Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

Ongoing Identity 11-10-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 20:27-38, I explore an encounter between Jesus and the Sadducees, members of a Jewish denomination, as they debate over the Resurrection. In the end, its our identity as claimed Children of God that is important.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/ongoing-identity-11-10-19

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

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

I’ve often joked around that in the denominational sense, my family balanced itself out.  My dad was born and raised Lutheran by his VERY Norwegian parents…where as my mom was raised Catholic. And as they moved towards marriage, they went back and forth as to which denomination they would ultimately agree on…eventually deciding that Mom would change lanes and become Lutheran.

This continued on into the next generation, as my brother and sister and I were raised in the Lutheran tradition…that is, until my sister got engaged to a Catholic…just like my parents a generation before…she had the same discussion with her fiancé…and in the end, my sister made the switch and was confirmed Catholic shortly before their wedding…and it probably goes without saying that they are passing on the Catholic faith to my 3 nieces.

Now full disclosure…this doesn’t bother me at all…as far as denomination differences go…we’ve got a lot in common with our Catholic brothers and sisters out there…but on occasion the differences that are there come to light…and I remember it happening about 5 or 6 years ago when we were at Mass with my sisters family.

I often joke about the Christian Calisthenics that we do in worship…with our constant standing and sitting for the various aspects…but if you’ve attended Catholic Mass before, you know that they add one more aspect into the mix…as they kneel for various portions…and I always chuckle in these moments…because you can take one quick look around the room and identify all the fellow non-Catholics in attendance…as they are the ones still sitting in the pew as the Catholics take up residence on the kneelers.

On this particular instance, my son was about 9 or 10…and he was sitting in the pew next to me, when the lady positioned in the pew directly behind him popped up on the kneeler…and so they found themselves in pretty close proximity…and I heard her say to him “young man, you need to kneel.”  And he looked at her…and calmly responded “No I don’t,” and turned his attention back to the front.

Now I remember being impressed with two different things in that particular instance…first I was proud of my son who recognized a difference in tradition…and was aware that his own tradition was valid even in a different setting…and second, I was reminded in this little exchange that our different traditions, or understandings or interpretations…all these things can respectfully coexist…and in fact they are actually a good thing as they reveal the wondrous variety that exists among the entirety of the body of Christ on earth….these different denominations that all come together in what we call “THE church.” (pause)

Now interestingly enough…this same type of thing is on display within today’s scripture…and it reveals something that the Christian faith has in common with the Jewish faith…that there are different branches…different traditions…something we call denominations…all within the greater umbrella of a single faith.  This is true for the Jewish faith now…as there are countless different branches in present day Judaism…and, that was also the case in Jesus’ time…with different Jewish traditions in existence and well-established among the people.

And we find this at work right away with the group that Jesus encounters…the Sadducees. (pause) Often times, we have the tendency to lump the Sadducees in with another group, the Pharisees…and honestly both groups tend to get a bad rap in the understanding of many of us…but there were very prominent distinctions between the two branches in the time of the Gospels…and its also worth noting that these were not the only two branches of Judaism at that time.

Each branch had their different traditions and interpretations…but they also had similarities and teachings that were central to their Jewish faith…each had their own following…each had prominent individuals within their ranks. And that’s important for us to remember…particularly as we consider our tendency to demonize the Pharisees and the Sadducees as the bad guys of the gospel.

Some scholars have expressed the opinion that Jesus himself was a member of the Pharisees, especially considering the label Rabbi which was often used to address him…and the way that the present day rabbinic tradition ties back to the tradition of the Pharisees in first-century Palestine. (pause)

Maybe what I’m suggesting today is that these lines that we have the tendency to draw…and the conclusions that we tend to make…they’re murky…and we need to be careful about making assumptions and grouping people together…now all that being said, we do know of an important distinction between the Pharisees and the Sadducees…something which the text reveals…and that is belief in the Resurrection…that there will be a day out there in the unknown future when those who have died will be raised to new life. While many in the Jewish faith believe that there will be a resurrection in one form or another…the Sadducees do not…and considering the various teachings of Jesus on this subject…we know that he is in disagreement with them on that front.

And it would seem that this is the topic of debate behind the scenes of today’s passage.  Admittedly, I find myself wondering just what the tone was in this exchange.  Were they attempting to trip him up…to discredit him in the eyes of the people…or on the other hand was this simply a debate between individuals of different perspectives in an attempt to learn from one another? (pause)

We don’t know…but what we can find is evidence of the Sadducees bias as they provide a hypothetical situation for Jesus. Now it starts off with referencing this old tradition dating back to Moses when a man dies, leaving behind a wife, but no children…it is the expectation of the man’s brother to marry the widow, so that they might have children in the name of the dead brother.

To us, this sounds strange…and admittedly I wonder what the widow has to say about this whole thing…but…the intention behind the tradition was aimed at the continuation of the original man’s name…that his family would continue on…that his identity would not be lost.

Now with that in mind…hey Jesus…what if there were 7 brothers…and one by one they all married the same woman and none of them had any kids…eventually they’re all dead…so (get snarky here) IN THE RESURRECTION…Who’s wife will she be? (pause)

I can only imagine the side-eye that Jesus throws at them here…like “Dudes…hypothetical situations that reveal truth…that’s sorta my gig…we call those parables…you’re over your head here.” But then he goes on to explain the truth of the resurrection…and I can’t help but think he’s blowing their understanding…their expectations…their belief about this whole deal right out of the water.

Because what this all seems to be aimed at…at the heart of this whole deal…there seems to be a question…one that I think we share, even if we come at it from a different direction…What’s the end gonna look like? (pause)

Think about it…whenever we start talking about the resurrection…or heaven…or eternity…maybe I could reference…Revelation…or the end times…whenever this subject comes up…I think we’re all curious aren’t we?  What’s it gonna be like…what’s it gonna look like?

And the Sadducees seem to be posing the same type of question to Jesus today…hey teacher…what’s the end gonna look like?”  And after a beat…Jesus reveals to them…and to us…that the promise of God tells us that there is no end…and that the crazy limitations and rules that we’ve assigned to ourselves in this present age aren’t going to matter anymore…because above all…there won’t be an end…there will just be something that is utterly…new…different…and its beyond our understanding.

But this also reveals something else…that the questions we have, while they reveal our limitations…they also reveal a connection…one that Jesus seems to pick up on.  (pause) The Sadducees were concerned about their tradition which ensures a man’s identity will carry on…but Jesus reveals that our ultimate identity has nothing to do with our family names…or our spouses or our children…but the identity which really counts is given to us by God…as we are claimed as Children of God.

This is an identity that nothing beats…Jesus tells us that…as he says “they can no longer die, for they are children of God, children of the Resurrection.” This is an identity which we share…not one that we have because of our place in a family or community…but one that we receive as a gift of God’s grace.

This identity is made real through Christ…through his life in which he taught us about it…and through his death and resurrection which somehow made it possible…not to mention through his command to engage in a physical act…a practice, in which this promise is given to us…and that is the sacrament of baptism.

