What is God’s Joy? [OR Hummies, Hippos, and Humans] Luke 12:32-40 and Genesis 15:1-6

**sermon photo: Fiona’s first taste of watermelon with her mother Bibi. Cincinnati Zoo.

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 7, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 12:32-40 [Jesus said:] 32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Genesis 15:1-6 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

[sermon begins]

My daughter will tell you that I get pretty intense about our hummingbird visitors. I come by it honestly. Granddad and Grandma Ruth had extensive seed feeders for the birds. Teaching us bird names and sounds whenever we visited. My sister lives in a rural setting and has a bear and squirrel proof feeder. Mom and Larry had feeders until life became complicated both by health issues and the grackles who chased away the other birds. I keep things simple with my single hummingbird feeder outside my kitchen window. Visiting hummies bring joy all summer. Some trill as they swoop in for the nectar. Others are as stealth as a secret. I don’t know what it is about watching animals eat but I also follow several creatures on Instagram whose mealtime videos make me smile – Rico the porcupine crunching corn, Lightning the sloth slurping banana, and Fiona the hippo crushing watermelon.[1] Andy, our Minister of Music with an office next to mine, has been subjected to my sharing these silly videos of animals eating. Anyway, what could this possibly have anything to do with today’s readings?

Between last week’s parable about the rich fool and this week’s teaching about God’s good pleasure in giving the kingdom, Jesus teaches about God feeding the birds and dressing fields of grass.[2] God feeding the creatures leads into our Luke reading this morning. Have no fear, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. God’s good pleasure. God’s joy. While Jesus is teaching the disciples and “the crowd gathered in thousands,” he pauses to highlight God’s joy in sustaining their creatureliness by calling them “little flock.”[3]  I don’t believe for a second that we’re as cute as eaters as Rico the porcupine or my hummie visitors, but I do think it’s good to wonder about God’s joy when it comes to us as God’s creatures.

In the Genesis reading, God tells Abram that his descendants can be counted by stargazing. Actually counting the stars is an impossible task. God is asking Abram to step outside, in the dark of night, and look up to experience the beauty of joy. My brother Kevin likes to talk about how we’re star-babies because we’re made of the same molecular compounds found across the universe. Abram didn’t know that. But he had faith that God was God. He knew that the God of the stars was the God he understood very little about even as he trusted God to keep God’s promises. God invited Abram into joy even though he couldn’t see it yet.

In Jesus’ example in Luke, the master shows up ready to serve which is ridiculous. Dinner is served to slaves by the one who is usually served. The Master dresses for action, belt fastened so that robes don’t get in the way. Ready for action. Ready to feed. Ready for joy. The same action and joy that Jesus’ commands his listeners to be dressed and ready for. First century slavery would make Jesus’ statement silly. Our country’s history of White Americans enslaving Black Africans puts Jesus’ teaching about God into even starker contrast. Our collective imagination can barely grasp the absurdity of a God who serves slaves. Yet, here we are. Jesus is going for it, wanting the crowd, the disciples, and us to hear a good word about a reckless, extravagant God, “[4]filling the hungry with good things.”

Hungry people require urgent action. I don’t have a lot of patience for questioning whether or not people should be fed as if there is any justifiable situation where immediate food should be withheld. Hungry people need food. An anonymous note was left on our Sanctuary Soup Shelf last week that brings this idea to life. Here’s what the note writer wrote:

“Hello – I am not one that is eloquent with words so I do hope the meaning (as my heart see it) come through this right now…I live approx. 15 mins away & was asked to stop by one night w/ a elderly woman that is pretty much a “shut in” with limited mobility (I drive and help where I can). The 24 Hour access to food is so much appreciated by those that do not always have a reliable form of transportation AND as she stated, coming here, especially @ night helps her try to maintain her pride. I appreciate how beautifully (organized) it’s stocked. Thank you all!”

The Soup Shelf note writer understands that immediate hunger needs immediate food. 24/7, anonymous food access at the Soup Shelf on the front of our sanctuary serves a small and emergent need. A few chapters before our reading today, Jesus understood immediate hunger, feeding 5,000 men, not to mention all the women and children too.[5] There’s immediate need and then there’s figuring out why people are hungry and structuring a society in which hunger doesn’t exist. We’re talking hunger that means poor nutrition and bellyaches.

500 years ago, Martin Luther, the namesake of the Lutheran Church, worked with the church and public leaders in his town to set up a system called the “Common Chest.”[6] It was literally a chest with multiple locks and had to be opened by several key holders. The point was to make sure that needs were being met. Churches and princes working together to do so. In our 21st century times, faith driven community programs and legislation function similarly. Jesus teaches against fear and self-serving uses of money time and again. It’s like he totally gets how much we distort money and its use for our own comfort and power. Our verses from today push Jesus followers then and now to sell our stuff and give alms. Alms are money that go directly to the immediate needs of people with immediate needs. Luther also took action and created a system between church, the princes, and the towns to meet those needs. You could tell the Reformation reached a town because people received both bread and wine at Holy Communion and because there was a Common Chest.

Immediate needs are not just about food, but what it takes to live. One of the indicators of a troubled society is when politicians start speeching about tougher laws, increased prison sentences, and more police. Yet law and order policies tend to put more people in prison, especially more black and brown people caught in the net of poverty related crimes for a host of other systemic problems. Before anyone too angtsy with me, BOTH major political parties are gearing up with this message before the November elections.

As community members, it’s helpful for us to know that prisons come at a high cost and incubate people in an environment with known risk factors for violent crime – shame, poverty, isolation, and exposure to more violence.[7] Prison exposes people to the things that increase the likelihood that they will commit more crime. You know what’s proven to reduce crime and increase public safety? Housing, education, and health care. [8] The very things that help people provide food for themselves. Yet we spend money on building more prisons rather than solve the problems that lead us to build them. Food insecurity is a sign that larger issues are at hand. That we even have a Soup Shelf out there meeting people’s needs is a symptom not a long-term solution. Tackling those issues through the ballot box, putting our treasures where God’s heart is, into the very programs that help the people for whom God’s heart breaks, and building communities where each life is sacred is taking action.

Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Luke goes a long way in helping us see the joy in God’s heart when God’s creatures are sustained in living their lives. God’s joy in giving away the kingdom is one of God’s “now and not yet” promises. God’s kingdom here and now means that, as Jesus followers, the Holy Spirit inspires us for action and joy when any of our fellow creatures need an extra boost from human friends – whether they’re hummies or hippos or other humans. Creaturely comfort is a cooperative effort not an individual foot race. God’s heart holds the birds and the lilies and us. That’s a remarkable claim. And God knows that our heart follows our money. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[9] Jesus hardly lets up on the topic across the gospels. (At least, that’s what it feels like right now for this preacher anyway.)

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This is now and not yet. We are called to action in God’s kingdom now, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and find incredible joy in God’s joy of creation. And we’re also promised God’s kingdom when our earthly pilgrimage as God’s creature is done. Have no fear, little flock, for God’s joy includes you in the kingdom.

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[1] Check out videos of these animal friends here: https://search.yahoo.com/search?fr=mcafee&type=E210US714G0&p=cincinatti+zoo+animals+eating+videos

[2] Luke 12:22-31

[3] Luke 12:1 describes the crowd.

[4] Luke 1:53 from Jesus’ mother Mary’s Magnificat (song)

[5] Luke 9:14; Matthew 14:21; Mark 6:44 – Feeding the 5,000

[6] Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. Video: The Common Chest Ensures that Everyone’s Needs are Met. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaP423egx-0

[7] Restorative Justice: Why Do We Need It? By Brave New Films https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N3LihLvfa0&t=131s

[8] Consider doing your own quick web search on public safety and crime reduction. It’s illuminating.

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2018/01/03/new-evidence-that-access-to-health-care-reduces-crime/

https://siepr.stanford.edu/publications/policy-brief/how-better-access-mental-health-care-can-reduce-crime

https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2013/aug/15/affordable-housing-reduces-crime/

Why Does Education Reduce Crime? University of Chicago https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/717895

[9] Luke 12:34

Generosity and Connection: The Antidote to Greed and Despair [OR The Parable of the Rich Fool] Luke 12:13-22, Ecclesiastes and Psalm 49

**sermon art: Generosity by Stig Lofnes (~1960 – present) oil on canvas

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 31, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings; Psalm 49 is at the end of the sermon]

Luke 12:13-22 Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

12I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

2:18I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me 19—and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

[sermon begins]

Last Sunday, Pastor Ann preached about the audacity of this congregation to live life on Jesus’ terms and not just on our own.[1] To live and pray and serve as Jesus did. To imagine what could be done with the empty land just down the hill from this sanctuary as part of our strategic planning. To vote as a congregation to partner with Habitat for Humanity Metro Denver to build affordable townhomes. Pastor Ann preached about that over four-year process and the persistence of the congregation that culminated in the rezoning vote at the next day’s Denver City Council meeting. I’m very excited to report that this past Monday, Denver City Council voted unanimously to rezone, 13-0.[2]

At the City Council meeting, Pastor Ann and Council President Michael Zumwalt testified on behalf of the rezoning alongside one of our neighbors representing the South Hilltop Neighborhood Association, alongside our partners from Habitat for Humanity Metro Denver. Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer adder her enthusiastic remarks about the congregation and the process it took to get here. There is A LOT of excitement in the City of Denver about this Affordable Housing! (My sermon copies include a link to check it out.) It’s unique to have the neighborhood association, the developer (Habitat), AND a faith community working together towards a shared goal of housing – so that, as Pastor Ann preached, “people we haven’t met yet will have a safe and decent place to call home.”

