Posts Tagged ‘Traditions’

Ongoing Identity 11-10-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 20:27-38, I explore an encounter between Jesus and the Sadducees, members of a Jewish denomination, as they debate over the Resurrection. In the end, its our identity as claimed Children of God that is important.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/ongoing-identity-11-10-19

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

I’ve often joked around that in the denominational sense, my family balanced itself out.  My dad was born and raised Lutheran by his VERY Norwegian parents…where as my mom was raised Catholic. And as they moved towards marriage, they went back and forth as to which denomination they would ultimately agree on…eventually deciding that Mom would change lanes and become Lutheran.

This continued on into the next generation, as my brother and sister and I were raised in the Lutheran tradition…that is, until my sister got engaged to a Catholic…just like my parents a generation before…she had the same discussion with her fiancé…and in the end, my sister made the switch and was confirmed Catholic shortly before their wedding…and it probably goes without saying that they are passing on the Catholic faith to my 3 nieces.

Now full disclosure…this doesn’t bother me at all…as far as denomination differences go…we’ve got a lot in common with our Catholic brothers and sisters out there…but on occasion the differences that are there come to light…and I remember it happening about 5 or 6 years ago when we were at Mass with my sisters family.

I often joke about the Christian Calisthenics that we do in worship…with our constant standing and sitting for the various aspects…but if you’ve attended Catholic Mass before, you know that they add one more aspect into the mix…as they kneel for various portions…and I always chuckle in these moments…because you can take one quick look around the room and identify all the fellow non-Catholics in attendance…as they are the ones still sitting in the pew as the Catholics take up residence on the kneelers.

On this particular instance, my son was about 9 or 10…and he was sitting in the pew next to me, when the lady positioned in the pew directly behind him popped up on the kneeler…and so they found themselves in pretty close proximity…and I heard her say to him “young man, you need to kneel.”  And he looked at her…and calmly responded “No I don’t,” and turned his attention back to the front.

Now I remember being impressed with two different things in that particular instance…first I was proud of my son who recognized a difference in tradition…and was aware that his own tradition was valid even in a different setting…and second, I was reminded in this little exchange that our different traditions, or understandings or interpretations…all these things can respectfully coexist…and in fact they are actually a good thing as they reveal the wondrous variety that exists among the entirety of the body of Christ on earth….these different denominations that all come together in what we call “THE church.” (pause)

Now interestingly enough…this same type of thing is on display within today’s scripture…and it reveals something that the Christian faith has in common with the Jewish faith…that there are different branches…different traditions…something we call denominations…all within the greater umbrella of a single faith.  This is true for the Jewish faith now…as there are countless different branches in present day Judaism…and, that was also the case in Jesus’ time…with different Jewish traditions in existence and well-established among the people.

And we find this at work right away with the group that Jesus encounters…the Sadducees. (pause) Often times, we have the tendency to lump the Sadducees in with another group, the Pharisees…and honestly both groups tend to get a bad rap in the understanding of many of us…but there were very prominent distinctions between the two branches in the time of the Gospels…and its also worth noting that these were not the only two branches of Judaism at that time.

Each branch had their different traditions and interpretations…but they also had similarities and teachings that were central to their Jewish faith…each had their own following…each had prominent individuals within their ranks. And that’s important for us to remember…particularly as we consider our tendency to demonize the Pharisees and the Sadducees as the bad guys of the gospel.

Some scholars have expressed the opinion that Jesus himself was a member of the Pharisees, especially considering the label Rabbi which was often used to address him…and the way that the present day rabbinic tradition ties back to the tradition of the Pharisees in first-century Palestine. (pause)

Maybe what I’m suggesting today is that these lines that we have the tendency to draw…and the conclusions that we tend to make…they’re murky…and we need to be careful about making assumptions and grouping people together…now all that being said, we do know of an important distinction between the Pharisees and the Sadducees…something which the text reveals…and that is belief in the Resurrection…that there will be a day out there in the unknown future when those who have died will be raised to new life. While many in the Jewish faith believe that there will be a resurrection in one form or another…the Sadducees do not…and considering the various teachings of Jesus on this subject…we know that he is in disagreement with them on that front.