It is in the sacraments that we receive a physical manifestation of God’s grace for each of us as the promises are spoken to us and we receive them in faith…this same faith connects each of us…regardless of our own personal knowledge or understanding or interpretation…we each bear the same identity…beloved Child of God…and today…Parish is going to join in this same community as he is washed in this font…and the claim of God upon him becomes tangible.

This promise is real for each of us today…and we hold onto it every day of our lives…we cling to it when we reach the point of death, and we move past the reality of this life into whatever it is that comes next…and we are held secure in that promise when the day of the resurrection occurs…whatever that’s gonna look like on that unknown day out there somewhere in the future. A promise, made by God…confirmed by Christ in the flesh…that to God, each of you…will forever live, because you are Children of God. Amen

I Gotta Share This 4-21-19

In this Easter sermon, I explore the unexplainable joy that we find in the resurrection of Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-gotta-share-this-4-21-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ be with you, now and forever. Amen.

Anyone remember the Beverly Hills Cop movies? There’s a little bit of dialogue that keeps popping up through the second one that I appreciate, as Eddie Murphy…a police officer mind you, continues to do little things that…MIGHT not be strictly legal…and every he time he does, he makes the same comment… “You know I wasn’t always a cop. I fractured an occasional law.”(pause) Over the past few years, I’ve found myself in similar moments…and in conversation over old stories of my former life…I’ve been quoted as saying “Well you know, I wasn’t always a pastor…”

Like anyone…I’ve got some stupid stuff in my past…and one in particular comes to mind today…a moment that happened when I was pretty young…maybe 10 or 11…when I tagged along with my older brother and one his friends, down the road about half a mile to the old farm place where my grandparents used to live…and where my dad had actually grown up.  Now we called this, quite simply, “the old place.” And on occasion we would go exploring through the old buildings that still stood there…and on this particular day…we ended up breaking windows. I don’t remember how it started, but it did. Not proud of it…but I was a part of it.

Now here’s the thing…I was the type of kid who was REALLY bad at keeping secrets…and so it wasn’t long before I spilled the beans about our little destructive escapade. I just couldn’t keep it in…now if you’re wondering…yes there were consequences…but those details aren’t really important…What is important, is that sense of needing to tell someone…of having news that you just can’t keep in…I want you to keep that in mind while we think about the amazing story of the resurrection that we are sharing today. (pause)
Now, as we know the story of the resurrection doesn’t really start on Sunday morning…it starts on Friday evening…with Jesus dead…his body taken down off the cross…wrapped in burial cloth and laid in the tomb with the entrance covered by a giant stone…all of this witnessed by a group of women who have been following Jesus throughout his ministry…right up to the point of his burial…long after he was deserted and left by the men who swore they would follow him, even to death…interesting to see who actually made good on that promise isn’t it? (pause)

Now all logic says that’s the end right. Jesus is dead. And death is it right? The end of the line…and even though these people have watched Jesus overcome death more than once as he raised 3 different people from the dead…they are still caught in grief…in pain…in mourning and loss and rightly so…because death is final…and everyone knows that.

And so, in the hopes of one final act of kindness and love for Jesus, the women prepare spices for anointing his body…and then as their Sabbath begins, they dutifully wait, until the first possible moment, here at dawn on the first day of the week…and they head to the tomb…to the place where they had watched as he was laid…in order to fulfill this last act.

But what happens next…defies…all…logic.  (pause) As the women approach the tomb, they see the stone rolled away…that’s weird…but okay…I guess that’s one thing they don’t have to do right? And so they poke their heads inside, fully expecting to see a body wrapped up in cloth…but its…not…there.  The tomb is empty except for the discarded burial shroud.

Confusing? Yep…Perplexing….you better believe it? And the women are just kind of looking at one another in their confusion when out of nowhere BOOM…there’s two angels standing there…and the women are so freaked out…so startled and so scared to be in the presence of these beings of heavenly origin that they hit the ground.

Now…we’ve heard stories like this before…when some heavenly being, whether God in some crazy weird form or an angel of some sort shows up…apparently its…freaky…I can imagine that the person is scared because that which is divine in nature has gotta be so much more than we can handle…and we hear this in the greeting of the heavenly being ALMOST every single time…as they begin with “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” (pause) Except this time…they…don’t…say it.  Did you catch that?

The very first thing out of the angels…is a question of joyful origin.  Why do you look for the living among the dead?  (Pause) Now wait a sec…think about that question…think about what it implies.  The man who was dead…we watched him die…we watched as his body was placed…RIGHT…HERE…he…was…dead.  And now, he’s not.   WHAT?!?

I mean, that’s the message right? And it is SO GOOD…that the angels can’t be bothered with anything else…this has to be shared right away…just like that time when I was 10 years old and just couldn’t keep in the news that we had done something stupid…the angels can’t keep this amazing news quiet either.

Remember how he told you in Galilee…He would be betrayed…he would be crucified…but then on the 3rd day…he would…rise. (pause) Jesus TOLD THEM ALL THIS NEWS…and not just once…we’ve got details of at least 3 times when Jesus told his followers that THIS VERY THING was gonna happen.

And each and every time…it would seem that the news just didn’t sink in for any of them…not for the 12…and apparently not for the women numbered among his followers either…at least not until this moment…this moment when they find the tomb empty…and they hear the proclamation of the Risen Lord…and they…REMEMBERED…his words.

You know what we call that? We call that faith…that somehow as we hear the story…and we remember the words that JESUS HIMSELF shared…the Holy Spirit takes that and somehow makes this unbelievable thing…this event that defies all logic…and makes it believable.

THINK ABOUT IT…death, which is supposed to be the ultimate end of the line…isn’t anymore. WHAT?  How does that work? Well…I DON’T KNOW…but it does…that’s the promise…and through the power of that same Holy Spirit that was acting in the hearts and minds of the women works in us too…and you know what…it empowers us to do the exact same thing.

Because this is amazing news isn’t it? Jesus was dead, but now he’s alive again…that’s too good to sit on…and apparently that’s how the women felt…that I can’t hold this in…I gotta share it…and who better to share it with than the men who were considered the closest friends of Jesus himself…and so they run off to the tell the disciples…and the disciples…blow it off.  Luke describes their reaction as hearing an “idle tail.” And since I wasn’t always a pastor, you probably know what OTHER 2 word phrase I would use to describe that…hint…it has to do with a male cow going the bathroom… (pause)

Isn’t that crazy…Jesus told these guys too…more than once…and now, hearing the proclamation…they promptly…do nothing…the only one who can even be bothered to get up and look is Peter, who goes and finds the empty tomb itself, still doesn’t believe it…none of these guys do until the resurrected Jesus actually appears before them later on that day…and even then they don’t quite grasp it until he picks up a piece of fish and eats it. (pause)
And you know…I always think that seems crazy…that not even THESE GURS could believe the gospel of the resurrection without physical proof…but that speaks to ludicrous nature of the gospel…the crazy news that Jesus was dead but is alive again. This gospel that we share…and that we profess as true.

