Posts Tagged ‘Sermon on the Mount’

Next Verse Same As the First 2-19-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 5:38-48, I wrap up a series from a larger teaching of Jesus. After several weeks, it might seem redundant, but sometimes we need to hear the same thing over and over.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/next-verse-same-as-the-first-2-19-17

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

My oldest niece is 17…in the midst of her junior year of high school…and she’s got a boyfriend. As her uncle…I kinda obligated to hate this whole situation right? Isn’t that like the unwritten rule? (pause) All jokes aside…admittedly, I’ve never met the kid…and all reports from my sister is that he’s a pretty decent guy…so I guess I’ll begrudgingly allow it.

And to his credit…he tries hard. As they are both upperclassmen this year, they are eligible to go to prom…and as the trend has moved in recent years to include what’s known as “the big ask” he pulled out all the stops and put together a scavenger hunt around town…each clue leading to specific location, and another clue…and once they were all put together…the question was revealed…but she couldn’t miss any of the steps…each one leading somewhere specific…each one…inviting…her towards something different. (pause)

Now, what does this have to do with today’s gospel? Good question…why would I bring up a scavenger hunt, and each step serving as in invitation when we have a gospel lesson that sounds like a broken record?  If you’ve been around…this is now the 4th week in a row that our gospel lesson has come out of Matthew chapter 5…and as I mentioned a week ago…its starting to sound REALLY redundant.

We’ve heard Jesus talk about who is blessed in the kingdom of heaven…and it’s the unexpected person…the person who is the opposite of who the world would typically point out as “blessed.” Then, in the week’s following we heard Jesus give us a reminder that we are different in the world…and that we are called to be different…and then he starts talking about the law…and righteousness and justification…and we are given constant reminders of the way that sin has permeated every aspect of our existence…and that “the law” gets broken way more than we realize.

We’ve heard several week’s worth of statements from Jesus that I like to call the “yah but” statements.  By now the format has likely become quite familiar to you…you have heard it said this….yah, but I tell you its actually like this…and today’s lesson is more of the same.

You’ve heard it said and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say that if someone strikes you, don’t retaliate, turn the other cheek and give them a new target. (pause) You’ve heard it said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy….YAH…but you know what you need to love your enemy too…and not only that but pray for them. Someone wants your shirt…give them your coat too…someone makes you go one mile, double it. (pause)

I can’t help but wonder why? What is Jesus really telling us here…other than perhaps offering up continued examples of that first idea that we heard a few weeks back…that you are salt…so be salt…be different and make a difference in the world.

Isn’t that what all these statements seem to be saying? Over and over and over again?  Honestly…as I think back over the past few weeks’ worth of lessons and sermons its starting to seem like that old repeating song about Henry the 8th. (Sing) I’m Henry the 8th I am, Henry the 8th I am I am…I got married to the widow next door, she’s been married 7 times before and everyone was a Henry HENRY. Henry the 8th I am…next verse, same as the first….and it repeats over and over again. (pause)

Just what is Jesus up to here? I pose that question, because after today, we are stepping away from the Sermon on the Mount…but the sermon itself does go on…there are 2 more chapters of this continued theme from Jesus…and the big question is why? Why does Jesus think that this is so important? Why…are we called to be different? Why does he continue to extend this invitation for us to move away from the status quo and to be something different? (pause)
But before I really dive into an attempt to answer that question, I’ll pose another one…is this something new? (pause) Interestingly enough…this is really just one more step in a long history of God inviting humanity forward into something new…a new way of acting…a new way of thinking…a new way of interacting with one another…and we see that very thing on display if we back up to the very statements that Jesus keeps referencing as coming from ancient times.

Our first reading came out of Leviticus today…and it represents just a small portion of “the law” that God gave to Moses…a code for how the Israelites were to treat one another and not only that but how they were to treat other cultures that they came into contact with…Now most of what we heard from Leviticus today was aimed at those interactions within the community of the Israelites…and we don’t actually hear the direct statements that Jesus would reference…but rest assured those statements were in there too.

As Jesus reminds us…you have heard it said to those in ancient times, and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…and while that might seems a little on the barbaric side to consider yanking another person’s eye out…it was actually revolutionary at the time…if someone harms you…don’t seek ultimate retaliation…but let the punishment fit the crime.  God was inviting the people to recognize that punishment did not need to be an escalation of violence…and at the time…that was a huge step forward.

Now fast forward several thousand years to Jesus day…and that old saying switches to something new…and why? Because through Christ, the kingdom is here now and with that change, once more God is inviting us into something new…a new way of thinking…a new way of responding…because its no longer an eye for eye…but if someone takes a swing at you…offer up the other cheek as well. (pause)

Even today, 2000 years after Jesus posed this teaching…its hard…because every single atom of our being wants to strike back…that’s just the way we are wired isn’t it? If someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back…and all too often…we have the tendency to ramp things up…you hurt me, I’ll hurt you more so you’ll never try to hurt me again.

