Fragile, Fallible, and Impatient [OR Let’s Have Some Fun]

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 16, 2023

[sermon begins after two Bible readings; the Romans reading is at the end of the sermon]

Genesis 25:19-34  These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”
24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23  That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”

18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


[sermon begins]

Addiction counseling uses an acronym to help people pause before taking action – H.A.L.T.  H is for Hungry. A is for Angry. L is for Lonely. T is for Tired. Hungry – Angry – Lonely – Tired. Pausing gives your brain a moment to assess your survival instinct in the race to do something. Impulsive actions that feel like survival can have disastrous consequences. Just ask Esau, the impulsive, impatient older brother in our Bible story today. He could have used the H.A.L.T. acronym before swapping his birthright for a bowl of stew. He wasn’t just hungry. He was famished. Hard to say how hungry he actually was but it’s safe to say that he was hungry enough to not be thinking clearly, hungry enough that impatience for a bowl of stew was his undoing.

If Esau paused, he may have thought to ask important questions. Was Jacob the only one who had food or was someone else’s stove just a tad inconvenient? Was he really hungry enough to die? Was filling his hunger worth trading his inheritance? Esau’s decision to eat from his brother’s kitchen changed Esau life. Jacob likely knew his brother’s weaknesses and exploited them to trick him out of his birthright. We can clean it up a bit by appreciating Jacob’s determination to extract a blessing from God and by justifying it with Esau taking his birthright for granted, but the brothers’ story is not an easy one. Parental favoritism, sibling rivalry, and sly scheming, reveals a family like many of our own. Theirs is not a perfect family. Good to know that dysfunction isn’t new. We didn’t just make it up in the 21st century. There are other stories in the Bible that push back on bad behavior but for now, let’s just see the family’s story for what it is.

Esau and Jacob, his parents Rebekah and Isaac, were complicated people, just like us.[1] Esau gives us a snapshot of the power of our flesh as Paul writes about it his letter to the Romans, our second reading in worship today. The recipients of his letter, the 1st century house churches in Rome, would be familiar with stories like Jacob and Esau’s. Bible stories about complicated people through whom God is still able to bless the entire world. After all, the original covenant that God made with Abraham, the grandfather of Jacob and Esau, is ultimately about blessing the whole earth. There were many twists and turns in the story, and those fallible moves continue right through today.

Esau has me thinking about patience. First and foremost, he makes me think about God’s patience. As fragile and fallible people go, Esau is right up there. This may come as a shock to you, but I’m not outdoorsy when it comes to hunting or farming. Either one of those pursuits would take a steep learning curve on my part. But I know from my hunting and farming friends that both take an incredible amount of patience day-to-day and year-to-year. Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower and I hear how patient God must be as the seeds fly and either die or thrive. The parable validates the power of anxiety, greed, and persecution as obstacles to faith.[2] Rather than think about these experiences individually, and telling everyone to go be better soil (cuz that’ll work), I invite us to consider how our congregation may function as a buffer to the many kinds of soil any of us are on any given day.[3]

Jesus points out that anxiety, greed, and persecution are toxic to faith. We only have to look at ourselves or the people around us or the social medias to see how quickly we’re shaken off of our high horses and our behavior is not what we’d like it to be.  So how do we help each other pause when this is the case? How do we help each other pause when we’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (see H.A.L.T. at the beginning of the sermon)?

Confession and forgiveness give us a good start. There’s a reason we begin worship in this way for most of the year. When we give voice to the weakness of our flesh, confessing how we hurt ourselves, each other, and the earth, the truth about our fallibility and God’s goodness is laid before us. We’re right sized alongside each other, neither elevating ourselves over and against nor self-deprecating ourselves into something unworthy. Neither over-apologizing nor under-apologizing, we hold ourselves accountable to what we have done and what we have left undone because God is a God of faith, hope, and love.

The pastoral transition we’re in after Pastor Ann’s retirement is enough to cause anxiety to bubble up here and there. Add my cancer to the mix and we can easily forget to pause and trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the process. It’s way too easy to come up with what we each individually think is the perfect solution or timing or staffing model. It’s very easy to become impatient and lose sight of our collective wisdom. Collaboration takes time. Listening takes time. Process takes time.

The Transition Team meets tomorrow evening and part of their work will be to set dates for Listening Circles. Listening Circles will give everyone an opportunity to talk about our congregation – who we’ve been, who we are now, and who we dream of being. Watch for more information about the Listening Circles. Pick one to attend. They’re small. Just a few people in each group each time to give each person a chance to talk. It takes all of us to run the church because the church is all of us. The Congregation Council will also lead in this regard. They meet on Tuesday to begin brainstorming various leadership models alongside the process of the Listening Circles. Churches that attend well to transitions and the process are better equipped to move into what comes next. They also have more fun.

