All posts by caitlin121608

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 “What if the Means ARE the End?!”

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 – “What if the means ARE the end?”

July 7, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 17 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.”

 

I am immediately curious when a story begins with, “After this…”  My first question is often, “After what?”  So I want to back up.  Not too far; simply to a story that is told right before our story this morning.  In that story from Luke, chapter 9, Jesus had just “set his face toward Jerusalem” for the first time.  This is Lucan code that Jesus’ journey to the cross has begun.  Jesus and his disciples had entered a Samaritan village.  The Samaritans do not receive Jesus and the disciples’ response to this is to ask Jesus whether or not they should rain fire down from heaven and consume the village.  Let that one sink it for a minute…  Since when did it become an option for them to rain fire down from heaven?!

Fortunately for all involved, Jesus rebuked them (I like to imagine that he also rolls his eyes and gives himself a slap on the forehead) and they continued on their way in a mysterious conversation about foxes and birds.

After he rebukes his disciples’ raining fire plan, Jesus appoints seventy disciples to go into the towns ahead of him.  He must figure they need some guidance as they announce that “the kingdom of God has come near” because he gives them some basic instruction about how to be a good guest.  I like to imagine Jesus this way, “OK, tempers were running a little hot in that last town so here’s the game plan on visiting the towns – stick together, greet the people in peace, eat what they give you, and stay put – no trading up if you get a better offer.”

Perhaps more importantly, given the disciples penchant for retribution, Jesus instructs them on what to do if they are not welcome after they greet the town in peace.  Jesus tells them to dust off their feet in protest (read: no need for fire) and still to tell them that that “the kingdom of God has come near.”

Jesus gave them a job to do and the means to get it done.  The kicker is that the job Jesus gives them is still their job regardless of the townspeople’s’ response – an outcome they have no control over.

In the last few years, some faithful leaders of Augustana spent some time praying, reading scripture, talking, listening and working on a mission statement.  Mission statements are one way for congregations to organize their life together – taking advantage of the diversity and gifts given to that congregation by the Holy Spirit.    At their best, mission statements prioritize ministry decisions and mobilize a diverse congregation into action for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Similarly to what Jesus does by sending out the 70 disciples in different directions for the common mission of telling people that the kingdom of God has come near.

If you would, please take your worship bulletin and find Augustana’s mission statement on the back cover in the upper right hand corner.  Are we all there?  Please read it out loud with me. “Guided by the Holy Spirit we gather in Christian community, reach out and invite, offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ, and walk humbly with God.”  It’s lovely in its simplicity.  And from my perspective, earns extra points for getting the Trinity in there as the guide.

Augustana’s mission statement is something I read and thought about during the pastoral call process.  And it is mentioned occasionally in meetings here as a reference point when various decisions are being made or the future of Augustana is being discussed.  By my way of thinking about this mission statement, Jesus has given Augustana a job to do and the means to get it done.  The kicker is that the job Jesus gives us is still our job regardless of people’s response to us – an outcome we have no control over.

You may have heard the expression, “The end justifies the means.”  People use this expression to justify doing anything and everything that they feel is necessary to achieve their goal, their intended end. Yet,this gospel story is all about the means.  Jesus tells the disciples what to do and how to do it – the outcome, the end, the way people respond, isn’t within the disciples’ control.  It makes me wonder if the means ARE the end – for the disciples and possibly for us.

Augustana’s mission statement is all about the means.  Here’s what we are to do and how we are to do it, at least in general terms.  The outcome, the end, the way people respond, isn’t within our control.  Again, it makes me wonder if the means ARE the end.  This is to say more explicitly that the means ARE the end for us, not for God.  Because God’s going to do what God’s going to do as far as the end is concerned.  We don’t control the outcome, God does.  And I hear this as the very best of the good news.

While we’re on the subject of means, some of you may have heard the expression “means of grace.”  Lutheran Christians use this means-of-grace language to describe the ways in which God comes to us, meeting us on our level.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) website offers a quick explanation of the means of grace.  It goes like this…

“Jesus Christ is the living and abiding Word of God. By the power of the Spirit, this very Word of God, which is Jesus Christ, is read in the Scriptures, proclaimed in preaching, announced in the forgiveness of sins, eaten and drunk in the Holy Communion, and encountered in the bodily presence of the Christian community.  By the power of the Spirit active in the Holy Baptism, this Word washes a people to be Christ’s own Body in the world.  We have called this gift of Word and Sacrament by the name ‘the means of grace.’  The living heart of all these means is the presence of Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit as the gift of the Father.”[1]

Jesus directs the disciples into the towns, giving them the means through which they are to proclaim the kingdom of God coming near.

The Holy Spirit guides this congregation by our mission statement, giving us the means through which our life together takes action.

And Christ the Savior commands us to make available the means of grace and to avail ourselves of the means of grace, giving us the means through which God forgives and sustains us in faith.

In these three situations the logic of the incarnation, of God coming to us, of the means as the end, is real.  In these three situations the actual end, the consequence, the outcome is on God.  For us creatures, who time again pressure ourselves and each other to bigger and better success stories, this is good news indeed.  Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

Luke 7:36-8:3; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21 “

Luke 7:36-8:3; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21  “Joy Extreme”

June 16, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 7:36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  8:1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Psalm 32 1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. (Selah) 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Selah) 6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. (Selah) 8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. 10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Galatians 2:15-21 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17 But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

 

Have you ever taken a trip that you didn’t want to take?  I’ve had only a few of those but one such trip in the last few years became memorable.  I moped during the drive to DIA, I moped through the security line, and I was still moping as I made my way into the waiting area at the gate.  This gate was at the end of the terminal which housed about eight gates bundled together. There were tons of people waiting for their flights and all I wanted was to be alone with my thoughts.  And, then, I spotted it, a chair facing the windows, looking out at the tarmac.  It’s back faced away from the crowds with a few seats buffering me from anyone else. I had one of those moments when you’re happier than you really should be.  As I was setting down my carry-on, I glanced over at a gentleman a couple of chairs down and, literally during my movement to sit, the man looked at me, looked at the cross on my neck and said, “Can I ask you a question?”

As it turned out, what he really wanted to do was make a statement.  He was heading to his mother’s home to say goodbye to her before she died.  He told me about his family, the mess of it, the pain of it and his part in all of that mess and pain.  He told me about how God had found him, how God had changed his life and how he trusted God to help him now.  Somewhere in all that he had to say, it occurred to me…he was confessing!  He was hurting, he made himself vulnerable and he was confessing in the middle of a busy airport, to an utter stranger and in the midst of all of that, he trusted God to do something about it.  And not just any old thing, the man trusted God to forgive him for what he had done.