Homes come in all shapes and sizes. Multifamily homes like apartments and condos. Single family homes from the tiny to the towering. Common denominators shared by all homes are money and people. People need homes and money to sustain them whether they’re rented or owned. We often talk about money as if it’s a disconnected thing. Money’s over there while people are over there. The two topics get disconnected as if one has nothing to do with the other.

I wonder if this could be why Jesus gets right to the point when he talks about money. People and money are as connected as it gets and Jesus focuses on connecting people with God and each other. Like today’s Gospel reading from Luke about the disputed inheritance and Jesus’ parable about the rich fool. It was normal for a younger brother to bring inheritance questions to their rabbis who could settle a dispute.[3] He was likely a younger brother because there was a norm in estate law of the time that either kept the estate fully intact by the oldest son OR that allotted the older brother a double-share with the younger brother receiving a third – much like the younger brother in the Prodigal son parable[4] who received one-third of his father’s estate.[5] Somehow Jesus was on to the younger son’s greedy motives because he answered his question with the parable about the greed of the rich fool.

Even Jesus’ easy parables aren’t easy. At face value, the parable of the rich fool is kind of simple. Simply interpreted: Greed is bad; and so is the man who builds the bigger barn. So what if the man builds a bigger barn? It’s HIS grain. He can do what he wants with grain produced on his land. But the reality of parables is that they have layers, layers that wrap around listeners and pull us in. Pull us in and shine light on our own lives by the parable. Here’s a layer. Building a bigger barn focuses on HIS wealth, himself and no one else. He’s not simply a rich fool, he’s also a lonely one. His bigger barn builds walls not only around his grain but between himself and his community. He dies alone with no one to give it to. Missing the chance to bless God by blessing others.

Greed as a topic is difficult. No one enjoys self-examination on the greed spectrum. It’s made extra difficult because we humans have a survival instinct that trips us up. This is one reason that the empty tomb of resurrection is helpful. The empty tomb is the end of the story promised through the cross of Christ. Because we know the end is rich in God’s promise, we’re free to examine the middle of the story; our own stories through the lens of the parable of the rich fool.

His greed is one example of self-preservation run amok. He has so much grain at his disposal that his bigger barn turns into his only idea. The rich fool is in an echo chamber of his own making. He turns only to himself about what to do with all his grain. Once he decides to build a bigger barn, he tells his soul to relax, eat, drink, and be merry. He doesn’t talk with his workers, his community, or God. And he curves in on himself even further by taking his own advice. And then he dies alone, curved around his wealth yet unable to take it with him.

Jesus often convicts his listeners, showing them how curved in on themselves they’ve become. Turned inward and, therefore, turned away from God. And turned inward and turned away from neighbors. Jesus attempts to turn the younger son, who is worried about his inheritance, outwards. The parable about the man who builds the bigger barn can be heard as Jesus’ attempt to wake up that younger son along with everyone else who is listening in, and live life on Jesus’ terms and not our own. Jesus’ terms include right-sizing ourselves alongside everyone else. As his mother Mary sang in her Magnificat earlier in Luke, “Bringing down the powerful…and lifting up the lowly.”[6] Leveling and strengthening the connections between each other as a meaningful way to live before any of us flat lines.

Last weekend, a lot of my time was spent with families who were saying goodbye to loved ones who had died. When we celebrate someone’s life, we often say quite a bit about the person who died. We remember them and we remember God’s promises to them. I often remind people during the welcome that as we celebrate the person who died, funerals can also bring up other losses in our lives, allowing grief a sacred space and time. With each funeral, as I listen to the stories about the person who died, it makes me grateful for the ways that I knew that person, grateful for other people in my life who have died, and grateful for the precious fragility of my own life and the people I love.

In Ecclesiastes, the writer known as the Teacher reflects on mortality. In the verses read today, the Teacher is almost cynical about the transience of life. Here one minute, gone the next. The Hebrew word for vanities is “hebel,” meaning breath or vapor.[7] “All is vapor…and a chasing after the wind,” says the Teacher who reminds us what really matters about life. The Psalm is nicely paired with both Ecclesiastes and the parable in getting us to think about the value of life. The parable reveals the value of life in the tragedy of the rich fool who wastes his life by spending abundant wealth only himself, the psalmist reflects the value of life in a matter-of-fact way – you’re mortal and finite so you can either trust God or trust self and wealth; and Ecclesiastes edges toward the cynical before the Teacher turns the book towards hope in later verses.[8]

The value of life is worth wrangling through hard conversations, intense prayer, and careful thinking. Figuring out how to spend our moments and our money makes at least the attempt to align our lives on Jesus’ terms, focusing on life with our short spans of life together here. Encouraging each other along the way lest we fall into despair or turn inwards on ourselves and lose sight of each other and of God. One of the gifts of being part of a faith community is the gift of reminding each other to uncurl from inward turning. Christ unleashes us from the perils of self-preservation at the expense of our neighbors by reminding us that we belong to each other and to God, inspiring generosity as the very antidote to greed and connection as the antidote to despair. In the very next verses after our Luke reading, Jesus tells his followers not to worry. Next week we’ll hear a few of these verses as Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Reminding us once more that out of God’s generosity comes our own. Thanks be to God, and amen.

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[1] Watch Ann Hultquist’s powerful sermon here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKgPQP8TXbM

[2] Listen to those 32 minutes about the rezoning vote of the Denver City Council meeting here: https://denver.granicus.com/player/clip/14946?meta_id=1105979

[3] Niveen Saras, Pastor, Immanuel Lutheran Church of Wausau, Wausau, WI. Commentary on Luke 12:13-21 for WorkingPreacher.org

[4] Luke 15:11-16

[5] Saras, Ibid.

[6] Luke 1:52

[7] J. Blake Couey, Associate Professor of Religion, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota. Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-18-3/commentary-on-ecclesiastes-12-12-14-218-23-5

[8] Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. Sermon Brainwave Podcast: #855 8th Sunday after Pentecost. https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/855-8th-sunday-after-pentecost-ord-18c-july-31-2022

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Psalm 49:1-12

Hear this, all you peoples; give ear, all inhabitants of the world,

2both low and high, rich and poor together.

3My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.

4I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

5Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me,

6those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?

7Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it.

8For the ransom of life is costly, and can never suffice

9that one should live on forever and never see the grave.

10When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others.

11Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they named lands their own.

12Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.

Broken Open to Mercy (OR The Good Samaritan and the Intimacy of Wound Care) Luke 10:25-37

 

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 10, 2022

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Luke 10:25-37  Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

[sermon begins]

The Good Samaritan has been on my mind these past few weeks. Little bits of the parable would bubble up, capture my imagination for a few minutes, and then fade away when something more pressing took his place. Jesus’ parable isn’t limited only to my imagination. His story that defines a neighbor lives large in public record too. It’s one of those stories that people know even if they don’t know the Bible. There are Good Samaritan laws in the U.S. and around the world that legally protect people who give emergency help. And there are hospitals named after the Good Samaritan. It’s in hospitals that I learned a lot about wounds. When I was a 19-year-old nursing student, I did a rotation through the burn unit at Los Angeles County Hospital.[1] For those of you who’ve been in Denver a long time, think Denver Health but on a massive scale – 1,680 beds, 20 stories, Art Deco style, a regional medical center caring for the poorest of the poor while also boasting a world class teaching program and a Level 1 Trauma Center. To my 19-year-old eyes, the burn unit was overwhelming. Patients were all ages, in pain, scared, and wounded. Two of the patients are seared into my memory even today. While I was there, I learned that there was no way that I could ever do what those burn nurses do daily. I also learned a lot about wounds.

Skin is a barrier that we don’t really think about until it’s breached. Wounds are a breach. Large, multiple wounds are deadly. Especially deadly in antiquity with no access to antibiotics. Those of us who have had such a wound or have cared for such wounds know that each injury is unique and so is the care. Personal care of wounds cannot be outsourced. People are needed to care for people. Wound care is intimate. The barrier of skin no longer exists. The wounds of the stranger on the side of the road captured my imagination as much as the Samaritan. Robbed and beaten, laid flat on the roadside, he needed personal care to live another day. The Samaritan stayed on the same side of the road, close enough to be emotionally moved by the wounded man. Emotionally moved to get involved in his care. Kneeling in the dust to clean his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them to flush them out and seal them before bandaging them, the Samaritan used what he had and did what he could. Crossing barriers of all kinds to do so.