I can’t think about that without thinking about the last 15 years of conflict that our country has been involved in following 9-11…they hurt us, so we’ve been trying to strike back at them so hard that they’ll never dare raise a finger towards us again…and how’s that been working…we’re on our 3rd administration since that whole deal kicked off…and from where I’m standing there’s no end in site…and that’s not me being political…that’s me making an observation.

We’ve used violence to strike back against violence that was used to strike back against violence…and the cycle keep spiraling backwards through history…but it will never work…because violence can never drive out violence, only love can do that.

And maybe that’s precisely why Jesus gave us the moral imperative 2000 years back to try something different. The kingdom of Heaven is here now…but the world still looks pretty much the same because we can’t break ourselves of the habit of an eye for eye.

But Jesus told us to be salt…to be something that makes an actual difference in its environment…someone attacks you, don’t strike back…it might hurt…but it will sure as heck throw them off their game won’t it? And maybe…just maybe, our example which can only be inspired by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us…maybe it’ll make a difference in the life of one person.

The world is ripe with individuals who are literally hurting for the gospel…they are hungry for a change in the ugliness of this world and how we treat one another…and sometimes…sometimes, all it takes is one small step to make a difference…that one small step can be the thing that opens their eyes and hearts to see the invitation that God is offering their direction through the life changing…earth shattering promise of the gospel…and that one small step can lead to the next thing, which can lead to the next thing…which can lead to the next thing…and the next thing you know…a life has change…and a heart has opened up…and I’ve seen it.

Last Tuesday night…a group of us were gathered downstairs in Bible Study…and we’ve been blessed over the past few weeks to have a new individual with us…a young woman named Brandy who’s been coming to church for a couple months now…drawn in because of a tragedy that our community experienced last fall. And as we sat there, having a discussion about sin and grace and brokenness and the love of God, something was at work in her…and as our discussion continued, focusing in on the truth that while we were sinners Christ died for us…Brandy got what I’ve called the spiritual 2×4 upside the head…and it clicked.  The glory of the gospel which seems like utter nonsense…right up until the moment that it doesn’t…caught her…and in that moment God invited her forward into something new…but it could not have happened if those different individuals that she’s been encountering since last fall hadn’t been doing something different…that’s why Jesus tells us to be different…to be salt…to go beyond what the world expects of us and to be something else…because Jesus knows that this world is not going change if we keep on doing the same old thing over and over again.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…the story of the gospel can be broken down into 4 sections. God made it, humanity messed it up, Jesus redeemed it, and we are invited into the work of reconciling the world back to God.  That’s the work that the body of Christ is charged with. He’s in heaven now…but we are here and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be different…so that others may see the change that Christ has made in our lives…and maybe, just maybe they’ll start taking those steps forward as well…that’s how this world is going to change…not by continuing the same old thing…not by sitting around sitting on our hands waiting for Christ to come back, but by actually getting up, and following the invitation to BE Christ in the world…because if we’re willing to do that…who knows what might happen? Anyone want to find out? Amen

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The Gospel is a Broken Record 2-12-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 5:21-37, I explore a portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus reveals the depth of sin. It results in broken relationships, yet we are reminded to be reconciled.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-gospel-is-a-broken-record-2-12-17

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

This past Tuesday evening, the adult Bible Study gathered downstairs and spent about an hour discussing the 4th chapter of Romans. Now within that chapter, the Apostle Paul focuses quite heavily on the example of the Old Testament figure Abraham…and how he stands as an example of faith…Abraham fits this bill because for years he believed the promise of God, that he would have many descendants…even while he remained childless, until finally God makes good on the promise and Abraham has his beloved son.

I didn’t share this thought during Bible Study…but I was reminded of an old comedy routine…one that focuses in on this very idea.  For God came upon Abraham and asked Abraham do you love me…and Abraham said YES! And God said GOOD…now go in the kitchen…get a knife…and kill your own kid. And Abraham responded….Ummm, let me see if I got this….Could I not merely punch the lad to show my devotion? (pause)

It’s a bit cheesy, I realize that…but its interesting to consider that God asked for a pretty extreme display of faith…and all jokes aside, that situation happened back in Genesis. But coming all the way around, I thought this same sort of idea was on display here within our gospel lesson today…a situation where the punishment really seems to defy the severity of the crime. Where the result seems pretty extreme. (pause)
Admittedly, today’s story may seem like a bit of a broken record…like something we just heard…and rightly so. We’ve been here in Matthew chapter 5 for 3 weeks in a row…and if you were here last week you might remember that our lesson ended with the same verse that I started on today.  Its going to continue as well…and next week we’ll finish up chapter 5…and admittedly it will sound like more of the same.

And the ongoing theme…that which started off last week and continues right on through this week’s portion of the chapter…the law…only here Jesus seems to be explore the depths…and how the presence of sin in our reality goes far deeper than we realize.

Because that’s what the broken law is right? Sin? The failure to live out our day to day lives in a way that God approves of…in the way dictated so many centuries ago through the 10 commandments and the rest of the law…the “procedures” that God’s chosen people were supposed to follow, first of all to live in harmony with God and with each other…and then…if and when the law was broken…the procedure to go about atoning for it…the sacrifices to make, the prayers to pray.