Our psalmist and the woman at Jesus’ feet make me think about that man in the airport.  That man, in his desperation, made himself vulnerable in the face of the cross and in the faith of his God.  His relief was almost gleeful – which is stunningly paradoxical given that he that he was headed home to take responsibility for the serious breach between him and his mom.

The man in the airport and his story help me make the leap between Simon and the woman at Jesus’ feet.  Oh, we could do the whole gender thing, educated thing or faithful thing but what really makes me curious is this extreme response of the forgiven person – or rather, the extreme response of the one who gets the magnitude of the forgiveness available to everyone.

Our readings today all edge toward that extreme response. The psalmist sings about the happiness of those who have been forgiven; Paul, in his letter, rhapsodizes about, “…not I who live but Christ who live in me”; and this woman who speaks not a word but pours out obscenely expensive ointment, mixes it with her tears and smears it all around with her hair while Simon and his guests are trying to eat.  These people in scripture are unbound and free because of forgiveness.

About a month ago I was over at a friend’s house for dinner.  As I was chopping veggies and she was checking the pasta, she turned to me and asked me to explain why Christians seems to be so wrapped up in forgiveness.  After all, wasn’t it just a free pass to do whatever you want and get away with it?  Her question was so honest.  She wasn’t snarky or cynical when she asked it.  She was simply curious.  Because why wouldn’t she be?  We see this kind of thing all the time.  The moral lapse of someone politically powerful or randomly famous results in their public apology that journalists then dissect for dubious authenticity.

In Galatians, Paul’s wording is different but he basically asks my friend’s question in a different way; “But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin?”  Meaning, if Christ is going to forgive us can’t we just do whatever we want? To which Paul answers his own question, “Certainly not!”

As a Christian, when I say with Paul, “It is not I but Christ in me,” one of the moves being made is that being crucified with Christ puts us into a new relationship with sin.  We get to call it what it is beyond simple moral categories of right and wrong.  We acknowledge the depth and pain resulting from relational sins between us and God, between each other and within each of us against our self.  Much like the man in the airport, we are freed by the cross of Christ to admit our flaws and take responsibility.

When we begin our time in worship with confession we are making a move similarly to the man in the airport.  We turn to God as if to say, “Can I ask you a question?”  And in that moment, we confess our sin.

As a group in worship, we confess thing like:  our arguments and plans taking center stage; our comfort or survival as overriding motivations; and our selves are the primary object of our attention.  We confess that these things and more take first place over God, over our neighbor and even over what is actually good for us.  We confess all these things and more as we stand or kneel before God.  Like the psalmist we surrender to the truth of our sin and fall into God as our hiding place, our deliverance.

Our individual confessions are as varied as there are people.  Lutheran Christians don’t often take advantage of individual confession but we do have a beautiful rite of confession between a person and a pastor.  During this individual rite of confession, which is highly confidential in its discipline and practice, there is an opportunity for a person to “confess sin and receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness.”[1]  The opening of this rite begins with these words: “You have come to make confession before God.  You are free to confess before me, a pastor in the church of Christ, Sins of which you are aware and which trouble you.”[2]  

My own experience of hearing a personal word of forgiveness truly has no words.

Whether our confession is said with other people in worship or spoken individually, we are bowed down by God’s power and opened up to God’s judgment and mercy so that with the psalmist and Paul and the woman we can weep tears of relief, tears of freedom, as we hear God say, “Your sins are forgiven.”                                                                      

God forgives and delivers you.  Through Christ crucified you are free to sing with the psalmist, revel with Paul, and weep with the woman about the joy of being forgiven, of being delivered from bondage to sin into Jesus Christ who brings life.

No longer captive, God gives you new life in Christ.    You are made whole by God, by Christ in you, and, like the woman, you are freed to show great love… for God’s sake, for your sake and for the sake of the world.



[1] Evangelical Lutheran Worship [“hymnal”], Pew Edition, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), p. 243.

[2] Ibid.

John 14:8-17, 25-27; Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17 A Sermon for Pentecost

John 14:8-17, 25-27; Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17  – A Sermon for Pentecost

 

John 14:8-17, 25-27  Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

 

Acts 2:1-21 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

Pentecost is today!  We get together for worship, some of us remembering to wear red to symbolize the Holy Spirit while others of us are trying to piece together exactly why, and away we go!  Pentecost is a church holiday that ratchets up our intensity just a bit – making the joyous a little more joyful and the reverent a little more respectful.  We in the church sing and celebrate and worship God the Holy Spirit on this day and, for the most part, we have a pretty good time at the party.

 

What I want to ask is, “Why?”  Why do we do this strange celebration of Pentecost?  The first reading from the book of Acts takes us back to remembering the earliest days of the church.  The roaring sound of a violent wind, the flames that settle over the heads of the faithful, God the Holy Spirit pouring out and over those gathered people, creating church from those gathered people, a grand spectacle to be sure – amazing to behold by those who received a spirit of adoption on that day.  But thinking about that day, so far back in time, can feel a little slippery to some of us.  What was that sound of wind; was it actual wind?  What about those tongues of flame; did they shimmer like personal, red northern lights?  Or were the flames more like real fire but not actual fire that would have burned the people?  Was the writer indulging in poetic metaphor?  If so, in which direction does the metaphor point?  All great questions that are utterly and frustratingly unanswerable.

 

Celebrating Pentecost year after year does indeed take us back to that noisy, flaming day in the church when the church was instigated and inspired to get moving by God the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost helps us remember those earliest believers in that mysterious event and reminds us of our connection through time to those earliest believers.  Perhaps more importantly, remembering the first Pentecost helps us remember God’s presence in the midst of the church.  So remembering is good.  And it is right.  And it is…tame.  Remembering implies that what happened is in the past and stays in the past.  It is easy to remember; it is much harder to see and to claim that very same Spirit of God here, now, today.  So let’s see what might be revealed if we poke around and through the symbols of the day.

 

The Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly happened a few weeks ago.  Church goers, Pastors, Diaconal Ministers, Youth Ministers, and Associates in Ministry from 176 churches in Wyoming, Utah, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, met together along with the ministers and bishop from the Bishop’s office.  There were highs, lows, snoozes and surprises as there was God to be worshipped, business to be done, friends to be greeted, and gleanings to be learned.  And then there was this thing, this moment that simply stole my breath away.

