Posts Tagged ‘Stories’

To You 12-24-18

Candlelight

In this Christmas Eve sermon, based on Luke 2:1-20, I explore the importance of stories. Our common stories create a sense of shared community with one another and reveal important things about us and about what God is up to in the world.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/to-you-12-24-18

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

On this most special of nights, Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I recently read a book that took an in-depth look at the history of human species…the various topics that came up covered pretty much all the bases that you might expect to find in a book like this…but one point came up that caught my attention…throughout the history of humanity…there is one thing that brings about unity and community more than any other…stories. (pause)
When we stop and think about it…a good story accomplishes all kinds of different stuff…and I can’t help but think that this is something that is built into the very fabric of our being…the ability to tell stories…and the bond that is created as we do so.

My wife often jokes with me that when I get together either with my old friends, or with my extended family…the same thing tends to happen…we all sit around, often times sipping on something tasty…and we tell the same…old…stories.  She’s right too…we don’t often do anything new together, just sit around talking about the old times…but by golly we have a good time.

This idea of story-telling…of reliving old memories together…it’s a good thing to do…and it’s a tactic that I often bring into different ministry moments.  As a congregation we’ve shared stories of how we see God active in our lives during the season of Lent. When I’m working with a couple in pre-marital counseling I ask them to tell me the story of their lives, both as individuals as well as their shared life together…and when I’m working with a family in preparation for a funeral I ask them to tell me stories of the person that they remember.

Telling stories…hearing stories…it serves a variety of purposes…but if I’ve noticed one thing time and time again…its that stories work. As we share them…we find ourselves reliving the sense of that earlier time…the community that was present between individuals…the joy of moments…the laughter than ensues as you start seeing tears leaking out the corner of one another’s eyes because you are overcome with laughter. The shared pain and sorrow that finds its way to the surface when we share stories of defining moments of a person that we’ve lost.

We tell stories in many different ways…whether sitting around a table reliving old times…or hearing a common cultural fable…or watching a movie, or hearing a song…truly, as people we are defined by the stories that we share…and something I love about it is the fact that stories do take on so many forms…and that whether or not they are factual…whether or not they are something that actually happened in history or if they are just a story that illustrates a particular idea or emotion…stories work to reveal a truth to us.

That’s the tactic that I often utilize when I’m exploring the scriptures as well…the stories that we find in both Testaments…stories that have long been debated as to if they “really happened” or not…but rather than getting bogged down into those details I just wonder…what truth can we find here? What does it reveal about the nature of God…or the nature of humanity? What does it tell us about ourselves? Or what does it reveal about the way that God’s working throughout this crazy thing we call life?  I believe with every part of me that this is what the scriptures do…they tell us stories that reveal aspects of these truths to us…and that includes the well-known story that we share tonight on Christmas Eve.

In those days the emperor of Rome had an idea…let’s count everyone…not because I care about all those millions of people out there in the far reaches of the empire…but because I want to know how many taxes I can raise…

Shifting gears, I can only imagine how THAT news was received in the tiny backwater town of Nazareth where a young carpenter named Joseph scratched out his day to day existence…alongside his super-pregnant fiancé Mary…when the decree went out that everyone had to go to their ancestral homes he must have let out a big sigh…and went to find Mary and say “well I don’t know what to tell you…but we’ve got to head down to Bethlehem.” Mary probably wasn’t too keen to make this 100 mile journey, bouncing around on the back of a donkey when she’s 9 months pregnant…and yet…off they go.

And wouldn’t you know it…things are so crowded by the time they get to Bethlehem that they get stuck in a corner…only available spot in whatever dwelling they ended up in was the place the animals typically inhabited…and then…wouldn’t you know it…it time to push…no hospital room…no epidural…no doctor telling you its going to be okay…but that’s the breaks I guess.

And in the end, Mary gives birth to a boy…they wrap him up in clothes and since Joseph didn’t think ahead to bring the pack and play, they lay him in a feed trough…and Mary tries to get some shut-eye.  But that doesn’t really happen for her…because at the same time that’s going on…there’s a batch of shepherds outside town…its nighttime and they’re just hanging out, keeping their ears open for the sounds of predators that might try to sneak in and grab their sheep.