So what is it…what was different about the women compared to men…because the ladies didn’t see Jesus…and yet the proclamation was enough to create faith in the resurrected Lord…and Jesus himself talks about this very thing in one of the other gospels as he addresses the disciples and says “You have believed because you have seen…but blessed are the ones who have NOT seen, and yet come to believe.”

Any idea just who Jesus might be talking about? (pause) HINT….LOOK AROUND YOU…AND IF YOU GOT A MIRROR LOOK IN THAT…BECAUSE YOU ARE THE PEOPLE HE’S TALKING ABOUT. (pause)  Folks…this faith thing is crazy…it doesn’t make any sense…but somehow it works…and whatever it is that the Holy Spirit is up to…somehow we are empowered and given the gift of faith…the gift of believing that he who was dead is alive again…and that through that same Spirit, we are made heirs of the same promise of the resurrection…and that somehow, someway…we have joined with him in a life like his…that one day each of one us will join with him in a death like his…but most importantly…we will also join with him in a resurrection like his.

This is what God has accomplished through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…to show us that there is NO length that God will not go in order to make it possible for us to be reunited with God…Now…that perfect love, while beyond our ability in this life…is possible…and even though our broken world killed him for it…God has shown us through that empty tomb…through the proclamation that Jesus was dead and now he’s alive again…God has shown us that Love is bigger than anything else…and that nothing…not even death gets the last word where we are concerned…God does…and now, empowered by the Holy Spirit, may each one of us carry this amazing news…news that takes us out of the place of death and into the joy of new life…and like the women who were the first preachers of the gospel…may we share this same amazing message with the world around us…so that they too, might come to believe this amazing news…this story that is SO GOOD…it leaves us with a sense…that I gotta share this. Amen.

Where Were You Lord 11-4-8

Candlelight

In this sermon for All Saints Sunday, based on John 11:32-44, I explore the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  We are given a unique glimpse into the grief that even God has experienced in the face of death.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/where-were-you-lord-11-4-18

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

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

There are times when I like to joke around that I’m turning into a hipster…but then I really got to thinking about it, and I realized that there are 5 signs that you are, in fact, a hipster.  Number one, you are a fan of facial hair…check.  Number two…you love craft beer…check.  Number three, you tend to wear baseball caps at an odd, ironic angle…which I do not do. Number four, you have a preference for wearing skinny jeans…nope.

And finally…the deciding factor…you have tattoos…which I don’t…so I guess I can say, for the moment anyway…that I’m only 40% hipster…but, someday that might shift…because I’ve always thought about getting some ink…so much so that I even know what I’ll get, if I ever decide to take the plunge.

There’s an image that I love…2 hands coming together…grasping each other at the wrist.  Now the first time that I saw this image was at the very end of the first Lord of the Rings movie back in 2001…(demonstrate the image) one of the characters, who can’t swim, has sank in a river, when another character reaches down from a boat…grabs his wrist, and after a brief second, they are both holding on as he gets pulled up out of the water.

This image is meaningful for me for a couple of reasons…one probably being because I’ve been pulled out of the water…many of you sitting out there have heard me tell the story of a time when I foolishly tried swimming out to a buoy in rough water and my brother in law had to pull me back to shore.

The second reason stems from that…when another impulsive decision on the part of Peter resulted in Jesus reaching out and taking him by the hand, lifting him up out of the water. And interestingly enough…this action of Jesus…grabbing another person by the hand…its something of a regular occurrence for him…especially in terms of the miracles that Jesus is famous for. Several different times…in different circumstances, we hear of Jesus grasping another person by the hand.  He heals several different people, including Peter’s mother in law, through his words combined with the action of grabbing the individual by the hand.  And in one instance…he even raises a young girl from the dead in this same way. And that’s worth paying attention to.

There are only three instances in the gospels of Jesus raising people from the dead…the young girl…a widow’s son when he walks up on the funeral procession…and today’s story of Lazarus. I can’t help but think that’s eye opening to consider, knowing how much stock we place on Jesus and his action of overcoming the power of death in the world…its strange to think that only 3 people are actually raised from the dead.

But today’s story is one of those times…but to be sure…the story of Jesus and Lazarus is an odd one.  For starters…I wish we knew a little more about the relationship between Jesus and this family…for he was close to Lazarus but also his sisters Martha and Mary…we hear about these three siblings in quite a few different instances….but we never really hear about the basis for their ongoing relationship, beyond the love that is expressed between them.

But regardless of their history…it would certainly seem that there is a sense of extreme familiarity, perhaps even a sense of duty that lies between them…evidence in the details within this greater story…a portion of which takes place before our action begins today.  Because for starters…Lazarus gets sick…we don’t know his ailment…but its serious enough for Martha to send off for Jesus…who’s hanging out somewhere in the region in the midst of his ministry.

Now keep in mind…Martha can’t just pick up a cell phone and shoot him a text…she had to send someone to look for him…and who knows how long that took…but when word finally reaches him…Jesus acknowledges that Lazarus is sick…and promptly stays put for a couple more days before finally meandering his way to Bethany…in fact he takes so much time in getting there…that by the time he approaches the village…Lazarus has been dead and sealed in the tomb for the better part of a week.

I can only imagine how frustrating this must have been for the sisters…and maybe you can too…ever been in a situation like that…one where duty or personal obligation dictates that you should put some hustle into the situation…or vice-versa that you expect the person you’ve reached out to to do the same?

That seems to be the case here as well…because before Jesus even makes it to the village, Martha hears he’s coming and she marches out to give him a piece of her mind…and in the midst of a back and forth between Jesus and Martha…one that I imagine was a touch on the heated side…she says “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (pause)

Now this isn’t the only time we hear it…because pretty soon Mary…who had stayed in the house when Martha stomped off the gates of town…Mary follows suit and heads out to find Jesus as well…and when she does…she says the exact same thing to him. “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  I can only think that both sisters are placing blame…casting some shade…seeking out a target for the grief and sadness and anger that they are feeling in the death of their brother…in the death of someone that they love. They might as well be saying “Its your fault he’s dead” or even asking the question “Where were you on this one Lord?”

I can’t help but think that we’ve all been there at one time or another…because death is a reality isn’t it? One that we’ve all encountered…and death’s a funny thing, though perhaps that’s not quite the right word for it…because sometimes death feels almost okay…but other times everything about it is wrong.

Circumstances can alter how we look at death…the life of the individual…how old they are…if they’ve battled a long illness…or if its an accident that comes out of nowhere…all of these things factor into our response…but if there is one thing in common, regardless of the circumstances…it’s the pain and the sorrow that we feel when death enters the picture.

Now here’s the thing. We’re not the only ones who feel it.  Because not just once…but twice in today’s story…we hear how deeply Jesus is moved…he is shocked…angry…deeply agitated within himself. Our English translation doesn’t do justice to what Jesus was feeling…and not only that but we hear that Jesus weeps openly when he come face to face with the death of a loved one.

And as we recognize the response of Jesus we begin to see that we are not alone in grieving…but that we have a God who mourns death just as we do…in fact I believe that the first being to mourn every single death is God…and that God is weeping before the reality even begins to take hold in our hearts and minds when something like this happens.

