Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Here We Go Again 7-10-16

In this sermon based on Luke 10:25-37, I explore the parable of the Good Samaritan in light of recent violence and killing. Jesus reminds us that we are unable to “do” the law, but reminds us that we can and must be moved to compassion to come along side our neighbors.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/here-we-go-again-7-10-16

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

My grandfather was in the Navy during World War 2. He was assigned to a destroyer escort, a small ship in the fleet compared with some of the big dogs like aircraft carriers or battleships…but important none the less.

The ship that Grandpa served on was stationed in the North Atlantic, and was tasked with hunting and destroying German submarines…now Grandpa never told me just how successful his ship was at this task…but I do know that they destroyed at least one. (pause)
Now I can’t speak from experience, but I have tried to imagine the state of mind when military members find themselves in situations like this…most of them young impressionable people…practically kids…following orders, and probably scared out their minds.

But regardless of that, Grandpa’s ship destroyed the sub, which came to the surface as it was breaking up…and survivors were jumping out into the water…and with that…the duty of the men on Grandpa’s ship changed…and they went out on deck to pluck those survivors out of the water…enemies yes…but now prisoners of war…and most importantly, fellow human beings.

Grandpa was on deck, pulling men up from the water…and one individual stood out…another young man who was wounded in the chest. Grandpa pulled him out, just one of who knows how many…but the memory of that man stayed with Grandpa…and decades later…somehow, someway, those two guys…now senior citizens…managed to locate one another…Grandpa in Arizona, the other man in Germany…and thanks to a friendly neighbor down the street who was fluid in the language, Grandpa was able to exchange letters with this former enemy for several years…learning about one another and sharing stories of their respective lives…they never met again in person…but in this small way, these two former enemies became friends. (pause)

I’m guessing that you’re making the connection. The parable of the Good Samaritan…when someone offers a helping hand…this story is perhaps…one of the finest in the scriptures…or in the very least, its one of the most widely known.  So much so that the phrase “good Samaritan” has become synonymous with the idea of random acts of kindness…witnesses the need of a stranger and coming to their aid.  We have laws dubbed Good Samaritan…and these laws were even featured in the series finale of the popular sitcom Seinfeld…resulting in the 4 main characters sent to jail for failing to help someone in need.

Now all too often…when this story comes up for preaching…or even in general conversation…we hear the application of how we should think or act from a moral standpoint…see the need meet the need…and that’s not in error…after all Jesus says “Go and do likewise.”

But to be perfectly honest…I’m not even that interested in the parable itself today. Rather…I’m more interested in the exchange that goes on between Jesus and the expert in the law at the beginning of the passage.

Now here’s the thing…this isn’t a lawyer like we think of things today…but rather…he’s an expert in the law of Moses…he’s the pro…the authority…the equivalent of a tenured Seminary professor with a doctorate in the 10 Commandments as well as the rest of the laws laid out by Moses clear back in the book of Deuteronomy. He knows it cold.

And so we begin to question his motives when he steps up to “test” Jesus…while we can’t be sure…it certainly seems as if his intentions are less than ideal…likely he’s hoping to discredit Jesus’ teaching…or in the very least, since he’s wanting to justified…his intentions are simply to make himself look good…but regardless…whatever his motivations are…he asks what could be considered to be the most important question that any of us ever wrestle with…what must I do to inherit eternal life?

Now what strikes me as interesting here, is that Jesus does the typical Jesus thing…and manages to point out exactly where the problem is for the individual…and he does so here by turning the question back upon the questioner…What is written in the law? What do you read?

Jesus might as well be saying “You know this, what do I need to tell you for.” But the man responds…love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind…and then love your neighbor as yourself…and Jesus approves…you have given the right answer…do this and you will live.

But now here’s where things get tricky…and where the man trips up…because its not enough to know the right answer…as we see…he needs to go one step farther to prove…perhaps to those around but most importantly to himself…that’s he’s covered the bases…and so he poses the next question…And who is my neighbor?

Cue the parable…random dude gets jumped by bandits and is left for dead…two people who should both know better…who’s very identities dictate that they are the very ones who must stop and help him…don’t…they choose to ignore him…to act like they didn’t see him, or that his life is not important enough for them to be bothered.