 

Saturday morning the Assembly was in its 37th hour.  We were seated around our tables, with tables next to tables throughout the large hotel ballroom.  Bishop Gonia was up front at a podium with two huge, wall-mounted, projection screens on either side of the speaker’s platform.  He told us that very shortly we would be connected via Skype to the Malagasy Lutheran Church in Madagascar, Africa, with whom our synod has shared a long and thriving history of accompaniment as some people from our synod have been there and some of their people have spent time here.  The technological process – which I’ve been told stops just this side of being a minor miracle – progressed in fits and starts.  Bishop Gonia exchanged lengthy, formal greetings with his Malagasy counterpart in the Malagasy language as he translated it for the rest of us so that we could understand what was being said.  During the breaks in the connection, other people would give their reports from the podium.  A disjointed flow that came to another pause just after their choir sang us a beautiful song in their language and our clapping for them.

 

What was supposed to happen next was a download of previously taped singing from our very own Rocky Mountain Synod people who will be headed to Madagascar together in a few months.   Something happened to that download and suddenly the bishop was inviting us all to stand and sing Amazing Grace, via Skype, for the people representing the Malagasy Lutheran Church.  We sang two verses from memory while their faces watched us from the two large projection screens.  As we were singing, a couple of things hit me.  There we were, an eclectic mix of people to be sure but predominantly white Americans, singing Amazing Grace, a song written in the 18th century by a former slave trader turned Christian minister, to a predominantly black group of Malagasy people.[1]  The magnitude of it hit me like a ton of bricks during their clapping for us.  While it did not feel surprising that the Malagasy people sang to us, our impromptu singing and its levels of meaning felt full of surprise to me.

 

Perhaps this surprising moment is a small taste of what Paul means in verse 16 of the Romans letter that was read a few minutes ago when he says, “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”[2]  This is not to say that every surprising moment with the element of ironic cool thrown in is of the Spirit – although the Spirit can be ironic and is definitely cool.  It is to say that the Spirit who moves in us reverses even our most sincere efforts to do a good thing and often ends up doing something else entirely.

 

The reading from John may help us out here.  Jesus says, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works… the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”[3]  These works that Jesus is talking about are as intricately connected to the dwelling of the Father in the person of Jesus as they are to the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  And, as such, these works take us beyond the ironic and the cool.  God the Holy Spirit participates in the movement of the whole Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – abiding as One with each other even as the Holy Spirit abides in us.

 

The Holy Spirit, abiding in us, brings us into that same participation with the Trinity.  This participation is so tempting to tame down into soft light and warm feelings without drawing out any particular specificity.  But there are specifics to our participation in the Trinity – the power of God the Holy Spirit hands us over to Christ who renders us to a loving God.[4]  Again, this is to say that the Spirit who moves in us reverses even our most sincere efforts to do a good thing and often ends up doing something else entirely.

 

The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ makes us, as Paul says, “…heirs of Christ.”  Or, more simply put, makes us the church, making us One with Christ our Lord while allowing for the differences of language, voice, and gifts as it did that first moments of Pentecost.

 

The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ, means that we, the church, stand under the cross of Christ which reveals our need for Jesus even as that same Spirit picks us up, dusts us off and sends us out of our sheltered comfort for Kingdom work of which we may never see the import or outcome.

 

The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ, means that we, the church, participate in the power of God – this very same power that stood on the side of truth for you and the side of love for you even to death on the cross so that you might know the depth and magnitude of God’s love, and be drawn to faith, so that on this day, as on your last day, you are handed by the Holy Spirit over to Christ who renders you to a loving God.



[2] Romans 8:10

[3] John 14:10b, 12

[4] Justin Nickel, Pastor of Centenniel Lutheran Church, personal conversation, May 16, 2013.

 

John 10:22-30; Acts 9:36-43 “The Voice of Jesus is Heard…”

John 10:22-30; Acts 9:36-43 “The Voice of Jesus is Heard…”

John 10:22-30 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

 

Acts 9:36-43 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

 

There are so many things that disquiet our hearts and minds today.  The unfolding events in Boston and the town of West, Texas, continue as we hear story after story.  There is also much that is close to home and personal.  Family and friends we are thinking about maybe even this very minute who are struggling.  I pray that you find comfort as the love of Christ is shared between us today.  Amen.

Jesus says in our gospel passage today that, “My sheep hear my voice…I know them, and they follow me.”  That is a lovely thing to say and maybe even more lovely to hear.  The imagery of God as shepherd is so common in scripture that many, many people, whether or not they have any connection to church, know the opening lines, and maybe even the whole, of Psalm 23.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”  While the image may be poetic and comforting, I began to wonder what it might actually sound like to hear Jesus’ voice.

The Acts text might help us out here – bringing us in on hearing Jesus’ voice from a different angle.  Only slightly less well known than Psalm 23, the story begins this way.  “Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas.”  Her name is offered in two languages which gives us an inkling that she is comfortable in her religious community as well as in the wider Greco-Roman culture around her.[1]  The story goes on to tell us that she is known for her charity and good works.  This is how she moves through the world.  And then she dies.

We are told neither how she dies nor the specifics of why the disciples call for Peter to come to them.  Simply that the disciple Tabitha dies and that Peter is in a town near-enough to be able to come.  So he does.  When he gets there, the widows who are there show Peter all the clothing that Dorcas made during her time with them.  We are not told much about the clothing but we know that scripture demands the care of widows who, at that time, were dependent of the community for their lives.  Again, they request nothing of him; they simply tell him their experience and show him Dorcas’ work.  Peter sends them out of the room, prays, and tells Tabitha to get up.  She sits up and Peter offers her his hand to help her stand up, at the same time calling the saints and windows back into the room.

This is a ton of story packed into seven verses.  Imagine the biography that would be written if this story were expanded in its fullness.  It is a story to inspire the imagination.  For those of us who are disciples today, we are here in large part because of the witness of Tabitha and other disciples.  And it is disciples like Tabitha who are powerful examples of discipleship.  But above and beyond the example of discipleship and the witness of a religious faith in a wider world, the story of Tabitha, the widows, Peter, and other disciples speaks powerfully to the way Jesus’ voice is heard in community.  Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.”  How do we hear the voice of Jesus today?

