Posts Tagged ‘Sermon’

A Long Long Time Ago 12-24-19

In this sermon for Christmas Eve, based on the normal text of Luke 2:1-20, I explore the action of God in the birth of Jesus. We dive into divine mysteries of faith, and not understanding what God is up to, but being assured of the promise that it is for us…and there’s a healthy amount of Star Wars excitement.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-005-a-long-long-time-ago-12-24-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Savior be yours tonight. Amen

When I was in high school and college, I went to a lot of movies. Rarely would a week go by that I didn’t take in at least one…and since I watched a lot of movies…I also watched A LOT…of previews.  And I enjoyed it…it was one of my favorite parts of the experience in those days…to see a small piece of an upcoming movie…and to get that sense of wonder and anticipation about something coming your way in the future.

Now there was one in particular that I can remember…showed up late 1996…it opened with an image of a small square boxy television set, placed in the middle of the large theater screen…and as images of a space battle played on that small tv screen, a voiceover told us “For a generation, THIS, has been the only way to watch Star Wars.”  And you see a X-wing fighter flying straight at the screen…and you hear “UNTIL NOW” and that X-wing comes through the tv screen…straight at you, filling the entire theater screen.

This was how they announced the Special Edition theater release of the original Star Wars trilogy…and I was ecstatic…All three of the original movies came out by the time I was 5 years old and so I was part of that generation who had only seen them on television…and so the excitement to be able to sit in a theater a few months later…and see that blue text…a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…followed by a second of silence before the giant STAR WARS emblem flashed across the screen at the same time as that amazing musical fan fare begins…it was thrilling.

A couple years later, beginning in 1999, it happened again…and this time, with the release of the prequel trilogy…I was able to sit in the theatre and have that same excitement and thrill…to know that I was seeing part of a larger and familiar story…and yet to experience an unknown chapter.

2015…it started again…with the release of episode 7, the Force Awakens…and that time I was able to sit next to my son for his FIRST experience of Star Wars in the theater…and finally, this past weekend…in what has been billed as the FINAL chapter in the Skywalker Saga…episode 9…and sure enough…as I sat there in that brief second of quiet and dark, and then felt the thrill of STAR WARS along with the music…and I don’t know if was nostalgia or excitement or anticipation…or maybe a mixture of all three, but I had a little grin on my face as we entered back into this familiar LARGER story…maybe for the last time…in order to experience it new. (pause)

It seems to me that through 42 years of Star Wars…the way that we continue to revisit that larger story…connecting with the familiar…sharing it with a new generation…and even those moments of anticipation for something new…that whole thing seems to have a great deal in common with the sense that we bring tonight.

Christmas…such a vitally important part of the church year…of the overarching story of what God is up to in our reality…a night in which we join together in the familiar to celebrate something that is worth remembering.

Some of us bring many years of experience to this night…a sense of tradition…memories of year’s past and in our minds “the perfect” Christmas conditions.  Some might be here for the very time…hearing this story, experiencing this worship with brand new eyes.

For some…events have happened in the past year that give you new perspective…you are bringing something different tonight…and because of that, whatever it is…good, bad, or otherwise…this night feels different…and you hear that same old story in a new way…and this is a truth that we all bring into our lives of faith…that OUR existence shapes our experience of the scriptures…and of worship and tradition…that our lives up to this point, shape how we experience the divine. (pause)

It seems to me that this is also the case for the individuals who are involved within the Christmas narrative…the story of the Nativity…the story of Jesus’ birth…so let’s think about the different people that we hear about.

First off, a couple of big-wigs in the historical and political realm. Ceasar Augustus…emperor of the Roman Empire…and Quirinius, the Syrian governor who overseas the area we know as the Holy Land.  Two important people…who beyond a name drop, and an order given for a Roman Census…we never hear from again. Logic would say that these two would play a bigger part in this reality altering moment…but beyond the census giving the Holy Family a reason to be Bethlehem…they play no other part…because apparently God doesn’t put a whole of stock in status and political power. (pause)
Who else do we hear about?  Well, we’ve got Mary and Joseph…who have followed the rules and headed off to be registered…and they’re in a tough spot aren’t they? As we hear, the time comes for Mary to have her baby…because those two political bigwigs don’t give a hoot about the biological situation of these commoners from backwater Palestine…and biology doesn’t care that they are in a strange city, surrounded by strangers in the dwelling of some random house in Bethlehem.

Mary…is probably scared out of her mind…not only is she in unfamiliar surroundings…but she’s about to go through labor and birth for the first time…and remember she’s like 13 or 14. Granted, the angel of the Lord had shown up and relayed this whole deal to her 9 months earlier…but now she’s in the midst of it.  (pause) Joseph…he’s there too…and though we don’t hear much from him, I imagine he’s stressing out as well.  But in the end, the baby is born…they wrap him up and lay him a manger…which, despite any expectations you might have of a barn connected to a hotel…would have actually been a normal aspect of the structure of houses in those days…everyone had a corner where you’d keep your animals in the cold of winter…and so you also had a manger to feed your animals…and lacking any other available space…that’s where they laid the baby. (pause)

Now we have one other batch of people to consider…the shepherds…a ratty, stinky, batch of guys hanging around outside of town…pretty much the lowest of the low from a social standpoint…polar opposite of those first two individuals that we heard about in the emperor and governor…and yet these shifty characters are the ones with the dynamic, downright shocking part to play in this story.

It was nighttime…the sheep were bedded down…and while they were keeping watch, I imagine not much was really happening…I bet that guy was totally nodding off…when suddenly…out of nowhere…brightness and divine glory and booming angelic voices surround them. This was their Star Wars fanfare moment…and they are given the divine message. Born to you this day, a savior, who is Christ the Lord…and then a heavenly choir shows up…adding to the experience…but then just as quick as its begins, its over…the angels depart…the shepherd blink at each other for a moment before deciding…well, let’s go check it out.

And they do…and they find the baby laying there just like the angel said…and they share the divine news that was given to them…and then they haul off, still praising God and telling everyone they encounter…which is great…and Joseph’s over here doing who knows what…and Mary…she hears all this stuff…and sorta takes it all in…and then treasures it. (pause)

Different people…all of whom bring their own perspectives…their own experiences into this DIVINE moment in history…and that shapes HOW they experience this divine encounter…and same is true for us.  Consider what has happened…consider what we profess to be true…consider what we celebrate every year at this time.

The divine creator of EVERYTHING…God who is ultimately bigger…larger…grander…greater…the one who is completely and utterly MORE than we are…through the power of divine Holy Spirit…which is still the same God but is somehow also different…that Spirit of God SOMEHOW has begotten a baby into the womb of very young woman. A baby who is somehow both human and divine…who is the Son of God and yet IS GOD. (pause)

This truth which we profess…this concept of one God in three persons…it defies all logic…and when we bump into things like that…we default to calling it a divine mystery…and there’s nothing wrong with that…but its doesn’t explain things.

