Posts Tagged ‘Sermon’

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.

Add Faith To Us 10-2-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 17:5-10, I explore an interesting request from the Apostles to “increase our faith.” Yet a translation hiccup reminds us that faith is not something that we can quantify.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/add-faith-to-us-10-2-16

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

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

When I was in high school, I was very active in a lot of the fine arts. One of the things that I enjoyed was large group speech, and in particular, group improv. It is so much fun to work together with a group of people to come up with a story right there on the fly…unscripted…unplanned.

And because of my love for improv, it will probably come as no great shock to hear that back in the late 90’s, that one of my favorite things was the improve tv show Who’s Line is it Anyway…a half hour long batch of games that were completely improvised…and the catch phrase of the show was always great…the show where everything is made up and the points don’t matter. (pause)

I think that last phrase…the points don’t matter…that was what always caught my attention…because that tends to be how I approach pretty much everything. In all likelihood that’s probably why I’m not the biggest fan of sports…because I don’t really pay much attention to the scoreboard.  One of my favorite things to say when someone asks me about the score of some random game or another, I usually end up saying “It ended up too much to not enough.”

But honestly…that’s not how things really work is it? We love to keep score…we love to quantify things…and not just the outcome of sporting events…but pretty much everything…we, as human beings, have the tendency to attempt to quantify…absolutely everything. (pause)

And we see evidence of this in our story today…as the apostles look for a boost in on the faith score board.  (pause) Here’s the deal…in the midst of traveling around…following Jesus from place to place…the apostles have seen a lot…they’ve heard a lot…they’ve even experienced a lot of amazing things first hand.  They’ve seen Jesus perform miracles.  They’ve seen him cast out demons. They’ve seen him raise people from the dead…they’ve watched the guy walk on water. (pause) And we can’t forget that the apostles have even been empowered by Jesus, and sent out two by two to do some of these very same things themselves.

But now, as they are finally nearing Jerusalem…getting pretty close to the place where Jesus has told them repeatedly that he’s going to be betrayed and tortured and killed…maybe its finally starting to sink in that at some point…they’re going to be on their own…without their master…seemingly left to their own devises. (pause)
But they also know that they’ve got a mission hanging out there too…to proclaim a gospel of repentance…and then to announce the forgiveness of sins…and not only to proclaim this, but to actually do it…to actually put it into practice.

Right before our passage for today, Jesus has told his followers that when someone sins against them and repents of it…they must forgive…even if they have to forgive that person seven times a day, every day…over and over again.  (pause) Now I don’t know about you…but if I was faced with ALL of this stuff…everything that they’ve seen and heard and experienced…along with everything that Jesus has tasked them with…well I think my response would be the very same. (pause) LORD…INCREASE OUR FAITH.

That phrase…that request…the more I think about it…the more monumentous that request actually seems…and there seems to be a lot of fear and a lot of doubt and a lot of uncertainty all wrapped up in that simple request. Lord…I don’t think I can do this…I know you’ve said to simply believe in you…but come on man…I don’t know about this…You’ve got to help me out here. (pause)
There’s a lot wrapped up in our first verse today isn’t there?  There’s a lot behind that request…and I think if we’re honest with ourselves…we probably make that same exact plea more often than we want to admit.

Lord…I’m facing some big stuff…and I don’t think I can handle it…increase my faith. (pause) Lord, work is overwhelming and I don’t feel equipped…increase my faith. (pause) Lord, what you’re asking me to do it impossible, I can’t do that…increase my faith….and so on and so on.

But when we are saying this…just like when the apostles make the same request within the gospel…just what are we really saying? What are we really asking for?  Are we looking at the heavenly faith scoreboard and finding our tally lacking? Or is there something else going on here?

I think this is an important question to ask…or maybe, just maybe we need to flip it around just a bit to ask…can our faith be increased? And to answer that…we need to look to the words of Jesus today. (pause)
Now his words are a little strange…offering up a couple different topics that seems, at first glance anyway…unrelated…but the first statement does seem to apply to this notion of increasing faith.

