All posts by caitlin121608

Keep Your Eye on the Ball [OR Full-Throated, Joyful Noise in the Playbook] Psalm 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19

**sermon photo: Quintorris Lopez “Julio” Jones, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons.  The Washington Times (Associated Press) August 7, 2018.

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on November 17, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Psalm 98 O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory. 2 The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. 3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. 4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. 5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. 7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. 8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy 9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13  Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

[sermon begins (Luke reading is at end of sermon)]

“Keep your eye on the ball.”  Wise words whether you’re up to bat with a fast-ball pitcher on the mound, launching up the line on the soccer field awaiting the sweet send, or hauling down the field and turning right when the quarterback’s pass is about to arc just so.  Wise words, indeed.  And you ball players among us can tell us just how hard it is to stay in the moment and keep your eye on the ball so that the bat connects with the ball before that mad dash to first (base), so that the ball goes from toe to toe for the boot into the goal, and so the pass lands in your hands before you shift toward the end zone.

Oh sure, those of us on the sidelines can easily declare that you should have had it.  But you all know how hard it is to keep your eye on the ball.  There are defenders rushing toward you, fans cheering, music blaring, refs in your way, coach’s threat to pull you out of the game, the urges to move toward scoring before you actually have the ball, and who knows what else on your mind to prevent you from keeping your eye on the ball. But there are those moments when all the blood, sweat, and tears of practice and past games come together, and the right things happen. Those moments when the joy of the game makes it fun.  For those of us watching, we’re often trying to read the signs as to whether or not the team has the focus, grit, and spirit to play strong through the last seconds.  Or whether they will give up.  We can see it in their eyes, that giving up.  They kind of disengage and glaze over – no longer energized by what’s happening on the field because eventually that last second will come and the game will be over.  Sweet relief.

Perhaps we could call that beleaguered team, um, I don’t know, hmmm. Let’s go with Thessalonians. I know, some of you have a different beleaguered team on your minds.  Regardless, we’ll call this team the Thessalonians.  The Thessalonians were awaiting a Second Coming to save them. Jesus’ Second Coming, that is, not a new quarterback.  As they waited, they grew idle in their community.  It’s not totally clear why. Regardless, they sat out of the work and were getting challenged by friends in the letter.

These comments to the Thessalonians have been used in so many wrong ways over the years to prove one view or another about who deserves food.  However, this letter is not about identifying the lazy people to justify sticking it to them.[1] The focus is on Jesus followers giving up on working together for what is right as Jesus taught them to do because they felt that Jesus was coming soon so their work didn’t matter.  Perhaps in the face of real persecution they’d simply shut down in the hope that Jesus was coming soon.  Whatever the reason, they were being challenged in verse 13 to “not be weary in doing what is right.”  They had taken their eye off the ball and quit the game before it was over.  Disengaged, eyes glazed, they had forgotten that doing what is right matters and that God has never called the church to withdraw into isolation and sectarianism.

Can we really fault the Thessalonians?  With wars, insurrections, plagues, and famines common in their time as in ours, their temptation to connect these signs with what God must be up to in Jesus was possibly like what Jesus was warning his disciples about in the Gospel of Luke.  Maybe not so different from us as we react to the extraordinary and disappointing events in our time.  More than react, we interpret these events as if they were certain signs from God.[2]  Time and again Jesus tells us not to interpret the signs.  We do it anyway. I certainly do. This often comes from a trusting, faithful place. I’m good with that. But it makes the reminder given to idle Thessalonians even more relevant to us – “…do not grow weary in doing what is right.” Is that a Christian faith checklist item then?  Not weary – check!  I wonder how many of us could check that box today…

If “not growing weary in doing what is right” isn’t a checkbox then it’s likely something else.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that it may have something to do with faith being more like a team sport than a solo effort, maybe even more like a team sport if we talk about keeping our eyes on the ball, on doing what is right without wearying.  Perhaps it has something to do with what God is up to when we’re together as we are today in worship. Here’s where the psalmist gets unusual top billing in the program.

Psalm 98 slices through the mayhem of Malachi, the last days in Luke, and the lethargy of the Thessalonians, to focus on God.  Not ignoring the realities of suffering but rather sustaining us through those realities and strengthening us for the work of engaging them. With the psalmist, we remember God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, first through God’s covenant with Israel and then to the nations, which is to say, to us through the ever-expanding, radically inclusive new covenant of Jesus Christ.  Because the cross breaks down the barriers we create with the illusions of certainty, safety, and permanence.  In place of our illusions, God gives faith and liberation into an unknown future with the reassurance of God’s prodigal grace, steadfast love, and righteousness.

For these marvelous things, we sing a new song to the Lord.  Our full-throated, joyful noise joins with the oceans’ roar and the singing hills as we praise God.[3]  God doesn’t need our unending praise. Rather, we need to praise God so that we can keep our eye on the ball and not grow weary of doing what is right. Not because God demands your praise and do-goodery in exchange for the perceived need for a golden ticket.  If any kind of golden ticket is needed at the imagined pearly gates it was attained on through the self-sacrificing death of Jesus on the cross anyway…and not by you (just to be clear about that). God demands your do-goodery on behalf of your neighbor who God loves just as much as God love you. Appalling isn’t it? God’s love for all people is especially appalling when you think about those super unlikable people that you’d rather weren’t on the planet the same time as you.

God’s love is the source of our focus, grit, and spirit with which we do “not grow weary of doing what is right.”  We join the psalmist’s celebration of God’s marvelous things, including the wonder of God’s radically inclusive love, which are worthy of our praise with a new song. Thanks be to God for this and for all that God is doing!

Song after the Sermon: Earth and All Stars

1 Earth and all stars! Loud rushing planets!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Oh, victory! Loud shouting army!
Sing to the Lord a new song!

Refrain
God has done marvelous things.
I too, I too sing praises with a new song!
God has done marvelous things.
I too, I too sing praises with a new song!

2 Hail, wind, and rain! Loud blowing snowstorm!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Flowers and trees! Loud rustling dry leaves!
Sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

3 Trumpet and pipes! Loud clashing cymbals!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Harps, lute, and lyre! Loud humming cellos!
Sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

4 Engines and steel! Loud pounding hammers!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Limestone and beams! Loud building workers!
Sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

5 Classrooms and labs! Loud boiling test tubes!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band! Loud cheering people!
Sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

6 Knowledge and truth! Loud sounding wisdom!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Daughter and son! Loud praying members!
Sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

Ending
I too sing praises with a new song!

Herbert F. Brokering, b. 1926 © 1968 Augsburg Fortress

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[1] Thanks Matt Skinner, New Testament professor at Luther Seminary.  https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1197

[2] Skinner, ibid.

[3] In Psalm 98: 4 and 6, “Joyful noise” is the translation of the NRSV and King James Versions of the Bible (among others). The psalmody in the worship bulletin today translates it as “shouts of joy.”  Matt Skinner is also the source of that whole “full-throated” descriptor in the Sermon Brainwave podcast. Good word!

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Luke 21:5-19  When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and, “The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Sinner-Saints, Non-Violence, and God’s Promises [OR All Saints Sunday Sermon] Luke 6:20-31 and Ephesians 1:11-23

**sermon art: “Golden Rule” by Norman Rockwell, 1960. Original at Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on All Saints Sunday – November 3, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings – hang in there]

Luke 6:20-31 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Ephesians 1:11-23  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

[sermon begins]

T: “Mama, God must have a special skin machine.”

Me: “What do you mean, T?  What for?”

T: “For after we die and when we get to heaven and get our new bodies. We’re going to need skin.”

This is a bedtime conversation that my daughter Taryn and I had when she was little.  Turned out that she’d been giving some thought to the “resurrection of the body” part of the worship service in the Apostle’s Creed.  She was trying to understand how God might make that work. That’s not so different than so many of us who are curious about what happens next for us or for the people we love when we’re done with this material body.  For some of us there’s a lot of wondering and for others of us it’s easier to let it go into the category of things we don’t control.  But this question of material bodies, of something physical happening, taps into the reading from Luke this morning.  Jesus goes right for our material concerns with the Blessed and Woe statements.  These kinds of statements aren’t anything new in the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus flips the script from Mary’s Magnificat in chapter 1.  The Blessed and Woe statements are a continuation of the good news of Jesus’ birth that lifts the lowly, fills the hungry, and sends the rich away empty.[1]

Especially in the Woe statements, we’re left to wonder what the warning is about.  That’s one way to think about this use of “woe” here.  It’s more like someone yelling, “Look out!”  It’s a not so subtle warning about the material things in our lives, about the power of material things to lull us into complacency and away from needing God.  Being lulled into complacency in the reading today means that our vision is clouded with certainty when really the material things we crave and hang onto are illusory – whether those material things are food, finances, or fellowship of admiring friends.  We can let the material things define us when Jesus is talking about something else here.