A few verses before the Samaritan story, Jesus followers were wondering if they should rain fire down on a Samaritan for not receiving Jesus.[2] Jesus rebuked James and John for the ridiculous plan but the story reveals conflict and hostility. A few verses later, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus goes the extra mile in redeeming the Samaritans by spotlighting their humanity in the one he calls a neighbor, the one whose broken heart bleeds mercy. The lawyer tries to justify himself in the eyes of God by asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” The short answer is that your neighbor is the very one that you think would be better off dead. The longer answer is that your neighbor is the very one you have something to learn from when you think they aren’t worth saving. We don’t know if the wounded man was good or bad, worthy of the tender loving care, time, and money given by the Samaritan. Worthiness isn’t part of the parable. Mercy between strangers in the form of wound care is a part of the parable.

Woundedness looks different for different people – physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial. The wounds of our neighbor can be easy to miss or ignore. This summer, our Compassion and Action with our Neighbors ministry invites us into a Summer of Service. CAN Ministry has opportunities for volunteering with our local ministry partners like Habitat for Humanity Metro Denver and Metro Caring. No prior experience necessary. The invitation also includes filling out the worship slips to track our volunteer hours beyond the congregation in the wider community. CAN Ministry hopes to better understand the variety of volunteering and neighboring organizations that our congregation works with at the individual level. The number of hours given to a variety of organizations and individuals are already interesting. Please keep filling out those slips either online or at worship on Sunday.

Just like not everyone is cut out to be a nurse in a burn unit, not everyone is cut out for every act of service. Likewise, we have different capacities for service during different seasons of our lives. Regardless, the capacity for neighborliness emerges out of the grace and love God gives us which frees us to love and serve our neighbor without any need to justify ourselves. The lawyer in the parable attempted to justify himself, meaning that he was attempting to make himself right with God. Lutheran Christianity became a thing over 500 years ago because there was clarity that the only thing that makes us right with God is God. We don’t build our way to God by being good or by being loving neighbors. We are freed by God to love our neighbor because we don’t need to make ourselves right with God. This is a tough concept.

It’s amazing to me when faithful, wonderful people in the church agonize over whether they’ve been good enough to meet God. God doesn’t meet us because we’re good. God meets us because God is good. Again, a tough concept for our minds that are laser-focused on merit and worthiness. Even dear Mr. Rogers of 31 seasons and over 900 episodes of television fame[3]…Mr. Rogers the ordained minister who sang, told stories, and listened to neighbors…even Mr. Rogers struggled with the idea of worthiness when he asked his wife towards the end of his life if he was good enough. We can put this question to rest. No one can justify themselves before God. Not the lawyer in the parable. Not Mr. Rogers. And not us. We are justified by God’s grace alone through the love of Jesus, love revealed in his earthly ministry and love ultimately revealed through self-sacrifice in cross-born wounds.

And just like that, we’re back to wounds. From the shadow of the cross, beneath the wounded feet of Jesus, we take baby steps as we try to love our neighbor. The Samaritan is an example of advanced neighborliness. He stopped in the road and tended wounds at great cost to himself in time and money. Where others saw a barrier, the Samaritan saw mercy through his broken heart. The invitation today is to take a baby step. Perhaps we could think of a baby step like the difference between washing a small cut and applying a Band-Aid versus applying a full moisture-retentive dressing.

Some of us are worshipping today with deep emotional or spiritual wounds and barely healed scars that still need tending. If that is you, allowing someone else to be your neighbor, to show you mercy, to care for your wounds and help you heal, may be the baby step that you need to take. Some of us know a thing or two about vulnerability, allowing someone to cross through our barriers when we desperately needed hope and healing. It can be difficult to accept that you need help and to ask for the help you need. Consider that the Samaritan wouldn’t be famous without the wounded man. There are times when our wounds are too big to tend ourselves. The story about the Samaritan is one of connection through suffering. We more clearly see each other as fellow humans on a shared journey when the things that we think are important are stripped away, knowing that the next person who needs help could be ourselves. Thanks be to God and amen.

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[1] Hospital Operations have since been relocated into adjacent buildings with updated earthquake safety standards required for hospitals. The Hospital is currently known as LA County+USC Medical Center. https://www.laconservancy.org/locations/los-angeles-countyusc-medical-center

[2] Luke 9:51-56

[3] https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/11/8850958/what-happened-to-mr-rogers-after-show-ended

My Three Dads [OR Jesus, Juneteenth, and Self-Justification] Luke 8:26-39, 1 Kings 19:1-15a, Galatians 3:23-29

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 19, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings; the 1 Kings reading about Elijah is at the end of this post]

Galatians 3:23-29 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Luke 8:26-39 Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

[sermon begins]

My Three Sons was a T.V. show when I was little. I can still hum the opening music…[1] That show pops into my head whenever I talk about my three dads. It IS Father’s Day and, as someone who had more than their share of dads, it’s a relevant aside today. I learned a lot from each of my fathers. Dad, my first dad, is a faded memory a little like a dream.[2] I remember good and bad, echoes of love and fear. Dad died in 1989 although we hadn’t seen him in many years. Pops, my second dad, did the love and work of raising the five of us siblings after he had raised four children of his own. My stepsiblings were all young adults when Mom and Pops were married. Pops died in 2002.[3] Larry, my mother’s husband of 18 years, is a third dad of sorts. He nearly became a Catholic priest but married, had children, and became a college professor instead.[4] I carry gifts from each of my three dads in addition to the baggage. Seeing the gifts through the baggage is something I’ve worked on and treasure at this point in my life. One of the gifts of having three dads is experiencing different ways of being family, of knowing deep down inside that love expands even when people think love is finite. Having had these experiences where family norms changed up, it makes sense to me that we learn patterns of behavior that are as invisible to us as the air we breathe. We just think they’re normal because they’re normal to us.

The Gerasene demoniac in our Bible story had become a normal part of his community. Oh, sure, Legion was naked, unpredictable, dripping with demons, and living in the tombs when he wasn’t shackled and chained in town, but his community knew what to expect from him. He was their normal. They knew what to expect from the man until Jesus showed up. Jesus showed up, sent the demons into a herd of pigs who raced to the lake and drowned. It’s curious that the city folks were afraid when they saw the man sitting calmly at the feet of Jesus. Their fear was so great that they asked Jesus to leave town. Their normal had been disrupted with healing. It makes me wonder about our own comfort with the demons that we know versus the healing that we don’t know.

A lot is known about individual healing and transformation especially related to addiction and recovery. Less is known about how we might transform systems, whether that system is our family, our town, our country, or our world. The more people you add, the more complicated it gets. I’m interested in those systems and what it takes to fight through fear of the unknown future to leave behind the chains and shackles that bind us. I’m interested in how a God who loves the whole world animates us by the power of the Spirit. We know that those of us who face addiction and find healing in rooms of recovery like Alcoholics Anonymous process those experiences with an honest accounting of the hurt inflicted while making amends to those who have been hurt.

Notice that Jesus sent the healed man back into his community, back with his people. Restoring the man into relationships long thought irredeemable. I see that demoniac reconciled with his community, and I see our families, and cities, and country and I wonder, do I believe in a God of transformation or don’t I?

Racism and its effects on our country are hotly debated. We just passed the seventh anniversary of the Emanuel 9.[5] Nine black people were killed by a 21-year-old white man at a church Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. Two of the black people at that Bible study were educated in Lutheran seminaries. The killer was raised in an ELCA Lutheran Church. Racism is not a problem unique to the ELCA. It is a problem baked into the system of our country’s formation right through the practices and policies and laws today. The church, the body of Christ, is uniquely positioned to address racism and work on it in ourselves and within our faith community because we confess every Sunday to things we’ve done and left undone, not loving our neighbor with our whole heart.

This summer, Augustana’s Human Dignity Delegates ministry invites us to read How to Be an Antiracist.[6] All of us are invited to read it, wonder about Dr. Kendi’s arguments. Bring questions and thoughts to our check-in conversation in July and the larger conversation in August. We’ll critique the book from our different perspectives and wrestle with the content.

Today is Juneteenth[7] – a celebration of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 finally arriving in Texas over two years later on June 19, 1865, along with the Federal troops to announce and enforce the freedom of the enslaved people there. Juneteenth (short for June 19th), as of this year, is a state holiday in Colorado. It’s as good a time as any for us as Coloradans and as Lutherans to wonder about how we work for truth and reconciliation across differences of race that are unexamined and embedded – a.k.a. normal – in our policies and practices because it hadn’t occurred to us to look at them in that way.

