Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

Behold 4-16-17 Easter Sunday

In this Easter Sunday sermon, I explore Matthew’s account of the Resurrection, found in 28:1-10. We see a lot…and we are intended to. The tomb is open so that we can be witnesses to what has occurred.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/behold-4-16-17-easter-sunday

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The first of my grandparents to die was my grandpa on my mom’s side.  He and my grandma had moved to the Phoenix Arizona are when I was 5 years old…and they were still living there in the midst of my junior year of college, when Grandpa, quite suddenly had a serious health problem. He hung in there for a while…long enough for my mom to get down there to see him…but shortly after that he died. There was a small funeral for him, attended by those who could make it…but the timing was off for me, happening right in the midst of college mid-terms and sadly, I was unable to attend.

Then about three years later…I was finished with college. My wife and I had been married for about 18 months or so, and we decided to fly down to Arizona to visit my grandma…and while we were there, the three of us hopped in the car and visited the cemetery where my grandpa had been buried.

Now of course, I had mourned my grandfather when he died…but when we walked up to his grave and I looked at his tombstone, I just…lost it. I can’t explain why this happened, but I learned an important lesson that day. There are certainly things that you just have to see in order to fully experience them…and in this case…it was the grave of my grandfather.

(pause) Now, perhaps it seems a little strange to kick off an easter sermon by talking about death. Admittedly, I sort of thought the same thing as I sat at my desk on Friday, working my way through the preparation of this message.  As you likely realize, Friday was, of course…Good Friday…and I struggled with this message because my head was in two different places…I was thinking about Good Friday and our worship service that was coming up that evening…and at the same time I was thinking about this morning and the joy of Easter Sunday…and I was stuck in that tension between the two…I was stuck in thoughts about death while I was trying to think about new life.

But then I read today’s gospel lesson again and I realized that this is exactly where the story of Easter begins…with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb…and rest assured, they know where to find it.  If we back track just a little ways, we hear that these two women have been witnesses to all that Jesus has endured. They are among the women standing there when he dies on the cross…and they are watching when his dead body is taken off the cross and laid in this very tomb.

And so, as the action picks up…early morning on this random Sunday 2000 years ago…these two women are walking to see the tomb.  That’s an interesting point here in Matthew’s gospel…there are no spices in tow…and nothing about going to anoint his body…the tomb is closed…he’s dead and buried…they are simply going to see the tomb.

Now I pondered on that fact for a while…and then I remembered what happened to me at my grandpa’s grave…sometimes you’ve got to see it…and maybe, just maybe they were going there in order to try and feel a tiny little bit of connection to this man that they had known and loved.

Isn’t that what we do when we visit a cemetery…when we walk up to the grave of someone that we loved in this life…when we sit there and talk to them…what is it that we are doing, besides trying to have a tiny little bit of connection to this beloved person who has crossed the boundary that death creates.

Make no mistake…we all know, as we walk up to that tombstone…that in no way are we going to see the person again. We know that if we talk them, they aren’t going to talk back again…we all know about this division…this boundary created by death…and the two women knew it too.

They knew he was dead…but yet they went to SEE the tomb…and make no mistake…they saw the tomb…but they saw a whole lot more than that…Interestingly enough…the phrase “to see” or “to behold” is all over this short passage today…and there is a lot to behold.

They went to behold to tomb…and BEHOLD…there was an earthquake….and BEHOLD and angel descended from heaven and rolled the stone away. The angel greets the women, telling them fear not…You are looking to Behold Jesus who was crucified…BUT BEHOLD…he is not here…come and see.

The angel has a message…and a command…go and tell the disciples…he has been raised…but go into Galilee and there you will BEHOLD the risen Christ…this is so amazing…also frightening…but with joy the women run away from the tomb…and wouldn’t you know it…BEHOLD, there’s Jesus….who tells them the very same thing…don’t be afraid, but go tell my brothers to go out into Galilee and there they will BEHOLD me. (pause)

If the old saying is true…and seeing is believing…then we’ve got a lot to believe today don’t we? But what is truly amazing to me, is that what the women expect to see is the polar opposite of what they experience. They went looking for the tomb…but they found a whole lot more…and so…do…we. (pause)
Now…I don’t even need to tell you that Christ is Risen do I? I mean, of course he has…but you already know that…you’re already here today…clearly the Resurrected Jesus is something that is prominent enough on your radar that you are already here.

But imagine if you didn’t know that…because that’s the situation the women found themselves in. They went expecting death…and interestingly enough…but what they experienced included and earthquake, and an angel opening up the tomb…and then the angel pointed something out to them…not the Risen Christ…they didn’t find him there…the angel pointed out the lack of a dead Jesus. You are looking for Jesus was crucified, but see he is not here.

Here’s the amazing thing about that angel’s message and action of rolling away the stone. He didn’t show up in order to let the risen Jesus out of the grave…somehow that had already happened, even with the stone blocking the entrance…he moved the stone to let the women…and to let us IN…so that we can BEHOLD that the tomb is empty…that death didn’t get the last word…and that somehow, some way, there’s more to this story.

Now in it in their fear AND great joy…experienced at the same time mind you…as they follow the command of the angel to go and tell the disciples what they experienced…that’s when they encounter Christ…not among the dead, but out there in the world….and his command, repeated to the women in order that they might share it with the disciples is the same…tell my brothers that they must go out into the world and THERE they will see me. (pause)

This is the big deal about today…like the women, we expect to find death…and sure enough, we all experience it…and I’m not just talking about physical death…but something I tend to call little deaths…because this world is not perfect…and our lives are not perfect…and simply being followers of Christ in whatever capacity we find ourselves today does not excuse us from that.

We come to worship this morning…expecting the empty tomb…expecting trumpets and joyful proclamations…expecting the Resurrected Jesus…BUT…we come bearing all sorts of little death…you know what they are in your life. Those things that you struggle with…those voices in the back of our heads that tell us that we aren’t good enough…that we aren’t smart enough…that we haven’t done and will NEVER be good enough. We all have those hardships…those trials…those things that stand in the way of joy. (pause)
BUT…the tomb is empty. (pause) Death doesn’t get the last word…and what we experience…what we see…what we BEHOLD in the empty tomb is that we have a God who can…who has…who DOES create new life out of death…and as we go forth…out there into the world, bearing the news that the tomb is empty…bearing the knowledge of our experience…of our own story about what we have seen God do in our lives…when we are out there….that’s where the joy of the resurrected Christ meets us…and as we share this news as WE have experienced it…just like the women…just like the disciples at the end of the gospel…that’s where we find the Resurrected Lord….not in here…because here today…we find an empty tomb…but out there…as we bear this news that the tomb is empty…that death doesn’t get the last word…as we look in the face of the beloved child of God that we share this news with….that’s where we see Jesus….and maybe, just maybe, they’ll see him too. (pause)
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, for he is risen…and that’s something to behold. Amen.

Death Stinks 4-2-17

In this sermon, based on John 11:1-45, I explore the raising of Lazarus, as well as the long story leading up to it. Death, like many of life’s other hardships, leave us asking the question “Where are you on this one?”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/death-stinks-4-2-17

You can 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

There’s a story about a young couple, maybe you’ve heard it before…but the story goes that this young man and woman get married, and on their first day together after they get home from the honeymoon, the new bride decides that she’s going to cook a big fancy meal for her new husband. So she goes out to the store and buys all the fixings…including a great big, tasty ham for the main dish.