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell this tree to yank itself up by the roots and plant itself in the ocean…and it…would…happen. (pause)  My first response to that is…what? Why on earth would I want to send a tree to into the ocean…wouldn’t make a lot of sense…and maybe, just maybe, Jesus isn’t trying to make sense here…because if all it takes to make this ludicrous thing true is the tiniest amount of faith…well then it seems like faith can truly accomplish amazing things…things that seem foolish…things that seem stupid even…things that humanity would laugh at…like even the notion that God would become human…and that God would die. (Pause)

Scripture reminds us that the cross…the very place where we put our hope…is folly…a stumbling block…foolish even…but hey, if faith can do something as foolish as sending a tree into the ocean, well then maybe faith can do this too. (pause)
But all that being said…just what is this whole faith thing anyway? It’s a word that we love to throw around in the church don’t we…especially here in the Lutheran Church…but just what is it anyway? (pause) The answer to that question…put very simply…faith is believing that something will happen…and it can look like a lot of things.  Like believing that the sun is going to come up in the morning…or that if I plug in my wife’s number into my phone that she’s gonna answer…or if I put my key in the ignition of my car and turn it…its gonna start. Believing that what is expected to happen, will happen…but none of that is really earth shattering or life altering…but what about being saved from our sins…what about God loving us so much that He claims us as heirs of the promise…and that not only did he talk about dying for each of us…that he actually did it…and believing him when he says that he has gone on beyond death to prepare a place for us and that he will come back for us…simply because he said he would…can we believe that?

Because that’s what faith is…believing what God says about you…believing that God sees you with great worth…worth dying for….that’s the beauty of the gospel…that’s its not about what we do or what we say or what we think…but its about believing what God says about you. (pause)

Now here’s where things get a little hazy…because we’re not good at simply things are we?  Especially not something as big as this…because its in our nature to think that we have to do something for it…that somehow we have to earn it….or that we have to say it, or we have to believe it…big enough….because we like to keep score don’t we.

Call it whatever you want…self justification…or giving ourselves assurance…but when it comes to the here after…I think we all want to look at the checklist to make sure we’ve actually gotten our get out of jail free card.

But that’s not how the gospel works…and we see this within Jesus’ rather cryptic second statement today…what master, having slaves that have been out working all day invites them in to sit down?  No…they’ll do what’s expected of them…which is to feed the master first. (pause)
I went round and round with this part…trying to figure out what it was that Jesus was saying…but I think we find it in the final statement. So you, when you have done all that you were order to do will say “we are worthless, having done only what we ought to have done.” (pause)

Now this is odd…but I think what Jesus is reminded us here is that as followers of Christ…as people who put our belief in him…our faith in him…there isn’t any sort of “minimum activity” that we have to pull off in order to check our cosmic scoreboard to see if we’re winning or not…now matter how much we might want to keep score…no matter how much we might hope for an increased level of faith…that’s not how any of this goes.

The righteous shall live by faith…period.  We don’t need MORE of it…we simply need it…and we don’t earn it…any more than we work to pay it off…and the one thing that the apostles actually do correctly here, is looking to the source of faith…Lord increase our faith….its not from us…its not self generated…it comes from the Lord…the ability to believe this utter nonsense about a God who loves us enough to die for us…can only come through the power of the spirit working within us.

And as per usual…we’ve got a lost in translation moment…and the request from the apostles is skewed because of it…our modern translations pretty much all say the same thing. Increase our faith…as if it could be quantified…but it can’t…and the better way to look at this request is “Add…faith…to us.”  Its not a question of asking for more…it’s simply a question of asking God for it. (pause)

Our Lord is the source of faith…the source of that which justifies us…and God grants it to us because he choses to, not because we have earned it…our salvation is not God’s way of thanking us for anything…but our response…what we do with it…that is our way of saying thank you back to God…and make no mistake, we are called to do something with this faith…with this amazing news that sets us free…and that calling is to share it…to share the message of repentance and forgiveness…made possible because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. (pause)
Now hearing that charge…perhaps it’s a little intimidating…because it falls under that really scary word of Evangelism that none of us really like very much…but the amazing thing about God’s invitation to us to join in the work of reconciling the world is simply realizing that through Christ’s work, our story becomes part of God’s story…and all we are called to do is extend the invitation to come and see.

Some will accept and some won’t…but you know what…that’s not up to you…that’s up to the spirit…so take the pressure off yourself…and look to the source of faith…our father in heaven, who has already made you this promise…and because of what Christ has already done…it is already given to you freely.  Amen

 

Mary Moments

Attached is the sermon in written form and the link below is for the sound file.

http://soundcloud.com/revdalen/mary-moments-7-20-13

As usual…disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause…I gotta remember to do that stuff somehow.