This is a concept that comes up in Confirmation Class all the time…and this year’s class has really grabbed onto that question.  “Wait…so Jesus is God?” “Yes.” “But Jesus prays to God right?” “Yes.” “And Jesus calls God, Father right?” “Yes.”  “So…Jesus is his own dad?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love it that our young people are thinking about this…that they are wrestling with it…because it doesn’t make sense does it…and yet…that the gospel…that we have a God who desires to be with us so much, that this DIVINE entity would become one of us and dwell among us…and not only that…but in order to somehow overcome every aspect of this broken reality that hinders our relationships with God and with one another…this same divine made flesh would grow up…spend 3 years embodying the freedom from what hinders as he heals, and teaches, and raises the dead, and constantly reaches across the margins to those pushed to the outside…and then when the powers of this world push back against this new thing that God is bringing into the world…his body is broken and his blood is poured out…and he PROMISES us that whatever is going on in THAT moment is FOR you…and we will remember that…we will celebrate THAT tonight as well…even though we don’t understand it…even though it is a mystery on how or why it works. (pause)

People of God…it is my great joy to stand up before you when we gather for worship…and especially in times like this one when we gather specifically for the purpose of remembering the action that God has taken in our reality…it is my joy to speak about the divine mysteries of our faith…the mysteries of things we cannot explain…but to be able to share the truth and the promise that whatever it is that God is up to…that it is for you…a promise spoken by the angel to the shepherds…that this good news of great joy IS for ALL people…even if we do not understand it.

The birth of Christ…which we celebrate tonight…it may have happened A long long time ago…somewhere far far away…but it is for you…and just like the shepherds…you are invited to go forth from this place…from this experience…glorifying God and telling all who you encounter…about this mysterious thing that God has done.

This is the promise of the Gospel…that it is for you…and this is the challenge of the Gospel…that now YOU…are empowered by that same Spirit…to carry the good news out into this world that is so desperate for it…a world SO desperate for news of joy and love.

I gotta reference Star Wars one more time…not the brand new one because that would be spoilers and that’s not cool…but episode 8 that came out 2 years ago. There’s a line in THAT film that embodies the mystery of what God is up to in our reality…the mystery of Divine love for this world.  “This is how we win…not by fighting what we hate…by saving what we love.”

I don’t know how it works…but I profess to you…THIS…is what Jesus…has done. Amen.

Jesus and Silent Joe 12-22-19

In this sermon, based on Matthew 1:18-25, I explore the divine announcement of Jesus’ pending birth as well as the birth itself. Matthew aims the action at Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. His actions reveal a great deal about the connections that humanity holds with the Messiah.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-004-jesus-and-silent-joe-12-22-19

(Note that sermons will now feed into my Podcast, The Rambling Rev, available on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify. Subscribing on any of those feeds will automatically bring you the audio of my future sermons as they become available.)

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

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

As someone who has a background in acting, not to mention a fair amount of public speaking…I’ve got an appreciation for skills related to this type of thing…and in particular, I’m thinking about the skills needed for non-verbal communication.

It goes without saying that this takes on a lot of different forms, but I’ve always appreciated individuals who can convey a message without words…they use expression and mannerisms, and of course their actions to convey what’s going on with their character.

I’m sure there are a lot of examples of this type of thing, and a couple come to mind for me…and in both of them…the non-speaker is part of a duo…now the first set are entertainers in the realm of illusion…Penn and Teller…Penn talks constantly during their act…and in the midst of it all…Teller is busy doing the magic…and his expressions and actions make up his side of the show.

The second example actually comes out of a series of movies that came out back in the 90’s and early 2000’s…humorous but REALLY lowbrow…a pair of characters known as Jay and Silent Bob.  They’ve got a lot in common with Penn and Teller…Jay talks A LOT…but Silent Bob…well its right there in his name isn’t it? He’s silent…and its his expressions and actions that tell his side of the story in whatever scene they pop up in.

This idea of a silent character is where I’m connecting into today’s gospel story…Matthew’s account of the divine announcement of Jesus’ pending birth, relayed angelically to one of his parents…not to mention, in an almost throw away comment…we hear of the birth of Jesus as well.

Now Matthew’s account, this passage which we have just shared, is unique within the three year cycle of the lectionary and the passages that come up here on the final Sunday of Advent…its unique because of the presence of Jesus’ birth within the passage. Granted, most of it is still anticipatory in nature…looking forward to the birth…which it should be as we are still in Advent for a couple more days…but with Christmas coming right up on us in a couple more days…I don’t think it’s a bad thing…in many ways today is a transition from a sense of anticipation into celebration of the Messiah’s birth. (pause)

But that being said…the unique aspect of Matthew’s account of this story and the focal point did grab my attention.  Perhaps its because we’ve just come out of year highlight Luke’s gospel…one in which there is a stronger emphasis on the Good News and its effect on the marginalized. We see this in many moments, but one of the earliest happens when the angel of the Lord shows up to announce the pending Messiah and interacts with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In Luke’s account they have a conversation…Mary is given some agency…even a choice in the matter…but Matthew presents things a little differently doesn’t he…and that was blaringly obvious to me as I started working towards today’s message….the angel shows up to Joseph.  Joseph is given direction…Joseph is given divine assurance of what’s happening…and even though as “righteous man” he’s determined to follow the law in regards to his now-pregnant fiancé, Joseph receives divinely inspired direction aimed at taking the unexpected action in this story.

Its all about Joseph isn’t it…and where’s Mary?  She’s in the background…completely passive…she’s got no choice in this matter, She’s powerless…and like Teller on stage, and Silent Bob in the movies…she’s given no voice in this VITAL moment of history.

And I’ll be honest…that REALLY bugs me…because while Luke reveals her choice and her agency in this whole deal…Matthew glosses over it…she’s lucky she even gets called by name…and I wonder what she was thinking…is she standing there in the background wanting to smack Joseph upside the head. What makes him so special that all of the focus falls in his court? (pause)

That was my first thought, one that I wrestled with as I explore Joseph’s role in this story…and not just within this immediate passage.  I took a look at the different times that Joseph pops up…because he does fill an important role in the early life of the baby and then child Jesus.

While Joseph had seemingly died by the time that Jesus’ ministry begins in his adulthood, Joseph is still around during each moment we’re given while Jesus is growing up…filling that role of parent…of provider and protector…and we find evidence of THAT specific role of parental protector of the baby Jesus…when his divine dream radar just keeps going off.

The angel of the Lord just KEEPS showing up in Joseph’s dream…we’ve got today’s passage.  And then after the birth of Jesus, when the king is trying to kill him off, Joseph gets a dream warning to haul the family off to Egypt.  Then after the king dies, another dream pops up telling Joseph to come on home…but then upon their arrival back in Palestine, another dream comes up warning of the king’s son who is now in charge and is just as dangerous, and Joseph takes the family north to Galilee. 4 times within 1 chapter of the gospel in which Joseph’s dream radar provides divine direction.

And each time, Joseph takes action…and good for him…We’re proud of you Joseph…but still…why’s the focus on you and not Mary…why doesn’t she get a voice in the matter and you do? (pause)  Or does he?

Here’s the mind-blowing thing that I realized after fitting and stewing on this most of the week.  Joseph…while he receives divine direction…he’s given divine assurances…and he takes action…throughout his ENTIRE story, in ANY of the gospels, Joseph…never…speaks.  Not one time…as we look at the larger story we might call them Jesus and Silent Joe, because JUST LIKE that character…its not words…its his actions that matter. (pause) So What does Joseph do?

He defies social decorum, not to mention religious regulations to accept Mary as his wife…despite logic saying that she’s committed adultery. He takes her into his home, no doubt facing public shame and ridicule…and then, when her pregnancy comes to a close and the baby is born…we hear that Joseph…named him Jesus.

Now for us…that seems like an throw away comment, one that we take for granted…BUT the significance of Joseph taking this action cannot be understated. In this time…it was the role of the father to name the child…ESPECIALLY if the child is a boy…something that we find in a few different scriptural stories as well.

And so…for Joseph to claim this responsibility…to give the name to the baby…Joseph is, for all intents and purposes…claiming this child as his own…he’s essentially Adopting the child that he knows is not his…this baby that is born of both flesh and spirit…human and divine in nature.  When Joseph says “I give him the name Jesus,” he is claiming Jesus as his child.