But then here comes the token good guy…the proverbial good Samaritan who not only helps him…but goes WAY out of his way, at significant personal cost…to help him. (pause)
Now I could go into a whole bunch of stuff here…really unpacking this to reveal just why it would have been so shocking, not only for the lawyer in the story, but for everyone else that heard it…but the long and sort of it is that the Samaritan was the enemy…there would have been nothing but hatred and animosity between these two individuals…simply because of the cultural differences…words cannot express how utterly “at odds” these two cultures were…and yet they were quite literally neighbors.

And this guy helps…and as shocking as that must have been…Jesus tells this expert in the law that in order to love his neighbor…in order to fulfill what must be done to inherit eternal life…he needs to learn from the enemy. (pause) How well do you suppose that went over?  Do you think the lawyer really learned the lesson that Jesus was sharing? (pause) Have we?

Friday morning I was stuck asking myself “who am I in this story?” Because it has happened again…more needless killing. 2 African American men killed in confrontations with police officers…and then 5 police officers killed and 6 more wounded while doing their jobs.

Call it what you will…escalation…choosing sides…whatever…one thing led to the next thing…and I’m guessing that its going to lead to the next thing…which will lead to the next thing.

What’s it been…3 weeks…a month maybe since I stood up here and talked about pointless hate and the utter destruction of life that this hate has caused? And now, here we are again…different circumstances…difference groups of people involved…but the same result…People died…people who should have lived long joyful lives…cut short…families broken…people grieving.

How many times do we have to have this conversation? How many times do we have to hear news like this before we finally decide enough is enough? I’ve asked myself that question over and over again…but as I dwelled on these questions another one came to mind…based on our history…and the constant reminders of violence and hatred and fear that dominate our society…ARE WE ACTUALLY ABLE TO DO SOMETHING?

I don’t ask this question to imply that there’s nothing we can do so we should just shrug our shoulders and ignore it…that’s what the priest and levite did…but maybe, just maybe what we need to pay attention to is the notion that the Samaritan WAS MOVED with pity.

This is important to take note of…original language…this is passive…the Samaritan does not choose pity leading him to help the man…he was moved BY it. This was an outside force working on him, leading him to respond as he does.

This happens 3 times in Luke’s gospel…this is one…the second is within the parable of the prodigal son when the father see’s his wayward child and is moved by compassion because this son of mine that was dead has come back….and the third is Jesus when he encounters a widow who has lost her only son and is moved by compassion to help her.

The story of the good Samaritan is not just some corrective for us to take the moral road…but it points out that there are forces in this world that are directing us to be different…there are forces in this world that empower us to do something…and they ARE NOT…self-generated…because as we see in the case of the priest and the Levite…not to mention the lawyer who posed these questions in the first place…our selfish sinful nature will seek to justify ourselves…and therefore will end up placing us on the pedestal above others every single time.

And so when Jesus says “you know the law…do this and you will live.” We realize that we don’t do it…and we die…because the wages of sin is death…we don’t know when or where, but it catches all of us…and for 7 beloved children of God…fellow members of the human race bearing the divine image of God…it came too soon.

And in the aftermath far too many have taken up sides…and even if they don’t intend to, they are seeking to justify themselves…and we use these tragedies as ammunition to use against each other…but no one wins…I know African Americans who are outraged and yet afraid…and I know police officers who are outraged and afraid…and this problem is not limited to these two groups…but as we’ve seen time and time again, hate seems pretty universal….They’re different than me…they look different…or they sound different…or the believe different things…and how do we respond? Fear…we feel like we’re backed into a corner like a dog and what does a cornered dog do? Its bites.

Jesus says do this and you will live…We don’t…and so as I wrestled with this text in light of this week’s events, I struggled to find the gospel…but then I realized that Jesus wasn’t trying to give a moral lesson…he was pointing out our human inability to fulfill the law…love God and your neighbor…sorry, you can’t pull it off…none of us can.

And yet God loves us all…every single one of us…so much…that he looks upon us…trapped in this sinful reality…and just like the man in the story…we are left for dead…and God is moved to compassion…and through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, our sinful death sentence is overcome…and we are invited by God to join in proclaiming this message to the entire world.

But in doing so…we are, in fact…called into action…not only to proclaim the gospel…but to recognize our neighbor…and who is our neighbor? Its everyone…and that includes the one that we perceive to be our enemy.

The holy spirit empowers us to be different in this world…not perfect…but different…to look upon one another and see a fellow child of God…worthy of love and respect and acceptance…not as someone who is less human than I am.

