses in the middle…And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him…period…end of story. (pause)
That’s it? Really? Come on Mark…you gotta give us something…no details about the 3 temptations themselves…no back and forth verbal sparing with Satan…Jesus doesn’t endure and then bark an order to “Depart from me Satan!” (pause)
Seriously…the lack of anything even remotely resembling details of just what’s happening out there in the wilderness is devastating…once again we’ve got nothing to go on…All we know is that Satan’s there…and animals are there…and Jesus is there…and it was the prompting of the Spirit that got him there in the first place. (pause)
Oh hold on now…just a second here…anyone remember the last time we bumped something like this? I actually think it was the story of Jesus’ baptism a few weeks back…and in that instance it seems like I mentioned that since Mark says so little, we REALLY need to pay attention to what he does say.
And Mark tells us that immediately following his baptism…the Holy Spirit DROVE him into the wilderness…we could also say that the Spirit CAST HIM OUT into the wilderness…and I don’t know about you…but that seems pretty harsh…that the spirit of God got a little physical with Jesus, just as he himself would later get physical with demons…not to mention all the merchants and money changers in the temple…same deal…the Spirit…almost violently takes Jesus out of civilization and out into the wilderness.
And he’s not alone…because Satan’s there…instantly…right away…immediately following his baptism Jesus comes under fire…Jesus is subject to temptation…and its not limited to 3 different temptations…we don’t hear of three isolated things that Satan smacks ol’ JC with…no, Mark tells us that he is tempted for 40 days…apparently non-stop…and in the midst of all that…there’s dangerous animals around…this is no pleasant setting that Jesus finds himself in.
He’s in physical danger…and he’s in spiritual danger…and all of this at the whim of the Holy Spirit. (pause) And when we realize all that, perhaps it gives us a moment of pause…and the question creeps into our mind…wait a sec, the Spirit drove him out to where he was going to tempted…does that mean that God wanted Jesus tempted? And if so…does that mean that God wants us to be tempted? (pause)
Did anyone else go there? Or was it just me? Does anyone else hear this and squirm just a little bit…wondering just what in the heck we are supposed to take from this? (pause) Because surely we can start to see a lot of similarities here. Jesus was baptized…Jesus was tempted…and Jesus was in the wilderness…and in our lives…we experience a lot of the same stuff…because we live our lives in the midst of wilderness…perhaps not a physical one…but we certainly find ourselves in the midst of a spiritual wilderness within our regular lives don’t we? Times when we feel alone…or times when we feel surrounded by enemies…times when it feels like everything and everyone is a predator just waiting…stalking us…seeking to move in for the kill. (pause)
Does that sound familiar to anyone out there? I imagine so, because for many of you, I’m familiar with your stories…I know some of the things that you’re experiencing…some of the things that you are walking through…and perhaps it seems like there is no end in sight. (pause)
Now Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days…a month plus…and I’m guessing that in the midst of the temptations…in the midst of the testing that he endured at the hands of Satan, it probably seemed like there was no end in sight for him too. (pause)
And so once more, I beg the question…was this the will of God…for Jesus to be alone out there…for Jesus to be subject to the attacks of Satan…and if it was, does God intend the same for us? (pause) And my answer to that question…is no…because Jesus wasn’t alone was he?
And I’m not just talking about Satan or the animals…but I’m talking about the angels…throughout this entire ordeal, Jesus was…not…alone…and neither are we. (pause)
Now at this point I could say that we aren’t alone simply because Jesus faced temptation…not only facing it but overcoming it…and because of that we have a God who has experienced the same temptations we do…and while I believe that is true…that’s not what prompts me to say that we are not alone…
And its also not because Jesus had angels with him…because when we are in the midst of temptation…I’ve never looked around and seen a glimmering dude with wings and a halo backing me up…but yet I will still say it…we are not alone.
And I say this because of the mission of Jesus Christ…not just to endure temptation…not just to live and perform miracles…not to gain a following and then die on a cross…but the mission of Jesus Christ was to enable relationship. Remember that all of this happened at the prodding of the Spirit which had entered into him at his baptism…the Spirit of God was with Jesus throughout this ordeal…because in the Father Son and Holy Spirit we see that even God is in relationship and we remember that God desires us to be in that relationship as well…and not just between himself and us as individuals…but between us as fellow believers as well.
Not only did Jesus’ death and resurrection enable us to once again be in relationship with our heavenly father…the one who calls us his beloved child just as he called Jesus the beloved…but his death and resurrection also made it possible for us as sinful people to forgive the hurts that we cause one another and come into blessed relationship with one another.
This is fellowship…this is community…this is togetherness and remember even in the midst of the wilderness and temptation at the hands of Satan…Jesus experienced community. And take heart in knowing that this community is where we seek aid…where we seek support in those instances when we experience our own temptations in the midst of our day to day wilderness. (pause)
And so I’ll ask it one more time…does God intend for us to experience temptation in our wilderness? And I believe the answer to that question is no…but God is aware that we will experience it…and so He has provided us with the means to endure it…and in those times when we do fail…when we fall to temptation…he has also given us the means to hear the words of forgiveness…to hear the words of grace made possible through Jesus Christ…to know that our sin no longer holds sway over us…
And so…during this season of Lent…these 40 dark days that mirror the 40 days of darkness that Jesus endured in the wilderness…let us join together as a community…let us support one another and pray for one another…so that we too might be sustained…just as the angels sustained Jesus…and at the end of those 40 days, we will emerge into the glory of the resurrected Christ…who has made it possible for us to join in his victory over Satan. Amen.