Jesus tells his followers to watch out when they’re wealthy, fed, and admired, because those are not the blessings that society believes them to be.  In our time, the word blessing is often synonymous with those very things – being wealthy, fed, light-hearted, and admired.  But here, blessings are not the material things.  What are the non-material blessings that Jesus lays out?  Jesus begins to list them: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…; and he wraps us the list by saying, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  These verses have been used wrongly over time to justify abuse.  There’s plenty of Jesus’ teachings here and elsewhere through which we know that these are not words meant to compel victims of violence into staying with people who hurt them.  Rather, his words give us pause to consider what the blessings of God’s kingdom look like, to consider an alternative way of living with each other.

Much violence is done in the name of protecting material things – whether that violence be large-scale like governments fighting over borders or small-scale like a family fighting over Grandma’s wedding ring after her death.  Both these large-and-small scale examples get tied up in the concept of inheritance and what we believe is ours over and against someone else.  But Jesus’ words are intriguing.  Material things like food and money are instrumental for people who are hungry and poor but hazardous for those who are fed and wealthy.  So hazardous that Jesus goes on to say that the most important thing is non-violence.  He said don’t retaliate.  Be non-violent.

There’s a group of American Christian denominations crossing theological and political divides who are taking these words of Jesus to heart. ELCA Lutherans, American Baptist Churches USA, National Latino Evangelical Association, the United States’ Conference of Catholic Bishops, and more, have launched an initiative called “Golden Rule 2020: A Call for Dignity and Respect in Politics.”[2]  Not meant to mute simultaneous calls for justice, the idea is to speak respectfully with and about each other across our differences. There’s even a place online for people to sign on to the initiative. A noble goal, to be sure, and one that certainly can’t hurt.  After all, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Another way to think about it is to not become the very people who cause suffering even in the midst of your own.

In fact, claimed by Jesus, those early followers watched him do just that.  He died on a cross rather than raise a hand in violence against the people who killed him.  It was through his self-sacrificing death by violence that he conquered the very power of death by non-violence.  And through Christ’s death, raised by God into resurrected life, as Paul writes in our reading from Ephesians.

Paul calls this our inheritance in Christ.  And, while there may indeed by a skin-machine of some kind, we don’t know what the promise of resurrected life looks like for us and our loved ones.  We hope by faith and we see in part now what we will someday see face-to-face.[3]  We experience life on this side of the cross and trust in the communion of saints in light on the other side. When I pray out loud with families before walking them into the funeral of a loved one, I often say a prayer of thanksgiving for the way God shows God’s love for us through other people. In some ways, I think this is how we often think about the “saints” among us. Someone whose list of virtues includes a loving nature among all the other virtues we can name about them.  We give them the label of saint to show our appreciation for who they were in our lives. We then call the person who died a “good person” which does some violence to who they were as a whole sinner-saint person.

The thing that I think goes awry with a virtue list is that it somehow becomes a way to position the person who died in right relationship with God. The list becomes like Santa’s naughty and nice tally. But here’s the thing, Jesus does NOT tally. If his death on the cross means anything, it means that God is not in the sin accounting business. Another way to say it is that it’s not about what we’re doing, it is all about what Jesus does for us – God’s promise through Jesus that there is nothing we can do or not do to make God love us any more or any less.  The promise is a non-violent, non-material inheritance for sinner-saints, for us. An inheritance that pours through the waters of baptism. Here’s the way the funeral liturgy gives thanks for baptism.

“When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a resurrection like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”[4]

The baptismal promise is one that sinner-saints trust as a promise of life now.  Christ’s promises new life that is an alternative to living in the woes of material illusions and violence over and against each other. Christ’s promise of living in the blessings of loving our enemies and doing to others as you would have them do to you.  And Christ promises that we can indeed celebrate as we complete our baptismal journeys through death here on earth.  Not fearing but actually trusting a God of non-violence to receive us into holy rest, to bring us into peace – a promise of joining the company of all the saints in light as we gather at the river…

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Song After the Sermon

ELW 423: Shall We Gather at the River

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?

Refrain: Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.[Refrain]

Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.[Refrain]

Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace. [Refrain]

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[1] Luke 1:52-53

[2] Emily McFarlan Miller. “One Year Before Election, Christian Leaders Cross Divides to Call for Respect.” Religion News Service, October 31, 2019.  https://religionnews.com/2019/10/31/one-year-before-election-christian-leaders-cross-divides-to-call-for-dignity-and respect/?fbclid=IwAR2jhFCdKhxNRQCietvp8GcfGozvpsTzubWidV8PAxgrgShveIHJ7NheH-w

[3] 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

[4] Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Life Passages: Funeral. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 280.

Not Losing Heart [The Widow and the Unjust Judge] Luke 18:1-8, Genesis 32:22-31, and 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 20, 2019

[sermon begins after one Bible reading; the Genesis and Timothy readings may be found at the end of the sermon]

Luke 18:1-8  Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

[sermon begins]

A nine-year-old gymnast was recently asked what she like most about her new sport.  With gusto she responded, “Conditioning!” When her dad, a recent acquaintance of mine, was telling me this story about her a few weeks ago, he shook his head and said, who in their right mind ever says that their favorite thing about a sport names conditioning as their favorite thing. Indeed, it struck me so much that I’m still thinking about it and now telling you about it.  Of all the answers this young gymnast could have given about her newfound love – bar work, floor twirls, jumps, flips, competing, whatever – she said that her favorite part was conditioning.  In any sport, conditioning is usually a means to an end. Rarely is conditioning where the joy is found.  It means getting into shape and getting strong enough to do whatever it is you’re going to do to in the sport itself.  Conditioning is consistent, hard work.  It adds up over time. Oh, how many of us wish it happened quickly.

Quickly. It’s how the widow in our Bible story would likely have preferred her justice.  She kept going to the judge and demanding that he grant her justice against her opponent.  It makes me wish Jesus had given a number of how many times she showed up.  Eight times?  Twenty times?  Forty?  100?  How ever many times, Jesus’ parable says that she kept it up until the unjust judge gave her justice.  She bothered the judge until he gave in. (Parent and child might be a good image for the widow’s persistence in getting what she’s after.)  “Jesus told them this parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart (v1).”  That’s what verse 1 says – to pray always and not to lose heart.

Not losing heart jumps out of the text this week.  Imagining this widow showing up many times as an example of how not to lose heart is a helpful one.  First century listeners would have heard the word “widow” and understood that Jesus meant a vulnerable person with no way to support herself.[1]  More than that, they would have heard about the widow and connected her with Jewish scripture about protecting the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the resident alien – all people of community concern and of God’s concern.[2]  Given her social status, it’s remarkable that the widow has her own voice and uses it with the unjust judge.  She doesn’t have to convince him with a logical argument.  She doesn’t have to convince him at all.  She simply has to keep showing up with her demand for justice.  Her repeated presence in front of the unjust judge is an indictment of his unwillingness to help her.

More than that, her presence wears him down with an unexpected twist.  The translation that we get in the reading today misses the twist that exists in the Greek.  In verse 5, the English translation has the judge giving the widow her justice because he doesn’t want her to wear him out by continually coming. A closer translation from the Greek of the unjust judge’s reasoning to grant the widow justice would be “so that she may not, in the end, give me a black eye by her coming.”[3]  Worrying about getting a black eye from the widow amounts to worrying about how she’s going to embarrass him if she keeps coming.  It’s comical to stop and think how it could even be possible for her to give him a black eye. Again, her repeated presence in front of the unjust judge is an indictment of his unwillingness to help her. Regardless, the unjust judge still isn’t worried about giving her justice.  He’s worried that she’s going to make him look bad.  In the end, though, she gets the justice she’s looking for no matter the motivation of the unjust judge.

