Jesus, Juneteenth, Just Love [OR The Nuggets and the Limits of Analogy] Matthew 9:35-10:16 and Romans 5:1-8

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 18, 2023

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Romans 5:1-8 Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Matthew 9:35-10:16 Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
10:1Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. [9Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12As you enter the house, greet it. 13If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
16“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

[sermon begins]

Go Nuggets! It’s been a big week for Denver, celebrating its first basketball Championship win in franchise history. They’re not kidding when they say, “Teamwork makes the dreamwork.” The Nuggets have a unique story in recent NBA history. Not a basketball fan, I now know about the inspiring self-sacrifice of Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray’s triple-doubles after watching the semi-finals. Coach Malone was given time, several years of season losses, to form the team to his vision which is practically unheard of in the NBA. Murray had a potentially career ending knee injury two years ago, but Coach Malone told him that he was part of the team and not going anywhere. Analysts say that Jokić, a 41st overall draft pick, “is slow, can’t jump, and will never wow anyone with his athleticism…and none of that matters…he’s smart, selfless, and unstoppable.”[1] In every game, different players stepped up and lifted the team with them.

After the last game, I watched Jokić greet and hug almost every Miami Heat player before he began celebrating. With their championship win, as the saying goes, “the [2023 Nuggets] team will walk together forever.” It’s fun to be inspired along with the celebration, to see selflessness and kindness on a team in a sport more often criticized for swaggering superstars. Sports analogies break down pretty quickly when it comes to biblical interpretation, just to say it out loud, God doesn’t love the Nuggets more than anyone else. Sorry, Nuggs fans. But there is something to be said when we see teamwork play out in the world analogous to how we’re encouraged to be the church in the world.

God collects the unlikeliest people into God’s plan and sends them out to show love the world. As Pastor Gail preached last week, Jesus invited unlikely people to be on his team. Today in the Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus is moved with compassion when he sees harassed and helpless crowds. He commissions his followers to heal the suffering that they see around them. The kingdom of heaven coming near brings practical help to hurting people. Jesus instructs his apostles to start with those closest to home, their fellow Jews. They already have a shared language and a shared God. They are a good place to start. As the apostles heal people, Jesus tells them to travel light and hold their message lightly when there’s resistance. Dust off your feet and keep moving, he tells them. Jesus coaches urgency because people are suffering and there are things to do.

Tomorrow, Monday, is Juneteenth, the newest federal holiday celebrating the 19th century news of the Emancipation Proclamation reaching Texas.[2] Three million enslaved people were freed in 1863 but not everybody knew it. It took two years for the news to get to Galveston, Texas, which it finally did on June 19, 1865. The original Juneteenth parties were religious prayer meetings and song fests of spirituals. How better to celebrate freedom from slavery than as the church who celebrates God’s people being “led through the sea from slavery in to freedom.”[3] The June 19 celebration spread to neighboring states. In Texas, Juneteenth became a state holiday in 1980. In the United States, Juneteenth was federalized in 2021. The freedom movement is worth celebrating. Slavery is an original sin of this country. One that takes intention to heal from as we eradicate its legacy on how we live together in this country.

Last week, youth and adult travelers from Augustana made a trip to Montgomery, Alabama. The travelers went to The Legacy Museum, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, The Rosa Parks Museum, The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, The Tuskegee Museum, and more. Why? Why would we send a group to those places? Because they traveled together to forge their faith and to deepen relationships with each other through those shared experiences. As Jesus taught his earliest followers, healing begins in being sent out together to work together to help the harassed, and to help each other proclaim that the kingdom of heaven comes near. While in Selma at the bridge, our travelers bumped into other travelers from Calvary Baptist Church in Denver. Augustana’s Choir Director, Kevin Padworski, was their choral director before he was ours. This is cool synchronicity for our two churches, and it’s cool to wonder about what the Holy Spirit may be up to in our local churches as we connect and bring healing across white and black, Lutheran and Baptist, and who knows what else?!!

Regardless, it makes sense for a predominantly white church to get educated about how the legacy of slavery trickles into today through our country’s laws and judicial system, our banking and housing system, our criminal justice system, our education system, and our health care system. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves and this includes changing unjust systems, practices, and laws that are created and enforced against our black friends, family, and communities. As we celebrate Juneteenth, and how far we’ve come since slavery ended legally, our celebration inspires us to continue the work alongside our black siblings in faith and in country, to ring the bells of freedom until they ring clear and true for everyone. We’ve come a long way and we have a ways to go.

Jesus connected his followers with each other, coached them, and sent them out to heal. As he prepared them to deal with conflict, he also gave them hope. Hope that healing was possible through their hands because they were sent by God who loves the world. A few weeks ago, during a children’s sermon, I told the kids that they may be asked some day what they do at church or why they go to church. One suggestion I gave them was to answer, “I learn about love there.” It was a children’s sermon that aligns with the Apostle Paul’s letter of Romans.

If you would, open your worship bulletin to the Romans reading again. In verse 8, Paul connects God’s love to the cross. Love is the heart of the matter for Paul as he pivots into the next four chapters of his letter to the Roman church.[4] Now look at the end of verse 3 and follow along with me:

…suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Paul talks about suffering, endurance, character, and hope but NOT as a way to redemption. We’re not better people because we suffer. We’re not made more pure because we suffer. Rather, sometimes we see more easily what’s most important when we are suffering. Paul alludes to it here and later writes in Corinthians that the most important thing, the greatest thing, is love.[5] As much as Paul likes theology, he’s not solving a theological problem, he’s coaching his team of 1st Century churches that God’s story is a love story. God’s love story about how God demonstrates God’s love through action, through Jesus’ self-sacrificing death on the cross. The cross defies explanation but insists that it’s love.[6] Divine love. God’s love.

God’s love is known through action. For the church, we’re promised God’s action in Jesus. Jesus’ ministry of love and justice while he walked the earth. Jesus’ death on a cross revealing the depth of divine love. Jesus present in water, bread, and wine so that we become the mercy and love that we receive. God’s love certainly isn’t limited to God’s church, but we are commissioned into God’s work of love, of healing, of hope. “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Alleluia and amen.


[1] Tim Reynolds, Associated Press. “Analysis: Nuggets built a championship team the right way, and built it to last,” June 12, 2025.

[2] Britannica online: Juneteenth.

[3] Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Hymnal). Holy Baptism: Thanksgiving at the Font (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), 230.

[4] Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave Podcast #908: Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 18, 2023.

[5] 1 Corinthians 13:13

[6] Ibid., Skinner.