The Big Reveal 1-4-15

This morning’s sermon is based on John 1:1-18. This is the assigned reading for the second Sunday of Christmas every year. Within the sermon I explore the notion that in Christ, God is revealed and comes into relationship with humanity. Likewise, we are revealed to him…scary as that might be.

You can listen to the sermon here:

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

One of the big trends that has emerged in the past few years is something called either the big reveal…or the big ask. (pause) The mentality behind this new trend is a big surprise when asking an important question.

This idea has been around in terms of wedding proposals for a long time…but in the past few years it has also become the norm for asking your date to the prom, or for a bride to ask her prospective bridesmaids to stand up for her on her wedding day.

In a slightly different direction…the big reveal is also popular. Now this trend tends to happen on reality shows…often times the big make over shows…whether the Biggest Loser finale…or Extreme Makeover Home Edition…or one my wife is particularly fond of…Restaurant Impossible. At the end of the episode, we see the subject, whether a person or a house or whatever, as it used to be, and then suddenly a giant tarp drops and everyone sees the dramatic change…cue the inspirational music…and grab the Kleenex…its almost always a tear jerker.

But that’s the point of the big reveal…to be dramatic…and to introduce the change…out with the old…and in with the new…and then as the cameras cut away…its time for everyone to get used to the new big thing.

Whenever I sit and watch any of these shows, I find myself wondering just what happens when the cameras shut off…when the individuals involved really sit down and attempt to get on with their regular lives in the midst of the change…in the midst of the big reveal…in the midst of everything that is different now. And its this sense of wondering just how the change effects real life that leads me into today’s gospel lesson.

Because we’re sort of at that point right now aren’t we? That time of transition…we’re in a new year…but we’re also at the end of the season. Today’s the second Sunday of Christmas…and most of the celebrations are pretty well wrapped up…after today all the decorations will come down and the sanctuary will get back to the normal look.

And scripturally speaking it’s the same sort of thing. Jesus has been born…we’ve been joyfully celebrating that for a couple week now…but as the season wraps up, even our lessons are rapidly moving away from the manger and back into real life.

Today’s lesson is, of course, the prologue to John’s gospel, which includes John’s version of the incarnation…but this time around there are no mangers…no shepherds…no angels…none of the regular stuff that we tend to expect at Christmas…rather we simply hear that the word became flesh…the light shined in the darkness…and that God…entered our reality. God…made the big reveal. (pause)

And just how did God make this revelation? Well…the word became flesh and dwelled among us…or as Eugene Petersen wrote in the Message…the word became flesh…and moved into the neighborhood.

And when that happened…everything changed…whether we realized it or not…and now as we wrap up the season of Christmas…I think we’re in the same sort of situation that the shepherds found themselves in on Christmas Eve…after they found the baby lying in the manger…and they just headed back out to the fields and their flocks…changed…but still in the midst of their day to day lives. (pause)

And so that’s what we do…we go back into our regular lives…our students head back to school…those of us who took some vacation time at the end of the year head back to work. Here at the church education starts up again, and we get back into the normal week to week routine…

And as much as we tend to get stuck in that normal grind…things just aren’t quite the same as they used to be are they? Because there’s someone new in the neighborhood. (pause) Have you ever had new neighbors move in…maybe across the street or even right next door? And occasionally you catch a glimpse of one another…maybe driving down the street, or when we’re out mowing the lawn…or sitting on the back deck…and the interactions begin…and slowly as time goes on we get to know one another…and whether we realize it or not…we have formed a relationship with one another.

And this is why Jesus came to earth in the first place…that’s why the word became flesh…that’s why the light started shining in the darkness…because God took a look at humanity…each and every one of us…God’s own beloved creation…loved greatly…but flawed…and God wanted that relationship…but we were all so busy stumbling around…blinded by the darkness that permeates our lives that we just couldn’t notice God.