In the face of an unjust judge, or people like him, it’s easy to lose heart and give up when a situation doesn’t change or changes for the worse. It’s also easy to become the very thing we’re working against. Reverend Dr. King, in his sermon called Transformed Nonconformists, cautions against passive patience which is an excuse to do nothing but he also cautions against hardened and self-righteous rigidity that is simply annoying and easy for other people to tune out.[4]  Rather, he calls for restraint “from speaking irresponsible words which estrange without reconciling and from making hasty judgments which are blind to the necessity of social process.”[5]  The transformed nonconformist knows that justice “will not come overnight,” yet “works as though it is an imminent possibility.”[6]  In these terms and in the story of the parable, not losing heart involves taking action when justice seems as though it will never happen knowing that it could come quickly at any time through perseverance and presence.

The parable is an example of what Reverend King is encouraging his listeners to do as prayer and not losing heart are key.  Jesus closes the parable with the encouragement that if even the unjust judge can finally bestow justice, how much more will justice be given by a just and merciful God. Jesus also wonders if faith will be found on earth when he comes again.  This question about finding faith on the earth makes me wonder if that somehow ties back to the introduction to the parable about praying always and not losing heart.  Is faith, in this reading, about not losing heart, about perseverance, and about staying connected to the one who is faithful?  Faith is often understood as confessing Jesus as Lord.  Here, Jesus seems to connect faith with not losing heart, with prayer, with perseverance, and with justice for the most vulnerable.  For some, Jesus’ connecting faith to other people beyond our own self is where the wrestling with God begins. Like Jacob in the first reading from Genesis, our encounters with God in scripture can throw us off balance, making us wonder if faith is worth the trouble it seems to regularly draw us into.  If Jesus’ constant demand of giving justice to the vulnerable can feel overwhelming in the face of such need, imagine what being in that kind of desperate need feels like. No wonder the Timothy reading exhorts us to keep at it – “to be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable (4:2).”  And warns us against “itching ears” who find teachers to suit our “own desires” rather than continuing to draw us in the direction of vulnerable neighbors.

Perhaps this is where conditioning brings us full circle and helps us hold fast when the pressure builds.  Practicing faith in our prayers, in not losing heart as God’s faithful people, in persevering, and in justice for the most vulnerable may be just the conditioning we need when those faith practices seem so small in the face of injustice that we wonder what we’re accomplishing.  This is a good moment to remember that whatever faith we have is a gift.  Faith isn’t something we dredge up in ourselves to put on a happy face.  Faith is a gift given to us by God who is first faithful to us.  Faith supports our perseverance.  How we take our faith out for a spin is so utterly imperfect that we may be the ones who end up with the black eye, embarrassed by the continued presence of someone else who’s in better shape to work against injustice in any form it takes.  That’s why it takes all of us, called by Jesus who’s as persistent as the widow, figuring it out together as we keep the faith, trusting in God’s mercy through our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Sermon is followed by the Hymn of the Day  ELW 588 “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”

1 There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in God’s justice
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heav’n.
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment giv’n.

2 There is welcome for the sinner,
and a promised grace made good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.
There is grace enough for thousands
of new worlds as great as this;
there is room for fresh creations
in that upper home of bliss.

3 For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make this love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify its strictness
with a zeal God will not own.

4 ‘Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
it is something more than all:
greater good because of evil,
larger mercy through the fall.
Make our love, O God, more faithful;
let us take you at your word,
and our lives will be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.

_____________________________________________________

[1] Brittany E. Wilson, Assistant Professor of New Testament, Duke Divinity School, Durham, N.C.  Commentary on Luke 18:1-8 for WorkingPreacher.org. workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4201

[2] Ibid.

[3] Wilson, ibid.

[4] Martin Luther King, Jr.  “Transformed Nonconformist” in Strength to Love: A book of sermons. (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1963), 16.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

_____________________________________________________

Genesis 32:22-31  The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5 As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

Festival of Michael and All Angels [OR ☩ May God’s Holy Angels Watch Over You][1] Luke 10:17-20 and Revelation 12:7-12

**sermon art:  Lily Yeh, 1994, Paint, A Mural of Contemporary Angels, Interweave exhibition, Jamaica Arts Centre, New York: Artasiaamerical.org/works/256

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, September 29, 2019

Festival of Michael and All Angels [OR ☩ May God’s Holy Angels Watch Over You][1]

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 10:17-20   The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Revelation 12:7-12  War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.
11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
12 Rejoice then, you heavens
and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
for the devil has come down to you
with great wrath,
because he knows that his time is short!”

[sermon begins]

Holy Communion is an open table here at Augustana. It’s Christ’s meal, not ours. This means that during communion, Pastor Ann and I extend the open invitation to everyone here as well as the invitation to those who’d like to come forward but, for reasons of their own, would rather receive a blessing instead of receiving communion.  The blessing that I most often say to children and adults alike is, “The body and blood of Jesus Christ ☩ is given for you; and may God’s holy angels watch over you.”  It sums up a lot of scripture in a short blessing:  Jesus comes first; the self-sacrifice of Jesus is given in love for you; and angels are powerful, heavenly beings, created by God and busy on God’s and your behalf.

Angels seem to hold cultural appeal if their appearance in books, movies, music, and art is any indication.  But their appearance in scripture and sermon is bound to put some of us on edge.  Artwork is fine…harmless even.  But for many of us, angels are in the category of aliens and UFOs – not saying they don’t exist, but the personal experience with them is zero to none.[2]  When it comes to scripture, though, angels are hard to avoid. In the Bible, they turn up often – 234 times, and even more than that if you include all the verses about heavenly hosts.  In the Old Testament, “angels comforted Hagar in the desert, delivered Lot from Sodom, guided Israel through the wilderness, fed Elijah under the juniper tree, surrounded Elisha with chariots of fire, saved Hezekiah from Assyria’s onslaught, led Isaiah to spiritual commitment, and directed Ezekial into ministry.”[3]  Angels show up in human form or sometimes in supernatural shimmer-lights; sometimes angels have wings and sometimes they don’t.[4]  Regardless of form, they appear in the Bible from Genesis through Revelation.

Angel presence intensifies around the birth of Jesus.  The angel Gabriel from heaven came to a woman named Mary and announced that she would conceive and bear a son named Jesus; an angel announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds, keeping watch over their flock by night, “the good news of great joy for all people.” That angel was joined in song and praise by a multitude of heavenly host.  From there, angels are involved in Jesus life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension.[5]  Angels abound.  So why don’t we get any of those stories for the festival of Michael and All Angels?

In our readings today, those stories are nowhere to be seen.  In some ways, those are easier and oddly more accessible stories.  Even though angels seem to startle people when they appear.  Angels’ opening remarks are often some form of, “Do not be afraid.”  Why would they have to say this but for the reason that the human in the story is probably very afraid?  (Maybe a “Keep Calm and Carry On” angel t-shirt would have helped?)  Just like in the communion blessing in which Jesus comes first, angels begin their work after God instigates the work to be done.  Angels are not rogue creatures acting of their own accord.  They are God’s creatures – messengers of God’s will.

Today’s readings have to do with the archangel Michael.  In the reading from Revelation, Michael and his angels have thrown down the dragon (a.k.a the devil a.k.a Satan a.k.a. the deceiver of the whole world) from heaven to earth by “the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their own testimony.” It’s easy to get caught up in the imagery and, frankly, to start arguing about the book of Revelation in general.  Much of it is thought to be written in code for Jesus followers living and dying by 1st century Roman persecution.  The writings inspire faithfulness during an outbreak of violence against the early Christians.  Cracking the code of Revelation has been attempted many times to mixed results.  The worst of which is probably 19th century rapture theology.[6]

At the level of story, though, this snippet about the archangel Michael tells a cosmic tale of evil in its death throes at the beginning of time – an act of desperation on the part of the deceiver because he knows that his time is short.  How do Michael and his angels defeat the deceiver?  Verse 11 says that “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”  It’s the classic children’s sermon answer that fits almost any question.  In this case the question is…how do Michael and the angels throw down the deceiver?  Answer: Jesus.  While we’re preparing for communion, we sing about “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and we ask to be granted peace.  The Lamb of God is one of Jesus’ many epithets (and maybe not quite as popular as a children’s sermon answer).  Lamb of God means the One whose self-sacrifice on the cross closes the gap, what we often call sin, between God and us.  So Michael and his angels are able to overcome the deceiver by the blood of the Lamb of God, by the blood of Jesus.