As Paul wrote to the Romans, “…you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.”[4] Since, as Paul writes, the Spirit makes its home in us, there’s a chance that the variety of dirt that Jesus talked about becomes less of an issue. On any given day, anxiety about the future may get the best of some of us. We may feel joy one minute and choke the next. But we can hope that others of us will be having a better day. Setting our minds on the Spirit, according to the letter to the Roman Church, brings life and peace which sounds a whole lot better than anxiety and greed having their way.

It’s been my experience that no one sermon is for everyone. When a sermon doesn’t resonate for me, I figure it must be for someone else. Same as when I preach. For some, it was just what they needed to hear. For others, it’s a shrug and a bit puzzling. The sermon was for someone else. It’s similar with scripture. While the Bible is for all of us all the time, there may be parts of it that leave us scratching our heads while other parts leave us with filled hearts or shattered assumptions that change our hearts.

As we continue through the gospel of Matthew and the parables that Jesus’ told, we’ll be challenged to wring a good word from them as we set our minds on the Spirit who brings us life and peace.

Being church is counter-cultural in that our collective wisdom is knowingly balanced by our collective flaws. It’s a practiced humility as we celebrate God’s Spirit making a home in us giving us life and peace. Impatience may trip us up from time to time, but it serves to remind us of our fallibility. As such, we’re reminded to look to each other, right-sizing us alongside one another.

Ultimately, we’re reminded to look to God’s Spirit who bears fruit in us for the sake of the world. The covenant God made with us through Jesus Christ expands the covenant God made to Abraham which, despite our fallibility and impatience, is about blessing the whole earth. Blessing the whole earth means blessing each other which also means that each of us will be blessed. So, we pray that God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.


[1] Joy J. Moore, Professor of Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave Podcast for July 16, 2023.

[2] Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave Podcast for July 16, 2023.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Romans 8:8


Romans 8:1-11  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Rest for the Weary Soul [OR I am a Churchy Woman with Eyelash Woes] Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30; Genesis 23, and Romans 7:15-25a

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 9, 2023

[sermon begins after three Bible readings – if you’re picking and choosing, read the Matthew reading]

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30  [Jesus spoke to the crowd saying:] 16“To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
17‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
25At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Romans 7:15-25a I  do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25aThanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Genesis 23:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 [Laban, Rebekah’s brother, received a visitor who said,] 34“I am Abraham’s servant. 35The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. 36And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. 37My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; 38but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’
42“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! 43I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also”—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’
45“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. 47Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. 48Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. 49Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”
58And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” 59So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. 60And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“May you, our sister, become
thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
of the gates of their foes.”
61Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.
62Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. 63Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. 64And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, 65and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. 66And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

[sermon begins]

I didn’t do much preaching after I was diagnosed with lymphoma a few months ago. One of my friends asked me about how I was handling the preaching part of things and I told her that I had colleagues who were preaching. My friend decided that was a good thing because all of my sermons would end up being about cancer. That hasn’t been the case since I started preaching again. One of the principles of preaching is to preach from your scars not your wounds. This is meant to caution the preacher when an event is too fresh or too raw. I’m sharing the rule with you because I’m going to break it today. Today’s Bible stories are just close enough home.

I’ve talked about how much Sunday worship has meant to me during these months. Hymn singing, communion, baptisms, and my colleagues’ preaching have pushed the reset button for me during weeks that felt like too much. I’m solidly and theologically Lutheran even though I wasn’t raised a Lutheran culturally. I believe that God’s word is revealed through preaching, however imperfectly we preachers may get it done week-to-week, that God’s promise of presence is real in the sacraments of baptism and communion, and that God’s transcendence is experienced in the collective effervescence of hymn singing and choir singing and in the mystery of making that organ sing during preludes and postludes. I’m a churchy woman and find great comfort in the traditions of faith. So in today’s Bible reading, I nod along in agreement when Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Yes, sweet Jesus, you are indeed a place of rest. As a churchy woman, I also believe that this congregation as part of the church around the world is the risen body of Christ. Part of the theology of the resurrection is that we are Jesus’ resurrected body in the world. We are the hands and feet of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, called and sent into the world to be gentle and humble of heart. To unburden the burdened and give rest to the weary. As Pastor Gail said last week, we are the face of Christ to other people when we care for them and, conversely, other people are the face of Christ to us when we receive care from them.[1] I’ve received so much love and care from you. Sometimes, the weary one is ourselves and we are as much in need of receiving Jesus’ good care as we’ve ever been. This is where scripture comes in to remind us just how big God is and how far beyond acceptable boundaries God works.