Sound familiar? That’s what I talked about last week…and that Jesus raises up the example of the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees to make that point…but sometimes, Jesus’ audience can be a little slow on the uptake right?  And its not enough for him to make the point once…but he needs to dive a little deeper…bringing in things that they would understand….and that’s precisely what’s going on here today.

Think for a moment, that you are a Jewish person…just living out your day to day life…and this traveling Rabbi comes around and starts quoting your cultural rules your way…you’d pick up on it right away wouldn’t you.

You’ve heard it said to those in ancient times…you shall not commit murder…and those who commit murder will be liable to judgment. (pause) Well duh. That’s a no brainer Jesus…its right there in the 10 commandments…we don’t have to dig very deep to find that one do we?

And that’s true…we don’t need to dig very deep in our day in age either do we? Murder is bad…I don’t think anyone would disagree with us, whether they claim to be a Christian or Jewish or any other religious standing. Murder is morally horrible…so of course you’re liable to judgment.

But here’s where it gets tricky…because Jesus starts to take things deeper than face value.  Because if you get angry with your brother or sister, you’re liable to judgment…and if you go one step farther and insult them, you’re liable to the council…and if you call them a fool, you’re liable to the fires of hell. (pause)

Is it just me…or does that seem to be going the wrong direction in terms of the severity of the offense?  It would seem, based on the escalation of judgment for murder all the way up to burning in hell for calling someone a fool…is that logical? Does it make any sense at all? (pause)

But maybe that’s the point…because maybe sin doesn’t make any sense…but if we are trying to make heads or tails of it, let’s take just a look at the rest of the examples that Jesus offers us today. Come to terms with your accuser or risk jail. Don’t commit adultery…good at face value, but apparently a lingering look at someone is just as damaging…and divorce is bad all around, regardless of what the law has to say about it…and then he wraps up this part with making oaths and not sticking to them… (pause)
Now of course, there are some other statements in there too…but when it gets right down to it…isn’t each one of those situations telling of a relationship that is in the very least damaged…and in the extreme is utterly destroyed? It seems so…and if we get right down to brass-tax, it seems to me that this is what sin does. It damages relationships.

Can’t we boil it all down to that…sin hurts…and it doesn’t matter who is the recipient of it…it doesn’t matter who is on the receiving end…because in the end…sin destroys. God made paradise, and he put two people in it who existed in unbroken harmony both together and with God…and then sin destroyed that…and we are still living the very same situation now…with our actions, with our words, with our intentions…we are flawed and the result is fractures in the relationships we have with those around us…and whether we realize it or not with God.

The 10 commandments weren’t just a batch of rules handed down by some cosmic policeman, but they were instructions for how to honor God and those around us…to exist within good relationship…and humanity has broken them, over and over again…and this all serves to support the very same statement that I made last week…I may sound like a broken record, but the truth is that we can’t do it.

The righteousness…which is simply being “right with God” is not possible out of anything we do or don’t do…and no batch of rules to follow…procedures to go through when the commandments are broken are going to atone for that. Righteousness through works of the law does…not…work. (pause)
And so, once again, as we heard last week…Jesus came to fulfill the law on our behalf. We can’t do it…so through the life death and resurrection of Christ God does it for us….its done…completed…fulfilled…period.

And you know what, that’s good news…that while we were sinners Christ died for us…and because of this, even if we don’t understand how or why…its done…and we are able to live in the freedom that Christ has given us…freedom from having to accomplish enough, or avoid enough…freedom to be back in relationship both with God and with each other.

But here’s the part where I get all Lutheran on you…and I throw out something that Martin Luther was found of saying. We are, at the same time, saints and sinners…we are forgiven of the sin that entangles us, and yet we are not perfect and we feel the effects of sin and brokenness…and of course, of broken relationship all the time.

Now maybe those of us sitting here in this room realize this…or maybe we don’t. Maybe we recognize that this is why we share in the brief order of confession and forgiveness every single week…because we need to continue to hear the words of forgiveness offered back to us…because even though we are saved…even though we are redeemed, we are still broken…and our relationships suffer…and being a follower of Christ does not excuse us from that…in fact it has the tendency make us more aware of it…and Jesus addresses that very thing today.

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and god…first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus wasn’t just talking to his Jewish audience who would go to the altar bearing a lamb to sacrifice…he was talking to us…knowing full well that we gather here in worship as forgiven people…and yet people who still harm one another…and as nice and civil as our congregation is…guess what people…we still hurt each other. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it…and I’m pretty sure that I’ve done it.

The gospel might seem like a broken record at times, repeating itself over and over again. Maybe there are times when my sermons sound like the same thing…maybe there are times when the scripture seems to be saying the same thing…and you know…its probably true, because regardless of the changing circumstances, the gospel doesn’t change. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. (Pause) And now, even if we are forgiven of sin, we are still called to reconcile ourselves to one another when our brokenness rears up and harms another.