Meanwhile, the disciples in the gospel reading from Luke returned from their long walk through many towns.[7]  The seventy “returned with joy” from making demons submit to them in Jesus’ name.  Jesus does what Jesus often does when his disciples go off the rails by refocusing them, rejoicing that their “names are written in heaven.”  This is relevant because, for Jews, there is a destination called the End of Days. Biblical prophets including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, and Hosea repeatedly point to the End of Days messianic era marked by world peace with no wars or famine, and enough for everyone to live on.[8] Rabbi Dubov writes that “even in his darkest hour, [the Jew] hopes and prays for a brighter future – a world of peace and spirituality.”[9]  Jesus and his disciples understood this.

There’s another problem with the cosmic battle imagery of rapture theology. Some people see themselves as earthly extensions of a cosmic battle yet to be finished. “Some people” include neighbors, friends, politicians, and more. Hollywood has picked up rapture theology quite successfully and made millions. But there’s a significant, scriptural problem with the violence that is glorified in final battle imagery. Christian scripture argues that the final battle is already won by Jesus on the cross. Being told that the final battle is already won is confusing for people itching for a fight.  Even more problematic for people who want a smack down in the name of Jesus is that Jesus is the one who was smacked down by violence. One of the things the cross reveals is that violent human solutions are a dead end.

Jesus died on the cross in non-violence – putting violence to death and bringing death to life.  The end is known.  The angels know it too, so we celebrate with them and their message today. Whatever cosmic battle we think we’re participating in, think again.  From an earthly perspective, evil can seem unstoppable.  Evil rages not because it is powerful, but because it is vulnerable.[10]  It’s “time is short.”[11] Christ has already won the victory.  The deceiver and all his empty promises are exposed when we proclaim this good news with the angels.

The body and blood of Jesus Christ ☩ are given for you; and may God’s holy angels watch over you.  Amen.

____________________________________________________________

[1] Sermon artwork: Lily Yeh, 1994, Paint, A Mural of Contemporary Angels, Interweave exhibition, Jamaica Arts Centre, New York: Artasiaamerical.org/works/256

[2] Inga Oyan Longbrake, Pastor, Messiah Community Church (ELCA), Denver. Michael and All Angles sermon, September 2013.

[3] Ibid.  I’m grateful on so many levels that that Pastor Inga preached this sermon ahead of my own so that you all can benefit from her study and proclamation.  Her sermon echoes throughout mine.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Barbara R. Rossing. The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 178-181.  Rapture theology is a 19th century construct, a recent biblical interpretation.

[7] The mission of the seventy is described in Luke 10:1-12.

[8] Rabbi Nissan D. Dubov, Director of Chabad Lubavitch in Wimbledon, UK. “What is the ‘End of Days’?” for Chabad.org. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/108400/jewish/The-End-of-Days.htm

[9] Dubov, ibid.

[10] Craig R. Koester, Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, MN. Revelation and the End of All Things (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001).

[11] Revelation 12:12

Seek. Find. Joy. Repeat. [OR What’s Up in the Lost and Found?] Luke 15:1-10 and 1 Timothy 1:12-17

**sermon art:  “Lost Sheep – Lost Coin” by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube.

 

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 15, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 15:1-10  Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

1 Timothy 1:12-17 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

[sermon begins]

My son made me a bracelet.  The class assignment had to be an original design and solder two kinds of metal together.  He chose copper and silver, balanced symmetry and asymmetry in the design, soldered and sanded the metals, and presented me with the finished product.  The bracelet had a toggle clasp to hold it on my wrist.  A toggle clasp is cool looking, but it can slip loose if you jostle it just so.  On my way home from Costco one day, hands in that 9-and-3 on the steering wheel, I realized it was no longer on my wrist.  Almost home, I ran my groceries inside and headed back to Costco where I retraced my path.  Didn’t find it.  Went to customer service and, lo and behold, someone had found it and turned it in.  I could NOT believe it!  Happy-happy-joy-joy!  A small thing but a whole lotta love embedded in it. Search. Found. Joy.  (And, yes, toggle clasp out, new clasp in.)

Joy is one of the highlights in the gospel reading today.  The shepherd rejoices over the lost sheep (v6).  The woman who finds her lost coin, a day’s wage gone missing, rejoices with her friends (v9).  And we haven’t even gotten to the story of the Prodigal Son that comes in the next verses and completes the trifecta of lost and found things in the next few verses.[1]  Take a peek at Luke 15 in the pew Bible in front of you.  Note how chapter 15 ramps up the lost stories each time.  There is so much joy that it can’t help but be shared. The shepherd who finds his sheep “calls together his friends and neighbors” inviting them to rejoice with him.  The woman who finds her coin “calls together her friends and neighbors” inviting them to rejoice with her.  The father runs wildly to his returning son, kisses him, kills the fatted calf, and celebrates with a dance party.

Friends, neighbors, and households are not the only ones partying in these parables.  Jesus adds that there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.  We heard a bit about the joy of the angels in our Confession and Forgiveness at the beginning of worship today.  We heard that “For the sake of Jesus Christ ☩ your sins are forgiven” and then were invited to “rejoice with the angels at this good news.” Now THAT is a cool image – angels celebrating on our behalf. It’s counter-cultural to jump into anything with a confession of wrongdoing on our lips.  So much so that some people ask why we have a part of our worship that makes us sound so bad.  I argue that we start with the truth and the truth is that we can be as dumb as that sheep, as slippery as that coin, and as disobedient as that son. We’re sinners and we know it.  Sin is deeper than the hurtful things we do to others and ourselves. Sin is the breach, the distance, that is between us and God. Sin has us thinking we can save ourselves by finding ourselves.

Along the line of finding ourselves, a tourist group in Iceland lost track of a fellow traveler at a volcanic landmark.  A search was organized once the woman was verified missing.  50 members of the tour group joined the search while the Icelandic coast guard scrambled a helicopter.  They searched well into the night until one woman in the search and rescue group realized that everyone was searching for her and told the local police who called off the search.  It was about 3 o’clock in the morning.  The problem occurred when she had broken off from the group earlier in the day to change her clothes.  Her description was generic enough that she didn’t recognize herself in it.  The news headline was spot on:  “Missing Woman ‘Finds Herself’ After an Intense Search.” [2]  It’s a perfect headline for our topic at hand, really.

The language of “finding ourselves” is an old one.  We thrive on thinking things through to the essence of self.  Tony Hoagland’s poem, “Among the Intellectuals,” gets at this tendency to think things down to the last thought.  He describes being “thought-provoking, as if thought were an animal” to be poked with a stick.  After illustrating his own experience of intellectual posturing, he writes:

Inevitably, you find out you are lost, really lost;
blind, really blind;
stupid, really stupid;
dry, really dry;
hungry, really hungry;
and you go on from there.[3]

The poet’s words strike a chord in the current culture of snark posing as savvy and irony masquerading as intelligence.  The dizzying intellectual acrobatics leave in their wake a longing for earnest joy and hoping for a moment of the absurd and even ridiculous.  Sublime is good but sometimes silly is what’s needed.  And that’s what we get in Jesus’ parables.  Jesus asks, “Which of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”  You know what the answer is to that ridiculous question?  No shepherd would do that.  It’s absurd to even consider leaving your livelihood of 99 sheep in the wilderness to hunt down a single lost sheep.  Then Jesus asks, “…what woman having ten sliver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?”  The answer?  No woman would spend more money on lamp oil worth more than the coin she is looking for.  It’s ridiculous even to consider being that wasteful.

Jesus’ parables don’t leave the lost to find themselves.  Lost things simply don’t have that kind of capacity.  The seeking begins with God – from the cosmic to the particular in the person of Jesus; from Creator to creation to creature; from God to us.  God is not irresistible.  Many of us wander off, slip away, or run from God.  Our self-centeredness knows no bounds.  But God relentlessly pursues us through Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection.  And God’s joy is exuberant when reconciliation happens between us and God.  Joy is part of God’s character and the angels rejoice in kind.