Now I can’t help but think of how HUGELY significant that fact is as we consider the overarching story of the gospel…a story which is hinted at as we consider the names given to the child. Jesus is the Greek version of Joshua…in fact it would be have been pronounced Yay-shua…and that literally means God saves…and not only but that but we also hear the prophet Isaiah referenced as the child is called Emmanuel…God with us.

And that’s the gospel isn’t it? The God who saves is with us. The divine will be found in the midst of us. The God who knows we are unable to save ourselves will dwell among us in order to accomplish that which we cannot. And this same God who took on flesh…while utterly different…is ALSO far more like us than we realize.

The savior of the world…the word made flesh…Emmanuel, is claimed by his earthly father…he is adopted into the family of Joseph…he is given a name by one who claims him as his own…you see where I’m going with this?  We are given the promise in the waters of baptism…that we too are claimed by a parent…we are adopted…made heirs to the promise as beloved children of God.

But the similarity doesn’t stop there either…there’s another that we find in this story…when Joseph is told that the child in Mary’s womb is begotten of the Holy Spirit…somehow, in ways that go beyond our ability to comprehend, and beyond my ability to explain…the humanity of Jesus is created out of the presence of the Holy Spirit…the Spirit which we hear dwells within him at his baptism…and the same Spirit which has promised to dwell within us through the waters of our baptism.

This same Holy Spirit empowers us as followers of Christ…and it unites us together into the one body of Christ here on earth…we REMEMBER that the very spirit of God which somehow incarnated the living word of God in the first place…resides within us.

And this promise opens up a whole new understanding of what Emmanuel means, what God with us…means…that not only do we have a God who walked among us. But that which is divine is found WITHIN us…within those who created bearing the divine image of God in the first place…and in whom God delights to be found in the presence of the Spirit. (pause)

As we move from this season of expectation into the season of celebration, remembering once more that God has dwelled among us…may we all remember in the midst of dark times, both literally as we consider the dark season of winter which is upon us…as well as metaphorically as we consider the darkness still present within this broken world that we live in…may we remember that to look in the face of one another is to see the presence of God IN one another.

And as this is true for you as you look at another…know that it is ALSO true as they look back at you.  This is the glory of the gospel that goes beyond all understanding…that the ultimate creator and sustainer of everything, everything which is seen and unseen…this God has chosen to dwell…in…you. Amen.

What Are You Doing Here 9-29-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 16:19-31, I explore the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. At face value this seems to tell us that economic status determines our eternal destination. But if we look deeper, we find something else at play.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-are-you-doing-here-9-29-19

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

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

As we begin today, a tiny little tidbit about me…I’ve recently begun Chiropractic care in order to get my spine back to where it should be…over the course of the past couple years my wife has done the same thing and its really helped, and since I’m not getting any younger, I’ve started the same process.

Friday morning, I was at the office, and sat down with one of the office staff to discuss scheduling and payment information, all that logistically type stuff…and in the midst of the conversation, the staff member and I both commented that we recognized each other. Neither of us could figure out where from…but clearly we have crossed paths at some point in the past…who knows where.  But I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure it out with zero success…just one of those situations where I recognize the face, but CANNOT place the setting.

But as I’ve thought about that, I’ve got to thinking about the flipside of the same coin…and those times when you see someone that you instantly know…but in a setting where they have no business being…I’ve talked about this type of situation before…like when I randomly met a guy from my hometown in the hotel lounge in Bethlehem of all places…or the time when I ran into a former coworker from Minnesota while at camp in the mountains of Colorado.  The type of situation when you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing and all you can say is “What are you doing here?” (Pause) Now, tuck that sense in the back of your minds…and let’s get into the scripture for today. (Pause)

Once again, Jesus regales us with a parable…a story that he makes up intended to illustrate a point or a perspective…to in some way or another illuminate an aspect of the kingdom of Heaven. We’ve had a lot of them lately. Some a little more accessible than others.  Last week we had the dishonest manger.  We’ve had a lost sheep and a lost coin. We’ve got a guy building a tower or a king going out to war, both counting the cost of their endeavor. And another one about where to sit when you are invited into a banquet…no shortage of illustrations from Jesus…right up to today and our story of the rich man and Lazarus. (pause)

The gist is pretty simple today isn’t it? We’ve got this rich guy…wears purple…eats a feast everyday…sounds like he’s got a nice house in a gated community somewhere…although he doesn’t get a name…that little detail seemingly slipped Jesus’ mind as he puts this story together…so let’s just call him Richy Rich shall we? (pause)

So we’ve got Richy Rich riding high…enjoying life…and at the same time we’ve got this poor homeless guy named Lazarus…lays outside at the gate…longs for the table scraps…he’s covered in sores which apparently taste pretty good to the neighborhood dogs. (Pause)

2 guys…2 different people, seemingly NOTHING in common except the community they live in…and with that brief description…BOOM both guys die.  Lazarus get’s picked up by angels and hauled off to hang out with Abraham in the afterlife…while Richy Rich gets buried and finds himself on the fiery side of some giant chasm in Hades…side note, Hades is the place where dead people go, in case you’re wondering…and its worth noting that they seem to be in the same place, just on opposite sides of this impassable canyon. (pause)

Now it probably goes without saying that Richy Rich is used to the finest hotel establishments…and this torturous environment that he finds himself in is just NOT up to snuff…and so he looks across the canyon, and he sees Lazarus enjoying himself alongside Father Abraham…and he makes this small request.

Father Abraham…send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch my tongue…send him over…grant me this tiny instant of relief…for I am in torment…Abraham refuses…it would seem that even though they’re close enough to see each other and communicate…they can’t cross the barrier…we can’t get to you…and you can’t get to us.  Bummer right?

And Richy Rich says “Yah that is a bummer.” And here’s an interesting switch…realizing that he’s out of luck…that he can’t talk his way out of his current situation…that no one can relieve him or free him from it…probably for the first time in his existence, he starting thinking about someone besides himself.

Father Abraham…why don’t you send Lazarus back to the land of the living, into my father’s house…I’ve got 5 brothers…and I don’t want them to end up here.  They’d be in torment too…not to mention they’re all younger and really annoying and they’d just bother me if they showed up…yah I made up that last part…but isn’t that interesting?  Send a dead guy to warn them…and Abraham says…No…they’ve got the scriptures…if they don’t believe that, they won’t believe a dead guy either.

And that’s it…that’s the parable. (pause) Now what do we do with parables?  We tend to ask some basic questions don’t we?  And the first one is almost ALWAYS…who am I in this story?  Or maybe we come at it from a slightly different direction and we make the comparison…and if we do that…the obvious conclusion that we reach…wealth, or money, or status or prestige…these things are bad…and to be poor and lowly is ultimately good. (Pause) Yah?  Is that what we get here?  Seems like it right?  Rich guy has it good, but then suffers…poor guy has it bad but is rewarded. (Pause)  So then ask the next question…who am I?  (Pause) And we all REALLY want to say that we’re Lazarus right?  But are we?  Or are we Richy Rich?

If you’re wondering about that…think about this…does this parable sound like good news or bad news to you? (pause)  Good question to think about…because all too often it seems that what sounds like liberating good news to one person, sounds like bad news to another.

But…should it? Should the gospel sound like good news to some and bad news to someone else?  Is that how it works?  Is the gospel some sort of pie…the type of thing where a portion is removed for one person, leaving less available for everyone else?  I don’t think so.