And you know…there’s actually an old custom that’s built into traditional liturgy…and while we don’t do it here overly often, its probably something we should do…its called the passing of the peace…or the sharing of the peace….and while in many places it has morphed into a chance to shake hands and say good morning to each other, it should actually look like what Jesus describes today. Being reconciled to those we have wronged.

And so now, rather than doing my normal wrap up of saying amen and walking out to sit down before the organ fires up with the hymn of the day, I’m going to invite you to rise… (let them stand up)

May the peace of the Lord we be with you (and also with you). Let us share a sign of God’s peace with one another.

PS I Love You 2-23-14

This sermon comes from Matthew 5:38-48. In this sermon, I try to wrap up 4 weeks worth of the Sermon on the Mount. In particular, I tackle the passage in which Jesus tells us to love our enemies, praying for those that persecute you.  This can be a difficult teaching to accept, much less to act on, but I make the point that by doing so, we are joining with God in the work that will bring this reality to completion.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/ps-i-love-you-2-23-14

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

Earlier this week, I saw a clip from the old Mel Brook’s movie called The History of the World. This particular clip involved Moses receiving the Law from God. Now, if you’re familiar with Mel Brooks, you know that his movies tend to be pretty humorous, and this is no exception. Moses walks out from behind a rock carrying 3 stone tablets. He approaches the edge of a cliff and begins speaking to the people. “People of God…I have received these 15 Commandments from the LORD” and he drops one…the stone tablet smashes on the ground. He looks at it for a moment…and then addresses the crowd again. “I have received these 10 Commandments from the LORD.”
As the week went on I got to wondering what those extra 5 commandments would have been…and if they would still seem as applicable today…who knows…perhaps number 11 would have been. Thou shall mind your mobile manners…and 12 would be Thou shall not cross the street without looking both ways.
Or maybe, if there actually was a third tablet of the law, it wouldn’t have been more commandments…but a prologue…that short bit at the front of a non-fiction book where the author lets you in on some of the insights of what you are going to read…sometimes as I think about the law, I think that would have been helpful.
Dearest humanity…enclosed on these stone tablets you will find 10 commands that shall help you to honor me…and to honor each other.  Keep in mind…at face value they may seem obvious…but in actuality it will be quite difficult for any of you to pull them off as intended…but being God…all-knowing and all that…I’m fully aware of the challenges you will face and so in a few thousand years I’ll switch things up for you…I’ll send my son to explain things…and as he’s going to be the one human to pull of the commandments in their entirety, I’ll plan on sacrificing him to atone for the sins that you will all commit. Until then…happy reading…PS…I love you.
But as we know…there were only two tablets…and God’s prologue to the law, helpful as it might prove to be…wasn’t included. And so for several thousand years during the period between Moses and Jesus, the people pretty much went on about their business…trying to follow the law as best they could…but as we all know…coming up short…but then…things changed…and they changed when God finally said…ok son…why don’t you head on down there…we’ve let this go on long enough…and as we’ve heard many times before…Jesus came on the scene…and the scene was dramatically changed…even though those present…didn’t realize it.
Today marks the 4th week that we’ve been in Matthew chapter 5…the first chapter in the sermon on the mount…and if you’ve been here the past three weeks, you’ve heard me talk about how Jesus changed everything…how when Jesus came on the scene, he brought the kingdom of heaven with him and its here now…and because of that reality is different than we realize…and the old way of doing things…the old way of seeing things…has gone right out the window.
The first week we heard the beatitudes and how God calls the unexpected person blessed…but that when we stop and think about it, the unexpected person being called blessed by God is every single one of us…particularly in those times when we don’t realize it because life doesn’t feel like it.
Then in the second week, we heard about how God calls us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. That we are somehow different…and we also heard that the light of Christ is not something that we hold or something we control…but rather its something that we are…and that God is calling us to be what we were made to be…different.
Then last week things got a little bit uncomfortable when Jesus started laying out in inadequacy of the law….when we heard that the status quo…the you have heard it said in ancient times to act in such and such a way…just wasn’t going to cut it anymore…and not only that but Jesus confirmed…a little harshly…that the law points out sinfulness…period.
And now, at first glance, it sorta seems like he’s doing a little more of the same in the final portion of Matthew chapter 5. We hear more of what I like to call the “yah but’s.” You’ve heard it said this…Yah…but I actually say this.