Finding the lost, no matter the cost, makes the angels jump for joy with the one who searches and finds.  One wonders if the search and the celebration cost more than the lost objects were worth.[4]  In that regard, the opening line of the gospel reading is even more compelling.  “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus].”  Not just some. All. Not only the tax collectors. Also, the sinners. It’s an absurd excess of people.  I’m sure the grumbling religious elite WERE perturbed by the party crashers. But imagine what the sinners and tax collectors felt by being included around Jesus’ table. Just for a moment, imagine their joy. If imagining the joy of the sinners a stretch, take a look at Paul writing to Timothy in our second reading today.  Here he confesses to perpetrating violence. Elsewhere, we are told he was killing Jesus followers.  Then he had a come to Jesus moment.[5]  He had his own story of being lost and found, his own story of joy.  I’ve heard some of your stories including your joy.  There’s nothing like those moments of being found.

Rarely is being found a once and done experience.  Oh sure, our baptisms happen once.  But the experience of being in a push me/pull you with God happens over a lifetime. Often the stories defy being put into words that make sense to other people although I’d argue we should keep trying to find those words.  Often our own stories parallel elements of Jesus’ parables either by being dumb as a sheep, slippery as a coin, or disobedient as a son. Sometimes, our stories include all three.  Our joy at being found is a drop in the bucket of the joy of God who searches for us, risking God’s whole self in the search.  We are never beyond God’s relentless grace.

________________________________________________

[1] Luke 15:11-32

[2] Casey Glynn. “Missing Woman ‘Finds Herself’ After Intense Search.” CBS News. August 30, 2012. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/missing-woman-finds-herself-after-intense-search/

[3] (Many thanks to John Pederson for posting this gem.)  Tony Hoagland (1953-2018). “Among the Intellectuals.” The New Yorker: September 2, 2019. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/09/02/among-the-intellectuals

[4] Amanda Brobst-Renaud, Assistant Professor of Theology, Valparaiso University. Commentary on Luke 15:1-10 for September 15, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4165

[5] Acts 9:1-19

What’s Your Longing of Faith?  [OR Making It Through the Day] Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 and a teaser from Luke 14:1, 7-14

**sermon art: A Cubist Prayer by Anthony Falbo

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 1, 2019

[sermon begins after the Bible reading; see Luke reading at end of sermon]

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16   Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

[sermon begins]

What do you need to hear today?  Deep down. What’s the longing of faith that’s hard to name?  I was recently talking to some people underneath a clear starry night in the mountains – when the moon is brand new and the stars pile up on each other in the darkness.  The Milky Way is so vivid that it seems like you could reach out and touch it.  Looking up at all those stars, you realize that some of them no longer exist as we see their light reaching us. It can feel like good perspective to look up and take in the magnitude of the universe.  Perhaps our problems or experiences are right sized in the context of the millennia that fill the sky.  Or, as it was pointed out to me in the ponderings of the group, perhaps an alternate experience is wondering if anything matters when confronted with the magnitude of time, stars, and night sky.  These are the big questions that run deeply for many of us when we get a chance to pause in the face of something so much bigger than ourselves.  These are the kinds of questions that send people into mind-bending philosophy degrees.  I love that stuff and can get lost in it for hours.  But what’s become more urgent in the last several years is what people need to make it through their day or maybe their week.  That’s my longing of faith. The preacher in the book of Hebrews seems similarly concerned.

This is our last week of Hebrews readings in the latest run and the verses are the next to the last verses in Hebrews.  I went back and re-read this short book to listen to the arc of the sermon.  It’s intense!  That preacher is lit up!  There’s ongoing concern about perfection – better translated as completion.[1]  What makes the Hebrew church complete?  Okay, yes, Jesus, who in the book of Hebrews is our sympathetic high priest who knows what it means to struggle being human so he also understands our struggles.[2]  More specifically though, the church is made complete by each other – people given to each other, for each other and the world, by Jesus our high priest.  You see, hope by way of faith is a major longing in Hebrews too.  The preacher asks, how do we hang onto faith and live a life of hope?  By hanging onto community.  A better way to say it may be hanging in community.  Faith is difficult to do as a solo effort.  Heck, life is difficult to do as a solo effort.  I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard somebody say, “I don’t know how people make it without a church.”  From the outside, that statement can be confusing.  People regularly make it through all kinds of things without church.  The essence of the statement is heartfelt, though. To say it personally, I don’t know how I would make it without church.  The preacher in Hebrews doesn’t know either.

There was a lot coming down for the listeners of Hebrews.  Violence directed at them in particular, and violence in the world in general made life incredibly difficult and made faith hard to hold onto in the meantime.  Here we share similarities at least in the violence in the world.  Watching the gun industry placed ahead of human life is repeatedly tragic.  Watching immigration policy dehumanize our most vulnerable neighbors is disturbing.  Watching healthcare costs work against wellness for patients and families is impoverishing.  You get the picture.  For some of us, this means getting into the fray of advocacy and working with policymakers and voters to change how we treat each other through laws and practices.  For others of us, this means tending the sick, working on marriages, and visiting the prisoners.  Not so very different, really, from our first century Jesus followers in the book of Hebrews.

Amid everything going on for the listeners of Hebrews, there was a preacher who was trying to focus the community on the main things.  The main things in Christ.  The main things in each other.  And the main things around them.  Shanna VanderWel, our Minister of Youth and Family, says it this way in the latest video that launched on Friday.  Shanna hopes Augustana’s children and youth have a place to be their authentic selves, become friends, serve others, and have Jesus as their center – breaking down barriers caused by stressors that they might have in life.  She’s keeping the main thing lifted up for those kids and families as they live their lives of faith in the church today.[3]  It’s important to remember that many of the significant preachers in our lives aren’t necessarily the ones in Sunday’s pulpit.  Shanna’s hope for the kids sounds a bit like the Hebrews preacher.  Summarizing the Hebrews preacher sounds like this: continue mutual love, show hospitality to strangers, live free from the love of money, do good, share, confess faith, and praise God.  These words are the final appeal about growing in faith amid difficult times when it might be easier to fade into isolation outside of community.

As Lutheran Christians, we depend on the promise that Jesus shows up in the waters of baptism and in the bread and wine of communion.  That’s the baseline promise of our sacramental theology.  It’s a bigger leap for some of us to say that Jesus shows up in the people of the church, the body of Christ.  The Hebrews preacher urges showing up for each other in mutual love because Jesus is in the people around you.  Not as perfection but in real, human frailty and in real, human hope – in the body of Christ.  It’s an even bigger leap to start talking about angels.  There it is in Hebrews.  Show hospitality to strangers because you could be entertaining angels unawares.  More than a cool notion, this call to hospitality suggests the possibility of the divine in our most human interactions.

The new Evangelism committee is forming.  We’ll be focusing on two things.  The first is reaching out and inviting.  The second is welcoming and including.  Connecting into community can feel tricky to newcomers who made a visit or two to Augustana online and liked what they saw there.  More difficult is figuring out how to meet people and to have conversation beyond greeting each other in worship.  Next week, between worship services, we’ll be repackaging beans and rice for Metro Caring.  The week after that we’ll be started Faith Formation for all ages – from our littlest littles to our eldest elders.  You’re invited into those community experiences as we grow in faith and go serve in the world.  The connections we build with each other help us make it through this life and sustain our hope.

Ultimately, though, our hope as we long for completion is the reliability of Jesus Christ.  Jesus, in the gospel of Luke, calls out the ladder climbing shenanigans of our wider world and calls us into community with each other. Jesus is the one who challenges our use of each other as social capital and connects us to each other in the living body of Christ that we call the church. He knows we need each other to make it through our days and weeks.  The preacher in Hebrews echoes that call into community around Jesus Christ who “is the same yesterday and today and forever.”[4]  Thanks be to God! And amen.

___________________________________________________

[1] Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.  Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 1, 2019.  Sermon Brainwave Podcast on https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1171

[2] Hebrews 4:14-16

[3] “Growing in Faith: Augustana’s Youth and Family Ministry.”  Video launched on August 30, 2019.  Produced by Ken Rinehart Media.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OVD_lhRbtw

[4] Hebrews 13:8

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Luke 14:1, 7-14  On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Celebrating the Life of Billie Grace [Romans 6:3-5, Ephesians 2:4-10, John 11:25-26]

Caitlin Trussell with Bethany Lutheran Church on August 24, 2019

When I sat down with Dan a few weeks ago, it was clear how much Billie is loved.  Loved by Dan, sure.  And also loved by all of you – her family, her friends, her percussion students, her church people…you get the idea. More than an idea, you’ve experienced this to be true about her.  Billie also loved as much as she was loved. She just loved people.  She was a people person.  Curious and interested, she could talk to anyone because people knew they could talk to her and she would listen. Listening is a rare gift, indeed.  So needed in the world and so missed when we lose a good listener in our lives.