Grace and peace to you (pause)…Oh sorry…I got distracted for a second there…Let me start over…Grace and Peace to you from God…wait, what was I just thinking…oh never mind…Sorry about that…I kept getting distracted…a lot of stuff to keep track of…

You know, things are certainly out of the ordinary today. I mean, for starters its Saturday evening and here we are, gathered for worship. Anyone else thinking about RAGBRAI tomorrow? Hopefully all the pieces come together. It’s gonna be busy though…
Water bottles…I’ve seen some of those…serving breakfast…yah, that’s right. Carol Bertelson’s in charge…hopefully she’s got everything in line…I wonder if she needs any more help…oh wait…sorry I got distracted again…what was I talking about? Oh worship…right…Let’s see, I need to think about the children’s sermon…oh hold on, no…I already did that…check, I can mark that off my list…but communion isn’t done yet…are the elements in place? I think so…I hope so…otherwise that’ll be awkward…oh and the offering plates…let me see…yah, they are there on the alter where they are supposed to be…check…got that covered too. (pause)

Okay…opening illustration over. How about we try this again.  People of God, Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Well that was an interesting way to start things out wasn’t it? I guess I was having a bit of a Martha moment wasn’t I? I’m sure we’ve all had those times haven’t we? Those times when there’s just too much on our plate or too many irons in the fire. Be honest…who can relate? Think about those times when you’re the host, or you’re in charge and all the important aspects of the day are falling on your shoulders. Sound familiar? (pause) I imagine so.

That is the dilemma that faces Martha in today’s scripture lesson. She’s the hostess…the head of the household…and today…she is hosting a very important guest. Jesus himself…the LORD himself has come to town…and Martha has welcomed Jesus and his entire entourage into her home. Think about it…that’s got to be crazy…

Social decorum dictates that she put on a good spread. The people have got to be hungry…they’ve been traveling…walking through the countryside in the hot sun…I bet they’re thirsty too. And of course, dinner time entertainment is in order as well.

Martha is struggling to impress. She’s thinking about the many activities of service that are required of her now that she has a house full of guests. A multi-course meal…fetching water from the well to refresh the travelers…and so on and so forth…and don’t forget that this is Jesus at the head of the table…as Martha runs around from task to task…duty to duty…service to service…

She must be thinking…Man I could really use some help here…a whole slug of people sitting in the dining room…listening to Jesus speak…I sure would like to join in…but I’m too busy…some help would really be nice…Hey, where’s Mary at? She’s my younger sister. I might be the host, but she’s should really be pitching in and helping out…Where is she at? (pause) What, she’s sitting in there with the men…sitting at Jesus feet like she’s his student? Women don’t do that…she needs to be helping me out. She knows better than that…but that’s just like Mary…always ignoring her duties…I swear she’s been like that her whole life…always spacing off expectations whenever someone comes to visit.

And so Martha…goes straight to source…Jesus…don’t you care that I’m working my tail off here and Mary’s just sitting there listing to you…crack the whip on her will you…I’d love to just sit there with you too…but there’s too much to do and she’s letting me do it all…IT’S NOT FAIR JESUS!!! (pause) It’s not fair.

Anyone ever heard that phrase before? It’s not fair? I bet if you have kids you’ve heard it. And let’s be honest…We’ve all thought it or said it ourselves…probably many times haven’t we.  It’s amazing how the notion of justice becomes so apparent when we are the ones that feel like we’re getting the short end of the stick…and our attention centers right in on that doesn’t it?

It’s not fair…all my friends get to stay out past 11…why do I have to be home? (pause)  It’s not fair…why can’t I have that toy, all my friends have it. (pause)  It’s not fair…I’ve been working my tail off, why did he get the promotion over me? (pause)  It’s not fair…last year we had a drought that killed the crops and now this year we’re getting drowned out by all the rain?  WHY ME?  WHY THIS?

Just like Martha in today’s story…I think we all tend to get a little self-centered at times don’t we? As Martha looks at her sister, sitting at Jesus feet, she seems to have a bit of a “grass is always greener” moment…and we all have those tendencies…and perhaps the tendency that we all share in the most, even more than the “It’s not fair” attitude, is the ability to get caught up in the crazy, day to day grind.

Think about your calendar for a moment. We’re ruled by it aren’t we?

How many times have you gotten into the conversation with someone else and you end up in a bit of a competition about who’s busier? Who has the most meetings…or the most errands…or the most sports practices and homework?

We live in a world that is SO distracting…and it’s getting worse all the time. We live in a world where you can get your email, respond to text messages, update facebook, send a tweet, book airplane tickets, check the box score, get news updates, and see the weather forecast all right here on our phones…oh yah…not to mention get the occasional phone call right?