Now he’s home when she’s cooking…and as she’s getting ready to put the ham in the roaster pan…he watches his new bride pull out a knife, and slice the end off the ham, before putting in the oven.  Now he’s curious…why would she do that…and so he asks the obvious question. Honey…why did you cut the end off the ham?  She looks at him for a moment, clearly thinking about it…and she responds…well…because that’s what my mom always did before she cooked a ham…I guess I don’t really know why. That’s just what my mom taught me.

So now both of them are a little curious…and so the young woman pulls out her cell phone, puts it on speaker and calls her mom.  Mom…when I was growing up, whenever you were cooking a ham, I remember that you always cut the end off…how come?  Mom thinks about it for a moment and replies…Well…because that’s what I always saw my mom do? I guess I really don’t know why? That’s just what my mom taught me. (pause)
You see where this is going. Now the young bride dials up Grandma…and poses the same question. Why do you cut the end off a ham before you cook it?  And Grandma laughs…well dear…when I was first married to your grandpa…we had a tiny little oven…so small, that I couldn’t fit an entire ham in it…and I got in the habit of cutting the end off so it would fit…and now that I think about it…I never stopped, even when I got a bigger oven. (pause)

Sometimes the things that just seem normal, have a very different, often unexpected reason why they start in the first place. We have many different examples in our day to day lives…things that we do, because that’s just what you do…but they have their roots in something specific.

And one of these things happens around the subject of funerals.  Now the first funeral I remember going to was my great grandmother when I was about 8 years old…and I don’t remember much of anything about that day…except the flowers. The front of the church was blanketed in flowers…and with good reason.  Because when someone dies, what do we do? A batch of us get together and place an order to have flowers sent…its just what you do…and I know that, because that’s what my mom taught me.

But have you ever stopped to consider the reason why? Why do we send flowers? Why is the automatic association with someone’s death, flowers? There’s a reason…but it goes back aways…back before the days of funeral homes…and mortuaries. Back when most people didn’t die in a hospital…they died at home…they’d get sick…they’d be cared for in their final days at home in their bed…and then when they died…the body would stay right there…and when loved ones came for the visitation, they would find the bedroom draped in fresh flowers. Because fresh flowers give off a pleasant smell…and that smell was intended to cover up the smell of death.

Now in the years since, we’ve outsourced funeral prep…and that’s not a bad thing…but in the process, the flowers have just become the go-to sympathy gift…and the masking of death has gone the route of science. We prepare bodies for the funeral in an attempt to hold off decomposition…and we dress up the body, with nice clothes and makeup…trying to make the individual look life-like, and pleasant, and nice…but make no mistake. Death isn’t nice.  Death has an effect…and death has a smell.

Now many of here today are familiar with farm life. And one of things that I can remember most vividly, having grown up around livestock, as the rendering truck when an animal died. That smell is locked in my brain…you can’t put it in words…but its awful…and that smell sticks with you. Last summer, we were sitting at a baseball game for my son…and this particular field was right next to a gravel road…and as we sat there, 3 or 4 different times the rendering truck drove by…and for about 5 minutes…all you can smell is…death.

Now imagine for a moment…that you are Mary and Martha…and your brother has died…and not only that, he’s been in the tomb 4 days…not just dead, but buried…enclosed…rotting…and then Jesus shows up, and he asks you to open the tomb. (pause) That’s exactly what happens today, but interestingly enough not till quite late in this rather lengthy story.

We hear that Lazarus is sick…this man, who along with his two sisters are beloved friends of Jesus. And this is a sickness that isn’t going to get any better so they send word to Jesus…because if anyone can help him…if anyone can make a difference…its Jesus…he’s opened the eyes of a blind man after all…certainly, he can heal Lazarus…

But when Jesus hears the news…he promptly sits around for 2 more days before finally working up the gumption to head towards Bethany…and by the time he meanders there…as we have heard…Lazarus is already rotting away in the tomb.

Needless to say, the sisters…well they’re a little perturbed aren’t they…and apparently they are close enough to Jesus…that they can get away with ripping into him a little bit…and we hear the exact same accusation from both them at different times. If you had been here…my brother wouldn’t have died.

Now I can’t help but think that this is a pretty common reaction…when something bad happens…when something occurs in our lives that we can’t make heads or tails of…and we happen to be in the group of people that express belief in God…I think its safe to say that at one time or another…we have probably all uttered a statement like that haven’t we…or maybe asked the question…Hey God…where were on that one?

I think there are many different examples of things that happen in our lives that bring that question to our minds. Its not just limited to a illness and death…maybe we ask it when our family faces a financial crisis…or when we lose a job.  Maybe we’ve prayed that our marriage will work out…but instead it deteriorates and we find ourselves getting divorced.

Or maybe we are facing the trials of bullying with no end in sight…or maybe we’re being abused…or maybe we’re facing the difficulties of mental illness…there are countless ways that people suffer…and as we look around this room today…who knows what someone is experiencing in the depths of their heart…who knows what hardships are present…hardships that make us ask the question “Where are you on this one God?”

But if the story of Lazarus shows us anything today, its this.  While God might not act according our timing…and while God might not respond to our prayers or requests or questions quite like we hope for…God isn’t afraid to get into stuff that’s messy.

Take the stone away…Lord he’s gonna smell. I don’t care…take it away. (pause) A lot has happened in this story before Jesus cries out in a great big voice…a voice that’s somehow big enough that not even death can hinder it.  Jesus has been accused of not caring.  He’s been blamed for coming too late…but he’s also witnessed death of someone that he loves…and he’s gotten mad…and he’s mourned…but now…finally we see that somehow, someway…Jesus, God in the flesh…cries out in the same voice that spoke creation into existence in the beginning…and in this same amazing voice…he speaks to the dead…and the dead listens. (pause)

That’s the amazing thing about this God that we serve…this God that we worship…this God that we look to for salvation…This God, is willing to get messy…this God is willing to step into those things that make no sense…those things that bring us pain…even death. God gets into it…and not only that, but God get’s his hands dirty in the process…because life’s messy and so is death…its messy because of the way that power of sin has twisted our reality away from that which is good and joyful…but we have a God who loves us so much…who loves us beyond anything we can imagine…this God will go to any length in order to overcome that brokenness.

And that is what the cross is all about…We are almost there…next week Jesus gets to Jerusalem…and just a few days later, he’s betrayed…he’s beaten…he tortured…and he’s nailed to a cross where he suffers and dies. (pause) But the cross is not about God saying I’m so angry with you that I’ll punish my son. (pause) The cross is God saying I’ll endure even this to show you that I love you. (pause)

I am the resurrection and the life. These words of Jesus are a corrective today…both for Martha and for us…because there is this misconception that the life death and resurrection of Jesus is only something that’s intended to benefit us out there in the unknown future.  But Jesus reminds us that we live in the hope of the resurrection…and through that hope we live in the freedom from all that which hinders us…right here right now…and if we don’t believe that…then look at the tomb…because Jesus get in the stink…and cries out in that amazing voice that not even death can stop and says Lazarus come out.  (pause)
And this same God calls us by name…inviting us into a new life…a life free from the things that hinder us…a life where we are not defined by what the world says about us.