Think about the parable…does the eternal good fortunate of Lazarus come at the expense of Richy Rich? Doesn’t seem to…but if we want to think in terms of limitations and scarcity we might start to think so. And we’re conditioned to think in those terms aren’t we?  That’s how our society works…if you gain something, then someone or something has to lose it right? (pause)

But…here’s Jesus…giving us an illustration that reminds us…over here in the kingdom…that’s not how it works…its not just that the wealthy and the high and mighty end up burning, while the lowly go to heaven…because there’s a third person in this parable…and think about who that is.

Abraham.  Now what we know about him?  Hung out in Genesis…predates the Holy Land being the Holy Land…predates Moses…predates pretty much everything beyond a garden, and an apple, and a flood. WAY before Jesus…and yet…where do we find him today?

He’s on the good side of the chasm…we might say heaven. And maybe we think “duh, its Abraham…of course he’s in heaven.”  But Abraham died rich…like SUPER RICH….he had good things in life…so shouldn’t that land him in hell?  I mean…if we think “great reversal” then Lazarus should have shown up in heaven and been like “ABRAHAM? What are you doing here?” (pause) Or, since they can see each other…Richy Rich should have found in himself in the flames and been wondering “Abraham…shouldn’t you be over here with me?” (pause)

So what’s different? What does Abraham have that Richy Rich doesn’t?  What does he share with Lazarus that landed each of them on one side of this great divide rather than the other?

What do we hear about Abraham in the New Testament…his name comes up a lot…and typically when it does, he is called the father of faith…that he believes what God tells him…and it is credited as righteousness.
Well if he’ believes what he’s told…then someone needs to tell him right? Something must be announced…it must be proclaimed. And what was announced to Abraham?  A promise.

What about Lazarus…we don’t hear much about him…except for the action that happens to him…like when angels come and carry him off.  But do you know what an angel is?  Angel, or angalos in the original language means one who bears a message…Lazarus is carried off to heaven…by one carrying a proclamation. (pause)

Now think about Richy Rich…he wants someone to come to him to relieve him of torment…and when that doesn’t work he wants someone to go announce things to his brothers. (pause)

It would seem that this separation, this chasm…that Jesus is illustrating today is revealed with the presence OR the absence of a proclamation of God’s promises. And what are those promises? That you are loved…that you are accepted…and that the brokenness that is a part of your existence has been overcome by the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus. That’s the gospel. You can’t get there on your own…You cannot fulfill righteousness…so God has done it for you through Christ…that is the good news…that is the promise…that is the proclamation…and THAT is what carries Lazarus away from torment into whatever lies on the other side of that chasm…whether we want to call it heaven or paradise or eternal rewards…or simply being in the kingdom. (pause)

So that’s mean for us?  Well…it seems to indicate that faith comes through hearing the proclamation of the gospel…and it reminds us that salvation or faith or heaven or any of that…its not self-generated. Lazarus didn’t do anything to receive it…he was completely passive in this whole story…we never even hear him talk, much less do anything.

And so, we realize the importance of proclaiming the gospel…because it needs to be heard before it can nestle in our hearts…and before the Holy Spirit can use it to create faith. And this is why we stress the importance of the priesthood of ALL believers.  Proclamation is not just limited to the person wearing a weird little white tab on Sunday mornings…we are ALL called to share the gospel with those that we encounter…so that they can hear it to…so they can hear that announcement…and be carried off to be with Abraham…whatever that might entail.

And this is the case whether we like it or not…God’s grace is not up to us to determine who gets it and who doesn’t. That’s the beauty of God’s grace and mercy…and that’s also the curse…because anytime we start trying to decide who has it, or on the flipside who doesn’t, then Christ calls us forward to his table where we receive the bread and wine along with the promise that his body and blood has been broken and shed for the forgiveness of sins…and that it is for all people…and when that person that we think doesn’t deserve it faithfully receives the means of grace while believing the promise of the proclamation…they are forgiven…and we have to deal with it.

This is what I love about the gospel of God’s grace and mercy through Christ…God’s grace is all in, or its not grace…and it means that one day in the resurrection, whatever that’s gonna look like…I’m going to see the LAST person I ever expected and in astonishment I’ll say “What are you doing here?”  And they’ll look at me, equally astonished…and ask me the same thing. Amen

Lost 9-15-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 15:1-10, I explore two of the three “lost” parables of Jesus, the sheep and the coin. The similarities that we find in the parables point us to an important question…what does it mean to be lost?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lost-9-15-19

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

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

It probably goes without saying that we all have stories about getting lost…some might be personal experiences when we were the one who got turned around…some stories are from the times when it was someone that we know who ended up in the wrong place. They take on many shapes and forms.

But if there’s one thread that slides through them all…it’s probably a sense of unease…maybe even borderline fear…that comes creeping in…and since we’ve all lost our way at one time or another…we have the tendency to teach others important safety steps to take if and when they find themselves in something similar…and this is probably most common between parents and their kids.

I remember dad drilling into us what to do if we ever got lost in a cornfield…YOU FOLLOW THOSE ROWS IN A STRAIGHT LINE…oh and when you get to the end of the row, start counting…you’ll cross either 8 or 16 and then you’ll find the edge of the field.

I also remember mom’s instructions for if we ever found ourselves separated from the family.  Look for someone in uniform…an officer or security guard…or if you’re in a store…go to the front desk and ask them to send a page. I first heard these instructions from mom after my older brother disappeared in the local mall…and I remembered them a couple years later when I was the one who wandered off.

But maybe the most telling is the way that I internalized those instructions…and apparently passed them on to the next generation…and this came to a head back in our days living in Minnesota.

The kids were pretty small during that 2.5 year period in our lives…small enough that the idea of “getting lost” was something we had to be aware of…and it happened one day when my wife took the kids to the public library…now by this point, we’d already lived there for a bit and had one specific location that we always went to…but on this particular day, Emily took the kids to one of the dozen different library locations…one that everyone was unfamiliar with…and sure enough…at one point she stepped around to the next aisle…and a moment later Jack realized…I’m all alone. (pause)

Now proud parent moment…his training…kicked…in. He knew what to do…the exact same thing his grandma had taught me years before…go to the front desk and have them send a page…but here’s where things took a bit of an odd turn.

As Emily heard the page come over the speakers, here’s what she heard…Would the LOST MOM…please come to the front desk. (pause) Interesting distinction isn’t it? In my son’s mind…he wasn’t lost…she was. (pause)

Now that idea of being lost in one way or another…that catches my attention today…and that’s probably understandable isn’t it? Today our lesson features some parables of Jesus…quite well known…two of the three known simply as “the lost parables.”  Illustrations that Jesus puts out there in light of another round of criticisms coming his way for who he choses to spend time with…for the company that he keeps…even going so far as to breaking bread and celebrating with them. (pause)

If a guy’s got 100 sheep and he discovers 1 is missing…will he not leave the 99 out in the middle of nowhere and go looking…looking everywhere…high and low…over hill and dale…behind rocks and in caves…until he finds that pesky one all by itself. (pause)

Or if a woman has 10 coins…and oh no! She discovers that somewhere along the lines one has been misplaced…she’ll grab the flashlight and look EVERYWHERE!!! Upstairs, downstairs…in the basement…under the rugs…she’ll yank the couch cushions out of the way…strip the bedding…she’ll even dig into the sink drain if she needs to…she will look…EVERYWHERE…until she finds that pesky coin. (pause)

Two short parables…two different examples that, honestly…have a whole lot in common don’t they?  The situation that Jesus presents in both is pretty much identical…and the end result is as well…something that we maybe even take for granted simply because of the familiar nature of these parables.