And it would seem that this is the topic of debate behind the scenes of today’s passage.  Admittedly, I find myself wondering just what the tone was in this exchange.  Were they attempting to trip him up…to discredit him in the eyes of the people…or on the other hand was this simply a debate between individuals of different perspectives in an attempt to learn from one another? (pause)

We don’t know…but what we can find is evidence of the Sadducees bias as they provide a hypothetical situation for Jesus. Now it starts off with referencing this old tradition dating back to Moses when a man dies, leaving behind a wife, but no children…it is the expectation of the man’s brother to marry the widow, so that they might have children in the name of the dead brother.

To us, this sounds strange…and admittedly I wonder what the widow has to say about this whole thing…but…the intention behind the tradition was aimed at the continuation of the original man’s name…that his family would continue on…that his identity would not be lost.

Now with that in mind…hey Jesus…what if there were 7 brothers…and one by one they all married the same woman and none of them had any kids…eventually they’re all dead…so (get snarky here) IN THE RESURRECTION…Who’s wife will she be? (pause)

I can only imagine the side-eye that Jesus throws at them here…like “Dudes…hypothetical situations that reveal truth…that’s sorta my gig…we call those parables…you’re over your head here.” But then he goes on to explain the truth of the resurrection…and I can’t help but think he’s blowing their understanding…their expectations…their belief about this whole deal right out of the water.

Because what this all seems to be aimed at…at the heart of this whole deal…there seems to be a question…one that I think we share, even if we come at it from a different direction…What’s the end gonna look like? (pause)

Think about it…whenever we start talking about the resurrection…or heaven…or eternity…maybe I could reference…Revelation…or the end times…whenever this subject comes up…I think we’re all curious aren’t we?  What’s it gonna be like…what’s it gonna look like?

And the Sadducees seem to be posing the same type of question to Jesus today…hey teacher…what’s the end gonna look like?”  And after a beat…Jesus reveals to them…and to us…that the promise of God tells us that there is no end…and that the crazy limitations and rules that we’ve assigned to ourselves in this present age aren’t going to matter anymore…because above all…there won’t be an end…there will just be something that is utterly…new…different…and its beyond our understanding.

But this also reveals something else…that the questions we have, while they reveal our limitations…they also reveal a connection…one that Jesus seems to pick up on.  (pause) The Sadducees were concerned about their tradition which ensures a man’s identity will carry on…but Jesus reveals that our ultimate identity has nothing to do with our family names…or our spouses or our children…but the identity which really counts is given to us by God…as we are claimed as Children of God.

This is an identity that nothing beats…Jesus tells us that…as he says “they can no longer die, for they are children of God, children of the Resurrection.” This is an identity which we share…not one that we have because of our place in a family or community…but one that we receive as a gift of God’s grace.

This identity is made real through Christ…through his life in which he taught us about it…and through his death and resurrection which somehow made it possible…not to mention through his command to engage in a physical act…a practice, in which this promise is given to us…and that is the sacrament of baptism.

It is in the sacraments that we receive a physical manifestation of God’s grace for each of us as the promises are spoken to us and we receive them in faith…this same faith connects each of us…regardless of our own personal knowledge or understanding or interpretation…we each bear the same identity…beloved Child of God…and today…Parish is going to join in this same community as he is washed in this font…and the claim of God upon him becomes tangible.

This promise is real for each of us today…and we hold onto it every day of our lives…we cling to it when we reach the point of death, and we move past the reality of this life into whatever it is that comes next…and we are held secure in that promise when the day of the resurrection occurs…whatever that’s gonna look like on that unknown day out there somewhere in the future. A promise, made by God…confirmed by Christ in the flesh…that to God, each of you…will forever live, because you are Children of God. Amen

Remember 4-18-19

In this Maundy Thursday sermon, I explore the actions taken by Jesus at the Last Supper, whether the foot-washing found in John’s gospel or the institution of Holy Communion found in the other gospels. Jesus seems to be saying goodbye, and wants to do so in a meaningful way that will help those present to remember.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/remember-4-18-19

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

Sometimes it amazes me at how quickly time flies by…recently in the midst of conversation, I realized that its already been more than a year since I visited the Holy Land…touring many of the sites that carry historical significance connected to the life of Jesus.

An interesting thing about the Holy Land is the mix of the old and the new. There are some places…some cities or locations, as well as individual sites that are actually quite new, but there are others that have been there for a REALLY long time…and I remember feeling the significance of all that history on the day when we visited the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem…a very large church built on the site believed to be Jesus’ actual birth place.