No longer can we be like the priest or the Levite…those who couldn’t be bothered to step up and do something for our neighbor…those who chose to ignore the Holy Spirit moving us to compassion…we’ve done that for too long…and our society and the latent hate that is so present is evidence to that.

Are we willing to stand up? Are we willing to listen to the prompting of God who desires for this work of reconciling the entire world to himself to come to completion? Or will we chose to ignore it…and convince ourselves that it didn’t happen to us…or it didn’t happen here…because we’ve sat behind that excuse long enough.

You can apply whatever hashtag you want to this. Black lives matter…blue lives matter…poor lives matter…gay lives matter…refuge lives matter…Hispanic lives matter…yes all lives matter…and so I leave you with this question…who is your neighbor…who do you need to accept mercy from…and who do you need to offer mercy to?

I can’t answer that question for you…only you can…I’ll be over here figuring it out for myself…but may it be our prayer that the world…and yes that includes us…remember Jesus words….what does the law say?
Well, the law includes the 5th commandment…thou shall not kill. (pause) Maybe we should start there. Amen

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Where Do We Go From Here

I haven’t actually sat down and written a blog in a long time…too long. I can’t even tell you the last time that I did any writing that wasn’t a sermon or a board report or a newsletter article.

But life has afforded me a moment to stop and catch my breath in the midst of a lot of craziness. And when I find these moments…which is admittedly often though typically quite fleeting…my mind starts going. Lately there’s been a lot to think about.

This is a crazy time of year. People and activities are buzzing all around us. Christmas shopping, holiday planning, school concerts, seasonal changes…the list goes on and on. Additionally, the wide spread buzz has been…well…buzzing with a lot of controversial things as of late. Arguments have erupted around different issues like gun violence/control, grand jury decisions regarding tragic deaths, racial based tensions, immigration…and the list goes on and on.

Here at home things have been crazy as well. Following a week’s vacation over Thanksgiving, I came into a week that I was expecting to be low key…thanks to the Adult Choir at church performing their Christmas Program this Sunday and letting me off the hook for preaching. But yet in the midst of a casual week, I’ve kept busy. Conversations with other area pastors my first day back filled an afternoon with discussions, sometimes heated, about the difficulties we face within our own small niches. Due to this, my normal monthly visits to members in nursing homes was postponed. A congregational family experienced a death, and in the midst of offering them support my wife’s family experienced their own loss of a beloved aunt.

Its one of those situations that sort of leaves you with your head spinning.

Where do we go with all this stuff…there’s too much. Too much violence…too much hate…too much death…ITS TOO MUCH LORD!!!! WHERE ARE YOU ON THIS STUFF…There’s more darkness in the world than I know how to handle.

And when I get in that mode mentally, my mood goes south in a really big hurry…and I kind of walk around in a bit of a dark funk…every bit as dark as my perception of the world around me. That was my situation as of about 24 hours ago…but I put on my big-boy pants…as well as a brave face…and I went on the nursing home visits that had gotten postponed a couple days earlier.

One of the visits found me sitting at a table with 4 or 5 ladies…a couple of which I knew…and a couple that I was just meeting for the first time.  I can’t quite account for this, but what I perceive to be the combination of extreme hearing loss as well as an “I’m old enough that I’ll say whatever I want to” attitude led one of the new ladies to lean over and “whisper” to her neighbor.

“He’s a pastor? Oh he can’t be a pastor, he’s too good looking.”

And then…

“He look’s like a hunk to me.”

Cue laughter…a lot of laughter from everyone at the table…myself included.

Here in the midst of the dark funk that I’ve been feeling lately…powerless to do anything about it, comes a glimmer of light…a spark of joy.

And in that moment I found myself reminded of the season. We’re in Advent, coming right up on Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Christ in the world…the Incarnation as its known in the church world…and when I realized that, I immediately thought of my favorite Gospel…sorry Matthew, Mark, and Luke…you guys are great but it isn’t you…and I thought of the Incarnation in John’s Gospel. Chapter 1 verse 5…The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Jesus is the light…he is the light of the world…and at Christmas he comes into the world…and in the midst of all that darkness…all this death and tension and fear and anger that so many of us are feeling these days…that darkness doesn’t win. God says so…because the darkness doesn’t get the last word…God does…and while I believe with every atom of my being that God is mourning the current state of our reality, I also believe that God is doing something about it, whether we realize it or not.