God is no stranger to the pain of loss…the emotion that comes with it…because God has experienced it first hand when the Word became flesh and dwelled among us…and this is why God has made us a promise over and over again in the scriptures…one that we heard today out of Revelation…now I don’t know if you are familiar with Revelation, but it’s the last book of the Bible and the reading today was one of the last parts of it. And this promise says that once this crazy broken-down messed up reality is over…that God will make everything new…somehow, someway…and not only that, but God will dwell among us…and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes…death will be no more…mourning and crying and pain will be no more. (pause)
I’ve often said…I have no idea what things are going to look like in the life to come…but somehow it seems that the pain that we feel now…the pain that gives us sorrow and tears…and the pain that makes us angry enough to scream out at God “Where were you on this one?” That will be no more.

And that gives me hope…even in the midst of times when everything else gets cloudy in the face of the pain…and this is a place that, perhaps, you find yourself in today…I’m guessing many from our community are still in this state…still feeling that anger and loss…still asking those questions after the tragic death of a high schooler just a couple weeks ago…a sense that we’ve felt before in our community in the face of tragedies that just don’t make any sense.

But we remember in these times, that not only do we have a God that mourns along side us…but we have a God who has done something about it…even in those times when we might be a little too sad or angry to see that hope clearly…that hope remains…and in these times, we look to each other for love and support.

We look to each other because together we are the hands and feet of God…together we are the body of Christ here on earth and we are called to lift each other up…because sometimes the immediate answer that God gives us when we ask “Where are you on this one” is to point us to look around and see those that are here to share our burdens with us.

There’s a painting that hangs up in the high school. Admittedly I don’t know what the story is behind it, but sometimes I wonder if its actually based on the same image from the movie that I talked about before…two hands grasping one other by the wrist…one whole and strong…the other bruised and scarred…and that my friends…is life…we do this for one another…knowing in the next instant that our strength might fail and we’ll need someone to take us by the hand…to mirror that love and that strength and that power to comes from God in the first place…that’s how we get through these times…holding onto the promise that one day…one glorious day…we like Lazarus, will hear a voice calling our name…a voice that is bigger…louder…greater even than death and the separation that it causes with those still living…a voice of one who knows the pain of mourning…and who will always be there to take us by the hand…in one way or another…and lift us up to new life. Amen.

This Is What I Have Witnessed 4-15-18

In this sermon, taken from Luke 24:36b-48, I explore another resurrection appearance of Jesus in which he charges the disciples to serve as witnesses to what they have experienced.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-is-what-i-have-witnessed-4-15-18

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

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

We get some weird weather here in Iowa don’t we?  Over the course of the past couple of winters, we’ve seen…or perhaps heard would be the better word…thunder-snow…which seems like an oxymoron just to say…but we’ve witnessed it haven’t we?

Well Friday morning I was listening to the weather report in the car and heard the weather man say “today we’ll experience spring like conditions…with Omaha temps possibly even reaching 80 degrees. With the warm air swirling around, there is a chance of developing tornados.  But then tomorrow we’re in a winter storm watch.” I heard this crazy forecast and thought to myself….well now I’ve heard of everything.

But the craziness didn’t stop there. A little while later, I was sitting in my office pondering on today’s text, and I noticed the wind had really come up…not unexpected with the crazy weather systems moving around…but as I sat there looking out my window…I heard something rattling and looked down to see a empty tall boy Bud Light can come rolling up the parking lot…I sent a text to a friend of mine about it…and he called it Small Town Iowa Tumbleweed…which made me laugh but also seemed pretty fitting…and as I was laughing, wouldn’t you know it, a second one came rolling by as well…and I thought to myself…well now I’ve seen everything. (pause)

And the more I thought about it…the more fitting it seemed.  It was crazy…it was certainly unexpected…but I can’t deny that I saw it…This is what I’ve witnessed…beer cans LITERALLY rolling uphill. (pause)

Now its this idea of witnessing some truly unexpected and out of the ordinary things that I connect us into today’s gospel. Here we are, the third Sunday of Easter…and as we’ve done for the past couple of weeks, we continue hearing from different accounts of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ…God in human form…the word made flesh which dwelled among us…this being that is fully human and yet fully divine, who was betrayed…who was tortured and hung on a cross where he died…who was buried in a tomb for several days before the unexpected happened…and he was alive again.

Now maybe, just maybe, you thought today’s resurrection appearance of Jesus sounds kinda familiar…and I wouldn’t fault you if you did…because it does sound an awful lot like what we hear a week ago out of John…a story in which the resurrected Jesus appears not just once but twice, somehow appearing within a locked room…showing the marks in his hands and side, offering a literal word of peace to the astonished and frightened disciples, not to mention singling out Thomas…that’s what we heard last week.

And of course, this time around Luke isn’t far off…but let me set the scene…here in Luke…its still the same day of the Resurrection…we’ve had a couple of weeks go by since we celebrated the empty tomb…but for everyone involved here in Luke…things are still up in the air…Early in the morning the women go to the tomb…they find it empty…angels have told them what’s going on and sent them to the disciples…the disciples utterly disregard what the women share…they pretty much ignore their testimony…then a little later that same day…Jesus has appeared along with two of his random disciples as they trudge along the road between Jerusalem and a nearby village of Emmaus that lies about 10 miles away.

Now those two individuals failed to recognize him for who he was…but as they’re together he opens the scriptures to them…helping them to understand how the written law and the prophets, what we would call the Old Testament, all points towards the Messiah…and then finally, in the evening, once they’ve reached their destination Jesus breaks bread with them…their eyes are opened to see him for who he is, and he promptly disappears…they pick up and run back to the city where they find the disciples…everyone’s in a great big tizzy over this…

And then…once again…this same night, as they are all locked away together trying to make head’s or tails of this whole deal…Jesus is standing among them. (pause) Now the same thing happens here that we have come to expect…because we know the story…but if we stop and think about it…if we stop and place ourselves in the disciples shoes in this moment…this is the last thing that should happen isn’t it?

He’s dead…we all saw it…we saw his tomb…we know he was buried and all logic tells us that there’s no coming back from that. Regardless of what the women said this morning…regardless of this crazy story that Cleopus and his companion are telling us from Emmaus….there’s no coming back from the dead.

And yet…in the midst of this crazy exchange…here he is…standing among us…and his first words “Peace be with you.” (pause) Now I don’t know about you…but if I was in a locked room and a dude that I know was dead is suddenly standing here talking to me…peace is probably the last thing on my mind…If it happened me today, I’m guessing my response would be pretty colorful, and not really appropriate to repeat here in the pulpit…I’ll let you fill in the blanks there.

But yet, this is what’s going on…and as we hear, the disciples are UTTERLY freaked out…thinking that they’ve seen a ghost…and rightly so…the guy was dead. But Jesus isn’t going to let their minds stay there is he…and he takes steps to prove that the opposite is now true.