I can’t recall if it’s the oldest standing church in the world, but it does have the distinction of being the oldest church in the Holy Land by a pretty large margin. The structure itself was built approximately 1600 years ago…and it survived a purge, wide spread destruction of pretty much every other Christian structure which occurred a few hundred years later…and only because the Persian empire that invaded held an appreciation for the Nativity, because the Wise Men in the story are believed to be Persians. (pause)

I remember a sense of just how significant it was…to stand there in a structure that is that old…and to lean against a wall which has stood there the better part of 2 millennia.  Imagine if those walls could talk…the history they could share…and now on the flipside imagine what would be lost if that structure was destroyed.

We caught a glimpse of that sort of thing just a few days ago…as news reports spread…and video surfaced of the devastating fire that ravaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris…a heartbreaking event for the world, and especially for our Catholic sisters and brothers.

Now I don’t know if any of you have noticed this or not…but it wasn’t long after news broke about the destruction of that beautiful old church, that people started bickering on social media about it.  Butting heads over all kinds of things…One of the arguments I noticed centers around the statement “the church is not the building.”’

I’ve heard that statement before…I’ve even said it…but when I started hearing about the tension around I stopped to think about it…and while there is certainly truth in that statement…truth that points us towards the importance of the community of fellow believers over the material…there is also truth on the other side.  The loss of that beautiful place…a beacon of the Catholic church and faith…that’s something worth grieving.

Because our faith has a way of taking on shape as it connects into something else…and this can take on all matter of forms.  Buildings, hymns or songs, places, traditions, even down to the clothes we wear.  Perhaps here in the Lutheran church, the importance of tradition is one that we can relate to…after all, tonight right here in Worship we are celebrating with our traditional liturgy…as we look around this sanctuary…perhaps for each of us there is a particular item that holds some sort of significance…maybe you connect with a particular aspect of worship…or even in the shared connection that you hold with another person that holds meaning in your faith life.

I think back, and realize that I’ve got a couple examples of this sort of thing from my own faith history.  Some of you have heard me talk about the time in 5th grade when I made it on the news…but only because I happened to be in the background when they reported on the fire that destroyed my home congregation’s building.  It didn’t occur to me until years later that I can no longer stand in the sanctuary and touch the font in which I was baptized.

Likewise, the church building where my wife and I were married…a few years later that congregation moved into a new facility, and the building was sold to a congregation of a different denomination…and while they probably wouldn’t turn me away if I tried to visit…somehow that space…that place…isn’t the same anymore…and that’s another bit of my own faith history that is now lost.

Here’s the thing though…the loss of the place doesn’t take away from the significance of the event itself.  I can’t visit the sanctuary where I said “I do” but I am still married…I literally cannot walk into the room and see the font where I was washed in the water…but I am still baptized…these things do not change, and yet…there is still a sense of loss…

I wonder if you have something in your history that similar in scope to this…a place or a ritual that holds deep meaning…and yet is somehow lost to you. (Pause) This brings us to the significance of this evening…Maundy Thursday and the story of the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with the disciples.

As per usual, we’ve heard the story from John’s gospel…featuring the event of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples…a perspective unique to John…while the other three gospels all focus in on the institution of Holy Communion…and honestly…both events seem to hold this same connection…a ritual…an event…intended as a gift that is to be remembered…an intimate moment between individuals that I believe Jesus intended to be meaningful as he says goodbye to these people who have been so close to him during his ministry. (pause)

Now we could try to dive into the how or the why of these events…but maybe tonight all that really isn’t important…maybe the thing that we need to hold on to in this moment is the sense of saying goodbye. Imagine it from the perspective of Jesus…I’ll admit to you that’s not something I had ever really done before…but maybe we should.  Because Jesus, knowing all things…all that which had already occurred…and all that which was about to…created these memorable moments for his friends…just before events would transpire that would leave him betrayed…alone…tortured…and killed.

Think about his perspective…and this last opportunity to show someone how you feel about them. (pause) What would you do? How do you say goodbye? (pause)  In my work, I’ve had the opportunity to be in the room with families in this type of situation…those times when death is not far away…and everyone is saying their goodbyes. It’s a solemn time…a sad time…and it carries a sense of finality that isn’t like anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Now sometimes, the person is unable to participate…because they are either gone to quickly, without warning…or their physical state doesn’t allow it…but sometimes the opposite is true…and they are able to be a part…and having been in several different rooms where that’s the case over the course of recent history…I’ve been thinking a lot about it…and the way that I’ve watched as they’ve shared a moment…a word…a long embrace or a tender kiss…as they’ve shared tears…as they’ve shared laughter…as they’ve shared a special moment with each different individual and I can only imagine that the hope for that person, who knows they will be leaving…is that this moment will stay with the other person as their life goes on.