In both cases…the lost sheep and the lost coin…when the lost is found…the results are the same…Joy on the part of the one searching…and then they call together their friends and neighbors for a celebration…COME TOGETHER…Share my joy! Because I have found that which was lost to me. (pause)
Even Jesus’ explanations come across pretty straight forward in both of them…I tell you…there will be MORE joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents…than over 99 that have no need of repentance. (pause) Its sorta like “DUH” right? Like for once…the point that Jesus is trying to make is SO ABUNDANTLY CLEAR…that we could just leave it right there.  I could seriously just say Amen and sit down couldn’t it? (pause) But I won’t…because there’s more to explore here than just the face value of these parables about being lost.

I want you to think about WHAT was lost for just a moment. A sheep…and a coin…and bonus points for you if you know what’s lost in the third parable that comes right after this one…not just one…but two sons who are in some way lost to their father…the common thread between all of these things…they are valued by the one who lost them…treasured by the one willing to look high and low…who will forsake everything else, until the lost is found.

But the question that is really rattling around in my head…how did they get lost in the first place? Prodigal son aside…because we know that he went off on a whim, and his older brother was lost in stubborn judgmental pride….but let’s just think about the sheep and the coin.

First the sheep…well, that could have happened in a variety of ways.  We all know a sheep isn’t exactly the Einstein of the animal kingdom…so this pesky little oddball could be lost due to a lot of different circumstances.  Maybe it wandered off looking at a particularly tasty looking tuft of grass.  Maybe it managed to get its foot stuck in crevice…or it fell in a hole and was physically unable to follow along with the rest of the flock when the guy moved them along…maybe a predator came along and spooked it so it ran away…or who knows, maybe this was the weird sheep that the other sheep didn’t like, and he wasn’t lost so much as they kicked him out…who knows. (pause)

The coin…well that’s a little easier to put our finger on…a coin can’t just up and walk away…so clearly the woman somehow misplaced it…she was responsible in one way or another…and even though the coin was lost…we can’t exactly place the blame on an inanimate chunk of metal. (pause)

So what do we take from this? That maybe, just maybe…there are a lot of different ways to be lost…and that sometimes, the one we think is lost might not even realize it.  That sheep might have been having the time of his fluffy life…and the coin sure didn’t care.

And maybe…another way to think about this falls in line with the way my son was thinking at the library all those years ago…he was exactly where he was supposed to be…and MOM was lost…maybe the sheep was right all along and it was the flock that was misplaced. (pause)

Now its possible that I’m overthinking things here…but this was the question that really came to the forefront as I worked with this text through this week…what does it mean to be lost? (pause) And not just in the “scriptural” sense…but in our reality? How can we start to connect this concept that Jesus is presenting with our regular day to day existence?

How do we feel lost? And how do we view others that makes us place them in that same category?  I can generalize…we’re lost in our ability to overcome the brokenness and sinfulness that is inherent within our regular lives.  Some of us might feel lost due to our present circumstances…when the world just seems to have it in for us and we are swept up in things that we are powerless to control or stop and all we can do is bounce along in this painful ride.

Maybe we look and see someone lost in an addiction of one kind or another…and no matter how hard they try…or on the flipside no matter how hard we try to offer them a hand to step back out of that battle…they’re stuck in it. And like the coin, they don’t even realize it.

Or maybe it’s the presence of mental illness…something that goes beyond anyone’s ability to control or manage or maintain…and the person that we know…the person and the personality that we expect…that person just isn’t there and they are lost to us.

This list could go on and on…and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if we went around the room, pretty much everyone in here could list a way that they feel lost…and a way that they see someone else who is lost as well…should we raise hands on that? (pause)

So all that being said…where do we go from here?  Is there some good news to be found?  It seems like it right? Jesus is talking about celebrations in heaven…and he’s talking about repentance and joy…so yah, it seems like there’s some good stuff sneaking around.

And maybe to find it…in order to put our fingers on it…we need to back up to something we just talked about a week ago. If you were here…you remember that in the midst of a REALLY difficult teaching from Jesus…we had to skip ahead to these parables in order to remind us of the good news that we have a God who willingly took on that role of the man looking for a sheep…of the woman looking for a coin…not to mention a father looking for both of his boys.

We have a God who WILL NEVER stop searching for us…we could even say shining that light like the women in the parable…the diligence of the one who made us…the one who values us beyond measure…it is never ending…and it goes beyond all logic.  That perfect love of God…that grace…it finds us when we are utterly lost and incapable of doing anything about it. And not only that…it will look past all those who are presently accounted for, leaving them behind to go in search of you.

That’s the amazing thing about God’s grace and love for you…no matter what your situation…no matter what situation has you wrapped up and knocked down…utterly lost…we can look to our God who took on flesh and dwelled among us…that God who became tangible…showing us that when we can’t get to him, he’ll come to us…and realizing that no matter what this messed up broken down flawed reality might throw our way…or even what our own brokenness might make us throw at ourselves…we can look to God and confidently say “Your grace will fight for me. It’ll leave 99 to go in search of one…and I…am…that…one.” (pause)

No matter which direction we want to look today…whether we are the sheep trembling in the wilderness…or whether we look and see someone who’s the coin…not even aware enough to know they’re lost…we are all on even ground as we realize that the gospel is the same for each of us…and that gospel says that YOU ARE THE ONE, who Jesus will not give up on.  Amen.

Don’t Pick On Personality 7-21-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:38-42, I explore the odd little exchange that occurs between Jesus and the sisters, Mary and Martha.  When we did, just a little bit, we start to uncover some interesting insight.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-pick-on-personality-7-21-19

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

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

In recent years, there has been an amazing emphasis placed on the exploration of different personality types and the ways that they manifest in the lives of individuals.  There are tons of different tests and surveys…countless different expressions and categories.

There’s Type A vs Type B.  There’s the enneagram scale.  There’s Strengthsfinders…just to name a few.  Now…I’ll fully admit that I haven’t done a ton of work in this realm…a lot of it goes over my head and I’m kinda lost in what each specific category is aimed at, and what the individual results within that category reveals.

But what I do know is these different things…personalities and tendencies and strengths, whatever we want to call them…they manifest themselves in a lot of different ways…and they differ greatly between individuals…and perhaps there is no-where that we begin to see this better expressed than within families.

We see drastic differences between siblings…we see them between parents and children…and we definitely see them between spouses…and I can confirm this from personal experience. My wife and I agree on a lot of things…but we have two VERY different personality types…something that becomes VERY apparent on Saturdays.

Now my wife would be called Type A…and one of her strengths is achievement…and this manifests itself in the fact that she has a very hard time sitting around all day doing nothing.  (Pause) Now me, on the other hand…I will happily lounge around on my keister all day without batting an eyelash…I suppose that makes me Type B…and yes…just like we find in today’s story…this can…and does…lead to tension. (pause)

Mary and Martha. Another story that has infiltrated our cultural awareness in the differences that lie between personality types.  We’ve got Mary, the laid back one…the one who casually sits at the feet of Jesus, just taking it all in…oblivious to what’s going on and the tasks of hospitality that linger in the house around her. (pause) And then we’ve got Martha…the proverbial busy-body…the one who can’t even think about sitting down because…THERE’S JUST SO MUCH TO DO!!!!!