As a confessional church, we confess our faith in Jesus as Lord of heaven and earth, giver of radical grace and unconditional love. We also confess each Sunday that there is much we do and leave undone that hurts ourselves and our neighbors. Frankly, there’s not much difference between family systems like mine with my three dads, and larger cultural systems that bring both gifts and challenges. There are differences of scale and impact for sure. But there is no difference in the ways that most of us leave patterns of behavior unexamined and, if they are examined, we can end up justifying those patterns as just the way the world works. It’s just normal.

The Elijah Bible story we heard this morning, offers a few hints about continuing fearful, exhausting work with an unknown future. Elijah is on the run from a furious Queen Jezebel who wants to kill him. He hides in the wilderness in despair, thinking he’s better off dead. While hiding, he rests, and he eats, and he rests again. He is sent out to wait for God to pass by which God eventually does in the sound of “sheer silence.” Naps, snacks, and silence are examples of slowing down to figure out and do what we think God wants us to do. The world is a noisy place. Many voices clamor for attention and the fights often devolve into who can be first to humiliate whom. Jesus followers are offered a different path. We are free to get rid of things that have become normal that don’t serve us or our neighbors.

The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Galatian church that we are free. Freed in Christ by faith so that all are one in Christ – no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male and female. Bible stories name differences all over the place and names us neighbors across difference – think the Syrophoenician woman[8], the Good Samaritan[9], and the Ethiopian eunuch[10] – although in fairness, race as we understand it is a much later 16th century social construct.[11]

While reassuring that Christ is the great leveler, hierarchies that divide us remain true our own minds. It takes practice to celebrate and not fear difference in other people – practice in prayer, practice in worship, practice in thought and conversation, and practice in relationship with all of kinds of people. As people freed by Jesus, without any reason to have to justify ourselves, we are free to practice as the body of Christ so that all may freely live without fear. Happy Juneteenth and amen.

 

Song after the Sermon:

Healer of Our Every Ill

Refrain
Healer of our ev’ry ill,
light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear,
and hope beyond our sorrow.

1 You who know our fears and sadness,
grace us with your peace and gladness;
Spirit of all comfort, fill our hearts. Refrain

2 In the pain and joy beholding
how your grace is still unfolding,
give us all your vision, God of love. Refrain

3 Give us strength to love each other,
ev’ry sister, ev’ry brother;
Spirit of all kindness, be our guide. Refrain

4 You who know each thought and feeling,
teach us all your way of healing;
Spirit of compassion, fill each heart. Refrain

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[1] My Three Sons opening credits and music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpEsDaOuiyk

[2] Captain Larry Brien Palm, Ph.D. (9/1/1938-7/28/1989). We left my Dad when I was small because his mental illness devolved him into violence. Dad’s gravestone may be viewed here: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/113725753/larry-brien-palm

[3] John William Cloer (1/3/1929-12/28/2002) https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/latimes/name/john-cloer-obituary?pid=691002. Pops’ gravestone may be viewed here: https://billiongraves.com/grave/John-William-Cloer/12973585

[4] Lawrence P. Ulrich, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Dayton. https://udayton.edu/directory/artssciences/philosophy/ulrich_lawrence.php. See Larry’s Curriculum Vitae here: https://academic.udayton.edu/LawrenceUlrich/UlrichCV.html

[5] “South Carolina Lutheran Pastor: Dylann Roof was Church Member, His Family Prays for Victims.” June 19, 2015. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/dylann-roof-religion-church-lutheran_n_7623990

[6] Ibram X. Kendi. How to Be an AntiRacist. https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2020/june/ibram-x-kendi-definition-of-antiracist.html

[7] What is Juneteenth? https://www.history.com/news/what-is-juneteenth

[8] Mark 7:24-30 Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman

[9] Luke 10:25-37 The parable of the Good Samaritan

[10] Acts 8:26-39 Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

[11] The History of the Idea of Race https://www.britannica.com/topic/race-human/The-history-of-the-idea-of-race

_______________________________________________________ ___________________

1 Kings 19:1-15a  Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” [5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” ] 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15aThen the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.”

A Trafficked Girl Freed, A Jailer Saved from Suicide, and Local Leaders Called to Account – Nope, Not a Newpaper, It’s the Bible. [OR What Does Montgomery, Alabama Have to Do With It?] Acts 16:16-34 and John 17:20-26

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 28, 2022

[sermon begins after one Bible story; the John reading is posted at the end of the sermon]

Acts 16:16-34 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
19But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

[sermon begins]

“What would you fight for?” No small question on Memorial Day weekend as we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, dying for our country while in military service. Since we’re in this weekend of remembering those who literally fought and died, I want to be careful not to confuse their deaths with my question. Well, really it was the Call Committee’s question to me when I interviewed with Augustana. “What would you fight for?” I answered, “The Gospel.” The life of Jesus, especially his resurrected life through death on a cross, proclaims the gospel of peace as the book of Ephesians calls it.[1] Since I talked a lot about God’s peace last week, I’ll condense it here to say only that the Gospel brings peace because Jesus unconditionally loves us. Loves us so much that his self-sacrificing death was inevitable; inevitable because radical grace is as offensive as it is disarming, because it dismantles power as the world understands it. Jesus’ gospel is the great leveler, lifting up the lowly and bringing down the mighty.[2] Right-sizing humanity through his radical grace and unconditional love, Jesus conscripts the church to go and do likewise – right-sizing us in the world as children of God and reminding other people that they are beloved children of God too.

 

The apostle Paul docked in Philippi with his friends Silas and Thomas. We heard that story last Sunday including the baptism of Lydia and her household in the river by the place of prayer. Naming them children of God and baptizing them into God’s promises to always be present, to always take them back through forgiveness, to form them into Christ-shaped disciples, and to keep God’s promises forever. After Lydia and her household’s baptisms, Paul and his friends were again heading to the place of prayer in our reading this morning from the book of Acts. They didn’t make it very far before being followed and yelled at by a girl who was enslaved as a money-maker for her owners. She followed Paul and the guys for days and days, proclaiming their call from God at the top of her lungs, which she knew because a spirit of divination held her captive along with her enslavers.

Paul, the story tells us, was very much annoyed and finally cast the spirit out of her. The bottom line was an actual bottom line for her enslavers who’d lost their source of income. Furious with Paul and Silas, her owners accused them in front of the town’s authorities who had them flogged and thrown into prison, ordering the jailer to secure them. The obedient jailer “put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in stocks.” In the dark of night, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns while the other prisoners listened. Just when you think the story couldn’t be weirder, an earthquake opened the prison doors and unfastened everyone’s chains. The jailer woke up, saw the doors open, and was about to kill himself until Paul shouted through the darkness, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” That same night, after he’d washed their wounds, the jailer and his entire family were baptized without delay. But we don’t get the next part of the Bible story in our reading this morning. The next day, the police sent word to the jailer to let Paul and Silas go. But they didn’t leave quickly or quietly. They accused the magistrates of mishandling them as Roman citizens and the magistrates apologized and asked them to leave town. Instead, Paul and Silas went back to Lydia’s house, encouraged their siblings in Christ there, and then they left for Thessalonica.

Paul and Silas were instruments of the gospel in their day, freeing the girl not only from the spirit of divination but also from her enslavers, freeing the jailer from his shame and suicide attempt, and freeing the magistrates by holding them accountable for their crimes against Roman citizens. Paul and Silas carried a gospel of peace with their hands and feet along with their prayers and songs. The two ways of carrying the gospel were inseparable. The gospel is not a choice between either the promise of God’s eternal presence and unconditional love OR a promise of freedom for the lowly and the powerful. The gospel of Jesus is Both/And – BOTH God’s eternal promise, AND God’s promise of freedom now.

Late February, I was invited to join a group of faith leaders heading to Montgomery, Alabama. A rabbi, a priest, a pastor, a Baháʼí, a Mormon, an African-Methodist-Episcopal, a Buddhist, another rabbi… you get the idea… No punchline here, just a few multi-race, multifaith leaders from Colorado who visited The Legacy Museum (about the history of American slavery and its impacts on mass incarceration today), the National Memorial for Peace and Justice sometimes informally called the lynching museum, and more. On June 12, I’ll present a few highlights about the trip including these four-year old museums, and answer questions as they come up – there will be snacks if that tempts anyone. I couldn’t resist the multi-faith aspect of the trip and I decided to go as part of my continuing education as a pastor of this congregation, and because six generations ago, my triple-great-grandfather enslaved Africans on plantation workcamps in South Carolina. My main question throughout the trip was how people structure societies in which they can still call themselves good while hurting other people and maintaining systems that allow them to do so. No better place to take those questions than Montgomery, the heart of the Freedom Movement led by Rev. Dr. King and so many others.