And, I’ll be honest, in one of those instances…I didn’t just sit there and pray after bringing Holy Communion…but in that moment, I sat at the bedside while the wonderful lady, only about a day away from death reached up, and for a moment just held my cheek.  It was an expression of love that I will never forget. (pause)

These moments…these memories or places…or traditions…they hold power…and this power somehow impacts and strengthens our faith…and I believe that’s what Jesus was really up to…when he knelt at the feet of his disciples to wash the dirt and dust away…as he looked them in the eye in a moment of connection…or as he lifted the bread and broke it…and passed the cup, assuring them that his body and his blood are broken and poured out for them…and that whenever they share this meal…to remember. (pause)

What a blessing to know…that somehow through the power of the Holy Spirit…we are included in that invitation…somehow we are sitting at that table…and that the power in Jesus’ words…and the significance of his actions are pointed towards us as well…so that we might be strengthened…so that we might find hope through whatever it is to come…until that glorious day, when we are united completely with Christ…and when we join in that heavenly banquet which we have been promised…and which we will celebrate together with all those who have gone before…those who have left us with powerful moments to remember. Amen.

You Are Doing It Wrong 9-2-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, I explore a debate that Jesus engages in that focuses in on the practices that are acceptable (or not) to God. From here we move into the idea that encounters with the divine through worship look or sound or seem a whole lot different to different people.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-are-doing-it-wrong-9-2-18

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

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

Many of you out there know I’m a fan of movies…and that I often make comparisons between them and the scriptures. I suppose you could say that movie acts as a bit of a parable in these instances…and today is no different.

I’m remembering one that came out back in the early 90’s…a movie called Backdraft that focused on 2 brothers who were 2nd generation firefighters in Chicago…the movie opens with a flashback…as the brothers are young…and together they are trying to put on the gear that firefighters utilize for their protection as they battle the blazes…and the younger brother is trying to get the heavy fire-resistant coat buttoned up correctly…his older brother takes one look…and in the condescending way that older brothers often have tells him “You’re doing it wrong” and promptly buttons it up for him.

Now this moment repeats a little later on in the movie, when the brothers, now fully grown and assigned to the same fire station, set off on the first fire for the younger brother, who has just graduated from training…and as they get off the truck, he’s still struggling to button up his coat correctly…and sure enough…once again, big brother, takes over…and buttons him as he says…You’re doing it wrong.

The moment repeats itself one more time at the end of the movie…when the younger brother…who now has lot of experience, is sitting in a truck across from another newbie, experiencing the same problem…and it comes full circle as he leans across to help the new guy after saying…You’re doing it wrong. (Pause)

This repeating moment speaks to a sense of unfamiliarity…of needing to learn the right way of doing things…and it also points us in the direction of certain things that must be done in a certain way…and while firefighting might not have much in common with worship…I had a professor in seminary that reminds me a lot of those two brothers. He was tasked with teaching us the “proper etiquette” for leading worship…and believe me the guy took it seriously…

I remember the way he would correct us in worship lab…yes we had a lab about worship, crazy as that sounds…he was always kind…but he would point out when you did something wrong…like lifting the bread incorrectly during the words of institution…or adding in the phrase “in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit” in a moment when you aren’t supposed to…or the way you hold your arms during the prayers of intercession. If we messed up, we’d hear that same phrase…you’re doing it wrong.

Now…this is evidence of something we call High Church or Low Church…and its essentially talking about the traditions of worship. There are some congregations and pastors who are extremely high church…they wear ALL the vestments…and they follow very distinct rules about things…rules as tedious as which candle you light on the alter first…and whether or not you should lift the offering plates towards heaven before placing them on the altar.

And then on the flip side there’s the low church mentality…one that doesn’t always put a ton of stock in the “right way” of doing things. You might call it laid back…any guesses on which side I fall? (pause)

Here’s the thing…these different practices…different methods or ways of doing things effect how worship looks and sounds and functions…and yet it raises the question…is there a right way and a wrong way? Or are there simply different ways to worship?

