Posts Tagged ‘trinity’

A Long Long Time Ago 12-24-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Mean I’m Not In Trouble 5-31-15

This morning’s sermon is based on John 3:1-17. This is the night time encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. I explore the changing perspective of hearing this as a rebuke to an honest teaching exchange.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-mean-im-not-in-trouble-5-31-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen
Is there any certain sight that you dread to see? Something that almost turns your stomach as soon as you spot it? (pause) I can certainly think of one that got me in my younger days…specifically between the ages of 16 and about 22. (pause) Red and Blue lights flashing in my rear view mirror. (pause)
I will state it for the record…that in my early years of driving…I was a little too familiar with those lights…because I got pulled over with a fair bit of regularity…until a letter from my insurance company warned me of my personal risk…of high risk insurance rates…at which time I developed a much lighter foot, coupled with a much stronger tendency to set the cruise control at a reasonable speed.
And for many years that has served me well…with just one exception, back in August of 2013 when I came up the entrance ramp down by Hy-Vee in Council Bluffs just a little too fast and met a police officer sitting in the median right there at the curve…you all know that spot don’t you? (pause) And sure enough…a moment later…there were the blue and red lights flashing right behind me.
And ever since then, I’ve been very careful to watch my speed as I come around the curve on I-80…knowing that the next time I let it creep up above 60…I’ll meet another officer sitting there waiting…and admittedly its affected me…and I see evidence of this every time another vehicle comes flying past me on that stretch and I utter the words over and over again. “LET THERE BE A COP THERE…LET THERE BE A COP THERE”
And then on the instances when there is an officer sitting there…the chant turns to “GET ‘EM….GET ‘EM…GET ‘EM.” And recently…just about a month or so ago…I got my wish when a speedy driver went flying past the officer sitting there in that spot…and I saw the officer swing his cruiser around and fly up behind that other car…and the lights…came…on. (pause…then big response) “YES!!!!!!” I don’t know just why it is…but ever since that day back in 2013 when I was pulled over at that spot, I’ve wanted to see someone else get it too…full disclosure…I’ve been fascinated with seeing someone else get busted….and maybe…just maybe…I’m not the only one. Because isn’t that human nature? We’re kind of fascinating with seeing someone ELSE…get into trouble aren’t we? (pause)
Now admittedly, this is the attitude that I have brought into today’s gospel story throughout the course of my history with it. Nicodemus…coming to visit Jesus at night…and in the midst of the encounter…Jesus seems to give him his come uppance…Nicodemus…one of the leaders of the Pharisees…one of the leaders of the religious bigwigs…sneaks off in the dead of night…in total secrecy…to try and wrap his head around just who this Jesus guy really is…but he has to be secretive…because he’s got a reputation…and who knows what would happen if all his cronies knew what he was up to. (pause)
So that’s the setting…this guy who by all rights should get all this stuff…should understand it…and should see the truth within it…goes all covert in the dead of night…and if you’ve heard me talk about John’s gospel before, you’ve likely heard me reference the importance of light and darkness…how light equals believe, and understanding…and even relationship…while darkness equals disbelief and sinfulness…and here’s Nick, operating under the cover of darkness…figures.
And you know what…within the context of John’s gospel we’ve got another example of someone doing bad stuff at night…perhaps you’ve heard of him…this Judas guy…who towards the end of the gospel goes out into the night to betray Jesus…and so knowing this…don’t we sort of expect the tense confrontation here between Jesus and Nicodemus?
Does anyone else approach this passage expecting a rebuke…expecting Jesus to really put Nick in his place…to rip him a new one? Or is that just me? (pause) I’ll own it…each and every time I’ve approached John chapter 3 in the past…I’ve gotten a little cynical…thinking to myself. “This guys gonna get it. Here it comes.” And then I read the back and forth as Jesus and Nicodemus debate and discuss…and in my mind they’re getting a little more heated with each statement and question and counter point…until finally Nick has heard enough and he utters the ultimate question “How can these things be?” (pause) And finally…finally…Jesus…turns on the flashing red and blue lights… “YOU ARE THE TEACHER OF ISRAEL…and even you don’t get it.” (pause…then big response) “YES!!!!!!” (pause) And just like I revel in seeing someone else get pulled over…I revel in seeing some uppity dude get fully owned by Jesus. (pause)
That is…until this week…until this time…because this time…I didn’t read it that way…and I’m not even sure why that is…but for some reason…this time…it came across a little differently…and instead of looking down my nose at Nick…I think I found myself relating to him…because what Jesus is talking about…its some pretty heady stuff.