And so, wherever you find yourself today…whatever it is in your life that isolates you…whatever suffering makes you ask the question Where are you on this one God…rest assured…that whether we are able to recognize it or not…God…is right beside you…whether it makes sense or not…and as I say this, I pose the same question that Jesus asked Martha…Do you believe this?

I hope so…because believing it grants a freedom that goes beyond words…a freedom that goes beyond the ability to explain…but I believe that its true…I don’t know why…its just what faith has taught me. Amen

This Makes No Sense 3-27-16

HE HAS RISEN!

In this sermon for Easter Sunday, taken from Luke 24:1-12, I explore the empty tomb and the angelic proclamation, but recognize that we have yet to see the Lord.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-makes-no-sense-3-27-16

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

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

During my first couple of years of college, I worked part time for a local pharmacy. I had a few different duties in that job, but my main one was making deliveries. The store offered the service of deliveries, a service utilized by quite a few shut-ins around the community, not to mention the three different nursing homes in town.

Now I really enjoyed this job, because the majority of my time was spent driving around town in my boss’ brand new, light blue, Chevy pickup, and keep in mind that this was in the late 90’s right about the time that remote car locks came on the scene. That was always my favorite part of deliveries. First stepping out of the truck and clicking that button, hearing the “CHIRP” of the horn…or on the flipside walking back out to the truck, hitting the button in my hand as I stepped up to door, and hearing the click of the door unlocking.

Except one time…I had just made a delivery to one of the nursing homes…and was walking back out through the parking lot…and as I stepped around the front end of a light blue pickup, I clicked that button…and nothing happened…so a second later when I reached out for the door handle…it didn’t open.

I didn’t think too much of it…and so I clicked the button again…nothing…now things are starting to get weird…but I thought, hey, I’ve still got the actual keys in my hand…I guess I’ll just unlock the door manually…kids, you might not realize this, but there was a time when we actually had to pull our keys out of our pockets and stick them in the car door to unlock it…crazy huh?

But when I tried that…it didn’t work either…and I just kinda stood there for a moment in disbelief…my mind could not comprehend the problem…which I’m guessing by now you have figured out (pause). Wrong truck…there happened to be 2 different light blue Chevy pickups sitting in the lot in that moment…and I was standing at the driver’s door of the wrong one…something that I discovered when I finally had the brilliant thought to click the lock button and I heard the “CHIRP”…from two spots away. (pause) Now I wish I could tell you that this is the only time that has ever happened to me…but I can’t. I did the exact same thing just a month or two ago in the parking lot down at Walmart…when I walked right up to a maroon Chrysler 200…and could not figure out why I couldn’t see the light’s flashing when I hit the unlock button…

Sometimes our minds just cannot accept the truth of what we are seeing…we cannot manage to wrap our heads around what are witnessing or experiencing. (pause)

And now…Easter Sunday…the Resurrection…one of the most important instances within the entire Bible…so important…that it is one of those stories featured in all four gospels…now of course, each account has some small differences in terms of details…but the overarching arc of this event holds true.

Jesus is buried on Friday…everyone waits through Saturday…women go to the tomb first thing Sunday morning…the stone is removed…the tomb is empty…and angels show up making proclamations about what has happened. (pause) That about covers it right? And Luke’s account that we have shared today is no exception.

But one thing about it that jumps out at me…is that the women must have had an experience sort of like what I did when I could not wrap my head around the issue with the car doors failing to unlock…now keep in mind, the women had watched everything happen on Friday…including the removal of Jesus body…and the placement of his body in the tomb…that’s why I included those extra couple of verses at the beginning of the gospel today…there can be no doubt…they watched it happen…and they knew…where the body of Jesus was…they knew where they were going.

And so when they show up early Sunday morning…and they find an open tomb…confusion…for they had seen the stone rolled in front of the door…but all that aside…then they step into the tomb…expecting to see a dead body, wrapped in linen, laying there on the stone floor of this small cave, carved out of solid rock.

But when they step into that tomb…there’s no body…and we hear that they were perplexed…which is really just a nice way of saying that they lost their minds over this. HOW CAN THIS BE? WHERE IS HIS BODY? WHERE IS THE LORD? (pause)
All logic says that his body should be laying there in the tomb…it was there a couple days ago…it should be there now…but…it…isn’t. And all the women see…all they experience in this moment…is an empty tomb…an empty grave…his body was here…and now it isn’t. (pause)

And as they stood there…perplexed…confused…out of nowhere…a couple of angels show up with a pretty question. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  Imagine being the women in that moment…faced with this question…Why are you looking for him here? “Well duh…he’s dead…this is his grave…where else would he be?”

But then the angels give them the rest of the story…Yes…he was dead…but no longer…and look he is not here for he has risen…Remember his words that he told you…he predicted that this would happen…he told you he would die but then…that he would be raised.

And with that…the divine light bulb goes off for the women…and they remember that Yes…JESUS DID TELL US THIS…and it has come true…and that confusion…that state of being perplexed…that lifts…and their minds and their hearts are filled with faith…with belief…and not just belief in what the angels were telling them…but belief in the promise that Jesus had made…that he would rise again…and filled with this faithful joy, they run off to the disciples and share their experience.

I can only imagine the excitement that the women were feeling and showing as they shared the news…that the tomb is empty and angels appeared saying he is risen…can you imagine it?  (pause) Well something tells me that they must have been pretty worked up, because as we hear…the disciples…the very individuals who you would fully expect to get it…to understand it…to believe it…don’t. Luke tells us that the disciples thought the women were feeding them an idle tail…which is just a really nice politically correct way of saying the disciples thought this was a giant load of B.S…and they don’t believe a word of it.

The only one to even give it a second thought is Peter…and we hear that he runs off to see the empty tomb…only to head off from there in amazement…aka…just as confused as the women initially found themselves. (pause)
So just what the heck is going on here? We’ve got an empty tomb…and we’ve got an announcement of the Risen Lord…but what we don’t have…is a Risen Lord…granted…he shows up later…Later on that day he pops up on the road walking with two random disciples who cover 7 miles without recognizing him, until he breaks bread for them.

We hear somewhere during the day he shows up to Peter…and then later that night…he shows up out of nowhere with the entire group of disciples…who freak out, thinking he’s a ghost…and its not until he grabs a hunk of fish and eats it in front of them that they start to believe that its really him…

But that’s all later…here today…in our joyous celebration of Easter Sunday…there is no Jesus present…and when I realized that…it really made me stop and pay attention…and I began to ask the question…what is it that we are celebrating today? (pause
And the answer…the tomb is empty…and there has been an announcement that he is risen…and at this point…that’s it…HALLELUJAH!!!!! AN EMPTY CAVE! (pause)

But you know what…we all know that’s the not the end of the story…and even though we cut it off there today…it goes on…and we do hear about those instances when Jesus shows himself to his followers…and the interactions they have with the Resurrected Lord before he eventually ascends to Heaven and sends the Holy Spirit among us…and gradually, as those different individuals encountered the Risen Lord, they believed…but Jesus had a message for them…You have believed because you have seen me…blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.