And that moment of extreme belly laughter, brought on by one elderly lady building up my ego, reminded me that God’s not hindered by our darkness…he’s not stymied by the difficulties that we face…and God IS…up to something. The darkness cannot and will not win…because the LIGHT has come into the world.

Don’t believe me…think I’m just another religious nut? Think I’m crazy to hold on some fantasy? That’s okay, but I’ll get scientific with you too. Darkness is the absence of light…period…darkness is not even its own thing…it can only be when something else is not…and that is the light…the instant light comes on the scene, darkness retreats. Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light.

So in the midst of a dark time, let’s hold onto the hope that Light is, once again, coming into the world…and the darkness CANNOT over come it.

PS I Love You 2-23-14

This sermon comes from Matthew 5:38-48. In this sermon, I try to wrap up 4 weeks worth of the Sermon on the Mount. In particular, I tackle the passage in which Jesus tells us to love our enemies, praying for those that persecute you.  This can be a difficult teaching to accept, much less to act on, but I make the point that by doing so, we are joining with God in the work that will bring this reality to completion.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/ps-i-love-you-2-23-14

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and the indications to pause.

Earlier this week, I saw a clip from the old Mel Brook’s movie called The History of the World. This particular clip involved Moses receiving the Law from God. Now, if you’re familiar with Mel Brooks, you know that his movies tend to be pretty humorous, and this is no exception. Moses walks out from behind a rock carrying 3 stone tablets. He approaches the edge of a cliff and begins speaking to the people. “People of God…I have received these 15 Commandments from the LORD” and he drops one…the stone tablet smashes on the ground. He looks at it for a moment…and then addresses the crowd again. “I have received these 10 Commandments from the LORD.”
As the week went on I got to wondering what those extra 5 commandments would have been…and if they would still seem as applicable today…who knows…perhaps number 11 would have been. Thou shall mind your mobile manners…and 12 would be Thou shall not cross the street without looking both ways.
Or maybe, if there actually was a third tablet of the law, it wouldn’t have been more commandments…but a prologue…that short bit at the front of a non-fiction book where the author lets you in on some of the insights of what you are going to read…sometimes as I think about the law, I think that would have been helpful.
Dearest humanity…enclosed on these stone tablets you will find 10 commands that shall help you to honor me…and to honor each other.  Keep in mind…at face value they may seem obvious…but in actuality it will be quite difficult for any of you to pull them off as intended…but being God…all-knowing and all that…I’m fully aware of the challenges you will face and so in a few thousand years I’ll switch things up for you…I’ll send my son to explain things…and as he’s going to be the one human to pull of the commandments in their entirety, I’ll plan on sacrificing him to atone for the sins that you will all commit. Until then…happy reading…PS…I love you.
But as we know…there were only two tablets…and God’s prologue to the law, helpful as it might prove to be…wasn’t included. And so for several thousand years during the period between Moses and Jesus, the people pretty much went on about their business…trying to follow the law as best they could…but as we all know…coming up short…but then…things changed…and they changed when God finally said…ok son…why don’t you head on down there…we’ve let this go on long enough…and as we’ve heard many times before…Jesus came on the scene…and the scene was dramatically changed…even though those present…didn’t realize it.
Today marks the 4th week that we’ve been in Matthew chapter 5…the first chapter in the sermon on the mount…and if you’ve been here the past three weeks, you’ve heard me talk about how Jesus changed everything…how when Jesus came on the scene, he brought the kingdom of heaven with him and its here now…and because of that reality is different than we realize…and the old way of doing things…the old way of seeing things…has gone right out the window.
The first week we heard the beatitudes and how God calls the unexpected person blessed…but that when we stop and think about it, the unexpected person being called blessed by God is every single one of us…particularly in those times when we don’t realize it because life doesn’t feel like it.
Then in the second week, we heard about how God calls us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. That we are somehow different…and we also heard that the light of Christ is not something that we hold or something we control…but rather its something that we are…and that God is calling us to be what we were made to be…different.
Then last week things got a little bit uncomfortable when Jesus started laying out in inadequacy of the law….when we heard that the status quo…the you have heard it said in ancient times to act in such and such a way…just wasn’t going to cut it anymore…and not only that but Jesus confirmed…a little harshly…that the law points out sinfulness…period.