I can’t imagine these guys were too excitable…but then in an instant…NO warning…BOOM here’s this angel and the whole area is lit up around them with divine glory…and as these random shepherds are trying to get their suddenly skyrocketed heart rates to slow back down while simultaneously picking their jaws up off the floor the Angel starts talking…probably in a voice that sounded like the “lets get ready to rumble” guy “Fear not…I bring you words of great joy…for behold…born TO YOU on THIS DAY in the city of David is a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

And maybe just maybe one the guys was like “What?” and then Gabriel said it again… “Ok…for those of you in the back…to you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord.” And as the shepherds just sat there blinking he went on “Here’s the sign, you’ll find a baby wrapped in clothes and laying in a manger.” And then as an exclamation point a whole slug of other angels show up (singing) Gloria!…not to mention peace to the people whom God favors.

And then just like that…all the angels disappear…seemingly just as randomly as they appeared in the first place…and the shepherds stare at each other for a minute before one of them is like “Well, should we go check it out?” and another one’s like “I suppose so” and they all hightail into town and somehow manage to stumble into the right place and wouldn’t you know it…there’s Mary and there’s Joseph and there’s the baby….and Mary was probably like “Dudes, you stink, but yah here’s my kid.” And Joseph…well who knows what he was thinking at this point.

But then the shepherds start telling everyone what happened…and everything the angel told them…and I mean everything…like every single word up to and including “Born to you this day in the city of David is a savior who is Christ the Lord…and that we’d come here and we’d see you and we’d see him and here he is so HOLY COW…MAYBE ITS TRUE!”

And everyone was amazed and then the shepherds just took off again and headed back out of town and Mary treasured everything…which admittedly I sort of questioned…can’t help but think she was a little annoyed but at least with the shepherds gone all she has to deal with is a cow or a sheep or something trying to eat straw out from under Jesus.

(pause)

Crazy story isn’t it? But…it’s a good story…one that reveals SO much to us…honestly way more than I could even hope to unpack for you here tonight…and even if I tried to…honestly, how do we even begin to make sense of the story of God…the creator of the entire universe…the being or the force or the entity or whatever we want to call it…the thing that is so ultimately larger or greater or bigger than we are…the one who exists outside of our concept of reality and time and everything else…That one decides to enter into it…and not only that…but that huge big ultimate being who is all powerful and can do anything…enters in as a helpless baby born to unwed parents from an oppressed culture that are from a tiny backwater town in the middle of nowhere…and not only that…but he’s born in among a bunch of animals and strangers and is laid in a trough where, if a cow just happens to turn wrong he might end up getting bathed in something that would be really disgusting.

WHAT? (pause)

But that…is…the story. And as I hear this amazing story, year after year…amazingly something new jumps at me…every single time…and I wonder if that’s the same for you…I’m guessing it is…because every single Christmas we are hearing this story in light a different experience. Things have changed since the last time you heard this story…maybe things have changed for the better…maybe they’ve gotten harder…but regardless of the circumstances…know this…this story reveals a change.

It begins “in those days.” A past event…but when the Angel reveals the good news of great joy its this…Today is born to you a savior…Today.

Here’s the crazy thing about what God is up to through the birth of Jesus…something that goes way past my ability to understand or comprehend…God is taking a past event and SOMEHOW making it happen NOW as we hear it.

That seems to be the message that the angel shares…this good news which WILL BE for all people.  To you…for you…to you is born…THIS DAY…a savior. (pause) The mind blowing thing about God…whether we want to talk about the creator or the son or the Holy Spirit…the amazing thing about this good news…is that whenever we hear it…whether a batch of shepherds 2000 years ago in Israel…or us 2000 years later on just another Christmas Eve…or in any other situation…when we HEAR that good news…and I mean really hear it…we are drawn into that story and that story is drawn into us in a way that makes it real…right here…right now.

And the wonderful part about it…it happens to you…and it happens for you. That’s the gospel…that this is on your account…and that you get to be a part of it.

As I think about those words “for you” I can’t help but think they sound like communion…and this is fitting as we will celebrate communion together in just a few moments…the body and blood of Christ broken and shed for you…in order to bring you in community with the one who loves you and claims you…and not only that but also to bring us all into community with one another through this same shared experience…and this same shared story.

I don’t know how it all works…but I’m thankful that it does. Amen.

Tell Your Story 3-26-17

This week’s sermon, taken from John 9:1-41, delves into the story of Jesus healing a man who had been blind from birth. Its a lengthy and rather odd story, where we find the man with a whole new life available to him, but the loss of community as he had known it before.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/tell-your-story-3-26-17

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

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

Back in 1984, the confirmation class here at Underwood included a guy that many of you will remember. Jeff Montgomery…now while Jeff’s been gone from Underwood for a while now, his parents Gaylen and Karen were very active here in our community until just about a year ago when they relocated to the Branson area…but its Jeff that I want to focus for a moment.