Perhaps her gift of percussion was part and parcel of her gift of listening.  Producing a beat comes from listening at a deeper level and allows other musicians to weave their gifts around and through it while keeping a bead on them too.  Similarly, she did this with her percussion students over many years – teaching, listening, counseling, and supporting them.  And similarly, she did this as a wife and as a mother – listening and loving to each one of you.

Listening is very much a part of the Bible verses that I read from the 11th chapter of the gospel of John. These are just a few verses from the long story of Lazarus who lived in the town of Bethany.  Lazarus is a dear friend of Jesus who gets sick while Jesus is out of town healing and teaching elsewhere.  Lazarus’ sisters send word to Jesus that he is very sick.  Before Jesus gets back to town, Lazarus dies.  The verses we get in the reading today are part of a longer conversation between Jesus and Lazarus’ sister Martha in which she accuses him of not showing up in time to save Lazarus.  Jesus listened and then replied, “I AM the resurrection and the life,” reversing what we tend to think about death and life. Martha confesses to Jesus in the following verses when she says, “Yes Lord, I believe.”

In one form or another, we all live a confession of what we believe.  We believe things strongly and we don’t live them perfectly.  Billie was no different.  This is why hearing the good news of Jesus time and again is a needed reminder.  The reminder that by her baptism Billie was buried into Jesus’ death so that she too might walk with him in newness of life.  In baptism her journey was sealed by the Holy Spirit forever and God has a hold of her whether she is on this side of death or the other side of death.  This promise did not unfrustrate her in the face of her ailing body.  This promise DID give her a peace that passes all understanding as she chose the comfort of hospice in her last days.

There’s a temptation at funerals to try to look back and prove our worthiness before God.  To think that a list of virtues shows the worth of the person who died, positioning them in right relationship with God.  In effect, we try to pave the way between us and God with a list of virtues that make us worthy. But if Jesus’ death on a cross means anything, it means that God is neither in the sin accounting business nor the proof of worthiness business.  Earlier in the Gospel of John, John 3:17, we hear the promise that God did NOT send Jesus into the world to condemn the world but to save it. Another way to say it is that it’s not about what we’re doing, or what Billie did, it is all about what Jesus does for us.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrected life promises us that there is nothing we can do or not do to make God love us any more or any less.

Jesus says, “I AM the resurrection and the life.” The Gospel of John emphasizes the power of God in Jesus with many “I AM” statements. Jesus, who is God. God, who is Jesus. Jesus whose life reveals God’s love and care for all people regardless of class, gender, or race.  Jesus who came not to condemn the world but to save the world that God so loves.  Jesus whose ministry of God’s unconditional love led to his execution on a cross. Jesus’ death on the cross means a lot of things. One thing the cross means is that God knows suffering. More than that, the cross reveals the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer which means that the cross meets us our grief with hope – the hope of all that God is yesterday in a living baby, today in a living Christ and tomorrow in an eternal God.  How much more can be given?  And how might God go about getting our attention?  God, at some point, needs to grab us in ways that we might have some shot at understanding.  God needs to speak in human terms, through people.

In a very real way, God did this through Billie. When I pray out loud with people, I often say a prayer of thanksgiving for the way God shows God’s love for us through other people.  Billie was one such person through whom you experienced a small fraction of the love that God has for all of us.

In self-sacrificing love, Jesus laid his life down and now catches death up into God, drawing Billie into holy rest with the company of all the saints in light perpetual.  Here, now, we are assured that this is God’s promise for Billie.  And be assured, that this is God’s promise for you.  Thanks be to God!

Division is Not a Call to Hate [OR When Jesus Said ‘Love Your Enemies,’ I’m Pretty Sure He Didn’t Mean Kill Them] Luke 12:48b-56 and Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 18, 2019

[sermon begins after Bible readings from Luke and Hebrews]

Luke 12:48b-56  From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. 49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain'; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Hebrews 11:29-12:2 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace. 32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

[sermon begins]

Way back in January, I received a text asking if I could preach at New Beginnings at the women’s prison on August 16th. Pastor Terry is the called pastor of that church and she was planning her sabbatical for this summer.  Chaplain Nicole was going to be covering the sabbatical and knew she was going to be gone this weekend so they were getting things dialed in early to be sure all was well eight months later.  I agreed to the date and put it on my calendar.  Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago. I e-mailed Chaplain Nicole confirming my schedule with New Beginnings on August 16. Her reply included the news that she was not going to be away after all but she’d like for me to go ahead and preach as planned.  There’s another twist in this short tale.  Holly, an Augustana member, has been volunteering with New Beginnings and set up a four dates a year for other Augustana people to join her as worshiping visitors.  Providentially, August 16 was one of those dates.

When Holly shared the dates, my plan was to proceed with preaching the 16th regardless. Who could have known that I’d be preaching on a day that Holly picked arbitrarily?  When Nicole told me that she was going to be in town after all, and we knew there would be Augustana people in worship with the women, I asked if she’d be willing to preach and I could help in worship in other ways.  I figure you all get plenty of my preaching and it would be cool to hear someone else.  To make an already long story shorter, Nicole came up with the idea that we could preach together by having a dialogue of sorts.  The women of New Beginnings could hear me and the Augustana people could hear Nicole. A win-win, so to speak.  It ended up working out!  Nicole and I figured out some talking points ahead of time so that we’d actually wring some good news out of these freaky verses in Luke which, at the beginning of the week, felt like no small task.  What follows in my sermon is my best solo attempt at what was really a two person job.  So, shout out to Nicole Garcia and the women of New Beginnings – check!

Jesus talks to his disciples about fire and division among families before turning to the crowd, calling them hypocrites, and asking them why they can’t read the present time.  These are really tough verses in Luke.  It’s impossible to read them as a stand-alone story.  They at least deserve to be connected to the larger story in the Gospel of Luke.  Otherwise there’s a danger of turning Jesus into a fire and brimstone preacher when that doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is talking about here.  So let’s talk about that fire.

Jesus says, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”  In Luke 3:16, John the Baptist says something about fire.  John was out in the wilderness baptizing people and they were wondering if he was the Messiah.  John answered them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”[1]  This is language about purification and refining by the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that shows up in the book of Acts as tongues of fire resting on each Jesus follower of the day of Pentecost.[2]  Earlier in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 9, Jesus’ disciples wanted to rain fire down on some inhospitable Samaritans and Jesus rebuked those misguided disciples before they all left for another village.[3]  No fire of retaliation, Jesus reminds his people.

There’s another thing about fire in scripture. It’s a sign of God’s presence. Back in the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Exodus, God calls Moses through a burning bush.  What happens to that bush?  Not a darn thing.  The bush isn’t consumed.[4]  The fire signifies to Moses that he’s in the presence of God. And again, as Moses and the Israelites wander in the wilderness after fleeing Egypt, “the Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night.”[5]

In the fire is the presence of God and in the fire is the refining power of the Holy Spirit – also God.  When we look at the fire as good news, it’s like the preacher in our Hebrews reading says when we look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, the one we look to shake loose “the sin that clings so closely” so that we can “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.[6]  The presence and power of God revealed in cross and in resurrection, in suffering and in victory over death.[7]  All those people listed by the preacher in Hebrews were of the great cloud of witnesses whose imperfection was part of how God was revealed by all that God did for, in and through them which loops us back into the Gospel of Luke and the division that Jesus is causing.  The division revealed by following Jesus because it’s a natural by-product of Jesus’ ministry of confronting the status quo – the status quo of sin that clings to us individually and collectively.  And stuff happens when the status quo is pushed.  Division happens.