And now, at first glance, it sorta seems like he’s doing a little more of the same in the final portion of Matthew chapter 5. We hear more of what I like to call the “yah but’s.” You’ve heard it said this…Yah…but I actually say this.
And in today’s lesson, Jesus almost seems to be giving us the advice “be a doormat.” (pause) If someone strikes you on the cheek…don’t retaliate…turn your face towards them…make it easier for them to hit you…and then invite them to hit you a second time…ouch…my cheeks hurt just thinking about it.
Then…if someone makes you go one mile…don’t let that stop you…go 2…and if anyone tries to take your shirt, hey why not…throw in your coat as well….bullies of the world rejoice!!!! Jesus seems to be throwing you a bone here. (pause)
But then here comes the really crazy part…another “yah but.” You’ve heard it said to love your neighbors and hate your enemies…Yah…but, how about we try loving them too. (pause) Say what now Jesus? Love those that persecute us? Well how are we supposed to do that? (pause)
Now I’m guessing for most of you sitting out there…this passage is not unfamiliar. We’ve all heard it before haven’t we? Turn the other cheek, pray for those that persecute you…love your enemies. And if we’re honest…we hear that…maybe stifle a yawn…and think to ourselves…Yah right pastor…that’s all well and good in the Bible and all…but in real life?  Nah…doesn’t really work like that.
And maybe we chalk this one up to another one of those Bible mysteries that doesn’t quite make sense…or we think to ourselves that one doesn’t really apply to me…or maybe we go a different direction and think I can’t do that…and then we hear Jesus last sentence to “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” And we realize that’s impossible, so we just want to throw up our hands and give up.
But…what if…maybe…just maybe…Jesus isn’t being metaphorical here…and he’s not laying out an individual command to an individual person…but instead…he’s actually telling us to do exactly what he says…because once again, he realizes that our understanding and capability to follow the law is coming up short.
An eye for an eye might be a good deterrent from violence…or in the end we might just all end up blind. A tooth for a tooth might stop someone from taking a swing…or in the end we might all be sucking applesauce through a straw…because returning violence is never going to get us anywhere. Hate will never banish hate…it can’t…all it can ever do is create more hate…that’s what sin does…it breeds more of itself…and we all know where that leads.
But love? Well, you never know what love can manage to do. (pause) Now maybe you’re thinking “really pastor…really?” And I say to you…yah, really…I think that the call to love one another…even in the face of negativity and violence is precisely what Jesus is calling us to in this passage…Jesus is calling us to love the unlovable…to love those that will not repay our love in kind…either because they are unable to or because they chose not to…and when we stop and think about it…and I mean really think about it…isn’t that exactly what God does for us?
Doesn’t every single one of us fall under the category of being loved by God even when we wouldn’t or couldn’t love him back? I’m pretty sure we do and the apostle Paul believed the same. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us… For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (pause)
How amazing is it…that while we were enemies of God…enemies who perhaps antagonized believers…or condemned them…or mocked them…or who laughed at God, or scorned Him…or hated him…or perhaps…just flat out ignored him…he loved us enough to die for us…he loved us enough to make a difference by showing us that love…he loved us enough to keep on loving us even as we threw it in His face…until one day when each and every one of us stopped hating…and started listening…and we were each changed by that amazing love of God…the amazing love for the one that would not love in return…until the day that they did.
That is the change that God is invoking in the world…the change that has already come…and is continuing to occur in the world through Jesus Christ…the love of God is spreading throughout the world…and what Jesus is really telling us today is that we get to be part of it.
We’ve been hearing for multiple weeks now that Jesus has brought a change with him…that reality is different and now Jesus is telling us that simply showing love, even to those that refuse it…is how we join with him in bringing about this change in the world.
And while we all know it isn’t finished yet, we know that this world is moving towards something new…something better…something that only God truly understands…and one day it will be finished…one day it will be completed…and that, my friends is when all will be perfect…as our heavenly father is perfect.
Jesus is not telling us that we need to be perfect in our actions and intentions, because Jesus knows we can’t pull that off…if we could there would be no need for a savior…but rather…Jesus is telling us to continue moving towards completion…together with God…so that one day…one glorious day…everyone will understand the love of God…and everyone will mirror the love of God.
But until that day, God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good…and he sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (pause) God continues to let life go on, day after day…until that one day when we all truly understand it when God says “good job…oh and ps…I love you.”  Amen.