And guess what my friends…that includes us…because look around…Have we seen the Lord? (pause) As much as I would love to say yes…I can’t…can you? (Pause) And yet you are here…and why? Well, because somewhere there is an empty tomb…missing a body…and because someone proclaimed to you that He Has Risen…

Now the funny thing about this…is that there are two possible reactions to this…two ways to respond to an empty grave and a proclamation of Resurrection…we can believe it as the women did…or we can blow it off as a big load of B.S. like the disciples did at first. (pause)
And think about it…doesn’t that pretty much cover the bases of responses? It does for me…because for a long time…I thought it was…and IDLE TAIL…but I kept hearing the proclamation…the words that Jesus himself had said…that he would be killed and then he would rise…and somehow…someway…the Holy Spirit managed to get in my brain…and I believed it. (pause) And since you are here…I’m guessing that you believed it too…maybe even just a little tiny bit…enough to bring you hear today to see if maybe, just maybe that tomb really is empty.

But others don’t…that’s just a reality of the world we live in…some believe this news that we claim as the best news in the world…but some laugh it off…because its utterly ludicrous to think that IF there’s a God out there…that God would become human…and that God would die…or that someone who had died…would come back. It defies all logic…and our minds cannot make sense of it. (pause) Mine couldn’t.

But maybe that’s okay…and maybe we don’t have to make sense of it…maybe we don’t have to understand it…maybe, the tomb just has to be empty…and someone needs to tell us He is Risen…Amen.

Own It 11-1-15

This week’s sermon for All Saints Sunday comes from John 11:32-44. I explore Jesus’ emotional response when faced with the death of someone he cares for, and what we can learn from that.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/own-it-11-1-15

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

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

It never ceases to amaze me how things intended to be entertainment have the ability to strike me on very deep levels…and its no single form that applies. It can be a song, or it can be a story, or a tv show, or a movie, and sometimes even a well-made commercial tugs at my heart strings.

But for any of you who have heard me preach before, it’ll come as no great shock that a good movie is usually the type of entertainment that gets me more often than not. And in recent memory, the Pixar movie Inside Out got me. If you haven’t seen it…you should. The movie is excellent and appeals to people of all ages.

The premise behind this movie is that each and every person has a tiny command center in their brains where the various emotions that we all have share the load of controlling our reactions to the outside world. And each emotion is a character in itself. The main character is a young girl named Riley…a delightful little girl who’s life has been dominated with happy memories…and as such…Joy…is the emotion that’s the boss within her mind…yet there are also aspects of sadness, and fear, and anger, and disgust…just a few of the many different emotions that we all experience within our own lives.

Over the course of the movie, changes happen in the young girls life, leading to various adventures both in the real world, as well as for the emotion-characters that live within her…and by the end of the film everyone learns that our lives cannot be dominated by joy alone, but that other emotions help shape who we are as well…and not only that, but that they are a natural reaction to the different experiences we encounter.

I think this movie resonated with me in such a powerful way because of two different reasons…the first one being that I am a parent, and part of helping my kids grow up is helping them learn this truth, that life is hard and its okay to experience the emotions that we experience…and that we aren’t always going to be joyful all the time. (pause) And of course, that doesn’t just apply to my interaction with my kids as a parent…but it also fits in very well with my work as a pastor, as I am invited into the many different aspects of life together with you. (pause)
Now I was thinking about that the other day…and I had a pretty important realization…in my younger years…I didn’t get this concept at all. I remember a time when I was in my late teens…probably about my senior year in high school…and I ended up in a conversation with an individual that I knew, but I not very well…but for whatever reason she was sharing some incredibly personal stuff with me…hard experiences that greatly upset her…and I just couldn’t handle it…and instead of just being there with her as she experienced the emotions that came along with the memories…I acted goofy to try and get her to smile and be happy…because I couldn’t handle it any other way. (pause) And so…full disclosure…I would have been a really lousy pastor at 18…good thing I waited till my mid-30’s right? (pause)

Now I bring all of this up to embrace the fact…to be honest with the notion that life is hard, its messy…and we are hardwired in ways that we don’t understand…to have emotional reactions to all aspects of life that run the gambit…and today is one of those days when we acknowledge what is perhaps the single most difficult aspect of life to deal with…and that is death.

All Saints Day…the day every year when we remember and acknowledge those who have gone on before us into the great unknown that is death…and I’ll be honest…this is kind of a hard day, because to honor those who have died is to first acknowledge, once again, their death…and then to instantly feel the sting of various emotions that happened when we faced their death in the first place. (pause)

One of the bits of advice that I offer families in those times is to not shy away from the emotions that they experience, but to let them happen…and I can remember many different conversations that I’ve had with different individuals, when they have expressed a wide variety of emotion…sadness…anger…fear…loneliness…just to name a few…and perhaps they can all be categorized together by saying that facing the death of a loved one is painful…and while there is no real way to explain just why we feel the way we do…perhaps it is simply because death causes a rift…it creates a space, a separation…a chasm that we can’t cross…and that person…that individual that we care so much about…is gone from our lives in a way that just…hurts. (pause)
This is our reality…death exists, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not…its there…and if I only ever teach you one thing about the Bible…let it be this…that the Bible is honest about our reality. (pause)

In today’s story, we hear of Jesus’ encounter with the death of someone he cares about…the death of Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha…a family that for whatever reason…is beloved of Jesus on the personal level…and while this story is not the only example that we have of Jesus raising some from the dead…it does have some important distinctions…in two other stories…we hear of Jesus’ compassion leading him to raise a young man from death in order to care for his widowed mother…and then Jesus’ raising a young girl back to life in response to the great faith of her father…but in both of those stories…there are two things lacking that we see in this story…an acknowledgement of our messy reality…and Jesus’ personal response to it. (pause)

There are certain aspects of this story that always strike me as significant…the first being that when Jesus first hears that Lazarus is sick…which occurs in the first part of the chapter…he waits…so that by the time he gets there…Lazarus is dead…and has been 4 days…so much so that several times in the passage he is simply called “the dead man.” There can be no doubt that he…is…dead…So much so, that his sister Martha makes a statement that at first glance is kinda funny. Lord, he’s gonna smell…he’s been dead 4 days. Admittedly I always though that was a just a humorous throw away statement…but then I realized that it speaks to another truth….that not only is life messy…but so is death…both in the physical sense as well as in the emotional…and that leads me to my next point…Jesus’ response to all this. (pause)

As our story picks up today, Jesus already knows that Lazarus is dead…that’s made quite clear, particularly as he encounters Martha, prior to the start of today’s passage…and following her crabbing him out, he has a brief teaching moment for her, before encountering Mary…who repeats the crabbing…If you had been here he wouldn’t have died…and then, in response…something happens in John that turns everything on its head. (pause)
John’s gospel makes it very clear that Jesus invites us to come and see…he invites us to follow him…he invites us to experience relationship with him for ourselves…but in today’s story, that invitation is flipped.