And that seems to be the question being hotly debated by Jesus and some of the religious elite in today’s passage. We hear that the Pharisees and Scribes are criticizing Jesus because his disciples don’t go through a ceremonial handwashing before they eat…thereby risking their unclean hands making the food unclean and therefore making them unclean when they eat it.  That’s the initial controversy…and since they are his disciples…clearly they must have learned this behavior from him…and therefore, he gets targeted.

But maybe you’re wondering why this is a big deal…well in the Jewish culture…there is great importance about being ritually clean or unclean…and it goes all the way back to Moses and the law…and it serves a variety of purposes. These were God’s chosen people…and God willingly dwelled among them…but since God is perfect…since God is utterly clean, God cannot tolerate anything or anyone coming near that is unclean…and there have been countless rules and regulations developed to ensure the proper fashion of things…that the proper worship of the divine is happening.

And this rule is one them…but funny enough, Mark has embellished things just a bit by saying that ALL the Jews follow this law…because in actually, even in Jesus time, this particular rule about ritual washing of hands only applied to the priests.

Now Jesus makes a point of this…actually several times over, and in some of the verses that we skip over today, he makes a heck of a point about food being unable to defile…or to make a person unclean…when he reminds his audience that food goes in the stomach and comes out…into the sewer…think about that for a moment and maybe you’ll make the connection of just what Jesus thinks about this whole contraversy.

But there’s also another statement that Jesus makes…one that really caught my attention, as he quotes from the prophet Isaiah…He says “in vain do they worship me.” (pause) In vain.

I thought about that a lot…because at first glance it sorta seems like this prophetic word of the Lord is a bit troublesome…saying that worship is in vain…I mean, God might as well be saying that worship is pointless…that it serves no purpose…that there’s no reason for it…and if that’s all we hear, that’s troubling.

But we’ve got to stop and consider what Jesus is really talking about here. One thing we need to remember is just how utterly connected the Jewish culture is with their religion, and their worship practices…far more than we are in within our own faith tradition…but for the Jewish people, even the what they ate was tied to worship and could effect it.

And so when the Pharisees accuse Jesus and the disciples of eating with unclean hands…of being defiled…of being unacceptable…they are essentially saying that if you don’t do it this way…then God will not hear you…God will not see you…or on the flip side that if you do not approach God in this way then you do not approach God.

And when I start to hear things like that, I get a little nervous…because it seems to indicate that worshipping God…that experiencing the divine comes with an owner’s manual…and that there’s a checklist to it all…that God can only be found in this specific box…but if the scriptures tell us anything, its that God will not be contained…God will not be found in a box…and if the life death and resurrection of Jesus shows us anything…its that there is no length that God will not go in order to encounter us. (pause)

Now…as I say this…maybe you’re sitting out there thinking about the traditions and the rituals that are important to you…those aspects of worship or prayer or quiet time or reflection…those aspects that have become vital for you…and not only that, but they have become life-giving for you because you experience the divine within them.

I’ll never forget the time, very early on in my experience of leading worship at a tiny country church near where I lived…and I dove right into the liturgy, but skipped over the Brief Order which we also use here every week…and they stopped me…and I had to go back and do that…because for that congregation…for that small gathering of believers…that moment of confession and the announcement of forgiveness is vital. And its not my intention to say that those things are not important.

But what I will is this…that thing that is vital to a divine encounter with God…that looks different for different people or different groups or different denominations.  God shows up in many mysterious ways…some of which might trip your trigger…some of which just seem odd or foreign…and maybe even prompt to think “you’re doing it wrong.”

But thanks be to God that God shows up…because when God shows up…hearts are changed…and that’s the point of this whole deal…and I believe this is what Jesus is talking about as he reminds us that it is not what goes into the body that defiles…but what comes out…because what comes out is a reflection of the heart that lies within us…a heart that can and does reflect the light of life…but can and does reflect the brokenness of the world…brokenness that manifest itself in these different traits that Jesus talks about…attitudes or behaviors that hinder our relationship with God and with our neighbors…these evil things come from within. (pause)

But remember…God shows up…and somehow, someway, we have a God who changes hearts…and our amazing God does this out of a perfect, all in, love for each and every one of us…there is nothing that you can do or say or think that will make God love you any more…and there is nothing that can make God love you any less…and this is the promise which has been made real for us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…when God shows us that there is no box…not even a tomb…that can contain the divine from showing up among God’s people.

We all worship a little different…but the one that we worship is the same…and when you encounter the divine, in whatever way is meaningful for you…in whatever way touches your heart…God will never say You’re doing it wrong. Amen.