As Americans, we’re asking similar, systemic questions about our society related to race, guns, and more, in the aftermath of the mass murders of elder black citizens in a Buffalo, New York grocery store as well as Latino and white children and their teachers in a Uvalde, Texas school. The Bible was written in a time by people that couldn’t have imagined guns or cars or modern medicine much less democracy – so much of what we take for granted in 21st century America. We tease apart these stories like this one about Paul, Silas, the enslaved girl, her owners, the jailer, and the magistrates to see what light they might shed on in our lives of faith. I see the Jesus followers, Paul and Silas, figuring out their actions through their faith including baptizing the founding members of the church in Philippi which included Lydia, the jailer, and their households. While they did so, they ended the exploitation of the enslaved girl, saved the jailer from suicide, and demanded accountability from the town magistrates before they left town. BOTH baptizing, AND lifting up the lowly while bringing down the mighty.

As Christians here in worship this morning, we confessed our sin in the presence of God and of one another, and heard in response that God’s forgiveness makes us alive together with Christ. There is no person, system, or institution in the world untouched by sin – whether it’s our own selves, our families, our church, or our government. We are forgiven by God’s grace and set free to question and seek life-giving change in our own lives and in our institutional systems like church and government. Paul and Silas did it in this morning’s Bible story. Jesus did the same with religious leaders and public leaders to raise up the lowly and bring down the mighty.

Jesus also prayed for his followers before he died. Called the High Priestly Prayer in the Gospel of John, he prayed that the love of God with which God loved Jesus may be in us. The same love of God that loved us even when we were dead in sin. The same love of God that makes us alive together with Christ, saving us by grace. So maybe the question, “What would you fight for,” would be more aligned with Jesus’ prayer if we asked, “What would you love for?” I had to really think about this question. “What would you love for?” What and who are you called to love with the same love of God that loved us even when we were dead in sin? The love that we share as the body of Christ called the church is a love first given to us by God – a love that binds us together and sets us free to love.

Thanks be to God and amen.

___________________________________________________________

[1] Ephesians 6:15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.

[2] Luke 2:52 Mary’s Magnificat: He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.

____________________________________________________________

John 17:20-26 [Jesus prayed:] 20“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Peace for Today [OR Check Out Lydia’s Bible Story – She’s Cool] John 14:23-29 and Acts 16.9-15

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 22, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

John 14:23-29 Jesus answered [Judas (not Iscariot),] “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”

Acts 16.9-15 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

[sermon begins]

I want to follow up on something in my sermon from last Sunday when I talked about faith not protecting us from bad things happening. We can look around the room and around the world and see that that’s true. Bad stuff happens to faithful people as much as it happens to everyone else. We don’t know why. We just know it’s the way the world works. A lot of time and energy is spent on trying to answer the “why” question though. I’m more interested in the “what now” question. Maybe I gave that away when I went on to mention how faith strengthens us and gives us courage. When I read the scripture readings for this Sunday, Jesus’ words jumped out at me:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  Jesus’ words have been true for me. Not in a stoic way – as if emotions don’t happen or don’t matter. Not in a disengaged way – as if I now have permission to check out of the world’s troubles. Jesus’ words are true for me in a deep-down way – where life is intensely meaningful because it’s life. The other day I had one of those moments during the lunar eclipse. We had chairs lined up in our driveway and our neighbors set up a second row behind us. Watching the earth’s shadow cast itself slowly over the moon until the moon was fully shadowed, gave the moon a 3D look with a spooky reddish-brown color. It struck me, not for the first time, how odd and beautiful our existence is, not to mention our planet and our universe which transcends into the divine.

Jesus speaks from a divine abiding place when he talks about peace. He mentions the Father who will make a home with them as well as the Advocate, the Holy Spirit that will remind and teach – a combined transcendent power that coalesces in the person of Jesus. The mystery of the universe and the mystery of Jesus are similar mysteries to me. Sure, you can explain black holes and string theory to me while I explain theology and Christian ethics to you, but at the end of the day both the Blood Moon and the fully-human-fully-divine Jesus are ineffable. Our explanations simply can’t do justice to our experience of them.

For instance, there’s a thing that happens to me when someone repeatedly comes to mind. I call it a Holy Spirit nudge because when I call and check in with that person there’s often a really good reason that the call’s timing was important. It’s never 100% reliable. (PSA: Don’t try this at home – call me if you need to talk with me.) I can’t explain the feeling but I’m familiar enough with it now that ignoring it feels uncomfortable, like I’m missing an important appointment. We could argue until kingdom come about whether that feeling is experience playing into instinct or whether it’s the Holy Spirit but my way of explaining the mystery of it is to call it the Holy Spirit.

I wonder if this is a bit like what the Apostle Paul and his friends experienced when they set sail after Paul’s vision of a man in Macedonia who begged them to come and help. Paul’s vision is a heck of lot more dramatic than my nagging feeling to give someone a call. This story in the book of Acts charts quite a course – from Troas to Samothrace to Neapolis until landing in Philippi located in the northeast of what is modern day Greece. Thank God for the Sabbath which gave Paul, Silas, and Timothy a chance to catch their breath, recentering themselves in a place of prayer outside the gate by the river. The place where they met Lydia. Her story is just a few verses so it’s slightly irrational how much I love it. There are a few gems worth noting. Lydia was likely an independent businesswoman since she and her household weren’t named with a husband. Purple cloth was difficult to make, highly prized by royalty, and quite expensive. Lydia was faithful and generous – hosting her new Jesus-following friends after she and her household were baptized. Lydia’s story is one of several in the Bible that describes household baptisms which are part of how the church included infant baptism in its practice.

I wonder how Lydia would have described her experience with the new guys at the place of prayer. She may not have had the churchy words to use at first, but I wonder if she was able to find more words looking back at her time before and after her river baptism. Or if the mystery of her experience was difficult to fully explain. Whatever her explanation, Lydia and her household’s baptisms were foundational to the church in Philippi. The church to which Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians. As I was writing this sermon, I read the opening of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and found that reading it in light of Lydia’s conversion changed my hearing of it. Next Sunday’s Acts reading tells one more significant story about Paul, Silas, and Timothy’s time in Philippi before departing to Thessalonica.

Man, I love the Bible. I love that we have these early stories at first only shared verbally and then finally written down to be shared across faith communities across time. Sometimes we get lost in the nitty gritty of the accuracy of the stories or the legitimacy of the claims. For me, teasing each story apart, putting it back together, and finding gems that apply to my life is the teaching and reminding work of the Holy Spirit that Jesus talks about in our reading today. We never fully arrive to a conclusion about a Bible story. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that a Bible story is never fully done with us. They are gifts that keep on giving across our lives. It took some courage for me to even begin my way back into the Bible as adult. I’d been out of its loop for about ten years and only very tentatively began to turn its pages. Jesus’ encouragement to have untroubled hearts, and to be fearless, are part of what has helped me enjoy the layers of meaning in any given verse or set of verses as well as the subtle perspective shifts and not so subtle disagreements between writers of the different books of the Bible.

I know that I say this in sermons with some regularity but it’s important to understand that God’s salvation in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith is not based on our right thinking or on orthodoxy or doctrine. The words that we give our experiences by faith are important for sure. Paul and Lydia’s story is a case in point. But God’s power is greater than anything I might say or anything you might do. It’s one of the reasons I’m grateful that communion comes after the sermon. No matter what mess I may make of things from the pulpit, God gets the last word. That’s a life lesson too. No matter what mess I may make of my life, God gets the last word. Today, God’s last word comes from Jesus in a blessing of peace.

I don’t know about you, but I need Jesus’ peace this week. The divine peace that sustains existentially through the day-to-day joys, sorrows, and everything in between. Paradoxically, this is the very peace that’s needed to stay deeply engaged with the world and all its problems. As I’ve been connecting with people on a recent continuing ed trip to Montgomery (Alabama), then connecting with people in Loveland at Synod Assembly, here at church, at the gym, in my family, with my friends, I don’t think I’m the only one who needs Jesus’ peace. There’s an emotional defcon level across our culture that seems unsustainable. Those reactive emotions tend to dampen joy that’s ours because life is meaningful simply because it’s life. Today, in this very moment, and in the next month, and for life eternal, Jesus gives you peace by the power of the Holy Spirit through the mystery of an ineffable God. May God’s peace untrouble your hearts and give you strength and courage on this Sabbath day. Thanks be to God and amen.

Mental Health Sunday and the Church Getting Out of God’s Way – John 13:31-35 and Acts 11:1-18

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 15, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

John 13:31-35 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Acts 11:1-18 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

[sermon begins]

It’s good to see that Peter is still getting into trouble after Jesus’ resurrection. Although it’s more accurate to say about this story in Acts that Peter had progressed to getting into good trouble, a bit different than his bumbling ways when Jesus was alive. Peter’s friends in Jerusalem called him out for staying in a certain Roman centurion’s home and eating there – a big no-no in Jewish circles at the time.[1] He told his friends about the vision he’d had from God, concluding his defense by asking his friends, “Who was I that I could hinder God?” The book of Acts tells the disciples’ stories after Jesus’ resurrection but it’s arguable that Acts was written down before the Gospel stories were – the Gospels framing the theology that was already being practiced by the early church. What had not changed was Peter being at key dinner parties.