Following his Confirmation in 1984, Jeff would go on to be a summer councilor up north at Ingham Okoboji…at it was there, during a week of camp in the summer of 1991, that Jeff first encountered a crazy little blond spaz case. They didn’t interact much during that week of camp, but they did cross paths.

Fast forward a few more years, and Jeff was the On-Site Director of the Ingham location, and in early 1996, he has a conversation with the local lumberyard deliveryman, and Jeff inquires if he might know anyone that wants to run a lawn mower part-time through the summer.  The deliveryman, who’s name was Rick Dalen…said, yah I know somebody…and his, then 17 year old son went out to meet with Jeff and got the job…only to decide a month later not to do it, because this crazy high schooler wasn’t a big fan of God, or of church, and was WAY too worried about what his friends would think when they found our he was working at a Bible Camp.

But then a year later, that crazy soon to be high school graduate thought about it again, and went out to talk to Jeff a second time…Jeff gave him a look, asked the question “Are you actually gonna do it this time?” And when the crazy kid nodded, Jeff laughed and said okay lets do this.  The crazy kid started that summer riding a lawn mower, but made a lot of relationships with faithful people that influenced him greatly.

Fast forward 20 years…and that crazy kid is now a pastor, nearly 4 years into his first call at the very congregation where Jeff was confirmed in 1984, and that pastor is sitting at the supper table when his son asks the question “Dad, if you hadn’t worked at camp, do you think you would believe it God?”  (pause) We never know the circumstances that God will use to get our attention…and that is precisely where we meet today’s gospel lesson of the man born blind.

Now as a blind man, his regular day to day activities probably involved sitting alongside the road…just trying to stay out of the way…and hoping for the kindness of those around him as he would sit begging day after day. And this day was a day like any other…when an amazing interruption happened…unexpected and out of the blue…an interruption that changed his life forever. (pause) Because on this day…Jesus came walking by.

As I think about this scene I find myself wondering exactly what happened as Jesus and the disciples happened upon this blind stranger. We hear that Jesus notices him first, but that’s about it. But then we don’t know what happened. Did the man ask them for some money…or was he just sitting there silently? We really don’t know the full details…but apparently something about his situation caught the attention of the disciples…and they ask Jesus a question centered around an old understanding that physical ailments or impairments…his blindness in this case…is the result of sin. (pause) But that’s not what Jesus tells them is it?

And in a truly…odd situation, we find Jesus setting the disciples straight with a statement punctuated by hacking a loogy on the ground. (pause) Just imagine it…imagine Jesus calmly professing “I am the light of the world” (hack a loogy)…and then not only that, bending down, mixing up some mud with said loogy…and smearing it on this blind man’s eyes. (pause)  Think about how crazy that would look…and now think about how crazy it must have sounded to this random blind guy as he sits there listening…You hear conversation…you hear a slight rebuke…you hear a guy spitting, which unfortunately would be a sound that this man probably heard fairly regularly…But then you feel a set of hands smearing cool mud over your eyes…something that would have probably been very unwelcome for this blind man…until he hears a gentle voice tell him Go…wash your eyes in the pool…

And then the stranger stands up and walks away, taking his followers with him…leaving this blind man alone with mud all over his face. (pause). But then…imagine what it must have been like after he made his way to the pool…and washed his face clean…and for the first time ever, opened his eyes to see the world. (pause) It’s not enough to say that this was life changing for him…though it certainly was…but I’d say its safe to call this an earth-shattering thing…and the crazy part is…he have no idea who did this for him. (pause) Think about that for a moment…because that is exactly the situation that this guy is facing now. Blind his whole life…some random stranger comes by, smears some mud and leaves before the man can see who helped him.

And that is an interesting point right there…because for the next 27 verses…Jesus is gone…right in the middle of the gospel…which we usually expect to feature Jesus pretty heavily…right here we discover that the LORD HIMSELF…disappears…and this is precisely the time that the man, once blind but now able to see…could have used a little divine backup.

Because this encounter with Jesus…as much of a blessing as it must have been for this guy to go from being blind as a bat to being able to see and care for himself…as great as that must have been…things get a little rough for him.

As the man is walking back home, he begins to encounter his neighbors…people who have known him his entire life…but they can’t recognize him… “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” He looks familiar but that man was blind…this cannot be the same man…and we see a sort of isolation begin to occur around the newly healed individual…as those around him fail to see past one physical trait that has defined him throughout his lifetime…they just can’t see past it…despite his continued assurances “hey guys…really, its me.”