This morning we will be celebrating many, many people here in this place who give of their time and who give of their skills in this congregational community and beyond its walls as volunteers.  As a full assembly, we will celebrate these volunteers in a litany of gratitude, echoing the grateful celebration of the saints and widows who told Peter about Dorcas.  The voice of Jesus is heard through the work of these volunteers and through our celebration of their work.[2]

There is a story about the love shared between a disciple of Jesus and her community that I’d like to share with you. I received permission this week from her husband Mark to tell a bit of her story.  Her name is Nina.  Nina walked into Augustana many years ago following a nine month long recovery in New York State from a two-seater plane crash.  She suffered major burns in the crash and was still wearing the special stockings for healing over much of her body.  Nina came back Sunday after Sunday and experienced a time of healing here at Augustana; a time that she describes as having “established her faith.”  As she told it to Mark, the church was the one place where she felt welcome all of the time regardless of her physical scars.  The voice of Jesus is heard in this welcome.[3]

A few years ago, Nina’s life situation allowed her to begin participating in the work of Augustana.  Krista Rahe, a good friend of Nina’s and head of the Spiritual Arts Committee, drafted Nina and her creative talent into that committee.  She also began working with Dianne Nelson and the Altar Guild who prepares the sanctuary for worship.  Then Nina became involved with Advent Adventure working with our Children’s and Family Minister, Cary Mathis, which led her to pour her creative energies into the Music Art and Drama camp that impacts children who worship here as well as children in the wider community.  Cary says he keeps a long list of her unique ideas close at hand.  The voice of Jesus is heard as invitations to share Spirit given gifts with people both in the church and beyond and the voice of Jesus is heard in the response to the invitation to share those gifts.[4]

Last Fall, just before Thanksgiving, Nina had a catastrophic stroke.  Her survival in those first days was touch and go but as Mark says, it is not Nina’s first time around dealing with a major illness and recovery that will not be measured in days, weeks, or months – calling into place her resourcefulness and zest for life as part of her recovery.  The church community far and wide began praying, and showing up, and praying some more.  The voice of Jesus is heard in those prayers and in the groans too deep for words.[5]

A little over two months ago you called me as a pastor here and very quickly I began to hear about Nina.  First from the Care Team who stay up to date on care visits to Nina and the progress of her recovery, then bits and pieces from the rest of the staff who know her, then from the Congregational Council, then from the Children and Family Committee, then from other people in the congregation…and so on, and so on…you get the idea.  People say things to me like, “Oh, that’s right, you haven’t met Nina.”  And then they would proceed to tell me something about her – making me think of the widows talking about Dorcas in our Bible story today.  The voice of Jesus is heard as you tell these stories.[6]

I had my first visit with Nina this week.  Her long-time friend, Susie, was also there visiting which was wonderful, in part because the way Nina and Susie are able to communicate their love for each other and stories about each other despite Nina not being able to speak. While I was sitting there with Nina and Susie, listening to their stories, watching them nod back and forth to each other, the Easter Sunday story of Mary Magdalene popped into my head in what I like to call a Holy Spirit moment.  As I re-told the story to Nina, reminding her of Mary Magdalene standing at the empty tomb, thinking that Jesus the Christ is the gardener, until he says her name, “Mary.”  And then Mary knows it is Jesus and not the gardener.  Nina nodded and smiled throughout the story as we remembered our way through it and then I said to Nina, “If you could hear the way people at church say your name… … …”    The voice of Jesus is heard as we hear our names spoken by the risen Christ in the Body of Christ knows as the church.[7]

The story of Tabitha’s discipleship intertwined with the saints and widows; and the story of Nina’s discipleship intertwined with this congregation are only two of the stories that help us to hear the voice of Jesus.  As there are these two, so there are many people who form the great cloud of witnesses in this congregation and in the church catholic.  These two disciples’ and their interconnectedness within and beyond their faith community bear witness to the one who calls and sends them into the world for the sake of the world.[8]

For the witness of disciples who help us hear the voice of Jesus through their work and their stories, today we celebrate and say, thanks be to God!

 

 



[1] Eric Barreto, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary.  On Working Preacher for Acts 9:36-43 on April 21, 2013; http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1625.

[2] Matthew 20:1-16

[3] Mark 9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

[4] See 1 Corinthians 12 on Spiritual Gifts.

[5] See Romans 8:26 – “But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.”

[6] Hebrews 12:1-2

[7] John 20:1-18

[8] Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-34; Luke 5:1-11

 

John 20:19-31 “Doubt in Community”

John 20:19-31 “Doubt in Community”

April 7, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  21  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  22  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  24  But Thomas (who was called the Twin  ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”  28  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  30  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  31  But these are written so that you may come to believe  that Jesus is the Messiah,  the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Very, very few people have been able see and touch the wounds of the Risen Christ as he is standing in the living room.  So, for those very few people, I celebrate what faith must look like and feel like beyond the shadow of a doubt.  There are a few more people who have told me that they have never struggled with their faith in Jesus – it just has simply always been there for them and remains with them as pure gift.  I have to imagine that this group is more widely represented in churches around the world than the first group.  Again, I celebrate the fullness of their faith with them and am grateful for the ways in which those people of great faith have impacted my own faith.

Then there’s a third group of people for whom the Gospel of John was expressly written.  Check out verse 31 again, it says that, “these [signs] are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  If the number of people in the pews of the church around the world is any indication, this is by far the largest group.  While conversations and theories abound as to why this is so, the Gospel of John presumes this is so.  There are people who believe and there are people who don’t.  Just as there are today.

At Luther Seminary, I took a course called ‘Jesus the Savior and the Triune God.’  Our first reading assignment was a named Doubt: A Parable.[1]  As a class, we had a lively discussion about doubt and its place in conversations about faith.  The various opinions about whether doubt or skepticism should be part of faith conversations are missing the point.  The reality is that most conversations about Christian faith in the western world are fraught with questions and skepticism pretty much since about the 17th century and the Enlightenment.

Many of the conversations people have with me about their own faith are on the very topic of doubt – as if faith and doubt are mutually exclusive, as if faith cannot exist while doubt exists or vice versa.  But they aren’t mutually exclusive, they are connected.  It’s right here that I need to give a shout-out to something called a dialectic.   A dialectic is when you take two ideas that seem in complete opposition to other but yet they are connected.  Today, the dialectic in this sermon is faith and doubt.  One of Martin Luther’s favorite dialectics is Law and Gospel.  Rather than saying that one cannot exist while the other does, a dialectic connection acknowledges their coexistence and allows the tension between them to reveal meaning.

In the Gospel reading for today, Thomas is on the outside of faith looking in at the disciples who have seen the risen Christ.   I wonder if he’s listening to all of that excited faith-filled testimony of the rest of the group and feeling left out, feeling frustrated that he missed out and wondering if he could ever trust as they seem to trust, could ever be comforted as they seem to be comforted.  Or maybe it’s something else entirely.  Maybe Thomas thinks the disciples have truly lost it.  The trauma of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion was simply too much and they were under the power of some kind of group delusion.

Regardless of his motive and tone, we can learn from Thomas.  Not only does he own his skepticism, he talks freely about it with his friends, his community.  He struggles, wondering about the truth of the risen Christ, and the people who know him best make space and hold his doubt.  That first day in the locked house, Jesus appears to the disciples but not to Thomas and when Thomas shows up later that same day he makes his big speech about what it would take for him to believe.  Then we are told that it’s a week later, the disciples are still in the house and Thomas is still with them.  He is still with them!  He responded to the disciples with skepticism but he is still there in the house…with the disciples.