Now, its my tendency to try and put myself in the headspace of the people that we hear about in the scriptures…and this one’s no different…so for starters…we’ve got Martha. (Pause) Oh…Jesus is here….goodness me…so much to do…I need to tidy up before he even comes inside. I bet he’s hungry and he’s got all those people with him…they all need to eat, better get in the kitchen…and all the neighborhood kids will be bugging them…I need to shoo them away…is it too stuffy in here, do I need to open a window…so much to do. (pause) And then there’s Mary…DUDE!!!!! Jesus is here…YES…I am totally just gonna sack out and listen…where’s my beanbag chair? (pause)

Now as we know…as this little scene progresses Martha gets continually annoyed with Mary…and it seems with Jesus too, because she snaps…at him…Jesus! Dude…don’t you care, that my sister…has left me to do all the work. Tell her to help me!

And then Jesus, finally speaking aloud for the first time calmly tries to grab Martha’s attention…and she’s in such a tizzy that he has to say her name twice…Martha…Martha…you are distracted and worried about many things…only one is needed. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be take away. (pause)

It seems…at first glance…that Mary is praised and Martha is condemned…and that Jesus is throwing some shade on the work that Martha is doing.  And if we limit things to the surface level, we walk away from this passage with yet another moral lesson that seems to say…Sabbath is important, don’t be so busy…take a load off.

And if that’s where we stop…we are doing an incredible disservice to Martha…Yes she’s distracted…yes she’s worried…but that’s what Jesus seems to be calling her away from…not the actual work that she’s doing.

Here’s the thing…and pay attention because this is important…in the original language…we hear that Martha is distracted by her many “services” or we can even say “ministries.” It’s the same word…and that should be eye opening for us here in the church. She’s so distracted by trying to do too many ministries all at the same time that she’s missing out on the one thing needed.

I don’t know what that one thing was…maybe all Jesus needed was a cloak picked up off a chair so he could sit down…she didn’t need to clean the whole house.  Maybe he was hungry for a chunk of bread…but she’s trying to prepare a lavish meal…I don’t know…but I’m pretty sure he’s not condemning her for attempting to be of service to her guests.  That’s Martha’s personality…that’s her tendency…she’s living into her authentic self by hosting…but Jesus seems to be pointing out that she’s going overboard and her distraction and worry is evidence of that.

Now that being said…the flipside is also worth paying attention to…Mary’s not being praised for sitting around doing nothing…because you know what…sometimes people are hungry and a meal needs to get made…sometimes the communion bread needs to be baked…or the scripture needs to get read, or Sunday School classes need to be taught.

So what’s different?  What do we take from this?  If its not the surface level lesson that we should ignore busy-ness so we can zero in on our guest…then what is Jesus calling us into here? What is this better part…this good portion that Mary has chosen that Jesus seems to acknowledge? (pause)

I think that’s a good question to ponder on…especially in light of our recent gospel stories over the course of the past few weeks…because honestly…if we take all of Luke Chapter 9 and 10 together…Jesus is giving us a lot of mixed messages.

We hear, early on that Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem…indicating intentionality about his mission and his ministry…an intentionality that is highlighted when a few would-be followers each ask for a touch of leeway, only to have Jesus hammer them for a lack of focus and commitment.

Then he sends out 70 people to proclaim the good news that the Kingdom has come near…which is apparently so important of a message that they can’t even turn aside to say hello to someone on the road…NO DISTRACTIONS…get right to it.

That’s followed up by a question about who’s my neighbor and the parable of the Good Samaritan that gives an impression…no you should be willing to turn aside…to offer mercy to those who need it…to get involved in the immediate need as opposed to that directive over there.

And now the implication that mundane tasks aren’t the answer, but that we should just zero in on the guest…or at least maybe on Jesus.

So come on Jesus…seriously…what do we make of this? (pause)

I went round and round with that question…trying to make head’s or tails of the good news of this odd little exchange that all too often pits two sisters against each other and leaves people reeling when they see themselves in one or the other.

But what if this odd little passage reveals an invitation of Jesus to simply be honest and authentic about who we are?  What if Martha isn’t getting smacked for hosting…but rather is being called to be her best self at one thing.  And what if Mary isn’t getting praised for being lazy, but rather she’s being affirmed in her desire to engage with a guest. (pause)

It seems to me…over and over again in the scriptures…and especially in the gospels…and specifically here in Luke’s gospel…it seems like Jesus continues to extend an invitation to countless different individuals to be precisely who they are…and when they do…it seems like he takes joy in that…and he finds delight in the presence of their authentic self.

And when I think about that…I’m reminded of the truth that we find clear back in Genesis…that our existence begins from a place of joy and delight of the one that made us in the first place.  Think about that…God made you…and God has called you VERY GOOD…We have a God who made ALL of this out of a sense of divine goodness and joy…and the brokenness of the whole thing…that didn’t come around until chapter 3.

Admittedly…there are times when our Lutheran tendencies put a little too much emphasis on the brokenness of humanity and the world. I don’t dispute that this brokenness is a reality…far from it…but that’s not where our existence begins.

And maybe, just maybe, whatever it was that was being accomplished in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…maybe it was it making it possible for us to see that we are perfectly loved and accepted and claimed by the God who joyfully made us in the first place…and that this is true RIGHT NOW in this moment.

You don’t have to hide who you are…who you really are…in order for God to love you…and the gospel frees us to truly believe that…and to know that whatever brokenness does exist within us…there is grace for that…but that we don’t have hide our true selves away for God to give this love to us…that’s a ludicrous idea when we think about it…that the one who created this reality and everything in it by simply speaking it into being could ever be fooled into thinking that the false persona we present to the world is real. God knows you intimately…and God desires for you to be honest with yourself…and to be free in that…that’s the gospel…that’s the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven coming near to us…

And the other amazing thing about all this…is that we are also free to love one another in this same way…which, let’s be honest…is something that body of Christ really needs to work on. But praise be to God that there’s grace for the church too.  Yes she is broken…yes she is flawed…because she is made up of broken and flawed people…but thanks be to God…that the perfect, all in…completely encompassing grace-filled love of God continues, day after day, to overcome our shortcomings…and continues to invite us forward into that amazing freedom that we find when we realize that the kingdom HAS come near…and that we are already a part of it.  Amen

Jump In and Eat Up 8-19-18

In this sermon, based on John 6:51-58, I explore the portion of the Bread of Life discourse where Jesus tells us that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink…and that in him is life and wisdom.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/jump-in-and-eat-up-8-19-18

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

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

After the past couple weeks away, its great to be back here again, and to work back into the normal swing of things…which actually takes a bit of work for me, as the week of family camp that my crew and I share every year is anything but ordinary…something that becomes apparent from pretty much the first moment you set foot on site…and then blatantly obvious once the program itself starts…as staff members come up with wacky and crazy ways to illustrate general rules as well as some of the various safety measures that are taken while at the camp.

Now there are quite a few, but one of these rules is you only drink water out of one of the water fountains or out of the bathroom faucets. The reason for this rule is keep people from drinking water out of the creek. There is a parasite in the creek water that will cause some pretty major digestive complications, and the people that run the camp want to make sure that everyone avoids that.

Now admittedly, after a dozen years of going to camp, I tend to think all of these different rules as somewhat second nature…but then I heard a quote this week, and in light of the camp rule, it struck me as funny. In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria. 

Now, at first, I just had to laugh, because I took it as a joke especially in light of the whole parasite in the water thing…but then I really got to thinking about what it was saying as a whole, and especially the first part of the quote…in wine there is wisdom. I found myself wondering why that seemed to be so significant and then I made a connection…it sounds just like our scripture lessons for this week.

We hear about wine in our Gospel lesson from John and we hear about Wisdom in the rest of our lessons from Proverbs and Ephesians as well as our Psalm for today. It’s not uncommon for the different readings in the lectionary to have common themes, but I was really surprised at how closely they all seem to fit together this week.