Jesus asks…where have you laid him…and HE…is invited to come and see. Jesus…receives the invitation to come and experience it for himself…and remember that Jesus is God in human form…and so we see that God comes to experience something completely foreign to him…death…but the important part is that that God is experiencing death now…as one of us…fully human.

And Jesus has quite the reaction…twice in this passage we hear that he is “greatly disturbed.” But this is one of those lost in translation moments…because the original language indicates that Jesus get’s incredibly angry within himself. He’s seething…not just upset…but Jesus witnesses death…and he gets mad….but that’s not the only response…we also hear that Jesus wept…he felt sorrow at the death of one that he loves…and if Jesus experiences the gambit of emotion at the death of someone he cares about…emotions ranging from anger to sadness…then perhaps it comes as no great shock that we experience the same range of emotion when we are faced with the same situation…we are, after all…made in the image of God…so if God gets upset, maybe we need to give ourselves a pass to experience the emotions as they come…the anger, the sadness…the pain that occurs when someone we love crosses that barrier that we can’t cross with them…when that separation occurs…when the person that has been a part of our life in this reality, crosses over into something different…when they are lost into the abyss that is…death.(pause)

But there’s more to the story isn’t there? (pause) Because while we share the fully human emotional response to death that Jesus experienced…Jesus is able to do something about that which we are powerless against…and we see in the story today, that the stone is pulled back and Jesus cries out in a loud voice…the name of Lazarus…and wherever it is that Lazarus is…that void, that abyss…that place where dead people are…he hears his name called by God…and it brings him back from it. (pause)

God is able to do that…and this is just a glimpse of what is to come at some unknown point in the future…and our second lesson today, found in the book of Revelation gives us just a glimpse of this…when God ultimately does something to this reality as it is today.

God dwells among mortals…and he himself wipes away every tear from their eyes…death will be no more…mourning and crying and pain will be no more…for the first things have passed away. (pause) I love the way that passage opens…that we see the new heaven and the new earth and the old has passed away…but not only that…we hear that the sea is no more.

In Jewish culture…the sea was the abyss…it represents the unknown…the uncross able…the depths that we cannot penetrate…and I think we see today that this abyss applies to wherever it was that Lazarus had gone when death claimed him…yet God in human form was able to call him back from it…and on that glorious day whenever it will be…God will call the names of all those who have gone into the abyss…that will include those who have gone on before us now…and not only that, but it will also include each one of us…for like Lazarus…and like those we remember today, one day each and every one of us will also experience death for ourselves…and we too, will cross over that boundary into the abyss…into the unknown depths of death.

But Jesus makes a promise…one that we didn’t quite catch in our story today, but that I’ll share anyway…as Jesus is talking with Martha, he promises “I am the resurrection and the life…those who believe in me…THOUGH THEY DIE…WILL live…do you believe this?”

We have a God who recognizes all aspects of our reality…the messiness of life…the pain and emotion caused by death…and ultimately, we have a God who has experienced death for himself…and all of this in order to over come it…and that same God, who experiences the same gambit of emotions that we ourselves feel in these painful times, promises us…that there is more to come.

So don’t fear the emotions that you experience…don’t deny them…own them…let ‘em happen…because grief is something that you can’t ignore, you have to go through it…just as Jesus did when faced with the death of one he loves.

God mourns our reality, and shares our response to it…but cling to the hope we have in the promise that God has also done something about it…and one day, one glorious day we will hear our names called in a loud voice, bringing us back from that which can no longer hold us. Bringing each and every one of us back from the abyss…simply because he loves us enough to do it…he loves us just as much as he loved Lazarus…do you…believe this? It is my hope and my prayer that you do…because the promise is for you…Own it. Amen.

That Reminds Me 7-12-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 6:14-29, I explore the rather odd story of the death of John the Baptist, recounted in Mark’s gospel through a flashback. This odd and almost brutal account highlights the power of misunderstanding, and yet reveals an important nugget of truth.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/that-reminds-me-7-12-15

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

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Over the course of this past week, our congregation hosted VBS, a wonderful summer tradition…and from 9am-2pm, Monday through Thursday, the church was buzzing…all kinds of stuff going on. The younger kids laughing and playing…older kids serving as helpers…all sorts of volunteers here to help out in different ways…it was wonderful.

And as I freely admit to having the gift of gab, a great deal of this week, I was not…sitting in my office…rather, I was moving around the church, engaging various people in conversations…and these conversations covered a wide variety of different topics…and not only varying from person to person…but in certain situations…the topics jumped all over the place within single conversations with single individuals.

And you know what…I absolutely love that sort of thing…those unplanned interactions…those unexpected tangents that conversations can take. (Pause) Now certainly, this sort of thing happens all of the time, but I’ve often noticed that it will happen much more frequently when I’m in conversation with another person that I really get along with well…one thing idea leads to another…one discussion jumps into a different discussion…one story sparks off another story…and it seems like these tangents are always introduced with the phrase “OH…THAT REMINDS ME…”

Ever found yourself in a conversation like that…one that keeps jumping around because one thought leads to the next…and the next thing you know a whole bunch of time has passed as the two of you sit there just sharing stories…sometimes these are stories that you experienced on your own…other times, depending on the individual…maybe they’re stories that you were both a part of…and you find yourself simply reliving those times together…bonding over that shared experience…and whether you realize it or not…strengthening your relationship through the power of story. (pause)
Now perhaps it comes as no great shock to you that I absolutely love this sort of thing…I love sharing stories…I love hearing stories and learning about one another through hearing them…and I ABSOLUTELY… love finding myself in the midst of a conversation that is filled with “OH…THAT REMINDS ME…”

But now here’s the thing…there are times when these stories…that are almost interruptions within a conversation…can take us to some really odd experiences…not necessarily bad…not necessarily good either…just odd…those times when a story comes out of nowhere…and really doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything you’ve been talking about. They can be fun…they can enlightening…but they can also be really confusing.

And that…is where today’s story comes in…Because today’s story…is one of those odd…confusing situations…one of those stories…that seems to come out of nowhere. (pause) Now before I really dive in today…let me set the scene for you…and keep in mind that this story occurs in the midst of Mark’s gospel…which as you may recall is a story where the author is telling us the Good News…of Jesus Christ…the son of God…and in the middle of this story…Mark…goes on one heck of a tangent. (pause)

Now right before this passage…before this story…we hear that Jesus has sent the disciples out 2 by 2 into the countryside…they head out to proclaim the gospel…to heal diseases…to cast out demons…in short…Jesus sends them out to do the very same stuff that he’s already been doing…and then…right after today’s story…we hear that once this mission is done…the disciples and Jesus all come back together and talk about what they’ve been up to.

In short…if we skipped today’s passage…the story would continue on with no interruption…it would flow along in a perfectly acceptable way…and it would make perfect sense…And yet…right in the midst…Mark seems to go “OH…NOW THAT REMINDS ME.” (pause) and we are treated with a story…with a quite detailed anecdote…regarding the death of John the Baptist. (pause)

Because at first glance…this has nothing to do with where we’re at in the gospel itself. We’re in the midst of Jesus’ ministry…we’re smack dab in the middle of the disciple’s first test as proclaimers of the gospel…and now we hear this…Herod…one of the powers that be in the area…has, flexed his muscles…in the past mind you…and arrest John simply because John pointed out the fact…that Herod’s been breaking the rules by marrying his brother’s wife. Come on Herod…you know better…that’s a no-no.