And as bad as that must have been for this man…to not even have the ability to celebrate with is neighbors…we see him essentially put on trial. “What happened?” (pause) I don’t know…this guy put mud on my eyes, told me to wash them, and I could see…but I don’t know who he was.”

And things escalate…and now the people are bickering and they ask him again “WHAT HAPPENED?” (Pause) Mud on my eyes, he told me to wash. I did, I could see…But they still aren’t convinced…and he’s taken before the Pharisees who look down their nose at the fact that this all happened on the Sabbath…WHAT? HE MADE MUD ON THE SABBATH…HE PERFORMED A HEALING ON THE SABBATH…Surely not…he must be a sinner…Quickly now…tell us how this happened.
And the guy has to explain…again. (Pause, take a breath) Mud, eyes, wash…not blind anymore…and they bicker amongst themselves…some being swayed and others not…and they ask him again…HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? (pause…take a deep annoyed breath). Blind, mud, eyes, wash, not blind…yes we got that but who is the man…he’s a prophet…can I go now?

But he can’t leave…because the elite aren’t satisfied…and they bring in his parents…and what happens there? Well, we see the man further isolated because of the fear his parents experience…they don’t want to be kicked out of the synagogue…and so all they’ll say is “well, yes that’s our son and he was blind…BUT WE DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT…ASK HIM!”

This is getting ridiculous for the man…first he’s healed, but he’s alone when it happens…then his neighbors and friends fail him…then the religious leaders fail him…then his family fails him…and then to top it all off the religious leaders haul him back in for a second round.

Tell us again…how did this happen? (pause) After the day this guy is having, perhaps its understandable that he gets a little snarky with them. HEY…I already told you…why do you want to hear it again…planning on learning from him or something? And low and behold, he’s kicked out of the synagogue because of his situation…and then…only then…do we finally see Jesus come back on the scene…and for the first time, the formerly blind man is able to look in the face of the one who offered him this great gift…but he doesn’t know it…until Jesus asks the right questions…and gradually opens the man’s understanding of the truth…that this is the Son of Man…and he… believes. (pause)

Now take a moment to think about all this that’s happened. In the midst of the normal routine of his day, Jesus utterly changes his life…and that change causes two completely different things to happen to the man…as we’ve seen, it creates a brand new isolation from him as he loses the relationship with his neighbors…and then with his parents…and finally with his “church.”

And that can happen…for some…the radical change brought upon them by encountering Jesus can cause the loss of old relationships…because the light of Christ shining in their lives drives away darkness…perhaps you’ve experienced that in your own life…but in the midst of this growing isolation…we also find a change coming over the man…and this change has to do with his testimony about Jesus.

First, he’s just the man that smeared mud on my eyes and told me to wash…but I don’t know who he is…but then, as the man continues to speak about the truth of his own experience…he calls Jesus a prophet…and then he starts getting really bold in his testimony. We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, so if he were not from God he could do nothing…Yes, this man comes from God…and then finally, he comes to know and believe that Jesus is the son of God…Lord I believe.

And Jesus gives this man a new found relationship in the face of the loss of his old relationships…and this is the relationship with God himself…the one that send Jesus into the world…and that is a reality that we all face.

In one way or another, we encounter Jesus Christ through our experience with the Gospel…one way or another we have each heard the good news that God loved us enough to overcome the sin that stands in the way of our relationship with him by willingly coming to Earth to live and die a brutal death on the cross…so that in the end, we will not face the consequences of our sin…

But sometimes…often I think…our encounter with Jesus Christ puts us on a path that causes rifts in our old relationships while at the same time granting us the courage to speak truthfully about our own experience with Christ…that’s all this man did…throughout all the trials and the hounding…this simple man spoke a simple truth of his own experience….in short…he shared his story of what God did…even if he didn’t know that it was God who did it…not to mention that he had no idea how it worked.  He simply shared the truth.

GIVE GLORY TO GOD, We know that this man is a sinner. (Pause) I do not know whether he is a sinner…I only know that I was blind and now I see. (pause) For this one many who lived and died all those years ago…his encounter with Jesus brought physical sight to blind eyes. But for us today…our encounter with Jesus illuminates our eyes, blinded by the darkness of sin…darkened by the lack of understanding of the truth…but praise be to God that he has sent his Son so that we may be freed of this blindness…and we too may have the courage to testify “Lord, I believe.” And then, as time goes on…the courage to share our own stories…This is what happened to me. I don’t know how it works or why, but this is what God has done. Amen