Our brains are going a mile a minute and how much focus to we actually give to anything? That is the error that Martha suffers in today’s story…and we share it. All too often we jump from distraction to distraction…never really giving anything our full attention…and everything suffers because of it.  Those are the Martha moments that we all experience…and Jesus points it out to her…and I think in doing so…he’s also pointing it out to us.

Martha…MARTHA…and you can probably insert your name right there…you are worried and distracted by many things…but only one thing is needed…We get so busy skipping from thought to thought…activity to activity that nothing is really being done well. This happens in our lives…it happens in our interactions with each other…and if we stop and think about it…all too often it happens in our ministry.

In today’s story, there are two types of ministry…or service happening. Hospitality on the part of Martha…and attention to the guest on the part of Mary.  One of the sister’s keep’s her focus on the ministry at hand…but the other is trying to do too much…but keep in mind, that Jesus doesn’t condemn Martha for everything she’s trying to do. He never says that the many services she’s doing are bad…quite the opposite…he only says that she’s trying to do too many of them at one time…and she needs to slow down and focus on one thing.  Martha, you are distracted and worried about many things…but only one thing is needed.

People of God…I pose this question to you…what is the one thing that is needed in your ministry…in your service?  The apostle Paul tells us that there is one body with many members. Each member has a specific function…and that applies to us?  Are you trying to do so much in your day to day life that you are missing out on the opportunity to really pay attention to the person that is standing right in front of you? (pause)

In the end, I think that’s the point that Jesus is trying to make when he says that Mary has chosen the better part…she has chosen to really focus on the guest…and yes in this case it is Jesus himself…but we are called to give our attention to the “guest” that we have crossed paths with…that is what God is telling us to do…that is what God is telling us to focus on.

About a week ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jeff Shreeves. Most of you know Jeff. He’s our congregational president and from what I hear, he did a wonderful job of leading the church through the time of pastoral transition.  Now you may or may not know that Jeff is an insurance man…and when he meets with someone for the first time, he focuses on the individual. Through simple conversation…he gets to know them…He listens and you can tell as you sit across the table from Jeff, that in that moment…he genuinely cares…and he wants to help people…he even went so far as to tell me that he considers that work to be his ministry…and I applaud that.

We each have our own type of ministry to do. God places us in specific roles at specific times. I think of Beth Torneton and Wendy Leaders who coordinated Vacation Bible School last week. I think of Chris Privia and Joyce Tiarks who have served as Sunday school coordinators for the last 5 years.  I think of the different members of the church council and various boards that they serve…I think of the volunteers who usher, and prepare communion…I think of the junior high students that volunteer to acolyte or the high school students that served as VBS helpers…those are all important roles…but ministry isn’t limited to church. Ministry happens outside those doors…and each of you is God’s worker out there. You don’t have be a pastor…you don’t need some big fancy education…you simply need to be aware of the person standing right in front of you in your day to day life…that’s the person that God wants you to pay attention to.

But in order to accomplish this, we also need to remember the need to quiet our minds from the distractions, and finally to follow Mary’s example by sitting at the Lord’s feet. Jesus says that what Mary has chosen the part that cannot be taken away from her…and we each need to do the same. When God shares a word with us…we need to be listening…and sometimes this takes conscious effort. Sometimes we have to conscious step away from the distractions and those expectations that we place on ourselves…and choose to sit at Jesus feet. That’s the Mary moment from today’s story.

There’s a poem out there that applies pretty directly. Perhaps you’ve heard it, but I’ll share it here.

I got up one morning and rushed right into the day. I had so much to accomplish that I didn’t have time to pray. Problems tumbled about me and harder came each task. Why doesn’t God help me?” I wondered. He answered, “You didn’t ask.”

I wanted joy and beauty, but the day was gray and bleak, I wondered why God didn’t show me, He said, “You didn’t seek.” I tried to come into God presence; I used all my keys at the lock. God gently and lovingly said, “My child, you didn’t knock.” I woke up early this morning, and paused before starting the day. I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray.

I want to offer you a challenge today…and that’s to slow down…and take your Mary moment. If this isn’t something you normally do…try taking 5 minutes…just start there…ask God to quiet your mind and your heart from the many distractions…and then ask God to show you the guest…that he wants you to focus on.  If you already do this every day, good for you…keep it up…but ask God what else you can add…maybe it’s joining a Bible Study…maybe it’s inviting your neighbor out for coffee…God will show you what it is….so when you find yourself in the midst of a Martha moment…and there’s just too much pulling you in different directions…take 5…shut off the cell phone, put down the laptop, turn off the tv…and have a Mary Moment at Jesus feet. Amen