In the Gospel of John reading, Peter was at another meal, the meal that turned out to be Jesus’ last meal. At that last supper, Jesus’ command to love one another comes right after Judas’ betrayal. Immediately before Jesus commandment, Judas left the dinner party and his friends watched him go. The friends must have been confused to see Judas leave, only then to hear Jesus talking about loving each other without Judas there with them. They’d been together for three years through the wringer of ministry. Those friendships formed in a similar intensity to the ones we form at camp together where a lot happens in a short period of time. Watching Judas leave under the threat of his betrayal was inconceivable to the friends who had his back and then saw that back disappear through a doorway before dinner. The friends carried Judas’ departure and death differently than Jesus’ departure and death for sure, but they still carried it with them.

I wonder if Peter also had his old friend Judas in mind when he had dinner with his new friend Cornelius. After all, God wastes nothing from our experiences where the gospel is concerned. It’s reasonable for Peter to remember Jesus’ command to love one another in the aftermath of the resurrection and the early days of the church. How could he forget Jesus’ command to love after Judas’ betrayal when he dined with unexpected people in unexpected places at God’s invitation only to hear accusations of betrayal from his Jerusalem friends. Except that it wasn’t a betrayal. But we can label things a betrayal when events surprise us and when unexamined assumptions are shattered. The shock takes our breath away.

Shock fits with mental health and illnesses too. Mental illness is surprising, and it can feel like a betrayal of our own body when it happens to us or a betrayal by someone else when mental illness happens to someone we love. As if we ourselves or the people we love could choose whether or not our minds lose control. Or, even worse, to doubt our own or someone else’s faith when minds succumb to mental illness, as if faith is protective of bad things happening. In our more rational moments, we know that faith doesn’t protect us from bad things happening. We see faithful people near and far struggling with all kinds of things including mental illness. On Mental Health Sunday, it’s a reminder we say out loud. Faith can certainly infuse us with courage and hope to think about mental illness differently. Faith also connects us with each other as church to do church differently. Much like Peter did with his friends in Jerusalem when he advocated for his new friend in Christ, Cornelius.

As a faith community, we can offer each other practical help. Yesterday, 24 Augustana people took First Aid Mental Health training through our E4 Ministry. 24 people gave time and energy, not only learning what to do in a mental health crisis but also learning about earlier warning signs. Their training makes visible the love that we have for each other at church, and it also sends trained people from Augustana into their families, neighborhoods, and workplaces. We talk, sing, pray, and learn a lot about God’s love in the church. Being honest about mental health and illness and being prepared to intervene in a crisis is one way to take action in love. Although taking action can feel like betrayal to someone who is in a mental health crisis, taking action may mean the difference between life and death and giving someone a chance to heal.

Augustana’s E4 Ministry itself is another way to take action. E4 is an ongoing effort to Enlighten, Encourage, Educate, and Empower each other. Get it? There are Four Es – Enlighten, Encourage, Educate, and Empower. E4 meets on second Thursdays of the month at 7 p.m. here at the church. People who have friends or family or coworkers who deal with mental health diagnoses and also people who know first-hand the challenges of having a mental diagnosis themselves are welcome to E4 conversations. This means that pretty much everyone has a place in E4.

Humility is a helpful correction when we talk about ministry of any kind. It’d be cool to be like Peter asking his friends, “Who am I to hinder God?” But we’re often those friends in Jerusalem with a million questions about whether or not something will work or whether it’s right or wrong or some other ministry-limiting question. So it’s kind of cool that we get to be church together to occasionally break ministry loose from our questions and see what happens. The book of Acts is a bit different than the Gospel of John in this regard. The full name of the book the Acts of the Apostles. But really, it’s a book in which God’s initiative is front and center and the church simply follows God along and lives into the new thing that God is doing.[2] When Peter asks his friends about not hindering God, God had already broken down barriers, destroyed what the friends thought of as permanent walls, and it was up to Peter and his friends to simply respond in kind.[3]

Too often, mental illness becomes a barrier to community and to being a part of the church. Practicing a resurrection ethic means figuring out how to love each other through our trials and challenges. The church, like humans everywhere, has a tough time loving each other as Jesus commands. Being church means it’s going to be messy. Being church is also full of surprises because that’s what it looks like when we follow a God who loves us first. Thanks be to God, and amen.

_______________________________________________

[1] Acts 10

[2] Matt Skinner, Sermon Brainwave podcast for May 15, 2022. https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/844-fifth-sunday-of-easter-c-may-15-2022

[3] Ibid.

Jesus Hits the Beach – John 21:1-19 [OR Nibbling on Fish and Family Systems – A Sermon with First Call Pastors and Deacons

Opening Worship for First Call Theological Education, Office of the Bishop, Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA

Caitlin Trussell on April 27, 2022, 7 p.m.

[sermon begins after this Bible reading]

John 21:1-19 After [he appeared to his followers in Jerusalem,] Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

[sermon begins after this brief paraphrase of my adlib welcome]

I want to thank Chelsea for asking me to preach with you this evening. The high of finishing seminary and being ordained is one I remember well. She filled me in about the bumpy road of First Call Education over the last few years of pandemic and told me this is the first time you’ve been together synodically in this way, at least intentionally. We talked about the theme and practice of Family Systems thinking for your time togeher as well as hopes for these next couple of days too. It’s a joy to share this time with you. The gospel reading for this evening is the one for this coming Sunday. You’re welcome to use anything you hear this evening in preparation for Sunday. And you’re also welcome not to use it. Lastly, I bring you warm greetings from the sinner saints of Augustana Lutheran Church. Let’s get to it then…

[sermon actually begins]

We moved into a new house when my mom married my stepdad, Pops. He’d moved us from the East Coast to the West, from Catholicism to an austere, a capella, reformed faith tradition, and from subsidized housing to a single family home complete with olive and avocado trees, and a bird of paradise plant by the front door. My mother put dark brown carpet in the new house because the five of us kids, 4 to 13 years old, and my 17-year-old stepbrother and his friends brought in a lot of dirt and the occasional bleeding wound. Her solution was the darkest carpet short of black she could find. It ended up being a mess in the other direction because every pale piece of lint, paper, and dust showed in stark relief against the sea of brown.

Despite my mother’s best intentions getting us into family therapy after we left my mentally ill dad, some of my time was spent crying. Mom came up with a plan to make space for the tears. Vacuuming. Square footage of dark brown carpet awaited me. By the time I vacuumed my way from the dining room to the front hall, up and down the curved staircase, through the living room, and into the den, I had calmed down. Each tidy line that dark carpet reveals when vacuumed, like patterns in a Japanese sand garden, softened my reaction and organized my thinking. Mom had probably calmed down too because the vacuum drowned out the noise I was making. Then we could talk. Ah, the highs and lows of new life together knew no bounds.

Apparently, the new life of Jesus knew no bounds either. He really moved around in those early days of resurrection. Fresh from the tomb, Mary Magdalene mistook him for the gardener until Jesus said her name. That same Easter evening and a week later on the second Sunday in Easter, the disciples had a come-to-Jesus meeting with him in a locked room. Then Jesus hit the beach. “This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” What is it with this guy and the number three? It’s not enough that he was raised on the third day, but he had to be sighted three times afterwards? Then he offers Peter a three-part absolution to mirror Peter’s three-part denial at Jesus’ trial – directing Peter’s love for Jesus to tending his flock.

Love for Jesus leads us to so many unexpected places. Some of us end up following a call towards the kind of flock-tending that Jesus asked of Peter. The same Peter who’d just jumped wildly into to the water to get to Jesus while the rest of the disciples rowed the boat ashore. At this point in the disciples’ relationships, they must have all known each other well. Their foibles and follies recounted over meals and during the long walks between towns. Processing their experiences with each other to become better able to tell a story of their own to feed Jesus’ sheep.

About a year and a half into my now nine-year call, I had an interaction that didn’t go well. Suffice it to say that I’d just met a person who decided to project a bunch of assumptions onto me that didn’t apply. This person had enough power in the system that my confident, capable self was caught off guard. Soon afterwards, I was in my car, in a parking lot, in a full-on ugly cry – simultaneously feeling ridiculous while realizing that I needed help to think. I had enough wherewithal to recognize these tears as old ones, but it was going to take more than vacuuming lines into brown carpet to settle this down. A few of my colleagues at the time had talked about Family Systems work. How we grew up reacting and acting in ways that once served a purpose that no longer exists, but we still react and act in those unexamined ways given the right set of circumstances.