So, yes, we can learn from Thomas.  But I think today we also learn from those disciples, those disciples who hold the space for Thomas even as they hold to their witness of the resurrected Jesus.  They are true to the story as they received it without ridding their group of one who stands resolutely against what they say they saw.

A few weeks ago in the Gospel of John class, I asked everyone to break into twos or threes and talk about something that they had heard or learned.  Two people from the same pair then shared their thoughts with the larger group.  I asked them if they agreed with each other or did they agree to disagree because at that moment it was unclear.  The conversation moved on without an answer but then a hand from the pair went up after they chatted a bit more and realized that they were, indeed, in disagreement on a particular point.  Their capacity to discuss and hold this disagreement is a powerful example to us all.

When I begin teaching a class, one of the things that I like to say is that, “Jesus is Jesus; what we say about Jesus, sing about Jesus or construct about Jesus is not Jesus.”  It is so tempting, so unbearably tempting, to hold up what we say about Jesus and slip into believing that whatever it is that we say is actually Jesus.  Listen to Thomas again.  He says, “My Lord and my God.”  This claim and confession of “My Lord and My God” is the starting point.  And in saying this with Thomas, we are freed into the conversations about Jesus that deepen our faith and expand our witness of Jesus in the here and now by the power of the Spirit.

Thomas is not an example of meek acceptance of the status quo.   He stands in the middle of that house and makes a demand – a demand that allows for the possibility of faith.  And who is able to respond to Thomas’ request?  It is the risen Christ Himself.  As Thomas stands in the presence of his friends who faithfully witness to the risen Christ, it is Christ who yields to Thomas’ demand.

The story of Thomas gets at some of the most daunting dimensions of faith because it’s clear that faith is not self-generated, nor can we generate it in others.  Faith can only be generated by God in Jesus through the Spirit working through the witness that people hear.[2]  As readers of the Gospel, we are the ones who have not seen the risen Christ, we receive only the witness about Jesus.  This means that seeing is not a precondition for faith as it was for Thomas but rather “faith is evoked by words from and about Jesus…through the work of the Spirit in whom the risen Christ is present and active.”[3]

By the work of the Spirit, the risen Christ is revealing his wounds and birthing faith.  He holds out his wounded hand as he challenges us to a new reality through the scriptures.  He turns and offers love from His side as He forgives, strengthens and renews the Body of Christ, His church, to make space for faithful testimony as well as doubt.  He immerses with us into the waters of baptism as He washes through our sin and brokenness to reveal the power of His resurrecting grace.  Christ beckons us through His meal as His wounded and resurrected presence offers love and forgiveness unknown except through Him.

May God grant that you be born out of Christ’s wounded side,

and be drawn to faith in Him.

 

 



[1] John Patrick Stanley, Doubt: A Parable (2005).

[2] Craig R. Koester, Class lecture, NT3211 “The Gospel and Epistles of John” (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary), December 18, 2010.

[3] Craig R. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 73.

John 20:1-18 “Oh How Long Our Travel to This Day!”

John 20:1-18 “Oh How Long Our Travel to This Day!”

March 31, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Oh how long the travel to this day!  This day and, in our Bible story, this garden.  In real time, it was about 33 years.  In the time of the church year, our travel began with awaiting Jesus’ Christmas birth.  We wandered with him through his life’s ministry and followed him when he turned toward Jerusalem, toward his death.  Some of us have spent the last 6 weeks of Lent walking the journey to the cross with Jesus – listening as everyone who knew Jesus, drifted away from him in denial and fear.  Listening to those stories became reminders that those people who left Jesus to face his death alone and those who killed him could just as easily have been us.

Oh how long the travel to this day!  This day when we enter the dark, pre-dawn garden with Mary Magdalene – her eyes dried out from crying, her mind moving slowly through that cloudy haze of grief, and her body exhausted by lack of sleep – and the wondering continues about what just happened to all that she thought she knew…only to be shocked once more.  Jesus is gone.  Not simply dead on a cross or in a tomb, but, literally, gone.  He’s not where he was supposed to be – similarly to how he wasn’t supposed to be dead on that cross.

Oh how long our travel to this day!  In the light of day, we enter the Easter garden here, in this church, among these lilies.  Desperately trying to make sense of our lives and the lives of those we love.  Trying to figure out the next right thing to do about the work, the layoff, the diagnosis, the break-up, the rejection, the loss…trying to figure out where to turn up next…trying to figure out where to be.  And, here we are, this day, in this Easter garden.

Oh how long the travel to this day!  Mary realizes that Jesus isn’t there, runs to tell other disciples, who rush over to see the same thing, and confirm that, indeed, Jesus is not there!  One of the disciples even sees and believes.  But…pause here with me…the story tells us that seeing and believing did not bring understanding to this disciple about what is happening.  At that moment, no one at the tomb in the garden expects it and no one at the tomb in the garden understands it.

Oh how long our travel to this day!  The pace of the world, the ridicule from enemies, the condescension from friends, the smorgasbord of beliefs, the cultural chaos, leaves us yearning for understanding – an understanding that incorporates enlightened thought and sophisticated argument; an understanding that helps us explain how we move from an empty tomb to expecting to meet Jesus in the world, now, today.

Oh how long the travel to this day!  Just when Mary didn’t think it was possible to cry even more tears, she begins to sob.  And this day, Mary’s hope to catch some peace in the garden, to take a breather after all that has happened, is shattered.  The despair is never-ending because everything seems to keep going from bad to worse.  The stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty and Jesus is gone.  And she gets asked the question, TWICE, about why she’s crying.  And we know how well that question goes over in the middle of a good cry.  Then, finally, she hears her name… “Mary.”  And…she…knows…

Oh how long our travel to this day!  Just when we thought it was safe to go into an Easter garden, we discover that what happens in the garden changes us, changes what we thought we knew about how the world works, changing what we know about how God works.

Oh how long the travel to this day!  As Mary now knows that Jesus is raised from the dead, she now knows that there is life after death and hope in despair.  Called her name by the risen Christ and sent to tell the story, Mary the Apostle, sees the world through eyes that know the worst…yet trust in an ultimate outcome that she simply has no control over.

Oh how long our travel to this day!  Even as we gather here this Easter day, we bring our own confusion or despair or fear or hope to the garden – we bring ourselves.  We wonder where Jesus is and who has hidden him.  We might even prefer that he stay gone – after all, what might it mean if the dead Jesus didn’t stay dead?  We wonder if the tears and fear in our own lives will ever be, or even wonder if they can be, met by the risen Christ.

On this day, when we proclaim that “Christ is Risen Indeed,” we join Mary in being named by the Risen Christ as people who so desperately need him.