And in today’s lesson, Jesus almost seems to be giving us the advice “be a doormat.” (pause) If someone strikes you on the cheek…don’t retaliate…turn your face towards them…make it easier for them to hit you…and then invite them to hit you a second time…ouch…my cheeks hurt just thinking about it.
Then…if someone makes you go one mile…don’t let that stop you…go 2…and if anyone tries to take your shirt, hey why not…throw in your coat as well….bullies of the world rejoice!!!! Jesus seems to be throwing you a bone here. (pause)
But then here comes the really crazy part…another “yah but.” You’ve heard it said to love your neighbors and hate your enemies…Yah…but, how about we try loving them too. (pause) Say what now Jesus? Love those that persecute us? Well how are we supposed to do that? (pause)
Now I’m guessing for most of you sitting out there…this passage is not unfamiliar. We’ve all heard it before haven’t we? Turn the other cheek, pray for those that persecute you…love your enemies. And if we’re honest…we hear that…maybe stifle a yawn…and think to ourselves…Yah right pastor…that’s all well and good in the Bible and all…but in real life?  Nah…doesn’t really work like that.
And maybe we chalk this one up to another one of those Bible mysteries that doesn’t quite make sense…or we think to ourselves that one doesn’t really apply to me…or maybe we go a different direction and think I can’t do that…and then we hear Jesus last sentence to “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” And we realize that’s impossible, so we just want to throw up our hands and give up.
But…what if…maybe…just maybe…Jesus isn’t being metaphorical here…and he’s not laying out an individual command to an individual person…but instead…he’s actually telling us to do exactly what he says…because once again, he realizes that our understanding and capability to follow the law is coming up short.
An eye for an eye might be a good deterrent from violence…or in the end we might just all end up blind. A tooth for a tooth might stop someone from taking a swing…or in the end we might all be sucking applesauce through a straw…because returning violence is never going to get us anywhere. Hate will never banish hate…it can’t…all it can ever do is create more hate…that’s what sin does…it breeds more of itself…and we all know where that leads.
But love? Well, you never know what love can manage to do. (pause) Now maybe you’re thinking “really pastor…really?” And I say to you…yah, really…I think that the call to love one another…even in the face of negativity and violence is precisely what Jesus is calling us to in this passage…Jesus is calling us to love the unlovable…to love those that will not repay our love in kind…either because they are unable to or because they chose not to…and when we stop and think about it…and I mean really think about it…isn’t that exactly what God does for us?
Doesn’t every single one of us fall under the category of being loved by God even when we wouldn’t or couldn’t love him back? I’m pretty sure we do and the apostle Paul believed the same. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us… For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (pause)
How amazing is it…that while we were enemies of God…enemies who perhaps antagonized believers…or condemned them…or mocked them…or who laughed at God, or scorned Him…or hated him…or perhaps…just flat out ignored him…he loved us enough to die for us…he loved us enough to make a difference by showing us that love…he loved us enough to keep on loving us even as we threw it in His face…until one day when each and every one of us stopped hating…and started listening…and we were each changed by that amazing love of God…the amazing love for the one that would not love in return…until the day that they did.
That is the change that God is invoking in the world…the change that has already come…and is continuing to occur in the world through Jesus Christ…the love of God is spreading throughout the world…and what Jesus is really telling us today is that we get to be part of it.
We’ve been hearing for multiple weeks now that Jesus has brought a change with him…that reality is different and now Jesus is telling us that simply showing love, even to those that refuse it…is how we join with him in bringing about this change in the world.
And while we all know it isn’t finished yet, we know that this world is moving towards something new…something better…something that only God truly understands…and one day it will be finished…one day it will be completed…and that, my friends is when all will be perfect…as our heavenly father is perfect.
Jesus is not telling us that we need to be perfect in our actions and intentions, because Jesus knows we can’t pull that off…if we could there would be no need for a savior…but rather…Jesus is telling us to continue moving towards completion…together with God…so that one day…one glorious day…everyone will understand the love of God…and everyone will mirror the love of God.
But until that day, God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good…and he sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (pause) God continues to let life go on, day after day…until that one day when we all truly understand it when God says “good job…oh and ps…I love you.”  Amen.