I’d dabbled in Family Systems thinking at the start of my call, but getting to know the church and my call was distracting those first few months and it fell off my radar. Fast-forward to the year and half mark, in that parking lot. I knew that the colleagues I most respected were regularly in some of kind of therapy or spiritual direction. So I found myself a family systems coach and I connected with a few like-minded colleagues who spoke systems language. The slow, painstaking work of figuring out old patterns and reactions began alongside training my brain to think in new ways. Not just synthesize data or process my emotions – although that’s important. Really think. The kind of thought that aligns new information and responses with deeply held values and principles. Using the squishy gray matter part of my brain to do what it was created to do. I’ll leave it there since I’m not here to give a neurophysiology lecture, although as a former nurse that would be super fun and is very tempting.

My love of Jesus, my love of the church, my love of self and neighbor, all the loves were not enough for me to feed Jesus’ lambs and sheep and keep my sanity. I’ve seen other colleagues get their emotions so tangled, their thinking so clouded, that they self-righteously blame their flock without any self-examination and leave their call. I don’t know how each of you would describe your experience these first months or years of your calls. Pandemic makes so many things harder and weirder. What I know is that having a strategy for thinking, whether it’s Family Systems or another strategy, has made the difference in my work and well-being. It’s also kind of fun being the least anxious person in the room from time to time.

We get to do so many wild and wooly things because we love Jesus AND the world God so loves so much that we accept calls into ministry. It’s an adventure that I wouldn’t trade for anything. When Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?…Do you love me?…Do you love me?…”, Peter’s affirmations and ache are palpable – “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus gave Peter the sheep and to the sheep he gave Peter. Our life together as church, starting with worship and expanding to the ministry mischief we each get up to in our different calls, is born of this love. Not a love blind to sin and fault, but an unconditional, open-eyed love to the human story lived in each one of us. Our human stories healed by Jesus in the love given to each one of us and, by the Spirit’s strength, the love we get to give others in Jesus’ name.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed, alleluia! And amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The holy gospel according to St. John…Glory to you, O Lord.

After [he appeared to his followers in Jerusalem,] Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

This is the gospel of our Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

 

 

 

Stories that Claim Us [OR God Sees Your Fear and Raises You by Grace] John 20:19-31

**sermon art: Doubting Thomas by Nick Piliero on F Barbieri (acrylic on canvas)

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 24, 2022

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

John 20:19-31 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

[sermon begins]

My husband Rob has a group of friends from his hometown that stay in touch with each other. Life events and annual lake trips dot the calendar. There’s one friend that keeps everyone going in the right direction. We laugh that it’s because he’s a retired army officer, so he’s used to interdependence and complex logistics. I am somewhat envious of their life-long friendships. My story is littered with different homes, and towns, and schools. Even in the same town I switched schools between middle and high school so new friends were made. This is where the upside of social media makes a difference. Over the years, I’ve found people on social media from elementary, middle, and high school, and they’ve found me.

A couple of years ago, Ron Dawson, a friend from elementary school reached out because he was writing a memoir including stories from 5th and 6th grades. He wanted to check the story and use my name or an alias. We caught up with each other – cuz, you know, a lot’s happened since 5th grade. We didn’t really discuss my becoming a pastor. Just noted it and moved on. As social media goes, we’ve commented on each other’s posts. This will come as a shock, I know, but some of my posts are religious. My Easter Sunday post was an icon of Jesus flashing a fancy icon hand sign that cast an Easter bunny shadow puppet. Last week, Ron messaged me and asked if he could interview me for his podcast.[1] He’s doing a series about changes in his faith. The trendy word is deconstruction. His upbringing and adult faith experiences no longer fit his life experience. We talked via Zoom on Good Friday afternoon – a perfect time to talk about faith and lack of faith.

In that conversation, I mentioned something that Pastor John Pederson talked about in my first year as a pastor here. When people asked him about his faith, he would say that the Christian story is simply the one that claimed him. This is both a very Pastor Pederson and a very Lutheran thing to say – “…the story that claimed him.” When you think about it, we all have a story or multiple stories that claim us. Our family story, faith story, school story, work story, American story, human story, and more, usually lay their claims without a lot of self-awareness on our parts. Examining those stories takes time and energy, for sure, but it also takes courage. Because when you examine a story, ask questions about it, see if the story still fits with who you are now, you may find that the story has changed its claim on you.

Thomas is a solid example of a changing story. After the crucifixion, the disciples’ fear had them on lock down. Rightly so after the trauma of Jesus’ death and what could be next for them. Then Thomas’ friends had an experience with the risen Jesus that he missed out on. Maybe he didn’t trust their Jesus sighting because as a twin he had the look-alike prank down.[2] Who knows where he was when the resurrected Jesus showed up – food run, maybe? Anyway, Thomas wasn’t there. Everything was still so fresh. Maybe he hadn’t found his way back to the others after the chaos. It was still the same day that Mary Magdelene had just been at the empty tomb and saw Jesus, thinking he was the gardener until he said her name.[3]

Mary’s morning (mourning?) encounter and the disciples’ evening meeting with the risen Christ was the first Easter Sunday. Thomas had to wait a whole week, until the next Sunday, before HIS moment with the resurrected, wounded Jesus. That must have been a rough week, his friends crowing with confidence, claimed by a story that didn’t yet include him. Makes me wonder what story claimed him that week. Was it doubt? Was it hope? Fear? All the above? It makes me wonder what stories claim us. Doubt? Hope? Fear? Capitalism? Celebrity-ism? All the above? Maybe a better question is, do we dare examine the stories that claim us? Week after week, Sunday to Sunday, we take baby steps on a life journey that often includes questions about faith. 12th century thinker, Anselm of Canterbury, called this “faith seeking understanding.” Lutheran Christians are claimed by an origin story that includes thinking faith down to the last thought – changing our minds and wrestling with tough concepts. Repeatedly deconstructing ourselves within communities of faith as the risen Jesus repeatedly shows up in bread, wine, and each other to strengthen our faith and challenge our assumptions. Deconstruction and reconstruction are not once and done – but a daily process of dying and rising in our baptisms, trusting that God’s promises are bigger than any of our questions or struggles.

People of great faith are inspiring. Like the early adopters in the faith – Mary Magdalene, Peter, the other disciples, and yes even Thomas – we have people among us who are convinced of the resurrection beyond a shadow of a doubt. Most of us don’t fall neatly into either full faith or no faith. That’s a false choice. Most of us are on a continuum, sometimes even depending on the time of day. For something as big and mysterious as the resurrection, it’s a good thing that the Easter season is 50 days. We need lots of time to swim in the mystery, struggle with what it means to trust God even if the resurrection story feels like a step too far from the reality of cross and tomb.

One of my seminary professors said that every faith argument plays a mystery card or two. To that I reply, “I see your mystery card and raise you a heresy.” Mystery cards, like the resurrection, are one thing. Any faith in any story relies on mystery cards. Whether that story is religious, or economic, or political, or scientific, there are assumptions, hypotheses, and mystery cards aplenty. Our Lenten Adult Forums on Faith, Science, and the Theology of the Cross, are just one recent example of how mystery functions in the world of science. Don Troike did a beautiful job leading us through the gifts, answers and limitations of science and faith. Very cool stuff.

Church offers us conversation partners who offer context, history, and compassion – kind of like the disciples did for Thomas. Anyway, on to heresies. Heresies are arguments that we make within a faith story that may not line up with accepted ideas or doctrine. This is super common. Mostly argued about by theology nerds. But sometimes the fear of heresy locks us into not thinking, or not engaging the mystery whatsoever. That’s no fun. Half the fun of the church is getting to wonder, wander, and ponder our way through what it means to be Jesus followers and the risen body of Christ. How do we get there if we don’t place a demand or two like Thomas did into the mix?

Thomas was open to the idea that he too could see Jesus’ resurrected wounds – as weird and icky as that sounds. He’d already experienced some pretty incredible things to date – healings, exorcisms, Lazarus walking out of a tomb. Why not one more? The story that claimed these early siblings of faith is weird. It’s the story of a lifetime. It’s a story that takes courage to examine, question, and live into. Ultimately, though, it’s Christ’s story that claims, consoles, and connects us to each other and to God. God’s longing sees your locked rooms and fears and raises you by grace. Alleluia and amen.

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Hymn after the Sermon:

Ask the Complicated Questions

1. Ask the complicated questions,
do not fear to be found out;
for our God makes strong our weakness,
forging faith in fires of doubt.

2. Seek the disconcerting answers,
follow where the Spirit blows;
test competing truths for wisdom,
for in tension new life grows.

3. Knock on doors of new ideas,
test assumptions long grown stale;
for Christ calls from shores of wonder,
daring us to try and fail.

4. For in struggle we discover
truth both simple and profound;
in the knocking, asking, seeking,
we are opened, answered, found.