There’s a funny thing about the different passages that get lumped in together each week. Sometimes they don’t seem to fit together at all, and I wonder just what the lectionary committee was thinking as they assigned them…but then sometimes…like this week…they really seem to mesh.

And I didn’t realize quite how well they fit together until I listened to a broadcast from some of my old seminary professors this week. Now typically, they recommend preaching a single lesson…which you’ve probably noticed is my normal style…

But this week during the broadcast one of the professors said “You know that whole single lesson thing…this week…forget about it. Preach on the whole set.” So I’ll give it a try…although I don’t plan on dwelling very heavily on the other readings, I will highlight them just a touch.

We start off in Proverbs, and it could be safe to say that Wisdom is the feature of that entire book. After all, it was written by Solomon, who was best known for his God-given wisdom. However, this reading seems to look at Wisdom as a person…a person that is willing to share their knowledge with others. “You that are simple, turn in here…Lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of insight.” We even catch a glimpse of the gospel lesson here. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine that I have mixed.” That sounds a lot like what Jesus is telling us today doesn’t it?

Now our psalm that we shared earlier today seems to be imparting Wisdom. I can almost picture a grandfather giving advice to his young grandson…and there is certainly divine wisdom in this advice. “Those who fear the Lord lack nothing…and Those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.” The lesson from Ephesians follows this same model. Paul is passing along wisdom for how to live. One verse in particular stands out to me. “So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
(Pause)

Each one of these readings are strong in their own right. Wisdom is truly something of value. But hearing these readings raises a question. Where does this wisdom come from? Perhaps we can deduce that it must come from the Lord…which then raises another question…HOW ARE WE TO GET IT? (pause) I think we begin to see the answer to this very important question in John’s gospel lesson for today.

As we read this lesson…hearing Jesus speak of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, I’m guessing this leads us to a common idea…communion. Interestingly enough, John’s 6th chapter is the only reference to communion. The words of institution that we are so used to hearing don’t appear in John’s account of the last supper. Many scholars agree that if you want John’s take on the matter, you better tune in right here.

Jesus tells us “I AM…the living bread that came down from heaven.” Here he compares himself to another bread from heaven. Manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness. The divinely given bread which sustained the people during their day to day activities, but as we hear Jesus say… “your ancestors ate, and they died.” But Jesus says “whoever eats of THIS bread will live forever…actually he says it twice…and in that culture…to repeat yourself meant that it was…REALLY important. (pause)

So if Jesus is the living bread…how do we eat it? He tells us that too. “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Eternal life is only possible by eating the flesh of Jesus. What exactly is Jesus telling us here? That we are only saved through communion? That we need to physically hack him up and chow down? Maybe…but…I don’t think so.

Rather, it seems that Jesus is referencing something very important here…the source, of his flesh. Think of the beginning of John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” From here we jump ahead a few verses. “And the Word…became flesh.”

Now the Word as John calls it, is an important and significant thing. Some call it the Will of God…or the Wisdom of God. We see in John 1 that He was in the beginning with God and all things were made through him.

So if the Word became flesh…then the flesh of Jesus is the Will, or the Voice, or the Wisdom of God himself. And Jesus tells us that his flesh is the bread that grants us eternal life…and I think that makes sense…after all, in receiving his flesh, we are receiving the living Word of God….the same word which spoke creation into being.

Now I gotta go into the Greek for just a second…because there’s a distinction. Within his teaching, Jesus makes a sharp contrast between the Israelites eating the manna with our eating of His own flesh. Now, in the example of the Israelites, the Greek word for eat is esthio…which is best translated as to eat or to dine. However, here, when Jesus speaks of eating his flesh, he uses the word trogo…which is better translated to devour. In short…to trogo is to munch or gnaw. It implies an animalistic sense to eating…certainly more raw than to dine.

At one point or another, most of you sitting out there today have seen me eat. If you haven’t you might be surprised. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’m an eater. Anyone who has ever watched me take down a hamburger will attest to it.

But I do have different eating styles, depending on how much I am enjoying the food set in front of me. My wife has come to recognize how well I like a new creation that she’s come up with based on my enthusiasm for eating. If I’m not a fan, I’ll pick at it…taking small bites…taking my time…I’m dining. Esthio.

However, if you put something really good in front of me…fresh hot pizza for instance…I’m leaning over the table…stuffing and swallowing as fast as I can so that I can start in on the next piece…I’m ravenous. A dog gnawing on a bone has nothing on me…I can tell you that much. This my friends…is trogo eating.

And this…is how Jesus describes the way that we should eat of his flesh. He encourages us to dive right in…to be ravenous in the consumption of his flesh. Jesus is telling us to eat as if our life depends on it…and do you know what…It…does.

The next time you take communion, think of that…the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is Life-Giving. And in His Body…his flesh…is the Wisdom of God…the knowledge that through Christ’s saving power, we have eternal life.  Not by anything we have done…not by any measure that we ourselves possess…but because Jesus Christ freely gives it. Just as He freely offers us forgiveness of our sins, he offers us his flesh…the living Word of God…He has offered himself in EVERY way…so that we may have life eternal….Amen

Its A Symbol 2-18-18

In this sermon, based on Genesis 9:8-17, I explore the covenant that God made with Noah and with all life following the destruction of the flood.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-a-symbol-2-18-18

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

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

As a species, humanity loves symbols. We have symbols for all kinds of stuff…and rightly so. Symbols serve a good purpose…to remind of us things…to represent something specific.  Some symbols are patriotic like a bald eagle or the US flag. Other symbols work to keep us safe, like the red and green lights on a traffic symbol, telling us when to go and when to stop.

There are countless different symbols representing countless different things surrounding us at any given time…and this is true here in the church as well…we love our symbols here…the cross is an obvious one…reminding us of the hope that we find in the death and resurrection of Christ.  The ever-present Christ candle burning up here on the altar is another one, a visual reminder that the light is always shining in the darkness.

Our different liturgical colors are another symbol…purple and red, green and white and blue…all pointing towards different seasons of the church year with different focal points…

We have different traditions that act like symbols too…things that we do that mark a certain day or are intended to help us consider something specific…the candles that we light on Christmas Eve…the Ashes spread on our foreheads just a few days ago on Ash Wednesday…the slamming of the book on Good Friday, or the smell of the lilies on Easter morning.

All of these things are good things…meaningful things…and all of them, in one way or another…are symbols. (pause) Now I’ve been thinking about this idea of symbols a lot…and I also realized that there are certain things that can also symbolize an end, the finishing of a chapter in life…and as I thought about this, I remembered something that I saw quite a few years back during the 2004 Summer Olympic games.

Some of you may remember the name Rulon Gardner…He was a Greco-Roman wrestler…he had sorta come out of nowhere 4 years earlier…shocking everyone by beating the reigning Olympic heavyweight champion from Russia…and then everyone expected him to repeat and win the gold again in 2004…and maybe just maybe to go on winning…as he had said many times that he would continue to compete until someone came along that could beat him…but that when that happened, he would retire.

And then…in his semi-final match…he lost…and so he had just one more match, to wrestle for the bronze medal, a match that he did win…but once it was over, Rulan Gardner joined a long tradition of wrestlers…he walked out to the center of the mat…bent down and began to untie his shoes…finally taking them off and leaving them in the center of the mat…a tradition…a symbol to represent his retirement.

Now the cheers from the crowd were incredible…as everyone recognized and honored his great commitment to the sport…but you could see the sadness and anguish on his face, tears in his eyes as he set his shoes down, because this symbol meant something different to him…it was a reminder that wrestling was over, all the work, all the competition…it was all done.