Oh how long our travel to this day!

 

This Easter day when Christ invades our despair.

This Easter day into which Christ infuses hope anew.

This Easter day when Christ calls your name.

 

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Please say it with me… Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

 

 

John 18:1-19:42 “Think Again” [a sermon for Good Friday]

John 18:1-19:42 “Think Again”

March 29, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Pick a spot, any spot, in Jesus’ crucifixion.  There are many places to sit, stand or lie down.  We can betray, deny, judge, rant, abandon or despair.  Go ahead, pick a spot, because those characters are us.  Those characters who run amok and rail against Jesus, ridicule him, or despair in his death are us.  The irony of being a part of this cast of characters is that the person who hangs on the cross is the precisely the one who saves us.  Jesus was tried, crucified, dead and buried.  In every way that the cross could be offensive, it does indeed offend.

 

It offends the sophisticated thought of modern people to think that the cross, and Jesus hanging there, was necessary or effective in any way.  That we even need saving offends our enlightened sensibilities.  That this appalling execution can change anything about real life seems at worst a massive deception and at best an utter folly.  And yet, alarmingly, and quite surprisingly, it does.  Jesus death on the cross changes everything.  Jesus insists, time and again in the gospel, that God and Jesus are one.  Jesus is in God and God is in Jesus.

 

Think on this for a moment.  How might God go about getting our attention?  What are all the ways in which that may have been possible?  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.  When we hear of someone who dives into a raging river to save someone from drowning, saves that person but succumbs and dies in the flood waters, what are our first thoughts?  What kinds of things do we say to honor the soldier who returns again and again to the firefight to save fallen friends?  Wow!  Spectacular save!  How selfless!  And on and on goes the praise and adoration.  Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  After all, how much more can be given?[1]

 

In the Gospel of John as a whole, and in this reading from John on this Good Friday, Jesus is aware and focused on the goal of bringing people back into relationship with God.  Somewhere along the way, as human creatures we lost our way.  Rather than living into the image of God we became much more interested in placing ourselves in the center of things and holding God to the outskirts, leaving us free to make God into whatever image we choose – distorting God.[2]  It is in that re-creation of God that we are separate from God, powerless to repair what has happened.  This separateness, this breach, this distance between us and God is called sin.  Out of that separateness, that breach, that distance, that sin, comes all the ways in which we hurt each other and ourselves; inflicting sins against each other, ourselves, and God.

 

The cross is God’s answer to all of that re-imagining of God that we are so wont to do. That re-imagining that leaves us separate from God.  Oh, so you think you know who God is?  Well, what about a God who hangs dead on a cross and needs to be buried in a tomb rather than use divine power over and against the very creatures whom God loves.  Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.”  Jesus on the cross simultaneously reveals the scope of divine power poured out to reveal the depth of divine love as we are drawn toward the God who saves us.  When the self-sacrificing love of God, given fully, is made known to you, when this message of divine love gets through to you, you are drawn by God back into relationship. [3]

 

With great intention, Jesus hangs on the cross.  And, in one of his final acts while still breathing, does something radical.  Jesus turns to his own mother and then to the beloved disciple and redefines their relationship with the cross in between them.  “‘Woman, here is your son…then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’”

 

Not only does Jesus draw us into relationship with God through the cross but Jesus redefines our relationship with each other at the foot of the cross – standing with the cross between us, Jesus intercedes for us on each other’s behalf.  Drawn back into the relationship with God our Father, Jesus the Christ turns us towards each other in new ways.  Here, at the cross, love is freely taken up for us and for the sake of the people standing next to us.  In the same moment we have everything to do with what happened at the cross and we have nothing to do with it.

 

We are, first and foremost, passive spectators who are being handed a radical realization of our powerlessness.  As people in and around the story of the crucifixion, we think we know what’s happening and that the power is ours to create the story.  It is our turn on this day to hear God say, “Think again.”

 


[1] Craig Koester, class notes, Luther Seminary: Gospel of John class: John’s Theology of the Cross.  December 1, 2010.  I am sincerely grateful for Dr. Koester’s faithful witness as a master of holding aspects of Jesus Christ’s life and work in formative tension.  His work is beautiful, articulate, and draws me more deeply into faith and love of Jesus.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 113.  This is a great text for deepening into the theological reflection on the “The Fall” that breached God’s intention for the creature as imago dei, in the image of God.

[3] Koester, course notes, 12/1/2010.  For further study see: Craig R. Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

 

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 “In the Father’s Voice”

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 “In the Father’s Voice”

March 10, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 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:
11  “There was a man who had two sons.   12  The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.   13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.   14  When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.   15  So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.   16  He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.   17 But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!   18  I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;   19  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”  20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.   21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”   22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  23  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;   24  for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.   25  “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.   26  He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.   27 He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’   28  Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.   29 But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.   30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’   31  Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.   32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”

Luke 15:1-2, 11b-32: A sermon for the fourth Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2013

Caitlin Trussell, Augustana Lutheran Church

 

My son left.  MY SON LEFT!  He told me he wished I were dead, asked for his inheritance and took off.  I don’t know if he meant it but it doesn’t much matter one way or the other.  His heart was set on leaving and maybe giving him the money meant he would at least get what he needed to live.

 

He’s always been so tough, so stubborn.  Sometimes that worked for him and our household and sometimes it didn’t.  And he was never sure if I loved him as much as his older brother.  What is it with these kids that my love for them is the constant question?  Well, I suppose once he left, walked away as if I were dead to him, that question was no longer the question.

 

It ate me up at night, imagining all the things that could happen to him and not knowing if any or all of them were true.  Night after night I’d flop into bed, exhausted by the day’s work only to lay flat and be exhausted by the tossing and turning and wondering about my son.

 

I’m not sure how it happened but I must have slept because in the morning I’d wake up – scratchy-eyed and cotton-headed, but I’d wake up.  I’d wake up, head to breakfast and be met by sheer joy as I sat with my other son who stayed and worked beside me day in and day out; so faithful and so good.  He keeps the commandments faithfully and works hard as the head of the household.  You see, when I figured out the inheritance, I divided it between them.  Each of them received what I would have given them if I were dead.  My friends thought I was out of my mind.  It’s a little out of the ordinary but it works for us.  I still work where and when I can but he figures out what happens next for our household.  I love working side-by-side with him, living in the day-to-day with him.  Laughing at the old jokes, praying the prayers of our ancestors, disagreeing about who should do what, working up a good sweat, arguing about plans for planting and harvesting, walking down to the river at the end of a long day – all of it wonderful.  His faithfulness blesses me day-after-day-after-day.