Now EARLY Christian scholars…going back to about the 2nd century have written about practices that a person goes through to prove something like this…which in itself is odd…but apparently people were commonly mistaken for spirits in the first century…and two of the proofs are right here in the texts…

The first one is to prove that you have bones…because apparently ghosts have no skeleton…and consider…what are the boniest parts of the human body? Your hands and feet right? And what does Jesus say “Look at my hands and my feet.” He shows them…and then he takes the second step which is to eat in their presence…the whole first part of this encounter is Jesus slowly convincing the disciples that he is…in fact…alive.

He was dead…none of them dispute that…and now, somehow, he’s alive again…and gradually their fear and astonishment turns into belief and joy as Jesus opens their minds to understand what the scriptures have said about him…and not only that but then he gives them a mission…that the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in the name of the risen Jesus throughout all nations, beginning right there where they were…in Jerusalem.

And then he gives them an important reminder…You are witnesses to these things…Now that’s a big statement…because I don’t think Jesus is talking about this amazing moment, although that’s included…I think he’s talking about this whole deal starting all the way back at the beginning.  I can’t help but notice that the message of repentance and forgiveness sounds a bit like John the Baptist and his message when the gospel’s begin…so maybe just maybe Jesus is saying “hey guys…you’ve been along for this whole ride…you’ve seen the miracles…you’ve heard the teaching…you’ve seen lives changed…you’ve seen boundaries crossed…you’ve seen me die and you’ve seen that I’m alive again. You’re witnesses to all this. Now its about time for you to do what witnesses do. Testify.” (pause)

Here’s the thing…Luke pretty much ends right here…there are only a couple more verses after this, in which we hear about Jesus’ Ascension to heaven and that the disciples remain in Jerusalem…but Luke’s writing isn’t done yet…because he also wrote the book of Acts…in which we see the disciples start living up to the title of witness…and through their work…through their testimony of what they have seen and experienced…God gives the growth this earliest church…God grows the body of Christ through the activity of humanity.

Now here’s the big thing that I think is so important about all of this…I believe that Jesus is showing the disciples…and not only them, but us as well…because of the ongoing witness of those who have come before us in the ever-growing body of Christ which still exists 2000 years later, and also through the testimony of the scriptures we continue to find the divine work of God going on in and through the human.

This is the mindblowing thing about the gospel which we find in the midst of all of the scriptures…Everything up to this point has reminded us that the divine is UTTERLY other than the human…that humanity is broken and flawed and sinful…and we are, I’m not disputing that in the least way…and because of this reality, that which is divine is separated…and it would seem that our brokenness hinders our encounter, or our ability to experience the divine.

But what if the Christ event…which includes the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus, who is both fully God and also fully human…what if this is God’s way of showing us that the brokenness which permeates our creation will not stop the presence of the divine?

What if the life death and resurrection of Jesus, is culminating here in the once fully dead and now fully not dead Jesus showing us his human form as a way of reminding us that the divine can and DOES exist within humanity as well?

Let us never forget that each and every member of the human race is created bearing the divine image of God…and that our very existence…our creation begins from a place of love and delight on the part of the divine…and the brokenness which is present, doesn’t come about until the 3rd chapter of our existence…we may be broken but we don’t start there.

And whatever it is that God is up to here in our reality through Jesus Christ…it has SOMEHOW overcome that which separates our existence from the one who made us in the first place. And that whatever this ongoing divine action is here in the world…we are witnesses to it, and as witnesses we are called to do the very same thing that the original disciples were called to do…to testify. This is what I have seen…this is what I have experienced. Come and see for yourself.

We are called to do this because that is how God is continuing to draw all people to himself…by the ongoing testimony of flawed and broken people who can testify to the fact that we have a God who has claimed us despite that very brokenness…and that through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ this same God has laid claim on every member of the human race….and there is NOTHING that will stand in the way of that claim…not even death. (pause)

Now remember, that Jesus gave a bit of proof to this new life by eating something…and in a few more minutes, we’ll do the same…because we will share together in a meal in which we hear the words that Christ’s body and blood were broken and shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Do this for the remembrance of me.

Eat it…drink it…and remember it, and know that this is what you have witnessed to be true…and that you are called to testify that it is true.  Amen.

He’s Not Even In There 4-1-18 Easter Sunday

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In this Easter Sunday sermon, I explore Mark’s account of the Resurrection. The tomb is empty, but the Risen Jesus is no where to be seen.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/hes-not-even-in-there-4-1-18-easter-sunday

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

It probably goes without saying…but as a pastor I spend a lot of Sunday’s in churches…no big surprise, comes with the job. Now, most of time…most of those Sundays, this is the church where I’m at…again, no big surprise…but every once in a while a Sunday comes around when I find myself in a different church.

The most recent example of this happened just 2 weeks ago…14 days back I was not in Underwood Lutheran…but rather I found myself in a slightly larger place called the Church of the Holy Sepulcher…in Jerusalem.

Now this enormous cathedral is built over the site considered by many to house both the location where Jesus was crucified, as well as the location of the tomb where they laid him following his death on the cross. The two spots aren’t far apart…maybe separated by 100 feet or so…but within this one church, they are two very different focal points…the tomb has actually been enclosed into a tiny chapel, itself located inside this one great big church…and as our small group of Holy Land travelers went in…it took a bit of time before we could enter the tomb.

Now this tiny chapel that houses the tomb itself is not large. The entire structure would probably fit inside the narthex right outside our sanctuary doors…but before we could go it to see it…we had to wait in line…because of course we weren’t the only ones there. Now the line actually spun around the outside of the chapel structure…and MAN did it move slow.

We got in line…and we waited…and we waited…and we waited some more…every once in a while we’d take 2 or 3 baby steps forward…inching our way around the chapel towards the entry to the tomb of Jesus. As we moved closer, the people in line got packed in tighter and tighter as we funneled down into to single file…and needless to say we were all getting a little restless, both from the close proximity as well as the time that we were standing there.  Finally, after we’d been inching forward in line for about an hour…and were still roughly 30 minutes away from entering the tomb…one of the people from our group said “Seriously…why are we waiting…he’s not even in there.”

Now it was a sarcastic comment and we all laughed…but then I got to thinking about it…and by golly…there is some deep theological truth in that snarky comment isn’t there? And that’s a statement that sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it? (pause)

Easter Sunday…the day of the Resurrection…the time when we gather here in the church to celebrate God’s defeat over the powers of darkness…that through the resurrection of Christ the powers of sin and death have been overcome. We cue the trumpets…we smell the Easter lilies…it’s a time of celebration. But this time around it’s a little odd isn’t it…because this year we hear from Mark.

Early…EARLY on Sunday morning…the sun’s not even up yet…and we hear that Mary Magdalene, and another Mary, and Salome…3 women who had witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross on Friday…these women who watched as they took his lifeless body down, wrapped it up and laid it in that tomb…they watched as the giant stone was pushed in front of the door.  These women who have witnessed it all are on their way for a difficult task.

They plan to anoint the body of Jesus…but they’ve got some things working against them don’t they?  He’s already been dead for a while…his body would already be decomposing, which defeats the purpose of anointing him.