 

Shine the Light of You 2-9-14

This morning’s sermon is taken from Matthew 5:13-20. It marks the 2nd of several weeks in which the Lectionary focuses on the Sermon on the Mount. In this particular passage, we hear the familiar verses “You are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world. In this sermon, I focus on the Light aspect, and how Jesus tells us to shine the light that we are.

You can hear the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/shine-the-light-of-you-2-9-14

You can follow along with the text here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Last Sunday featured two major headlines. Depending on your point of view, one was likely much bigger news than the other, garnering a lot more attention as well as a multitude of additional offshoot headlines over the course of the next couple of days.
The first event was of course…the Superbowl…and the massive beat down handed out by the Seahawks over the Bronco’s…this was the big story of the day…and certainly the basis for a lot of water cooler conversations on Monday.
Though I am, by my own admission, nothing of a sports fan, this does tend to be the one televised football game of the year that I stop and pay attention to, and this year, if nothing else, it provided me with the joy of seeing my 10 year old son, who is…at least this year…a Bronco’s fan…riddled with angst as his beloved Peyton Manning and the rest of the Bronco’s offence got systematically dismantled by the superior defense of the Seahawks….now don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t make me happy to see my son sad, but I was laughing to myself quite a bit as I heard him ranting at the tv. “Why’d you make that pass?” “How could you let him make that catch?” Or perhaps my personal favorite… “Come on Peyton, you have to yell Omaha…then everything will be okay.”
Well, as we know, for the Bronco’s the game didn’t turn out so well…but admittedly, I was somewhat distracted from the game by the other news of the day, which had hit the airwaves earlier in the afternoon. The academy award winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman was found dead at the age of 46.
For many, this news was a bit of a downer, but quickly dismissed as yet another Hollywood celebrity lost too soon…but that was not my reaction. I am a movie buff in every sense of the word, and Hoffman has always been one of my favorite character actors…his ability to embody a character on both the big screen as well as on stage was well known, and I have enjoyed his work immensely…so when I heard the news that he had been found dead, I sat up and paid attention…over the course of the next few hours, more information was released, and the world found out that Hoffman had been found with a needle in his arm…his death caused by an overdose of heroin.
Hoffman was a drug addict, though one who had seemingly overcome his addictions more than 20 years ago…but for whatever reason, this darkness once again took hold of him, and whether it was accidental or on purpose…drugs snuffed out the light of Hoffman’s life.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the course of the past week reading various blogs and news articles, both about Hoffman and not about him…but all together aimed at the monkey on your back known as drug addiction…and as I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to realize that quite a few people that have influenced me over the years have addiction in common.
Some of these people I know personally…other’s I’ve interacted with through social media, though I’ve never met them in person and still others have influenced me through their writing or public speaking…but through hearing their stories I’ve come to understand more about the notion of addiction…and the way that the darkness of the world can cause such pain that they cannot help but to find unhealthy ways to dull it.
Perhaps this hits close to home for me because of an event that changed my life and that of my extended family back in 2007. On a clear bright summer day I received the news that my cousin had been found dead…and as time went on we came to find out that he had taken his own life…the pain caused by mental illness had become to strong for him to overcome and he had stopped the pain in the only way that he could think of.
In many ways, this is not unlike the descriptions I have heard from various addicts as they too seek to deaden the pain that they feel…and though I struggle to understand the strength of this pain in their life, I do recognize that life is not without pain and darkness…and we all look somewhere outside of ourselves for relief from it.
One of the blogs that I read this week seemed particularly fitting, and I’ll share a portion of it here with you. “I wonder how many people slip away from this life, knowing they have missed something important. And never knowing what it was. Like a source of untouchable peace that sustains me when the “noise” becomes “too much.” Or a source of strength that enables me to overcome “the pain of living.” Rather than escaping into something that solves nothing and creates more pain. Or a hope so strong that not even the darkest of days can erase it. Where can I find the power to conquer my inner darkness when there’s no scriptwriter to write a happy ending? Not in me. Not in my greatest achievements. My personal strength. Or even my deepest relationships. Life is too hard, my resources too finite to find ultimate answers by looking in myself. Or around at the people close to me. I found them only when I looked up. And saw there a God who loves me, extending His hand to me. With a peace … a hope that holds me together, when the noise and the pain are overwhelming. The darkness doesn’t have to win. Not with this Light that nothing can extinguish.” *(see below)