Maybe its because today is Holy Trinity Sunday…the one Sunday every year when we focus on and celebrate all three aspects of the Triune God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…and if you’ve been downstairs in the discussions around the trinity…and specially around the Holy Spirit…you’ve heard me say that its…pretty darn confusing…and I’ll play the card of “that’s one of our divine mysteries that we Lutheran love so much” simply because we don’t have good explanation for how it all works…or what it all means.
And don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you right now with trying to offer any sort of explanation…because sometimes we just have to accept that what God’s up to in the world…and for that matter…God…is simply beyond us…and all we can do is admit that…and ask God to help us…and the really amazing thing about all this…is that I think Jesus FULLY realizes this.
Because Jesus doesn’t simply debate Nicodemus and then rip into him for not understanding…rather Jesus is trying to explain how the Spirit acts within the hearts and minds of individuals…making relationship possible…and making us heirs with Christ to the promise of eternal life. (pause)
You see…Nick came at this in the right way…regardless of his intentions or his sneaking around in the darkness of night…he comes to Jesus and calls him…rabbi…teacher…and in this one simple address, Nick admits that Jesus is one who’s authority is greater than his own…that Jesus is one that Nick can learn from…and then their debate simply shows us that Nick is trying to understand…but that this amazing truth is beyond him…and likewise it is beyond us…and Jesus admits it to us…
The wind blows where it chooses…and you hear the sound of it…but you DO NOT KNOW…where it comes from or where it goes…So it is with EVERYONE…who is born of the Spirit. (pause) And right after Jesus tells us this…he says the words that I no longer hear as a rebuke, but rather as evidence…You Nicodemus, you are a teacher of Israel, and this is beyond your ability to understand… (pause)
How many times have we read scripture and been confused by it? Or witnessed difficult things in life…disease and death…hardship and suffering…and we fail to understand it…and we wonder what is God up to in the world…what is going on? Just what is the Holy Spirit doing in all this? (pause) And we get nowhere with those questions.
And perhaps in those times…when we feel like we’re butting up against a wall…maybe, just maybe it feels like we’re in trouble…like God is mad at us…or that we’re not worthy of this amazing gift, because if we were we’d have it all figured out…and we sit there staring in our rear view mirror, shaking in our boots…and wondering just how much trouble we’re in…what we’re in store for…and expecting the worst.
That was my situation on that day back in August of 2013…knowing full well that I was driving too fast…and expecting a ticket…but then the officer came up to my window…having already run my plates and my driving record…and he gave me verbal warning…told me to go ahead but slow down….He might as well have been telling me to go forth and sin no more…not because of anything that I had done…but simply out of his good graces. (pause) and all I could think to myself is “You mean I’m not in trouble?” (pause)
And isn’t it wonderful that we have a God that loves us so much…that loves each and every one of us so much…a God that loves the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life…that whoever believes in him may not be punished…they are NOT in trouble.
This is what Jesus is telling us today…even those born of the Spirit…even those who believe that Jesus IS the son of God, lack understanding about just what God is up to…and that…is okay…because we don’t have to understand it…we don’t have to be able to explain it…because God has already done it…and the father sent the Son, not to condemn us…but to save us…
And so today, perhaps all we can do is thank God for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives…here in the world…and through the power of the Holy Spirit we declare that Jesus is the son of God…sent by God in the world to redeem it out of love for us…and though we might not understand how it all works…and maybe it seems too good to be true…we can look to the Lord and say…You mean I’m not in trouble? And then we respond the only way we can…by saying thank you.
Amen.