Text: David Bjorlin, b.1984; © 2018 GIA Publications, Inc.

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[1] Ron Dawson, Dungeons ‘n’ Durags: One Black Nerd’s Epic Quest of Self-Discovery and Racial Identity. https://dungeons-n-durags.com/podcast/

[2] David Peters, Vicar, St. Joan of Arc Episcopal Church, TX. Paraphrasing Jeremiah Griffin’s sermon about Thomas @dvdpeters on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dvdpeters/status/1517219990809858050

[3] John 20:1-18

Good Friday is for Weary Souls [OR The Life-Giving Heart of God] John 18:1 – John 19:42 and Psalm 22

**sermon art: The Crucifixion by Laura James  https://www.laurajamesart.com/laura-james-bio/

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 15, 2022

[sermon begins after the Bible readings]

John 18:1 – John 19:42 excerpts

So they took Jesus; 17and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 25bMeanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is
your son.” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 28After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

40They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 42And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Psalm 22  may be found in full at the end of the sermon. Verse 1 is most relevant to the sermon: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

[sermon begins]

Today is a day for weary souls. Bone-tired souls who see Good Friday everywhere. We see it in the million deaths from Covid in our country and six million deaths around the world. In the murderous invasion of Ukraine by Russia. In a subway station shootout in New York. In a traffic stop turned execution in Michigan. In each overdose death that breaks a family’s heart. In our own experience of loss and grief due to illness, addiction, or accident. Oh yes, we see the suffering and we struggle to make sense of it, to connect it with our faith, to take action against it or alongside it. We see and experience the suffering and our powerlessness and lack of resolve to stop it. Today is a day for weary souls.

There’s a special effect used in movies when the fast-paced, fast-forwarded action suddenly slows into second-by-second slow-motion. We watchers have enough time to see and absorb a key part of the story. Good Friday has that quality. It’s a sacred pause that reveals the crux of the matter, the truth of life and death, the heart of the story, the heart of God. Contemplating the cross, the Christ, each other, and ourselves, God cradles our soul-fatigue in God’s heart.[1]

Today is a day to remember that we are not alone. Good Friday signifies the suffering of the world and God suffering with us, God absorbing our suffering into God’s heart. But it’s also a day that God’s shared suffering with us often feels insufficient because suffering is exhausting and isolating, and we feel alone. Jesus’ cry from the cross could be our own, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”[2]

Good Friday tells the truth about suffering. The level we inflict suffering on each other, and on the earth and all its creatures, knows no bounds. Most of us are capable of just about anything given the right set of circumstances. But today isn’t about shame games. Jesus took shame with him onto the cross and shame died there too. The death of shame is life giving. The death of shame clears our eyes to see ourselves and each other with compassion, as Christ sees us with compassion. There’s a sung chant for Good Friday. The cantor sings, “Behold the life-giving cross on which was hung the Savior of the whole word.” The Savior of the whole world delivers us from evil – in ourselves and other people.

Good Friday isn’t about only pointing away from ourselves at other people who cause suffering. It’s also a sacred space to wonder and confess the suffering that we cause as well. Confessions of sin extend to systems that we’re a part of – institutions, countries, governments, families, friendships, communities, etc. Systems that hold us captive to sin from which we cannot free ourselves. What does free us? The life-giving cross. Life-giving because the shame-game, the image game, the perfection game, the self-righteous game, all the games we play against each other shatter in the shadow of the cross.

Through the life-giving cross, Christ sees us with compassion. Last Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke included Jesus’ words of compassion, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus’ words are not carte blanche for murder and mayhem. His prayer to forgive us reminds us that we often act without awareness of how our actions may hurt someone else. That’s why our worship confessions talk about things we’ve done and things we’ve failed to do. That’s why we talk about our sin. Sin gives us language for the way we hurt other people and ourselves with our actions – actions that separate from each other and God. Good Friday creates a slow-motion pause for us to experience life-giving compassion from the heart of God in the face of our sin. God’s compassion also reminds us that Jesus’ death isn’t payment to an angry God or a hungry devil. That’s just divine child abuse. Jesus is a revelation to a weary world, taking violence into himself on the cross, transforming death through self-sacrifice, and revealing the depth of divine love.

God reveals the truth of our death dealing ways while reminding us that God’s intention for humankind is good.[3] Jesus was fully human and fully divine. His life’s ministry and his death on the cross reveal our humanity and the goodness for which we were created. The life-giving cross awakens us to that goodness. Jesus’ full and fragile humanity was displayed from the cross. He sacrificed himself to the people who killed him for his radical, excessive love, rather than raise a hand in violence against the people and the world that God so loves. Jesus’ self-sacrificing goodness clears our eyes to see God’s intention for our human life together.

Our connection with each other is also a Good Friday truth for the weary soul. From the cross, Jesus redefined connection, kinship, and companionship:

“Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” [4]

Jesus connects people through suffering. This is not a reason for suffering. Simply a truth about it. When we suffer and feel most alone and weary to our souls, Jesus reaches out from his own suffering to remind us that we have each other. God’s heart revealed through the cross destroys the illusion of our aloneness and connects us to each other once more. In God we live and move and have our being through the life-giving cross. In each other, we’re given kinship and appreciation for the gift and mystery of being alive.

In the end, the cross isn’t about us at all. It’s about the self-sacrificing love of Jesus who reveals God’s ways to show us the logical end of ours – our death-dealing ways in the face of excessive grace and radical love. We simply can’t believe that God applies this grace and love to everyone. It hard enough to believe that there’s a God who loves us. It’s downright offensive that God loves our greatest enemy as much as God loves us. But that is God’s promise for our weary souls on Good Friday. There is nothing you can do or not do to make God love you any more or any less. “Behold the life-giving cross on which hung the Savior of the whole world. Come let us worship him.”[5]

______________________________________________________________

[1] @BerniceKing via Twitter, 7:38 PM – 13 Apr 22. Ms. King tweeted about “soul-fatigue” and Patrick Lyoya being shot by the police officer who pulled him over during a traffic stop. https://twitter.com/BerniceKing/status/1514417869861306374

[2] Matthew 27:46

[3] Genesis 1:26-31 God creates “humankind.”

[4] John 19:25b-27

[5] A sung chant for Good Friday.

_______________________________________________________________

Psalm 22

1My God, my God, why have you for- | saken me?
Why so far from saving me, so far from the words | of my groaning?
2My God, I cry out by day, but you | do not answer;
by night, but I | find no rest.
3Yet you are the | Holy One,
enthroned on the prais- | es of Israel.
4Our ancestors put their | trust in you,
they trusted, and you | rescued them. R
5They cried out to you and | were delivered;
they trusted in you and were not | put to shame.
6But as for me, I am a worm | and not human,
scorned by all and despised | by the people.
7All who see me laugh | me to scorn;
they curl their lips; they | shake their heads.
8“Trust in the Lord; let the | Lord deliver;
let God rescue him if God so de- | lights in him.” R
9Yet you are the one who drew me forth | from the womb,
and kept me safe on my | mother’s breast.
10I have been entrusted to you ever since | I was born;
you were my God when I was still in my | mother’s womb.
11Be not far from me, for trou- | ble is near,
and there is no | one to help.
12Many young bulls en- | circle me;
strong bulls of Ba- | shan surround me. R
13They open wide their | jaws at me,
like a slashing and | roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water; all my bones are | out of joint;
my heart within my breast is | melting wax.
15My strength is dried up like a potsherd; my tongue sticks to the roof | of my mouth;
and you have laid me in the | dust of death.
16Packs of dogs close me in, a band of evildoers | circles round me;
they pierce my hands | and my feet. R
17I can count | all my bones
while they stare at | me and gloat.
18They divide my gar- | ments among them;
for my clothing, | they cast lots.
19But you, O Lord, be not | far away;
O my help, hasten | to my aid.
20Deliver me | from the sword,
my life from the power | of the dog.
21Save me from the | lion’s mouth!
From the horns of wild bulls you have | rescued me.
22I will declare your name | to my people;
in the midst of the assembly | I will praise you. R
23You who fear the Lord, give praise! All you of Jacob’s | line, give glory.
Stand in awe of the Lord, all you off- | spring of Israel.
24For the Lord does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither is the Lord’s face hid- | den from them;
but when they cry out, | the Lord hears them.
25From you comes my praise in the | great assembly;
I will perform my vows in the sight of those who | fear the Lord.
26The poor shall eat | and be satisfied,
Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts | live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn | to the Lord;
all the families of nations shall bow | before God.
28For dominion belongs | to the Lord,
who rules o- | ver the nations. R
29Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow | down in worship;
all who go down to the dust, though they be dead, shall kneel be- | fore the Lord.
30Their descendants shall | serve the Lord,
whom they shall proclaim to genera- | tions to come.
31They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people | yet unborn,
saying to them, “The | Lord has acted!” R

Pastor, Preacher, Speaker