 

He mentioned his brother from time-to-time.  Wondered where he was, and wondered why he didn’t want to live here.  I used to wonder why he didn’t go find his brother.  I told him stories to try to clue him in.  Like the time when David, our shepherd, went missing and then turned up a few days later with a wild story about finding one of his sheep he thought he’d never see again.  I think he even kicked up his heels a time or two before he could settle down.  Or the time when my sister, his Aunt Miriam, looked and looked and looked, practically turning the house upside-down, until she found the coin that she had lost.  It took her days to find it and days to put the house back together after the looking.  Truth-be-told we thought she was more than a little nutty at the time but we celebrated her find with her anyway.  I told him these stories and more; and still, he wondered and worked and wondered.

 

Not too many days ago, I was coming back outside after taking a break from the heat, and I saw someone walking up the road.  It was one of those moments, maybe you know the kind, where my heart knew but my head couldn’t catch up fast enough so I just stood there, frozen, wondering if it was true.  But I knew, I knew his shape, I knew his walk, I knew HIM!  Before I could think any more about it, I was off like a shot!  I only remember running as fast as I could; I think maybe I was yelling.  I’m sure I was a sight – eyes wild, robes and dust flying all around, chickens scattering and squawking, I just simply couldn’t move fast enough.  I practically knocked us both to the ground when I caught him up in my arms.  I know he tried to tell me something but my pounding heart must have blocked my hearing it.  I just knew we had to celebrate.  That very moment became celebration and that celebration became a party – fatted calf and all!  He wasn’t quite ready but we partied around him anyway.  I think he was in shock.  He was so hesitant, so timid.  I still only know what happened to him in the bits and pieces he has been willing to share.  I hope I hear more as he feels he can share it.

 

His brother is also in shock.  He couldn’t bring himself to be at the party that night.  I went out to talk with him and he actually said something about, “This son of yours…”  As if he had no connection to his brother at all!  I did my best to reassure him of my love for him and explain the party for his brother.  I told him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.   32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”  This wasn’t optional partying; this was HAD-TO partying.

 

In the aftermath of all that has happened, here is what I hope my children know – deep down to their very toe-nails.  I love them.  I love them when they’re close and when they’re far away.  I love them in their faithfulness and in their humiliation.  I love them in their daily work and in their return.  As inheritors of all that is mine, including my love, they are ambassadors of this household – finding whoever is lost from this house and bringing them to life again.  For all of this and for more than there are words, I say again and again, thanks be to God!!!

Luke 13:1-9 “The Promise of Judgment”

Luke 13:1-9 A sermon for this 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 3, 2013

March 3, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

Luke 13:1-9 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

 

Those poor, poor Galileans.  Those poor, misguided religious pilgrims who walked and prayed and sacrificed as they put one foot in front of the other to acknowledge the God of their ancestors as they put their faith into action.  We can picture the earthy, rural Galileans laughing and crying with each other, with their families, while the rest of the city moves about its business.  And, then, out of nowhere, comes Pontius Pilate. The villain extraordinaire, the ne’er-do-well to end all ne’er-do-wells – the Pharaoh to the enslaved Israelites, the Osama bin Laden to millions of people both living and dead, the shooter in Newtown to our beloved children and teachers.  We can almost hear the hiss of the crowd as Jesus mentions his name.

And what about those poor people who were flattened by the tower of Siloam?  What of them?  We can imagine the thoughts of the people listening to Jesus.  The people for whom this was a fresh event and who could probably name some of the people killed that day.   We can imagine them thinking with relief that they were not standing by that tower on that day.  We can imagine them wondering about God in the midst of that tragedy.  Their attention is drawn to the death and destruction like bees to honey as they try to answer the question, “Why?”

Jesus speaks to them with the well-known traumas of the day fresh on everyone’s minds.  The people are pulsing with fear and survivor guilt as Jesus revisits the stories.  The people are looking for a comforting word – ears tuned, necks craned toward Jesus. And what does he do?  He disappoints them.

It’s important to note that what Jesus is doing here is separating the sin of the people from the calamities that befall people.  There is no connection between the horror that Pilate inflicts and the sin of the people that he inflicts it upon.  There is no connection between the Tower of Siloam and the sin of the people in the wrong place at the wrong time when the tower falls.  Jesus disconnects the sin of the people from the calamity that befalls them and, for all intents and purposes, tells the people to stop gawking in that direction.  They aren’t going to find any good news about themselves through the misfortune of others.  Nor are they going to find a God that is against others and, therefore, for themselves.  God’s judgment is not doled out as calamities in our lives.

Jesus is separating sin from calamity but Jesus is NOT separating sin from judgment.  Judgment has simply been moved to a different place away from the punishment of calamity.  Jesus says, “…unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”  Hmmmm…“Just as they did…just as they did.”  Jesus is separating sin from punishment and, in the same breath, he is comparing the people who are dead to the people who are listening to him.  The comparison being that those who have died were unrepentant just as the people standing before him are unrepentant.  They are unable to see all the ways in they work against God and work against each other.  And until they can see this, acknowledge this work against God and each other, they are unrepentant.

Perhaps this is where the fig tree can help us out. You all know this one right?  The parable of the barren fig tree has to be in the, what, top five most favorite parables ever?  Okay, so…no, not a well-known parable.  But this parable seems to follow Jesus’ calamity stories as some kind of explanation.

The vineyard owner is angry about a tree that has not borne fruit in three years and he wants to cut it down.  The gardener stalls the owner’s anger and asks for more time for the tree.  Take note that it is not more time for the same disappointing barrenness.  This is not a stay that delays an inevitable execution.  The gardener promises to tend this tree with fertilizer, giving it the chance to bear fruit, fruit that is worthy of the repentance from which it springs.

The people to whom Jesus is speaking are called out.  They are called out as unrepentant.  In the Psalmist’s words we sang earlier, they are called out as dry.  Today, we are being called out as well, called out as dry as the barren fig tree.  Repentance begins in this moment of being called out.  A word comes from outside ourselves and reverberates with truth as it moves inside.  There is nowhere to hide from the reality in us that is being named; the reality of the ways in which we move away from and work against God and each other, the reality of our sin.

This is one of the reasons why speaking out loud the confession and forgiveness when we gather for worship feels like air to some of us.  Not by way of shaming but by way of naming, we confess and are brought together in the light of truth – the truth about ourselves, our need and our God.   Being named for who we are and what we have done is called judgment.  And as we listen to Jesus in the text today, Jesus very much connects sin and judgment.  This, of course, is totally fine when it’s someone else’s sin that gets questioned or named or judged.  It feels more than a little difficult when it’s our own.

