Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 5, 2016
[sermon begins after two Bible readings]
1 Corinthians 13 1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
John 14:1-4 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
The morning after Berniece died, Arvid and two of their four children – Karen and Eric – sat at the kitchen table covered in papers of all kinds. Some of those papers included Bible verses and hymns that Berniece and Arvid had discussed and written down in preparation for the days when their funerals would come. There was a readiness to finish the planning that would become part of the celebration of her life even in the shock of Berniece’s death less than 18 hours before. Her death was, and is, a shock. She’d been feeling a little more tired than usual but not sick. After 90 years of life and 63 ½ years of marriage, the loss catches us off guard.
Around that kitchen table, in their home of 45 years, there were also stories to tell. Stories of Berniece in her single years deciding where to go next as she enjoyed her friends while teaching short-hand and bookkeeping in Bottineau. Stories of meeting Arvid over a pair of shoes sold and a first date that came at the not-so-subtle encouragement of his brother. Stories of football and popcorn leading to a full decade of marriage and children arriving in the ‘50s with the big move to Denver that followed the four births. Story after story that unfolds Berniece’s life and the love shared with family and friends.
While her death is a shock, her scripture choices come as no surprise. A woman who loved out of her strength would know the cost of love described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church. This is a deep and abiding love. As Karen put it, the kids knew that their mother “loved us no matter what stupid thing we did.” Karen’s description of Berniece is a sermon-in-a-sentence of First Corinthians 13 in which Paul writes, “Love is patient; love is kind…it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…love never ends.” Berniece “loved us no matter what stupid thing we did.” Such a love.
Such a love comes out of not only strength but also the clarity of imperfection, the clarity of humility, the clarity of grace. You see, clarity about one’s own imperfection opens up the possibility of grace for someone else’s imperfection. Out of the clarity of imperfection, one might say out of the clarity of our own sin, comes a bit of awareness of how much God must love us. The kind of love we share pales in comparison to so great a love. As Paul puts it, “now we see through a mirror dimly but then we will see face-to-face.” Paul not only describes love between individuals. Paul describes the behavior of love expected in the church. The behavior of love that serves as a bridge across differences. The behavior of love that comes in person. The behavior of love that is asked of us but, first and foremost, in the in-person love of Jesus on a cross.
To describe looking through the dim side of a mirror, Christians will often refer to living on “this side of the cross.” The resurrection-side of the cross is simply too much to fathom in a world in which we can so clearly see real problems. In this way, the truth of the cross is closer to home than the resurrection. It’s a truth we get deep in our gut. The truth that being human involves real suffering and pain. The truth of God’s self-sacrificing love. The truth that God would rather die than raise a hand in violence against the world that God so loves. The truth that forgiveness comes from the cross as Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The truth about the unflinching love of God in the face of our failures. Those are hard truths but we can get at them from our own experiences of love, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, pain, suffering, and death. We can get at them from this side of the cross.
Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John that Berniece chose are also from this side of the cross. [Jesus says to the people with him,] “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” These words are a promise that we can understand only through a mirror dimly. But these words are the promise today for Berniece who now knows God’s promise fully even as she is fully known by God. She is taken fully into God and is at rest. This is God’s promise for Berniece and this is God’s promise for you.
Amen and thanks be to God for new life.
 John 14:3