And not only that but as they’re walking along they have one of those startling moments of realization…one of those moments when you realize that what you’re attempting to do is complete futile…like when you get to the check-out counter only to realize that you left your wallet in your other pants…They ask “who’s gonna roll away the stone for us? We can’t do it.”

Maybe, just maybe these women are feeling utter defeat, and yet in the face of everything, they arrive at the tomb. Now here’s the crazy part…the stone’s already moved…and so, edgy and scared, they poke their heads inside…and there stands an angel.

And now that feeling of defeat turns into fear…into anguish…in fact its same exact thing that Jesus himself experienced in the Garden a few night back as he was sweating blood in anguish…this is the same feeling that the women are now experiencing…and who knows why…maybe its at the presence of the angel…maybe its because the tomb is empty…maybe its both…

But its stands to reason, as we consider all this, that for them…NONE of this made sense. He was dead…they saw it…they watched as he was placed here…and everyone knows that the dead don’t just get up and leave…and now to top it all off here’s an angelic heavenly being and we’ve heard in many places in scripture that this seems to be a freaky situation when an angel shows up…and yet the angel assures them…do not be afraid.

For the angel knows why they are here…and angel also knows the futility of their visit. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth…the one who was crucified…He…is…not…here.”(pause) Honestly, we could have used that same angelic proclamation 2 weeks ago in Jerusalem. What do you want in there for…he’s not even in there.

Now maybe this all sounds familiar…that’s the part of the story that’s pretty much the same regardless of what gospel account we hear from…but remember Mark’s different. The angel goes on. Jesus is not here…but go and tell the disciples and Peter that he has gone on a head of you into Galilee…there you will see him…And the women…still utterly freaked out, run off…and say nothing to anyone.

WAIT…WHAT? Its Easter…the tomb is empty…Jesus is risen…what do you mean they said nothing? That’s weird…I think we better read on and see what comes next right? (pause) But here’s the kicker. There’s nothing more to read. Mark ends here…strange as that might seem…and yah its weird…so weird in fact that a few hundred years later some well-meaning monks tacked on a couple extra endings just to try and tidy it up for us.

But maybe we can’t tidy anything up…because think about it. Easter is about resurrection…but resurrection starts from a place of death right…it has to…and logic, along with our personal experience, together these things tell us that there’s no coming from back from death. And the women at the tomb that day…I’m guessing they thought the exact same thing.

So what do we do with this today? What are we to make of this odd ball, utterly abrupt ending of the gospel of Jesus Christ? What are we to make of this empty tomb and this Easter story that lacks actually seeing a Risen Jesus? What are we to make of this oddball decree to go out into Galilee where we’ll see him?

I think that perhaps…odd and confusing as this all is…it is perhaps the best possible way to hear about the resurrection…because it doesn’t make sense…and yet we profess that it is true…We can’t quite understand it…and we sure as heck can’t explain it…and maybe like the women, we just walk away confused by this whole deal, and don’t say anything to anyone…because honestly…who would believe it right? Dude was dead and now he’s not? He was in the tomb and now its empty…HUH?

But here’s the thing. This isn’t the end…and if you don’t believe me, let’s back up to the start of Mark’s Gospel. Chapter 1 verse 1. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (pause) I don’t think Mark spent 16 chapters telling us the whole story…I think Mark spent 16 chapters telling us the beginning of it. And here, with the women running off from the empty tomb…that’s not the ending…that’s just the conclusion of the beginning.

We cannot hear this amazing news of Jesus, raised from the dead…this amazing news of how God has stepped right into death and brought new life out of it, not only for Jesus but for all life through him. We cannot hear it and simply walk out of here today unchanged…perhaps to step back in next week or next month or next year to simply hear the same message again.

Resurrection life is about becoming something different than we were before…about life looking different…about life being lived different than it was before the empty tomb. (pause) This is what’s happened…and this is what Easter is really all about…not about lilies…not about trumpets…not about nice new Easter outfits and family dinners.

Easter is about a God who takes SO MUCH delight in the creation that he made that he willingly took on flesh and stepped down into it…he walked around, and went headlong into every single solitary place of death, even those that we have created for ourselves…and that same God has already, and will continue to create new life out of death…even if its scary…even if it doesn’t make any sense. (pause)

Now let’s swing back around to the command given to the women to pass along to Jesus’ disciples…to his followers.  Go into Galilee, there you’ll see him. Now I’ve often wondered…why Galilee…why not into the temple, or over to Bethlehem…these big name places that were literally right around the corner? Why back to Galilee, that backwater province far to the north?

Well…let’s back up to Mark chapter 1 again…the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ…Where do you think it all started? Galilee…Galilee is where the Jesus called the disciples to follow him…its where he performed countless miracles…its where he spent time teaching them…leading them…and showing them what the kingdom of heaven looks like when it comes near…when boundaries that society has established about who’s in and who’s out are utterly overcome…when those boundaries are utterly demolished…Galilee is where discipleship happens…because Galilee is where life following Jesus happens.

I can’t help but think that Mark’s gospel is one heck of a cool cycle. The gospel begins, and as present day followers of Jesus and readers of the gospel…as present day members of the Body of Christ, we travel along through Galilee right alongside Peter and the rest of the disciples…and we follow along when Jesus is betrayed and killed and laid in the tomb, and now that the tomb is empty…we are sent back to the place of discipleship once more…we are sent back into those places of joy and of sorrow…those places of unity and division…those places of community and isolation…we are sent back out from the empty tomb into the place of life…and that’s where we see him in the faces of one another…in the hungry mouth that we feed…in the widow that we visit…in the time that we spend supporting one another. (pause)

Sure we can visit the tomb. Its possible, I’ve been there…and we can jostle around, pushing to get into that place of death…but in the end what’s the point…Jesus is out here in the place of life…that tomb is empty…Dude’s not even in there. Amen.

Do We Expect the Spirit 10-15-17

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In this sermon, based on Matthew 22:1-14, I explore the parable of the wedding banquet. Do we expect to be changed when we encounter God? Maybe we should.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/do-we-expect-the-spirit-10-15-17

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

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

Many of you are familiar with the fact that in my former life, or the time before I became a pastor…that I started off my career managing golf courses. During that season of my life, I was employed on the maintenance crew at 2 different courses…the first through my college years, and the second for about 2 years after graduating.

Now as is the case with most things…different golf courses are going to be managed in different ways. The first was larger with a bigger crew, the second had a smaller crew…and this became most evident on the weekends.  Pretty much every course that I am aware of works an abridge schedule on the weekends. It’s the busy time for the course, so the workers show up, perhaps a touch earlier than on a weekday…they do the bare minimum, which is usually mowing the greens and raking the bunkers…and then they get out of the way. This was actually the case at both of those courses. The difference emerged when we looked at when crew members were on weekend duty. The first course offered a rotation…and we were pretty much on duty every other weekend, both Saturday and Sunday…but the second was a little different. A couple guys worked Saturday morning, and a couple of us worked Sunday morning…me included.