And Herod responds…seemingly because his sister in law turned wife gets a little cranky about…I guess Herod believes in that old notion of happy wife-happy life…but knowing full well that John’s got a pretty substantial backing from many people…and he’s got a good reputation…Herod locks him up in jail…but up to this point has been protecting him…that is until an odd situation occurs with his step daughter, herself in the midst of a situation she really shouldn’t be in…and now Herod’s wife takes full advantage of a momentary slip up from her husband…to get John killed…bring me the head of John the Baptist…on a platter…a lovely mealtime site I’m sure….and now Herod…needing to save face…because all his cronies heard him make the promise…has to go through with it…and so John ends up substantially shorter in stature.

And I’ll pose the question one more time…what on earth does this have to do with the gospel? (pause) Certainly this is a crazy situation that we find ourselves in. Mark, tell this story…which is literally a flashback…this all happened quite a while before Jesus’ started garnering a following…and not only that…but John’s story is really over by this point…he had served his purpose as the herald of the coming Messiah…so why do we need to hear about his, rather pointless death…at this point? (pause)
After pondering on this question for quite awhile…I did start see the connection…or at least to recognize what it was that made Mark go “OH…THAT REMINDS ME.” And here it is…as the disciples are out on their two by two mission, word is spreading…people are talking…they’re talking about Jesus…they’re talking about the disciples that are doing miraculous things in his name…word, is getting around…and it even reaches into the palace…arriving in the ears of Herod.

And Herod, of course, starts asking questions as well…Who is this guy? We need to check him out…because Herod has people that he answers to as well…and in this case it’s the Romans who might just take issue with anyone out there in the public developing a following…you see the Romans don’t like it when too many people start banding together behind someone other than them…that’s how uprisings get started…and so if they catch wind of this type of thing, they’ll crack down on their appointed authorities, which as you might have gathered…includes Herod.

And so everyone is asking the question…who is this guy? It seems to be the big conversation of the day…Some say its Elijah…other’s a prophet…and it makes sense that people would say this…it was part of their religious understanding that God would raise up prophets once again…but when Herod heard it…he could only think…Its John…He’s back…I had him killed…but…he’s back. (pause)

Now to us that might seem like a strange conclusion to come to…After all, Herod knows that John is dead…he ordered it…he saw John’s severed head served up on a platter…perhaps with a fine wine along side…and as everyone knows…when you’re dead, you’re dead…that’s it. Want someone silenced? Kill ‘em…because dead men tell no tails. Pirates know it…mobsters know it…the Romans knew it…and you better believe that Herod knew it to.

But yet, that’s the conclusion that Herod reaches…this odd man traveling around…preaching a new gospel…curing the sick, casting out demons…it must be John raised from the dead and that is where these powers are coming from. (pause)
Now I don’t know about you…but I hear this statement from Herod…and doesn’t it seem sorta foolish? All thoughts of Jesus and resurrection aside…why would Herod come up with something like this….He was dead but now he’s alive again and that’s why he can do this…Herod might as well be accusing him of witchcraft and having him burned at the stake…because he seems to be explaining this away with magic…with mystical powers only brought on through the power of death…

And yet…if we think about it…maybe there would have been some evidence to support this idea. Because as Jesus has been traveling around…performing miracles…one of the things he’s done…already by this point…is raise people from the dead. We heard about just a couple weeks ago when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus…there’s another story when Jesus happens upon a funeral in the village of Nain and out of pity for the widow, he raises her son from the dead…later on he would visit the home of Lazurus…who’d been dead in the tomb pushing a week, and Jesus raised him too. (pause)
And I’m betting those stories had reached the ears of Herod as well…and you know what…that’s pretty major…Because as we all know…once you’re dead, you’re dead…but all of the sudden, that’s out the window. (pause) If people won’t stay dead, then the rules don’t apply anymore. (pause) If people won’t stay dead, then we can’t count on anything to stay the way its “supposed to. (Pause) If people won’t stay dead…well then who know what might happen next.

And the thing that really caught my attention as I was thinking about all this…is that Herod, despite making a claim that we all know is pretty foolish…despite making a claim that makes no sense, and is something that maybe we want to laugh off as foolishness…Herod…actually has a grain of truth in the midst of his doorknob statement.

Herod claims that through resurrection, these powers…these miracles…are possible…and while he misidentifies Jesus as the resurrected John, he’s correct in saying that the power that makes resurrection possible is responsible for all this. Because Jesus carries the power of God…Jesus carries the power to heal…the power to cast out demons…the power over death…a power that he would later showcase when God raised HIM from the grave.

And that my friends…is something to stop and consider…because if people won’t stay dead because of the power of God…well then all bets are off…and who knows just what God might do.

Maybe God choses to act within some stressful situation, eliminating or reducing the negative effect…maybe God choses to heal a horrible disease…maybe God choses to soften the heart of someone that we had written off…who know what God will do? (pause) I can’t speak for what God will chose to do in your lives…I can only look back and see God’s fingerprints in my experience…but I sure love those times when I get to sit down and listen to you share what God has done in yours. (pause)

Sometimes we can see these experiences…these God moments pretty clearly…other times our eyes are clouded to it. Herod didn’t quite understand just what was going on in today’s story…and likewise we don’t always understand either…and that’s okay, tough at times, but okay in the long run…because in the long run, the one who carries the power over death has promised us that one day, we will join with him in the resurrection…whether it makes sense or not…because that…is what God is up to, even when we’re not paying attention.

That’s the gospel…that’s the good news…oh…and that reminds me…the gospel, its for you. Amen.

Too Good To Be True 4-19-15

This week’s sermon is based on Luke 24:36b-48. This is Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples post-resurrection. I explore what’s going on when he eats with the disciples.

https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/too-good-to-be-true-4-19-15