In the first Bible reading this morning, we hear the story about Isaac and Rebekah’s arranged marriage. This is a story I’ve heard many times. God’s provision and maintenance of God’s covenant with God’s people had many twists and turns throughout the generations. Some of the best stories are in the book of Genesis. Isaac and Rebekah’s story goes into specific detail when a simple genealogy may have sufficed.[2] But, in the story, we’re privy to the thoughts of Abraham’s servant who has been sent to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant prays to the Lord for a specific sign and through that sign he identifies Rebekah. God’s provision of a wife for Isaac is God’s commitment to the covenant with God’s people and the story’s sign is about watering the camels. God works through a servant, his thirsty camels, and woman’s kindness. New Testament stories keep the surprises coming in people like the Jesus and Syrophoenician woman or Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.[3] Unlikely people who remind us just how much God’s commitment to us is revealed in the gentle and humble in heart. Not necessarily people we would expect to be revealing God to us.

I said from the beginning of my lymphoma diagnosis that I don’t believe that God gave me this disease. I do believe that God works through all of life’s situations to remind us how much God loves each one of us. A few Sundays ago, I went to apply mascara and realized that I have very few eyelashes left. Chemo makes those fall out too. While I knew eyelashes fall out in theory, it was very different being confronted by it in the mirror. I talked about it with my daughter and ordered some fake lashes. Boy, did that go sideways fast – glue everywhere, cattywampus eyelids. A clear no-go.

When I went to the infusion clinic, I talked to my nurse about it and about how you never know what the tipping point’s going to be. In the infusion chair next to me, there was a woman getting a blood transfusion. She apologized for over-hearing and then told me where I could go to get fake eyelash instruction for free. We had quite a back-and-forth with her expertise as a former employee there. I’m shaking my head again at the wonder of her sitting next to me at the clinic and chiming in with the very information I was seeking. In hindsight, I saw Jesus in that moment, caring for me when the weight of cancer was exposed by something as feather light as eyelashes.

The next day, I followed the transfusion lady’s recommendation. At that makeup counter, I met Bella. Young, vibrant, and sporting incredible lashes, I gave her the nutshell of my story and how much losing my eyelashes has affected me. I told her that I’m a pastor and, while her eyes look amazing, that I need something understated as I preach and do communion and baptisms. After she asked me some relevant eye makeup questions, she told me the story of her grandmother who recently completed chemo and whose long Native American hair, that ordinarily grew well past her hips, was decimated. Bella told me she understood and proceeded to guide me through the store to find the closest thing to natural length lashes and to tutor me in the proper technique. There’s even a tool especially made for this application. She also gave me the alternative of simple eyeliner when lashes feel like too much. She was skilled and compassionate. Dare I say that she was gentle and humble of heart. Dare I say that, in hindsight, I felt a place of rest.

If God can work through thirsty camels and Rebekah’s kindness to bring a message of hope and clarity, then God can certainly work through a woman receiving a blood transfusion and a woman trained in the art of eyelashes. In addition to the churchy ways that give us a place of rest in Jesus, there is a wide world through which God’s care is present in surprising people and events. Jesus spent much of his time teaching his followers to see God’s care in unexpected people and events. This was a continuation from his Jewish roots and the stories that he grew up on like Isaac and Rebekah’s arranged marriage. Stories about his ancestors and how he came to be the son of Mary, a gentle and humble leader with concern for his weary and burdened followers.

It doesn’t take much for us to flip the script on Jesus and to glorify leaders for their toughness and earthly power. Or to see those attributes in other people and praise them for it. Or to desire those characteristics in ourselves. The funny thing about Jesus describing himself as gentle and humble of heart is that he’s angry in this story from Matthew. He’s challenging the religious leaders for the stumbling blocks they put in front of ordinary people that make God unreachable or unknowable.[4] The religious leaders accused John the Baptist for being too uptight, basically calling him an ascetic who had a demon, and they indicted Jesus for being too loosey-goosey, saying he was “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”[5]

Yes, thank the sweet Jesus for being a friend of sinners. We aren’t going to get it right, this thing called living. Like Paul’s confession in his letter to the Romans, we’re going to do what we don’t want to do and not do what we should do.[6] Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves is something in which we seem determined to find loopholes.[7] We say to ourselves, “Oh, not that neighbor, I could never love them,” or “Oh, not myself, I’m not loveable for these reasons.” Jesus’ commandment to love can feel like its own burden when love doesn’t make sense to us in any given situation. But Jesus says, “Come to me, ALL of you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”



[1] Pastor Gail Mundt, sermon on Matthew 10:40-42 for Sunday, July 2, 2023. Watch at minute 27:00 here:

[2] Karoline Lewis, Professor of Biblical Preaching, Sermon Brainwave Podcast for July 9, 2023.

[3] Mark 7:24-30 and Acts 8:26-40

[4] Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave podcast for July 9, 2023.

[5] Matthew 11:18-19

[6] Romans 7:15

[7] Matthew 22:34-40