Now my boss there knew that I was a church-goer…and given every possibility that I wanted to make it to worship…and typically that worked ok…we’d get done what we needed and I’d have to time to get home, get cleaned up and head to church.

But there was one time that things were a little different…and it happened to occur on the day that one of my nieces was going to be baptized a couple towns over. Long story short…the service would take place earlier than I normally needed to be at church…and we had some extra going on workwise…and I got out, with just enough time to make the mental decision about either stopping off at home to try and clean up…or to show up for the baptism in my grubby clothes. (pause) Long story short, that day I set the record for the fastest I’ve ever gotten ready. In the door, shower, dressed in a full suit, and out the door again in 6 minutes…Now I easily could have shown up for the baptismal service grubby, and no one probably would have cared…but I felt like I needed to be a little more presentable. (pause)

Now that very idea brings me around to the gospel. Another parable…another story told by Jesus to illustrate the importance of our response to the invitation of the Lord into the Kingdom of Heaven…and its an interesting one.

A king is throwing a banquet for his son’s wedding. The invitations have already gone out to the king’s chosen guest list…but for whatever reason…once everything is ready and the king sends his messengers off with the call to show up…everyone on the guest list declines…some offer excuses…some get riled up and literally killed the messengers…the king in turn…he gets all riled up as well, sends out his soldiers to kill the perpetrators and burn down their city…which is lovely to say the least. But then the king tells his servants, go out…and anyone you find, invite them in because this banquet honoring my son…it will be filled…and this is precisely what happens.  And you know its interesting…the king doesn’t discriminate does he…bring them in…the good and the bad. And the wedding is filled.

Now here’s the thing…how many of those people out walking the streets…or working in the fields…how many of them do you suppose were carrying a wedding robe at the time?  (pause) Think about it? Why would they…there’s no reason for them to think on this particular day that the king was going to invite them into a banquet…but if a representative of the king grabs you and says “come to his banquet” you go…period…right then and there…there would be no option of stopping off at home for a 6 minute clean up session so they could arrive with a suit on.

But apparently there are robes aren’t there? There must be…because, as we hear…there’s an issue on this basis…one we’ll talk a bit more about momentarily…and so…it raises the question of just where are they getting the robes?

It stands to reason that the host provides them…that as they come in…they follow social decorum…knowing they need to accept the robe…and the host knows he needs to provide them…and everyone follows decorum…and the party gets going…and the king does a walk through and everything is peachy…until the king lays eyes on this one guy…this guy who has the audacity to NOT…be wearing a wedding robe.

The king asks him why…he of course has no good answer and is standing there silenced out of his guilt in the face of the king and host…and as we hear…there are consequences. (pause)
Now I’ve run over this in my head time after time…and I’ve wondered…what’s up with this guy. He knows the expectations…he walked in with everyone else…he showed up at the party…but when he reached the door and one of the servants offered him the robe…I can only think that he looked at them…checked out his own attire and thought… “Nah…I’m good.” (pause) But considering what ultimately happens…it would seem that no, he’s not good as is…and the change was expected. (pause)
So what’s that mean for us today? What’s this robe? What’s this wedding banquet? What are these expectations that Jesus is trying to broadcast for us? (Pause) I’ve wrestled with these questions quite a bit…because to talk about banquet in the scriptures seems like a pretty obvious reference to the heavenly banquet that we’ve been invited to…and if we proclaim, over and over again…that God invites as we are…and yes I believe that to be true…then what are we supposed to learn from the guy who takes a look at the robe offered by the host and thinks “Nah I’m good.”

Maybe the only conclusion that we can reach is that simply showing up at the banquet isn’t enough…maybe its insufficient to think that we can just be here and then walk out the same as when we walked in.

What are the “clothes” that we might need to change? What are the practices or understandings or ways of thinking that we might be called to set aside? What things might God ask us to take off and set down, so that we might emerge different than when we came in? (pause)

As I think along these lines, I find myself asking an important question…do we, as believers in Christ, enter into situations where God is present expecting to see change? What do we expect? Do we anticipate the Holy Spirit to be active…to blow through and change us? Or do we think that we can just be present for the event…whatever it is…and then walk away as if nothing significant has happened?

Now there are a lot of different events or situations that we could consider…but perhaps the easiest one to think about is worship…do we show up here at 10:15 on Sunday morning with the expectation that there will be something different about us when we walk out at 11:30? Because if we don’t, we are selling the Holy Spirit short in a big bad way. (pause)
There’s something that I do every week that perhaps you’ve noticed…and I’ve been asked about it before…at the end of worship, in the midst of the final hymn…once the acolyte walks out, I step out of my pew and stand in the front of the aisle for just a brief moment…and as I do I say a prayer thanking God for whatever the Spirit accomplished during this worship time…but there’s another thing I do that no one probably notices…at the beginning of worship, right after the organist makes eye contact with me and I’m about to walk up the aisle, I ask for the Spirit to show up…and we never know how that will happen do we?

Sometimes the Spirit shows up when a child asks the perfectly timed question during the children’s sermon…sometimes the Spirit shows up when I sing Jesus Loves Me and the music for offering happens to be the same song…sometimes the Spirit shows up when I’m sermonating about God talking to us in many ways and someone’s phone rings.

These are just a few ways that have happened in this sanctuary…and there are many others, some that are blatantly apparent and some that perhaps we fail to recognize…but I return to the question…what do we expect of the Spirit when we enter into a situation…and do we come with the expectation that we will be changed in the midst of it?

The apostle Paul tells us that if we are in Christ we are new creation…and this isn’t something that we merely pay lip service to…but we need to think of this in the same way that Paul does in the original language…because they way he writes it implies some pretty serious astonishment at play…if anyone is in Christ…NEW CREATION!!!!!!

And we can rest assured that is what the parable is trying to tell us…because throughout the New Testament we continue to hear imagery of clothing ourselves…to be clothed in righteousness…to be clothed in Christ…and my friends this is very sacramental when think about it…for to put on Christ happens in the waters of our baptism when we are empowered with the Holy Spirit…and we are joined together with the body of Christ. And interestingly enough, the last time I preached on this passage one of our blessed children was being baptized in this font.

But this is not to say that the “wedding robe” that we put on only happens once in our lives…but we must remember that every single day…each and every moment we are called to embody the reality of death and new life…something that is literally happening in our very bodies every moment. (pause)

Did you know that in your body…in any given moment about 300 million cells die…and in that same moment, your body gives rise to 300 million new ones to replace them? You are literally dying and rising again during every single instant of your lifetime…and even more amazing…you were intentionally made that way by the one who has made new life possible through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (pause)
God created us to quite literally, become new every moment…so let us live out every day, every moment, every situation in a way that reflects this…let us live our lives in a way that reflects the change that comes upon us through the presence of the Holy Spirit…the presence of God in us and around us.

We cannot expect to remain the same…for to try and remain the same is to deny the very being that God has made us in the first place. Amen.