You can also read 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
Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a situation that was beyond your ability to believe it? One of those moments that is monumentous and wonderful that you can’t quite wrap your head around the notion that this is actually happening…simply because it is so unexpected? (pause)
I found myself thinking about moments like this…and as I thought back through my life…I can remember some pretty big moments…exciting, wonderful, emotional moments…like the day that I asked Emily to marry me…and our wedding day…the first time I held each of my kids…more recently there was the day I finally graduated from Luther Seminary after A LOT of years of work…and then finally the day that my old mentor drapped a red stole around my shoulders at my ordination.
These were all amazing moments…but they were moments that I knew were coming…moments that I worked towards…moments that I planned out…and so as wonderful as they were…these are not the moments that I’m talking about…those moments that happen out of the blue and take us completely off guard.
Now I’ve had some unexpected situations as well…random acts of kindness thrown my direction…or opening letters informing me of scholarships…and a few brushes with celebrities here and there…but in all honesty, I’ve never really had an experience of something so amazingly unexpected that I found myself saying “I can’t believe this is really happening right now.” And that was confirmed for me when a random posting on Facebook this week led me to a video of a young women who had been deaf since early childhood received a cocular implant and heard sounds again for the first time in over 25 years…hearing her husband’s voice for the first time…and she is overcome with emotion at this amazing gift…and you can hear her say through her tears of joy “I can’t believe this is real.” (pause)
And that right there…seems to be the situation that the disciples find themselves in within today’s gospel story. (pause) Now, admittedly, this story may sound kind of familiar…if you were here last week we actually heard John’s account of this same story…when Jesus appears in the upper room to the disciples for the first time post resurrection.
And perhaps that seems a little strange that we would hear the exact same story two weeks in a row…particularly when they are so similar…and yet here in these early weeks of the season of Easter…it likely serves as a good reminder for us…because when we think about it for a moment…and we get honest with ourselves…I think the joyous note of Easter morning tends to pass by pretty quickly…and all too often the notion that the tomb IS empty…and that Christ IS risen, fades into the back of our minds as we go back about our normal day to day life. And so, these repeated reminders that Jesus was really raised from the dead…and he really did appear to different people are important for us to continue experiencing.
And of the 4 Gospels, none of them does as thorough of a job of recounting these experiences than Luke…but it is, admittedly…a long tail. Easter morning…the women go to the tomb…and find it empty…and an angel tells them that Jesus is risen, but no one sees him…and the women go off to tell the disciples…who discount it as an “idle tail.” …idle tail…if you’re wondering…that’s the nice way of letting us know that the disciples though the women were full of crap.
But then we hear of two random disciples walking down the road, returning home, when they encounter the risen Jesus…but don’t realize it…at least not until he opens up the scriptures to them, and then when he breaks bread with them, their eyes are opened and they realize that it is truly Jesus…and they run back to Jerusalem to find the disciples and share that they have seen the Lord…and in the midst of this very conversation…confusing though it must have been…Jesus himself is standing in the midst of them.
And though they first think “IT’S A GHOST!” Jesus assures them that this, is not…the case. (pause) Look at my hands and feet…see the holes there…its me…and I’m really hear…touch me and see that I am flesh and bone. (pause)
And then we hear these tell-tale words…while in their joy, they were disbelieving and still wondering. (pause) Luke doesn’t say it hear, but I’m guessing that at least one of the disciple said those same words “I can’t believe this is real.” (pause)
Could you? (pause) Think about it for a moment…this man that they loved…this man that they followed…that they put all of their stock into, traipsing along after him for three years…watching the miracles…listening to the teaching…but more than anything…simply loving the man…and he died. There can be no doubt of that…Jesus…was…dead. Laid in a tomb where he remained for several days. And if logic tells us anything, both today as well as 2000 odd years ago…when someone’s dead…that’s it…there’s no coming back from that…all hope of resurrection aside…Jesus was dead…but now, it seems like that’s no longer the case…of course the disciples were confused…but happy too…because he was alive again…but just think about how mind-blowing this had to be in that instant when Jesus is suddenly standing among them…talking to them.
But then, God’s never one to do things that we expect is he? (pause) God seems to be one who likes to open a new can of worms every once in awhile…and in the midst of this incredible encounter…Jesus takes action…and opens up some other stuff too. There’s a greek word that I really like…so much in fact that Emily once got a sign made with this word for me…and the word is dianoigo…which means to open completely…and in the 24th chapter of Luke, we hear it a few different times…When those two disciples eyes are finally opened to recognize Jesus…its dianoigo…when Jesus is opening the scriptures to them…to see how they point towards him…its dianoigo…and now when Jesus explains those same scriptures to his disciples…its dianoigo as he opens their minds to understand how those Old Testament scriptures point towards the amazing work that God has been doing and is continuing to do within the world…but the awesome thing about this…is that it cannot begin to make sense to us until we can view it through the lens of the resurrection of Jesus.
It’s one of those things that can only happen in hindsight because prior to the resurrection of Jesus, we had no basis to place the love of God. But when we think about it now, doesn’t it make sense…that yah…of course we have a God that loves humanity so much that he chooses to do something about the great separation…that He would chose to do something about death…that he would chose to overcome it. (pause)
That’s all pretty amazing to stop and think about…but as we’re thinking about it, perhaps we’re also asking the question of just what does that mean for us today…and I think we get a glimpse of that…because in the midst of this encounter between Jesus and the disciples here in Luke’s gospel…Jesus does something a little odd…he asks for something to eat…and then he eats it right there with them. (pause)
I dunno…maybe its because I’m Lutheran…and we sure like food don’t we…we love our potlucks…but isn’t it true that some pretty amazing things always happen over food? And keep in mind this is Jesus…and he’s lived that fact…this is the man constantly criticized for eating with the wrong people…for sitting down and breaking bread with sinners…and tax collectors…and prostitutes…heck even the 12 disciples were considered to be the “wrong people.” (pause) Yet Jesus…God in the flesh, joyfully sat with them over a meal.
And Jesus promises us that when we break bread and pour wine together…he is there too…This IS my body…this IS my blood…this IS me…and so in a few minutes when we gather before the table and share in holy communion we remember that Jesus is here with us too…part of this meal…and perhaps that gives us just a little bit of pause…because if Jesus was criticized for sharing a meal with the wrong people…then what’s that say about us? (pause)
Well, maybe it says the truth…the truth about who we are…unworthy…unable by anything we say or do to earn the favor of God, yet recipients of it anyway…because God himself says that we are worthy and that when we share in the body and blood of Jesus Christ we receive the forgiveness of sins through the new covenant of his blood poured out for all people.
And I once heard it said that we know that it is truly communion…it is truly the Lord’s Supper when the wrong people are gathered around the table…because we are all the wrong people…yet God has claimed us anyway…simply to show us…that he is about love and acceptance…and that through the death of Jesus Christ on that cross he is finished with all that judgment and condemnation…and that in the resurrection of Jesus we are shown the promise that death HAS been overcome.
And this is the take away right here…the resurrection was not simply a feel good story…it was not a single event that happened 2000 years ago…and it not simply a promise to give us hope for the future…while these are all truthful statements, the resurrection is so much more than that…because we live in a reality now…today…where the resurrection from the dead is not just a possibility…it is a reality…and this is not simply hope for an unknown future…but it is a promise that we cling to today…and we not only cling to it…but we share it…because just as Jesus told the disciples, he tells us as well….you are witnesses of these things…and so we share that which we have experienced…that God has claimed us as his own…and that in the bread and the wine we experience the risen Lord…and even though it all seems too good to be true…we cling to it, because we believe that it IS true. Amen.