During the Apostle’s Creed we name Jesus as the one who will come again to judge the living and the dead.  This isn’t a far off threat.  This is a promise here, in the moment of now.  We speak these words in spite of the bad rap that surrounds the notion of judgment.  Quite possibly one of the worse things to be labeled is “judgmental.”  And, yet, it is exactly judgment when God names something about us that is true, something we are in no rush to confess about ourselves.  It is God’s judgment that convicts us and draws us to the surrender of repentance.  And it is at that point where the gardener nourishes us.

This is a moment when the whole creed becomes so important.  Because then what do we say together?  We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins…wait, wait a second now, what was that…the forgiveness of sins?!

God judges and God forgives.

God judges and God forgives in the proclamation of forgiveness.

God judges and God forgives in the waters of baptism.

God judges and God forgives in the bread and wine from Christ’s table.

God judges and God forgives in the reconciliation one to another in this body of Christ, this church.

God judges and God forgives as the one who resuscitates us and births divine love in our lives.

 

This IS the nourishment that is laid down around our dryness in the face of God’s judgment;

Nourished here, in this place, by this God so that our lives are a testament to the one who sustains us.  Nourished here, we can then bear the fruit of Christ in us, serving our neighbors – for the sake of our neighbors and for our own sake as others turn to serve us.

Nourished here, we can then sing with the Psalmist, “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. 5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips 6 when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. 8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

Luke 9:28-43a “Collapsing Time into Promise”

Luke 9:28-43a “Collapsing Time into Promise”

February 10, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”– not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. 37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

 

We tell time in all kinds of ways.  Some of us take that slightly sideways-downward glance at our wrists to check the watch that has been in the family for years – perhaps to see how much longer the preacher might go (while you think the preacher doesn’t notice).  Others of us whip out the latest cell-phone and touch a screen for the time to light up along with text messages clamoring for a response.  For others of us, time registers more physically – our eyes open, it’s time to get up; our stomachs growl, it’s time to eat.  Regardless of how we do it, we are creatures that tell time and respond to it.

We are also creatures who know how our time is to be spent.  Time is prioritized and reorganized, lost and found.  It is so a part of who we are and how we move through the world that there is very little challenging our assumptions about it.  And this is why I love church-time, otherwise known as liturgical time.   Churchy, liturgical time comes up against and pushes through the way we spend our days – pointing us in a different direction than the one that ordinarily grabs our focus.

The church year begins in advent with the paradox of apocalyptic prophecy and soft candlelight as we wait for the Christmas birth and revel in the 12 days post-partum.  Epiphany comes in on a star as the Christ-child is revealed to the magi and then Sunday after Sunday we bathe in Epiphany’s light, light and more light until we arrive here, this day, this Transfiguration-of-our-Lord day.  This day when the light becomes so bright that time bends around it, collapsing in on itself and bringing Moses, Elijah, and Jesus together on the mountaintop in a wild, Judeo-Christian Hall of Fame line-up.

This time-bending light show bends Peter’s brain.  He tries to think of the appropriate response, comes up with one, puts it out there and gets shut down.  His faithful exuberance doesn’t get him very far.  In fact he is silenced for the rest of the story.  Silenced like the chastised, mid-wave, Mile High super-fans of Peyton Manning.  Because what else can be meant by God’s emphatic command to, “Listen to Him,” other than a resounding, “Be Quiet!”  Although most likely the message here is stronger, something more a bit more emphatic than a blue and orange arm-flapping gesture!

This time-bending light show bends Peter’s brain – and perhaps in a similar way bends our minds as we are confronted by this text.  What was he, and what are we, to make of this shiny Jesus and his shiny friends?  The light show and the big three of Moses, Elijah and Jesus seem to say something about the Law and the Prophets and Jesus being the fulfillment of both of them.  They connect Jesus, and therefore us, through God’s work in the world before this moment and into the moment of now.  But if we simply stay in the time-bending moment on the mountaintop, we risk being disconnected from the point.

My Uncle Larry came out from Massachusetts for my ordination.  We talked a lot about a lot things, including my new call here at Augustana.  We had time for one more chat over a cup of coffee before he left Tuesday morning.  My uncle is wonderful at delivering meaningful messages.  And as he was encouraging me about my work here he remembered hearing President Lyndon Johnson once say, “You aren’t learning anything when you’re talking.”  Oh, sure, we could have fun challenging the statement, but in general there is some truth here.  If I want to increase the odds of learning about who you are and what you are about then some silence on my part would be a good place to start.

Peter could have used this lesson from my Uncle Larry before filling the air with this reaction and being silenced by God.  But he gets a lesson nonetheless.  This one is from Jesus.  God’s command to silence allows Peter to look and listen in a new way without being burdened by the content of his response to the time-bending on the mountaintop that bends his mind along with it.  After all, he is not left behind on the mountaintop in all of its dazzle and terror.

“On the next day,” Jesus and his disciples came down from the mountain.  They are met by a crowd and confronted by a desperate father who asks Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son.  And Jesus does.  Jesus looks evil in the eye and overwhelms it.  And I imagine his disciples standing in a circle around this scene saying, “Huh.”  Or maybe even a few of them, including Peter, James, and John, saying, “Ohhhhh…”

What the disciples don’t get to see at this point in the story is how Jesus does for us, for all of us, what he did for the boy with the demon.  This coming week, we’ll get together again on Ash Wednesday which drops us into six weeks of Lent reorienting us much the same way that the disciples were reoriented coming off of that mountain.  More churchy, time-keeping that comes up against and pushes through the way we spend our days – pointing us in a different direction than the one that ordinarily grabs our focus.

This past Wednesday, Pastor John and Malise de Bree, our Senior Ministry Evangelist, guided us through the funeral and interment of Bob Safe, a long-time friend and member of Augustana – a poignant moment of remembering his life and commending him to God, a time-bending moment where time stands still as we witness his ashes being placed into the ground right in front of us, just outside of this sanctuary, on the breath of our prayers and under the weight of God’s promise.

We stood together, forming a circle alongside his wife and children who miss him the most.  We stood there with the stunning bronze cross completing the circle on its north end and the burnished statue of Jesus in the middle of our circle looking at the cross.  And as we stood in vigil, time collapsed in on itself.

Time collapses because this is where the shiny Jesus and the cross meet in the fullness of the story – the dazzle of Jesus on the mountaintop shines it light toward the darkness of another hilltop where the truth of death is simultaneously revealed and overcome.

To stay in the dazzle of the mountaintop until the resurrection glory of Easter is tempting but doing so robs us of the fullness of Christ’s work in us and for us; Christ’s work in Bob Safe and for Bob Safe; and Christ’s work in you and for you.

So, today we dance in the dazzle as it illuminates the cross.

Today Christ’s shining light illuminates his promise in you and for you.

Thanks be to God!