The division isn’t a sudden turn or call into hatred.  Too easily we forget what Jesus said earlier in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount in chapter six. “Love you enemies…if you love those who love you what credit is that to you?…Love your enemies.”[8]  Jesus says it twice!  Preaching unconditional love and grace rankles people. Jesus was ultimately executed for it.  The message of God’s kingdom brings unbearable tension but the natural by-product of division should not be construed as a call to hatred.  Rather it is a call to be in the tension that comes with calling out sin.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr wrote a letter from jail and in it he talked about tension.  He said, “A negative peace is the absence of tension, a positive peace is the presence of justice.”[9]  In particular, Reverend King was calling out the sin of racism which created a heck of a lot of tension. He was assassinated in the midst of that tension too. And still, in the midst of that tension, he continued to preach non-violence saying that “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” in a sermon about loving your enemies.[10]

I fear that we’re confused about this distinction between division and hatred. The entertainment value of feuds and hatred in reality T.V. is a case in point.  The sharper and snarkier the comments about the people you disagree with lands you higher in the hierarchies of entertainment and politics – fanning the flames of hatred across the country.  This IS true on all the sides.  We start to believe in the righteousness of our hateful words that lead to hateful action – creating false separations between us.

But a different leader claims us in baptism, my friends – One who arrived in humble beginnings and died in humiliation; One who preached love for the outcast and the poor while loving the whole world that God so loves.[11]  The One named Jesus, who knows a thing or two about shame and darkness, also knows a thing or two about the shame and darkness that clings closely to us as sin. But Jesus also endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and now is seated at the right hand of God.[12]  The same Jesus who flows through us as the refining fire of the Holy Spirit bestowed on us in baptism. It isn’t comfortable and it isn’t easy but it prepares us to walk into a wounded world and tell the truth about ourselves and the world that surrounds us – living into the division caused by the tension of God’s kingdom – not with hatred but with love.  Amen and thanks be to God!

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[1] Luke 3:16

[2] Acts 2:3 – the books of Acts picks up where the Gospel of Luke left off.  Same authorship.

[3] Luke 9:51-56

[4] Exodus 3:3

[5] Exodus 13:21-22

[6] Hebrews 12:1-2

[7] Hebrews 12:2

[8] Luke 6:27, 32, and 35.

[9] https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

[10] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Loving Your Enemies” in Strength to Love: A Book of Sermons (New York: Harper & Row Pocket Books, 1968).

[11] John 3:16-17

[12] Hebrews 12:2

 

 

Where is God’s heart? [Luke 12:32-40, Hebrews 11:1-3 and 8-16, Genesis 15:1-6]

**sermon art: HD photo by Emily Morter.Moreton Hall. Weston Rhyn. United Kingdom https://unsplash.com/photos/8xAA0f9yQnE

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 11, 2019

[sermon begins after the Bible reading; see end of sermon for readings from the books of Hebrews and Genesis after the hymn and reference citations]

Luke 12:32-40  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell 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. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be 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. 37 Blessed 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. 38 If 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. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

[sermon begins]

 

Where is God’s heart?  Oh, I don’t mean God as an old bearded guy in cartoons.  I don’t even mean God as a guy with an actual blood-pumping heart.  I mean it as an honest question.  Where is God’s heart?  By heart, I mean the will from which God loves us and maybe even longs for us.  As a parent, I’ve often said that having children is like having my heart walking around outside my body.  It’s tough to imagine what having 7 billion human hearts walking around outside God’s heart would be like.  Not to mention all the animal hearts.  It’s a mind-boggling proposition.  One reason I ask about God’s heart is because of the first verse in the Bible reading.  Jesus says to his disciples and the other people listening in, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  This verse connects last Sunday’s gospel reading with ours today.[1]  Last week the challenge was to see our worth beyond our things.  This week we have the opportunity to wonder about treasure and hearts.

Right off the bat, Jesus tells his disciples not to fear.  His endearment is so sweet, calling the disciples “little flock” indirectly referring to himself as their shepherd.  There’s no need to be afraid because the kingdom is given to them by God’s good pleasure.  Neither grumpy, nor capricious, God wills to give.  God desires to give.  God promises to give.  We might even say that God longs to give.  It makes we wonder that in God’s giving, does God’s heart follow?  From God’s treasure of earth, sea, sky, and everything living thing, given freely for God’s good pleasure, we could say that God’s heart is with us.  From God’s treasure of self, given freely through self-sacrifice on a cross, we could say that God’s heart is with us.  For where treasure is, there the heart goes.  Would it not also be true of God’s heart?  And if it’s true of God’s heart, it stands to reason that Jesus would know a thing or two about hearts following treasure.  You know, his being God in human form and all.

It’s not a stretch to see how hearts follow treasure.  Whether you’re a child who’s saved and saved all your pennies for many, many months to buy the Lego Death Star.  Or whether you’re an adult buying your first, new-to-you, used car and now you see that car model everywhere when you never even noticed it before.  What we spend money on raises our awareness of those things and connects us differently to them.  It a process that fits with our experience.  The downside of our experience is that we end up loving things more than we love God or each other.  Like the old saying that we are designed to love God and use things but we end up using God and loving things.  We use God and by extension we use people to gain money and power for ourselves at their expense.  The Bible verses today is a kingdom push that reorders love in the Gospel of Luke by linking treasure and hearts in a specific way.

Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give alms.”[2]  Alms in scripture is money given to people who are poor, people who struggle with the effects of poverty on health, homes, and relationships.  In a direct way, the money and personal items given this morning to Border Servant Corps for people released from ICE detention in El Paso are alms.  There are a many ways to give alms.  Jesus doesn’t describe which people in poverty to help.  There’s nothing there to hang onto if one were inclined to determine worthiness of the recipients.  Simply give alms.  One step further is to work together to create just and compassionate solutions to real world issues of poverty that plague neighbors in our pews, down the street, and far away.  People often ask me how to connect with God in their daily lives.[3]  In these verses, Jesus is inviting us into a very real way to do it.  It’s not complicated.  But it also may not feel easy.  It’s is a real way to connect to God.  God’s heart is with people who need real help. Funny that we’re so inclined to look for other ways.[4]

It’s somehow romantic to think that our hearts define our treasure – that what we love and long for is somehow justified by our love and longing.  Jesus turns that around on us.[5]  That’s kind of his way actually.  Just when we think that we’re all that and a bag of chips on figuring this life thing out, Jesus tells us we have it backwards and reminds us that we’re created in the image of God.  Here’s food for thought – just thinking about being generous “significantly increases the protective antibody salivary immunoglobulin A, a protein used by the immune system.”[6]  Generosity is so hard-wired into us that our brains’ reward centers light up just as strongly around giving AND receiving.  Sometimes the giving centers light up even more strongly.  It’s probably the nurse in me that loves the kind of information that reveals connections across faith and science.  Regardless, our bodies are created to be generous and feel better when we’re giving.

The Archbishop Emeritus of South Africa, Desmond Tutu, describes our need to give this way:

“…there is a very physical example. The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. And we are made much that way, too. I mean, we receive and we must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.”[7]

Bishop Tutu gives one example.  There are others, to be sure.  The world would be a different place if giving replaced greed – if all business owners responded to the needs of workers with living wages so that government subsidies to working people were unnecessary, if all countries prioritized the flourishing of their residents so that fleeing to a safer country or homelessness caused by soaring costs of living or declaring bankruptcy because of health care was a thing of the past.  Ways to give are as numerable as each one of us in this room.  Sincere giving ranges from 5 cents to 50,000 dollars and beyond.  Some of the most unbelievable gifts given are from people with the least to give.  It’s easy to freeze in the face of our neighbors’ needs. Let’s keep it simple and do what we CAN, when we CAN.[8]  After all, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.[9]

God knows a thing or two about treasure and hearts, about the interdependence of all 7 billion of us.  We are God’s heart walking with each other on this tiny blue dot. God’s heart is already with us through God’s self-giving of God’s treasure of creation and of the life-death-and-resurrected-life of Jesus.  For this and for all that God is doing for us, in us, and through us, we can say thanks be to God and amen.

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Hymn of the Day sung after the sermon

ELW 678 God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending[10]

1 God, whose giving knows no ending,
from your rich and endless store:
nature’s wonder, Jesus’ wisdom,
costly cross, grave’s shattered door,
gifted by you, we turn to you,
off’ring up ourselves in praise;
thankful song shall rise forever,
gracious donor of our days.

2 Skills and time are ours for pressing
toward the goals of Christ, your Son:
all at peace in health and freedom,
races joined, the church made one.
Now direct our daily labor,
lest we strive for self alone;
born with talents, make us servants
fit to answer at your throne.

3 Treasure, too, you have entrusted,
gain through pow’rs your grace conferred;
ours to use for home and kindred,
and to spread the gospel word.
Open wide our hands in sharing,
as we heed Christ’s ageless call,
healing, teaching, and reclaiming,
serving you by loving all.