Peace To You 4-12-15

In this sermon, I tackle John 20:19-31. This is the story of Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples and includes the familiar passage of Doubting Thomas. In the sermon I explore the interesting first words that Jesus utters to his disciples and what they might mean for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/peace-to-you-4-12-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As many of you have likely figured out by now, I am a nature guy…and not only plants, but animals as well…and perhaps this is one reason why I enjoy springtime so much, because all of nature seems to be waking up and getting out in the sunshine.
That was never so apparent to me in the past week than on Friday…following several cold, wet, rainy…and even…snowy…days through this week…the sunshine and warmer weather on Friday was certainly welcome…and at one point through the day I was standing at the window looking outside…and I saw several squirrels bouncing and running all around…playing as squirrels will do. Whatever it was that they were up to…it really looked like they were enjoying themselves.
And I’m not the only one who noticed either…because sitting in the windowsill, right next to me…was my cat…intensely watching the squirrels as well…and if I was to venture a guess…I think she wanted to be outside…joining in the fun. (pause)
Now here’s the thing about my cat…I’m pretty sure that she thinks that she too…is a squirrel. Perhaps its because she is all black…and she will often times see the all-black variety of squirrels that we have here in Underwood…but regardless…whenever she sees squirrels outside…she sits in the window…and she chatters at them…it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard…and I wish I could understand just what it is she’s trying to say to them…but unfortunately, that’s just not a reality.
But if there is one things that’s apparent…its this…despite the obvious differences…cat…squirrels…inside…outside…she’s trying her best to communicate across those boundaries…and even though I can’t understand what she’s chattering at those squirrels, she’s clearly saying something….and she clearly desires interaction…relationship even…with those squirrels.
Likewise…in our story today…we see evidence of a lot of boundaries…a lot of differences. As per usual for the Sunday after Easter…the lectionary gives us the story of Jesus’ first appearances to his disciples post resurrection…which of course includes the commonly known story of Doubting Thomas. (pause)
Now from our perspective, Easter’s a week past…and we’ve been living with the reality of the resurrected Lord for several days now…long enough to get used to the notion of the empty grave and the resurrected Lord…but for the disciples, at least at the beginning of the story today…its only been a day…not even a full day in fact…as the story begins the very evening after Jesus has been raised from the dead…now here in John’s gospel we do hear that Jesus has appeared and spoken with Mary Magdalene…but that’s it…and we pick things up in a locked room…as the disciples…most of them anyway…have hidden themselves away out of fear that they might just share Jesus’ fate…Peter’s already been recognized…and since the Jewish leaders are on the warpath…perhaps they’ll be next. (pause)
And this is where something extraordinary happens…despite the locked doors…despite being hidden away…Jesus…finds them…and with no warning whatsoever…Jesus…the risen, resurrected Jesus…is standing among them…and I can only imagine just how startling that must have been for them…to have Jesus, the man who had been dead…suddenly standing there in their midst…and not only that…but talking to them. (pause)
Now I’ve often times found myself wondering just what Jesus looked like, generally speaking, but also in this specific post-resurrected instance. We don’t get a whole lot of information, but we know that his hands and feet still bear the marks of the nails…and he still has the hole in his side caused by the spear piercing his body…but beyond that, we don’t really know what else might be going on.
Perhaps he has something of a heavenly appearance…maybe it in some way looks like the transfiguration when his divine presences was shining through the human side…again we don’t know…but scripture does tell us in different places that there was a change…there was something different about him…and through the resurrection, Jesus took on the form that our bodies will have when we join in the resurrection…Still apparently human…yet different at the same time.
And so, with this difference…whatever it might be, Jesus is still here, among his friends…among those that he loves…and his first words are quite interesting…Peace be with you…or if we take the Greek quite literally…Peace to you…and there’s a couple of significant things about this…first off, his words are not quite what history would make us expect…for in almost every instance throughout scripture, when an individual encounters some sort of heavenly being…typically an angel…the experience seems to be terrifying for them…and across the board the being’s first words are always reassurance…Fear not…or Do not fear…or Do not be afraid…and so it seems that in those instances, the angel is addressing the immediate emotional state of the individual…and here’s the thing…we’ve just heard that the disciples gathered in that room are terrified…they’re scared…and that’s why they’ve got the doors locked…but Jesus doesn’t tell them “Don’t be afraid.” He tells them “Peace to you.” And not just once…but he repeats himself…and as we’ve discussed before, when something repeats in the scripture, its usually pretty important to take note.
“Peace to you.” He says it twice here to the disciples on Easter evening…and then a week or so later when he appears again…this time with Thomas present…he says the very same thing within the very same situation…Peace to you.
And if the example of angels teaches us that individuals receive reassurance based on their current emotional situation…then just what is Jesus trying to tell us with this statement…repeated over and over again…Peace to you. (pause)
Are the disciples concerned that he is angry or disappointed in them? Perhaps…after all, just a few days prior they’d all abandoned him…even denied him publically…not exactly a great final impression on their master…not to mention Thomas’ apparent lack of faith here within the story…and so is Jesus telling them to be at peace because he’s not upset with them? Well maybe…but I think there might be a little something more than that going on.
Because there’s another word that seems to come up over and over again…not only in this reading today…but all throughout John’s gospel. Believing…you might recall hearing it before, but in John’s gospel sin is failing to believe that Jesus is God…that’s it…and we even hear it in today’s passage that all of these things have been written down so that we might believe…that like Thomas we might go from being anti-believing to believing…and by believing that truly Jesus is Lord…that God has put on flesh and dwelled among us…that it is truly possible to be in relationship with God…that’s what this is all about…and in the end…that was the mission of Jesus in the first place…to make this relationship between God and humanity a possibility again…because that perfect relationship had been broken by the power of sin in this world.
And because of that broken relationship…because of the presence of sin in the world…we needed a renewed sense of peace between us…between God and Humanity…and maybe, just maybe…that’s what Jesus is talking…maybe that’s what Jesus was really accomplishing as he hung on that cross and uttered his final words It is finished…and with this work completed…that peace was now possible…and when Jesus appears in that room in the midst of the disciples…flawed men that they were…and he says “peace to you”…well maybe what he’s really saying is that there is now peace between God and humanity…peace and relationship where there had been division. (pause)
But you know what…there’s still more to all of this…because while the resurrected Jesus did stay here on Earth for a time, we also know that eventually he ascended into heaven…and so perhaps it seems like this newly established peace…this newly established relationship is again broken because he’s not here anymore…but Jesus did something about that as well…and we see that in today’s story as well.
For Jesus reminds us that just as the Father sent him into the world…he is now sending us into the world…and with that he breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples…the very spirit of God…is within us…and that same spirit binds us all together…thoughout the ages and throughout the world, this same Spirit of God has been present, uniting us all into the one body of Christ here on earth…that’s the church…the physical embodiment of Christ and his love for all of humanity here on Earth in his absence, empowered and untied by the Holy Spirit. (Pause)
And here’s the really awesome part of all this…when we stop and think about how we receive the Holy Spirit…and its in the very same way that Jesus did…for in the waters of his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven and rested upon Jesus…and likewise, we have been given the promise that in the waters of our baptism, we receive this same spirit.
And today, in just a few moments, three brothers are going to come up to this font…and one by one Oliver and Eivin and Soren Letnerwill be washed in the water…and they will receive the same promise…and as they are marked with the cross of Christ they will be claimed by God as his beloved children, and empowered with the same Holy Spirit…and they will join in a new relationship…not only joining together in relationship with all of us as fellow members of Christ’s body here on Earth…but joining together in relationship with God as his beloved children…made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is the promise that is given to us in the waters of our baptism…that relationship is made possible…and that it is offered to us…it is given to us…and so today hear the words of Jesus Christ…the risen Lord…when he tells you…when he promises you…when he announces…Peace to you. Amen.