And rather than just sit off somewhere in the clouds…shrugging his shoulders and saying “Oh well,” God did something new. God broke into that crazy cycle that humanity has been stuck in ever since the beginning…and by doing it…by taking on flesh…by becoming one of us…by entering our reality…God himself was revealed through the Son…and that’s what the Gospel of John is all about.

Many of you have heard me talk about these first 17 verses of John before…the prologue…how they set up the entirety of just what John’s Gospel is all about…and how they sort of serve as a table of contents because you can read through these verses and have a decent idea of the overarching argument that John is going to make about the action of God in the world…the action taken on by his only begotten Son…a man, born of the Holy Spirit through a Virgin…the action which led directly to the cross where He would not only take on the sin of the entire world…but he would die for it…atoning for it…and then three days later he would raise again to show each and every one of us that the darkness of sin was no match for God…that when God sets his mind to fix something you can rest assured that it will happen…and that when God decides to fix the problem that was hindering the relationship between God and every single member of the human race that God will…in fact…be revealed through the very Son himself. (pause)

That’s what this prologue is all about…that’s what John tells us in these 17 verses…that God…the word…the light…the one that first created the world…has now entered it and in doing so God…full of grace and truth is revealed.

And you know what…that’s just a little bit scary…Don’t get me wrong…its wonderful at the same time…and it gives me great joy and it gives me great hope to know that the creator of the entire universe loves me enough to take on flesh with all of its issues…and all of its faults…and all its emotions and problems…and God was willing to do this just so I could get to know him.

But the really scary thing about all this…its not so much that through the Son…through God made flesh, I could get to know God…but it’s the flip side…that when God is revealed to me in the relationship made possible through Christ…at the very same time…I am revealed to God…and God gets me WAY better than I get him. (pause)

That’s what relationship is all about…together we get to know each other…but the difference here is that my understanding of God…which is possible through Christ…is still limited by my humanness. That are limits to what I can comprehend…to what I can understand…and God goes FAR beyond those limits…and that is why God became human…God became tangible…God became something that I can wrap my feable human brain around.

But…while I’m doing that…within the relationship made possible by Christ, God knows me intimately…and while God may take great delight in those good aspects of my life and character…I often times find myself quaking in my boots to think that God also knows the dark side of Scott Dalen. He knows my thoughts before I think them…he knows my negative emotions before I experience them…he knows the hurt that I carry and cause before I do. (Pause) Because God and I have been revealed to one another in Jesus Christ…I have no secrets that I can keep from God…whether I want to or not…

And this truth…this scary realization…is true not only for me…but for you as well…whether we know it or not. (pause) John tells us that Christ came to his own…and his own did not know him…and there’s a lot of debate about just who “his own” refers to…but at this point, when he came into the world…he was human…God was human…and therefore I believe that “his own” means humanity…it means us…it means that he is here for each and every one of us whether we acknowledge it or not.

In your relationship with God…made possible through Christ…revealed through Christ in whatever way it has taken shape within your life…you are intimately known…you are intimately revealed…to God…the good and the bad…

And if that notion scares you just a little bit…its okay…because in all honesty…when we take good hard look at ourselves…illuminated by the perfect light of Christ shining upon us…we see the dirt too…and if we see…then God does too.

But it is for this very purpose that the perfect light of Christ shines upon us…not to make us feel dirty or exposed…but to help us realize that we need a savior…and that very savior is the source of the light in the first place.

God entered this world to help us see just how much we needed God to enter this world….and this work is ongoing. Because the light shined in the darkness…and while the darkness has not overcome it…the darkness is also not gone yet. And so the work of God continues and through the only begotten Son, He continues to be revealed to us…just as we continue to be revealed to him. And for those of us who have experienced this…everything is different now.

And so I pose the question to you today…as we kick off a new year…one full of all kinds of unknown opportunities…one full of joys and sorrows yet to be revealed…will you take the joy of Christ with you? I hope so…so that maybe…just maybe…the light of Christ will reflect through your life…and someone else will experience God’s big reveal in theirs. Amen.


Confirmation Questions 1-19-14

Last Sunday’s sermon was based on John 1:29-42, in which John the Baptist points his own disciples towards Jesus. You can find the sermon here.

The confirmation students posed the following question on their sermon notes that I will attempt to address here.

-Why did Jesus tell John’s disciples to “come and see?”
Great question. The entire point of God entering into the reality of humankind through Jesus was aimed at re-establishing relationship between God and humanity. If you notice in the passage, Andrew and the other disciple ask Jesus where he is staying (or dwelling or abiding depending on how you translate it). Rather than simply telling them where, Jesus invites them to come and see, knowing that they will in turn abide with him. Throughout Jesus ministry here on Earth, he was always inviting people to come into relationship with him, so that they in turn can be in relationship with God. Jesus says in John 1:18 “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” Jesus “makes the Father known” so that we may be in relationship with him.