____________________________________________________________

[1] Luke 12:13-21

[2] Luke 12:33a

[3] Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.  Commentary on Luke 12:32-40 for August 11, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4142

[4] Skinner’s commentary in the footnote above is more of this kind of thinking.  Give it a read.

[5] Girardian Lectionary, Proper 14 (August 7-13), Year C.  http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-c/proper14c/

[6] Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Avery: New York, 2016), 264-265.

[7] Tutu, The Book of Joy, ibid. (See footnote above for full citation – better yet, read the book.)

[8] The new name for the now combined Augustana Social/Global/LEAPP/Advocacy ministries is CAN Ministry: Compassion & Action with our Neighbors.

[9] Hebrews 11:1

[10] Robert L. Edwards (1915-2006). “God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending” – Published originally in 1961. Re-published in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, 2006).

_________________________________________________________________

Hebrews 11:1-3 and 8-16  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” 13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

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.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But 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.” 5 He 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.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Dinner Disrupted [OR Let’s Try the Mary and Martha Thing Again, Shall We?] Genesis 18:1-10a and Luke 10:38-42

**sermon art: All Are Welcome by Sieger Koder (1925-2015) German priest, writer, and artist

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 21, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Genesis 18:1-10a The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” 7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. 9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”

Luke 10:38-42 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

[sermon begins]

 

Imagine your travel being dependent on who would welcome you into their home when you arrived in a new town.  No hotels exist.  You arrive hot and dusty at a random house and hope to high heaven that whoever lives there is having a good day.  The ancient world depended on this kind of hospitality.  When the three men showed up at Abraham’s, there was not a doubt that Abraham would feed them.  Now that could be because he saw the Lord in the three men. Regardless, hospitality was the first order of the day when strangers arrived.  Abraham and Sarah pulled out all the stops too – special cakes, tender veal, soothing milk, cool shade, and a warm welcome.  Just as everyone gets comfortable.  Something happens.  An announcement disrupts dinner.  It’s not the first time this announcement happens.  Sarah and Abraham are promised that they’ll have a child in their old age.  Dinner was disrupted by God’s promise that they’d heard before, that they wondered if it would ever happen, and that they didn’t control one single bit. Revelation over a meal is as commonplace now as it was then.  People are gathered already so why not make an announcement.

Growing up, my parents hosted weekly Sunday dinners for us and my adult step siblings.  As we aged, these were a little less than weekly but they still happened regularly.  I was living at home and going to Pasadena City College at the time of one such dinner.  There was the general chatter that accompanied those meals.  Then, there came the moment when everything changed.  Mom and Pops announced that they were moving to Australia with my younger sister Izzy.  Pops had found actuarial work down under in Sydney.  The house that I’d called home since 9 years old was to be rented.  The immediate thought in my head was, what about me?  After a bit of conversation passed while I remained silent, Mom looked at me and reported that Carl and Sharon were willing to have me rent the tiny home behind the their house when it was ready and that I would bunk with my stepsister Carol in her apartment in the meantime.  Such a strange thing to wonder what was going to happen, to have people tell you what was going to happen, and to not control a single thing about any of it.  Talk about dinner disrupted by a stunning revelation. So many of our lives changed after that announcement in more ways than we could imagine.

And, finally, we come to Martha’s moment of dinner hospitality disrupted by her own distraction and worry.  She welcomed Jesus and friends into her home in the ways of her ancestors in the faith, Abraham and Sarah.  Her moment of welcome gets it right, by the way, in contrast to earlier in Luke when Jesus was asked to leave by the Gerasene gentiles and not received by the Samaritans.[1] From Martha’s welcome and other Bible stories, we know that the movement of the early church was solely dependent on the hospitality of local people in the places visited by Jesus and the disciples.[2] Not to mention much of the Apostle Paul’s travel as evidenced in his letters that made it into the Bible.  Hospitality was key to spreading the good news of Jesus, and Martha was spot on with her welcome from the get go.[3]  Let’s give her some credit where it’s due.

It’s what happened next that has busy, welcoming hosts everywhere beat up by unhelpful interpretations that leave the value of Martha’s work in question.  For those of you in that crowd, let’s agree that the role of the people who do welcoming work is critical.  Scripture tells us that there are many gifts of the Spirit when it comes to discipleship vocations.[4] The thing in question in this story is not about Martha’s work.  The question raised in this story is about Martha’s worry and distraction stirred up by Mary’s radical behavior in the other room that disrupts getting dinner ready.  The Gospel of Luke has an ongoing concern with worry.[5] Here again the question raised is about worry and about how Martha handles her aggravation by going to Jesus – creating a classic, unhelpful triangle to try and control the situation.  Who of us here today hasn’t done that very same thing?  Overwhelmed by our many tasks, we identify our problem as someone else rather than ourselves, and then we rope a third person into the mix and create an unhelpful triangle to get someone on our side and blow off steam.  Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.”

Jesus doesn’t complete the triangle with her.  He keeps the focus on Martha rather than siding with her against Mary.  I hear so much compassion for Martha in his challenge to her.  Perhaps this lens of compassion is because of the Good Samaritan story that comes just before it, in which Jesus commands neighborly compassion.[6]  Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing…Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

It’s difficult for us to fully appreciate Mary’s radical action.  First century rabbis did not teach women.[7]  Mary’s posture likely mimics that of the men around her who were also listening to Jesus teach in postures of recognition, adoration, and submission.[8] Jesus is referred to as Lord three times in these four verses, highlighting his lordship.  Similarly to Sarah and Abraham, Martha’s dinner is disrupted by the Lord’s divine revelation. In both situations, the revelation disrupts social norms and promises something more than any of them can imagine.  For Sarah and Abraham, the promise of a child in their older age is inconceivable to them, both physically and intellectually, and is not something within their control.  For Martha and Mary, the promise that the Lord’s teaching is also for them and not something controlled by other people who would prevent it for reasons of gender or anything else.

Notice that Martha ends up receiving direct teaching from Jesus, too, differently than Mary, to be sure, but receives Jesus teaching nonetheless.  Jesus meets Martha where she is in her worry and distraction and offers her the “better part” too.  Both of these disciples are worth our reflection but NOT as a zero sum game where one wins and one loses.[9]  Both disciples receive the teaching they need to hear in the time and way they need to hear it.  Both receive the “better part” as they submit to Jesus’ lordship in word and deed. Martha welcomes him into her home and calls him Lord.  Mary sits at his feet, listens and learns. Both experience his direct teaching. Not only do they experience his teaching as a challenge to social norms of the day.  They experience a word from him that is directly for them – drawing them more deeply into discipleship, transforming their lives into ones that are ever more Christ-shaped.

Jesus also disrupts our shared dinner at the communion table with his word today – challenging the limited, critical view that we have of ourselves and others, transforming our hearts with compassion and for compassion, and focusing us on the better part.  For this and for all that God is doing, we can say, amen, and thanks be to God!

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Hymn of the Day following the Sermon.

ELW #770 Give Me Jesus (African American Spiritual)

1 In the morning when I rise,
in the morning when I rise,
in the morning when I rise,
give me Jesus.

Refrain:
Give me Jesus,
give me Jesus.
You may have all the rest,
give me Jesus.

2 Dark midnight was my cry,
dark midnight was my cry,
dark midnight was my cry,
give me Jesus. [Refrain]

3 Just about the break of day,
just about the break of day,
just about the break of day,
give me Jesus. [Refrain]

4 Oh, when I come to die,
oh, when I come to die,
oh, when I come to die,
give me Jesus. [Refrain]

5 And when I want to sing,
and when I want to sing,
and when I want to sing,
give me Jesus. [Refrain]

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[1] Luke 8:37 and 9:53 as noted in ProgressiveInvolvement.org “Luke 10:38-42” for July 21, 2019. https://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/lectionary/

[2] Luke 8:1-3

[3] Matthew Skinner, Professor of New Testament at Lutheran Seminary. Luke 10:38-42. Sermon Brainwave podcast for July 21, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1165

[4] Ephesians 4:11-16 and 1 Corinthians 12 (the whole chapter but especially vv27-31)

[5] Luke 12:22-34

[6] Luke 10:25-37

[7] Progressive Involvement Lectionary Study on Luke 10:38-42 for July 21, 2019. https://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/lectionary/

[8] Ibid.

[9] Matthew Skinner, ibid.