I’ve thought so much about this issue of light and darkness this week. Many of you have heard me preach on this subject before and have likely come to realize the importance of this concept for me, and it likely stems from this scar in my family history…and the questions that arose from my cousin’s death…and the questions that any family goes through of why? Why did they do this? Why didn’t they ask for help? If they couldn’t handle it on their own why didn’t they look somewhere else?
And that brings us back around to another notion that I’ve come to understand about addiction…for most of us, the ability to control things is within us…we have the capability to handle our high, whatever it is that helps us to escape the pain and the darkness in the world, even for a moment…we are able to maintain…but for the addict, this self control simply does not exist…and it MUST be found from another source…and that source often times comes from yet another addict…someone who truly understands the pain and the struggle but has been given the tools to over-come them.
In yet another blog, I stumbled across this passage, written by another famous drug addict that has been clean for more than ten years but still battles his addiction each and every day. When an event causes emotional pain to rear up in his life, and he finds himself on the verge of hunting up a dealer…he writes these words.
“I [wind] down the hill in an alien land…the pain quickly accumulated incalculably, and I began to weave the familiar tapestry that tells an old, old story. I think of places I could score. Off Santa Monica there’s a homeless man who I know uses gear. I could find him, buy him a bag if he takes me to score…Even as I spin this beautifully dreaded web, I am reaching for my phone. I call someone: not a doctor or a sage, not a mystic or a physician, just a bloke like me, another alcoholic, who I know knows how I feel. The phone rings and I half hope he’ll just let it ring out. It’s 4am in London. He’s asleep, he can’t hear the phone, he won’t pick up. I indicate left, heading to Santa Monica. The ringing stops, then the dry mouthed nocturnal mumble: ‘Hello. You all right mate?’ He picks up. And for another day, thank God, I don’t have to.” ** (see below)
This individual looks for a refuge from the darkness in another person…and that’s where I’ve been going with all this. I admit, this sermon has been a bit of a downer today…and I may be coming across to you as soft on the notion of addiction…but that’s not my point today…my point is that we all feel the effects of pain and darkness in our lives…because this life is full of it…this life is full of darkness…and we have a God that knows it.
And in today’s scripture passage, we hear the words of Jesus telling us to do something about it…today’s lesson is a familiar passage, particularly the opening portion. You are the salt of the earth…and then just one verse later…You are the light of the world.
If you were here last week, you heard me discuss the notion of just who Jesus is addressing here in the Sermon on the Mount. Is he talking just to the 12 disciples? Well, the answer to that question is no…he’s got a much broader audience when he points his finger and says You are the light world.
In both of these verses…the you are is referring to everyone…Jesus is talking to the community of faith, not just to individuals…but to everyone…and he’s talking to them as a single unit…as the community.  So even though we hear you are the light of the world…it might be better heard if Jesus was from Texas…because then it might sound a little more like “Y’all are the light of the world.” (pause)
But if we…all together are the light…then we have to ask the question of just where does it come from…because we all know that the light of life is not self generated…but as we’ve heard before the Light is God and the Light dwells among us…the source of the light is God himself…Jesus Christ, God in flesh…dwelling among us…as one of us…but even more importantly…dwelling AS us…for we are the church and the church is the body of Christ here on earth.
So when Jesus tells us that We are the light in the world…we need to stand up and pay attention…its not something we do…its not something we achieve…its something we are because God himself says so…but then he goes on from there…and he tells us not to hide the light…as if we could…but to shine…very simply be the light shining in the world.
The Greek is very simple…if I was translate it word for word it would “Shine the light OF YOU.” The light is not something that you possess simply because of your status as a Christian…its not a special card that you carry around in your wallet, or an app on your phone, or badge that you wear…no…YOU are the light of Christ, so shine…shine in this world of darkness and pain…
And how do we do that? Well…its pretty simple…we’re called to love each other. Remember that passage about midway through today’s lesson…when Jesus says that he came to fulfill the law…well it’s true…you see the Law gets kind of a bad wrap…because we know that we can’t live up to it and we do fail…and we do need Jesus to save us from ourselves…but Jesus himself tells us that the commandments can be summed up in two very simple statements…Love God…and love your neighbor…all 10 of the Commandments can be boiled down into those two statements.
And when we love God…and when we love our neighbor…well that is the light shining so brightly that the world cannot help but notice…that is the light of God…and the love of God shining through us…in spite of the pain and the darkness.
The darkness doesn’t have to win…not with this light that nothing can extinguish. Amen