Thought Word and Deed 10-1-17

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In this sermon, taken from Mathew 21:23-32, I explore a strange little parable in which 2 sons defy their father in different ways. We are reminded that our brokenness will manifest itself in different ways. Yet through the Cross, God has somehow overcome this brokenness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/thought-word-and-deed-10-1-17

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

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

Today is, of course, the first of October, 2017. We have now reached an important month…as 30 days from now…October 31st, will mark 500 years since the event which sparked off the period of church history known as the Reformation.

Now when I say the word Reformation…there are many names that could come to mind as important…depending on your particular view of history…Names like Tynsdale…or Melanchthon…or Wesley or Zwingli…and of course…considering our denominational heritage…Martin Luther.

He started it all didn’t he? And in 30 days, we’ll remember his defiant act of nailing the famous 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg Castle in Germany…and how his desire to reform the Catholic Church shaped the course of the past 500 years of history.

As Lutherans, we’ve been thinking about this for a long time…and collectively the various branches of the Lutheran Church have given a lot of emphasis on Luther and his teaching…on his writing and his theology. We’ve been doing it for the past year…and perhaps rightly so…500 years is a big anniversary.

But that being said…I’m going to share something with you that might be considered…unpopular…given our current setting. (Pause) I, Scott Dalen…ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America…am kind of over Martin Luther. (pause)
Don’t get me wrong…his theology is wonderful…his courageous action of standing up against the political and religious powers of the day were beyond commendable…and his views on the importance of simple faith in Christ where utterly life changing for me.

But, he wasn’t a saint by any stretch of the imagination.  Luther was considered arrogant…a bit of elitist. We can argue that in his younger years he utterly wasted the enormous cost of education that his parents had invested in him…and in his older years, he became quite bitter and much of the writings from late in his life were utterly anti-Semitic…long story short…as great as he was, a person could easily make an argument that Luther was kind of an A-1 jerk.

You know what though…Luther has good company…because if you take pretty much any person from the Bible…with the obvious exclusion of Jesus…it’s a fair assumption that you can probably make the same argument. Take any of the big names and they’ve got skeletons in the closet. Abraham tried to pawn off his wife as his sister to save his own skin. Moses was a murderer and whiner, and like to take credit for God’s actions.  Jacob was a schemer. Joseph was an arrogant trickster…David was an adulterer…the prophets all argued with God on a regular basis…and the folks from the New Testament weren’t really any better. But if there’s one lesson that I try to convey, its this…God uses imperfect people…God uses broken people…God uses A-1 jerks, and God does it with a fair bit of regularity.

Now what’s all this got to do with today’s gospel? Well…I can only think that Jesus shares a parable that might just illustrate this same point. A man goes out to his two sons…telling them both to go out and work in the vineyard.

The first son that the man approaches seems…a little snippy…doesn’t he? Son…I want you to go out and work in the vineyard today.  NO WAY DAD…NOTHING DOIN POPS…It ain’t happening…but then given a bit of time to think it over, he does in fact head out and gets to work.

In the meantime, dad has headed off to son #2 with the same instruction…You also, go out and work in the vineyard…and he hears the answer that he’s looking for. I will go sir…but then son #2 either spaces it off…or changes his mind…or more likely was just trying to keep dad happy with no intention of actually doing anything…and he fails to go do any work.

That’s the parable…and once Jesus has shared it…posing it in response the tension he’s experiencing with the religious elite…the big wigs from the temple…he poses them a question…which son did the will of the Father? (pause) Now the chief priests and the elders have an answer don’t they? They make a judgement call…even though they recognize that Jesus is wisely taking a pot-shot at them…they point out which one in the story is “the good son.” (pause)
But here’s the thing that catches my attention…as I think about these two brothers…I can’t help but think they’re both acting like jerks.  The first son disrespects his father in his words, even if his actions ultimately fall in line…and the second son disrespects his father by failing to follow through with his actions, even if his words show a false sense of honor.

And correct me if I’m wrong…but doesn’t the 4th commandment tell us that we’re supposed to honor our parents? In one way or another…in their thoughts or in their words or in their deeds…both sons fall short…now maybe we should keep that in mind when we…like the religious big-wigs that are butting heads with Jesus, start making a judgment call as to which one was good and which one wasn’t…because neither one of them are ultimately good are they?

Maybe that the subtle yet mind blowing point that Jesus is trying to make…it doesn’t really matter how we react…in one way or another, we are going to fail to measure up…our brokenness…the way we act towards one another will ultimately fail.

And I can’t help it…I’ve got to swing around to Brother Martin here…because he wrote about this when he said “Reflect on your place in life in light of the 10 commandments: whether you are father, mother, son, daughter…whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, lazy, whether you have harmed anyone by word or deed.”

And in considering that rather on-the-nose comment written a few centuries back, perhaps we are reminded of the way that our traditions of worship are reflected when we say…each and every week…we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves…we have sinned against you in thought…word…and deed…by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

There are times when I think that the English language lacks the words to properly convey or articulate the depths of our brokenness…brokenness that we feel within ourselves…brokenness that manifests in the way we tear another done when we see them doing something that we could have done or should have done, and in feeling guilty we attempt to make ourselves feel better by making them feel worse.

Brokenness that has manifested in our ability to utterly ignore the needs of our neighbor on the opposite side of the backyard fence or across the street…brokenness that has manifested in our tendency to stare at a screen thinking that it is our connection to the world as we ignore the person sitting in the same room with us.

Brokenness that ultimate leaves us feel utterly devoid even to the point of what people describe as “dead inside,” all while still sitting there breathing.

This is the truth of our existence…and it seems dire…it seems lousy…it almost seems like there is no hope…we can call this a lot of different things…in the past I’ve used the phrase “little deaths.”  These things that keep us down…broken…isolated. And as I’ve pondered on this reality, I’m reminded that as Christians we live our lives in the midst of tension…and we are Saturday people….living in the tension between death on Good Friday and new life on Easter Sunday.

This describes our lives, and the difficulty that we often find in living with the garbage on one side and the new life which God has made possible in the resurrection of Christ. Make no mistake, what God has accomplished in the brutal death of Christ on the cross is not simply limited to the forgiveness of sins…vital though that might be…but what God has accomplished through the death of Christ is showing us that resurrection is possible…and that nothing in all creation will separate us from the love and delight of the one that made us in the first place…not any little death…and not even death itself. (pause)

500 years ago God touched the heart of an arrogant pompous know it all monk…and reminded him that the righteous will live by faith…which might be better said that those who are righteous believe what God will do…and that God has already done what God said he’ll do…and what God has said is the righteousness that can try so hard for and ultimately fail in our thoughts, words, and deeds, is already given to us because God calls us righteous when he claims us as his beloved children.

2000 years ago God took on flesh and dwelled among us…and then died…and then rose again to show us…not just to tell us but to literally show us that resurrection from that which harms…resurrection from that which destroys….resurrection from that which kills…IS POSSIBLE. (pause)

I can’t help but find it a little bit ironic that today I’m talking about this tension that we experience in our life lived between Good Friday and Easter Sunday…between death and new life…because Easter is literally 6 months away…we are far away from it as we can possibly be today…and yet Christ continues to remind us, each and every day…that we are new creation…may we find life…may we find hope…in that promise. Amen.