Now that’s where I want to connect into the scripture…we have heard today the story of God making a covenant with Noah following the flood…a story that many of us know quite well. The world had grown evil and sinful…and God decides to cleanse the earth of its wickedness with a great flood…but there’s one guy…Noah…and he’s upright and righteous…and so God decides to spare Noah and his sons and their wives…so God has Noah build a great big boat…and together with his family and a whole slug of animals that God has sent 2 by 2…they float around on all this flood water while the rest of life on the earth is destroyed.

The rains fall for 40 days…but the flood itself lasts WAY longer than that…Noah and his crew are actually on the ark for an entire year before God finally remembers them and calls them to come out.  Now, with this, Noah is so happy to be back on dry ground that he builds an altar and makes a sacrifice to God…and then God starts talking to Noah.

Now the first thing we hear, just before our reading starts up today…is a reminder from something going all the way back to the beginning…as we hear that all of humankind has been made bearing the divine image of God…and then God takes look at Noah and says something that sounds, downright familiar…be fruitful and multiply…the exact same thing God has said clear back in the story of the creation with Adam and Eve…and maybe that makes sense…humanity has essentially been wiped out, and the animal population wasn’t fairing much better, so maybe it stands to reason that God would need to repeat this command to go out and do what life does…to live and multiply.

But with this, God makes a promise…and as we hear today…God must think its pretty important because we hear it repeated several times over. I establish my covenant with you and your descendants…and with all the animals and the birds…with all life for all generations to come…never again will I destroy the earth by flood.

And then again…I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall flesh be cut off by flood, never again will flood destroy the earth…And then we hear of a sign…a sign of the covenant…which covenant…the one that is between me and you and between me and all flesh…and what is that sign? I have set my bow in the clouds…and when I see it I will remember the covenant that I have made with you and with all flesh to never destroy the earth…Yes when that bow is in the clouds I will see it and I will remember the everlasting covenant between me and all flesh…

And then God reminds Noah one more time…just for good measure….This is the sign of the covenant between me and all flesh on the earth. (pause) Did you sense a trend there?

I can only think that God wants to make it abundantly clear that he is making a covenant with ALL life, not just Noah but all life that this utter destruction will never happen again…and that there is a sign for it…the bow that God has set in the clouds. (pause)
Now here’s the thing that I think is pretty important…this covenant, which interestingly enough is the very first covenant that God makes with humanity in the scriptures…this covenant is utterly one-sided. Now that’s not typically the case is it. Anytime there’s a covenant, or a contract or whatever we want to call it…both parties typically bring something to the table don’t they?

But not this time…God literally asks nothing of Noah or his sons or the rest of humanity…the only person who is beholden to anything here is God…who will see the sign of the covenant in the clouds and will remember…God will remember that the destruction of the earth is over. Just like a wrestler putting his shoes on the mat, signifying the end of all the work and the sacrifice and the competition, God remembers that destruction is over. (pause)

Now this is all pretty amazing, but it makes me stop and think just what is it that God was destroying in the first place? That’s the funny thing about this whole story…that even though this is one that we typically consider nice and cute…and we see images of Noah and the Ark and all the animals smiling under a rainbow in church nurseries and storybook Bibles…but in the end we need to remember that this is utter devastation on the part of God…and that’s sort of eye opening.

Now, at times when I’ve talked about this, I’ve heard people say that the God of the Old Testament seems to be angry and judgmental and full of wrath…but interestingly enough…that’s not what causes God to send the flood…If you don’t believe me, go home and look it up, its in Genesis 6 if you’re looking…and if we look back we find that humankind has become wicked and evil…But God isn’t angry…God is sorry that he has created us…God grieves the existence that humanity has taken on…and it has only taken 10 generations since Adam and Eve. 10 generations to move from the Tov…from the Very Good of God’s creation that has culminated in humanity to God literally being sorry that we were created in the first place.

Let that sink in…We have a God who grieves in the mess that we have made of our existence and our reality…and all I have to do today is say the words “recent events” and I’m guessing many of you out there today are going start nodding your heads…because its not hard to understand God’s grief with how humanity treats one another is it? (Long pause)

And yet…God’s not done with us yet. And we know its true because as we heard, over and over again…God has made a promise, a covenant…never again…and God has given us a symbol…a bow set in the clouds.

Now here’s the thing about that bow…for us, its become a beautiful symbol hasn’t it…the rainbow…a bright and vibrant splash of color in the sky showing us that the storm is over…now I’ve seen many rainbows in my life…but never so bright and clear as the ones that I see at camp in the mountains of Colorado. I can only think that the conditions are perfection for the creation of rainbows there…as afternoon storms come rolling down the mountain which faces west, into the afternoon soon…and the storms let loose for about 10 minutes, and then the clouds slide farther on down the mountain, out across the valley to the east that overlooks the next range…and as the clouds slide by the afternoon sun lights up those clouds and the most vivid rainbows come in to focus…sometimes doubles…and I’ve even seen a triple before…and its gorgeous and it literally serves as a sign that the storm is over and its safe to go outside again.

But the sign is different for God than it is today…and maybe just maybe it was different for our brothers and sisters of ancient times…because what if God wasn’t just talking a rainbow…what if God was talking about a weapon?

You see, in ancient times, it was thought that when a storm came over, some divine being up in the heavens, didn’t matter which culture you were a part of, but whoever your god was…they thought that god was shooting arrows at the earth in the bolts of lightning that would come crashing down…but what if that divine being has made a promise to hang up the bow that fires the arrows?

Maybe that’s what this symbolizes…that the one who is capable of bringing utter destruction upon the earth is hanging up the weapon that causes it…and if we think about that bow…its pointing up away from the earth.  Just like a wrestlers shoes signify the end of his career…the weapon being hung up serves as a symbol to signify the end of destruction.

And as we mentioned before…this covenant, this promise is utterly one sided, which if we think about many of our Biblical figures, perhaps becomes quite apparent. God made this covenant with Noah…and it took approximately 4 verses for Noah to screw up and in a drunken stupor begin cursing his offspring.  Likewise, Adam and Eve…the epitome of the Good creation of God…they lasted 6 verses.  God’s chosen people the Israelites….the ones who received the law through Moses…they were literally breaking the 1st commandment in the same instant that God was giving Moses the commandments.

I bring all this up to remind us that humanity has always been, and will continue to be broken and flawed…and yet out of God’s divine favor for those made in his image, he has promised us never again. But what is even more amazing than that…out of that divine favor comes another promise, one that is made real for each us through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…that through him we have been claimed…and we have been given a sign of that promise as well…2 of them actually…one we’ll share in a few moments when we hear the body of Christ broken for you, the blood of Christ shed for you.

And the other one…interestingly enough it has to do with water as well…for our baptism serves a physical reminder of the promise that God has made on your behalf…a promise that speaks of your identity as far as God is concerned.

But, even though the covenant is one-sided…in the waters of our baptism we are also invited into something different…because we are invited into the work of reconciling this world back to God through the Good News of Jesus Christ, the one who has redeemed this broken world that we are a part of…this broken world that all too often seems dark and dreary and hopeless…especially in light of recent news.

And yet…just as the rainbow serves as a reminder of the promise that God made to the world…just as our baptism serves as a reminder of the promise that God has spoken into our lives as individuals…may we continue to find hope…and not only that but may we carry the source of that hope out into this dark broken world, so that maybe, just maybe we can begin to see the Kingdom of Heaven come near for all people. Amen.