* Ron Hutchcraft, The Stunning Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman,

** Russell Brand, http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/mar/09/russell-brand-life-without-drugs?CMP=twt_gu

So We’re Blessed 2-2-14

This sermon is based on the Beatitudes, the opening portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5:1-12. Jesus lays out a series of statements regarding those who are named blessed by God.

You can listen to the sermon here:
http://soundcloud.com/revdalen/so-we-are-blessed-2-2-14

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

People of God, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Who here ever has to deal with insomnia? (wait for them to raise their hands). Those of you who are immune to this scourge of the modern age…I envy you…Those of you that have raised your hands…we stand together.
Insomnia is a crazy thing…the inability to sleep…for whatever reason, being unable to do exactly that which your body and mind want to do.  Insomnia can be caused by a wide variety of different things.  Sometimes its stress related. Something in your life has you so worked up that you simply can’t switch off, and you’re up.  Other times, insomnia can be chemically induced…any night time coffee drinkers? Caffeine will do it…been there done that. Other times, it can be a physical problem like chronic pain or restless leg syndrome. (pause)
But sometimes…sometimes, insomnia just catches you and for whatever reason, your brain just will not shut off and you are wide awake regardless of how exhausted you feel.  Last Wednesday night…I found myself in that boat. I simply could not wind down from the day and so my normal bedtime of approximately 10-10:30 stretched to 11:30, and then midnight…and then 12:30 and finally about 12:45 I felt like it was time to turn off the light…and I did…only to have my daughter wake up needing to go to bathroom at 1.
Needless to say, it was a long night, and once I finally did get to sleep, the alarm went off WAY too soon. After dragging myself around to get ready for the morning, I found myself sitting at my desk, admittedly lacking any motivation, and I actually said to myself, out loud…well, at least I’ve got coffee. (pause) In moments like this, we take our wins where we can get them…we find ourselves blessed where we can.
Now blessings are obviously a key idea in today’s Gospel lesson aren’t they. Most of the time when Jesus is teaching, he pretty much gets to the point. Sure his parables can get a little lengthy from time to time, but his direct teachings…they’re usually shorter, but today we find ourselves at the beginning of a pretty major block of teaching on Jesus part.  The Sermon on the Mount…encompassing 3 entire chapters of Matthews Gospel…111 verses…approximately 2500 words…no wonder we see Jesus sit down at the beginning…his body language almost seems to be saying “take a load off, we’re gonna be here awhile.” And then, when everyone’s situated, he dives in.
And what is the first thing we hear? Probably one of the better known sections of scripture…commonly known as the Beattitudes…statements of blessing…And in a lot of ways, Jesus seems like he’s being REALLY repetitive here doesn’t he?
Each statement starts the same way…blessed are…I talked about this passage with the high schoolers earlier in the week, and we pretty much agreed on two things about this passage…first off, that Jesus preaching repetitive statements from a mountain sounded an awful lot like Moses preaching the 10 commandments…and then second, that these statements pretty much sound like Jesus is telling us Blessed are those who have it lousy now because its gonna get better. (pause) And if we take these statements by Jesus at face value, well, maybe that’s what its telling us.
Let’s think about who Jesus calls blessed here…the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…well jeepers…doesn’t that apply to all of us at one time or another? Sounds like it covers about 100% of humanity…but then Jesus goes on…blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…and the merciful…and the pure in heart…and the peacemakers…funny, that sounds like a lot of the ways that we are called to live our lives as followers of Christ…so it appears that he’s got the religious people covered even more in depth.
Well then Jesus throws in blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake…interesting, sounds like anyone who’s ever been martyred, or that’s ever been picked on or singled out because of what they believe…and then, in a bit of a twist, Jesus changes up who he’s talking about…he switches from generically listing those that are blessed, which as we’ve seen covers…pretty much everyone as a whole…and he aims his final statement at you…Blessed are you when people revile you…blessed are you when people persecute you…and blessed are you when people utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (pause)
As I read all these statements…these declarations of blessings…I can’t help but think that Jesus must have some warped sense of humor or something, because it really seems like the high schoolers have it right…blessed are you when life stinks…and that sounds like sour grapes to me. (pause)
But maybe…just maybe, we need to stop trying to figure out who is blessed…because as we’ve already figured out…everyone is…because everyone is poor in spirit at times…and everyone mourns…and everyone is meek…and we all show mercy…and we all seek peace…and at times we all feel persecuted…and as we see Jesus says Blessed are YOU…and so, if we all fall under the blessed category…then maybe we need to stop paying attention to the question of WHO…and start paying attention to the WHEN.
All 9 Beattitudes…every single one of them start off exactly the same. Blessed are…ARE…the blessing is here now, regardless of the circumstance…but if the blessing is already here, where did it come from?
Are blessings self generated?  I sure hope not because if they are, God’s got a funny way of showing it doesn’t he? Make yourself poor in spirit…get down on yourself…then you’re making yourself blessed…no…I don’t think so…it doesn’t work like that.
You see, blessings, come from someone else…that’s what makes it a blessing. Now it could be something physical. It could be a present that someone unexpectedly gives you…or it could be financial, like when a random utility rebate shows up in the mail out of the blue…or it could be personal, like when a random person says just the right thing at the right time to cheer you up…those are blessings aren’t they? But as well all know when we stop to think about it, we are blessed in many ways…and there is no limit to the blessings that flow from our Father that loves us when we really slow down enough to think about it.
But unfortunately, there are those times when it REALLY doesn’t feel like it…and those blessings can be really hard to see…and that voice in the back our heads gets really loud…you know that voice…the one that tells us we aren’t good enough…or we aren’t smart enough…or we aren’t pretty enough or we aren’t rich enough…that stupid voice that at times just won’t leave us alone…and continues to harp on us that we just aren’t good enough…that voice is the enemy…the one that hates the fact that God choses to love us.
But as loud as that voice can get…and as much as the enemy hates the love that God has for each and every one of us…that voice cannot overcome the truth spoken by Jesus when we calls someone blessed…because Jesus is God and that which God has declared CANNOT be proven false…and so if God calls you blessed today then guess what, your circumstances don’t matter because the BLESSING…is already here…even in those times when our own sinful nature listens to that evil voice and blocks out the blessings around us…even then, the blessing is real and its present and we find it in Christ himself….for as he says two different times in this passage…blessed are they…for theirs IS the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom is here…now…today…whether we want to realize it or not…and whether it feels like it or not…despite our inability to recognize it, the kingdom is here…and despite our inability to see the blessings, God has decreed it…he has called you blessed…
And so, if you find yourself today in a situation where any of the beatitudes really sound familiar…remember this…God has called you blessed, and in any way that you can muster…rejoice and be glad.
And if you find it difficult to find anything to be glad about…and I know that those times happen…ask God to shift your focus just a little bit…because somewhere…somewhere…that clouds got a silver lining…all it takes is a little flip.
Maybe that little flip is a hot cup of coffee when you’re droopy…that’s where I found mine the other day…or maybe it’s a little bit more like this prayer I heard recently. (pause)
Dear God, I did not sleep well last night, but I did wake up. My muscles are sore, but they work. My wallet is not full, but my belly is. I may not have all I want, but I have all I need. My life is not perfect, but my LIFE…is good. Thank you God. (pause)
Blessings come from others…that’s what makes them blessings…and we have a God who showers blessings upon us, even when we fail to recognize it…so today, let’s offer him our praise, knowing that he gave us the greatest blessing by offering his only Son to die in our place…and by doing so, brings the blessing of the kingdom of heaven…even if we can’t see it yet.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow…Praise Him all creatures here below…Praise him above ye heavenly host…Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost.
Amen.