All posts by caitlin121608

Mark 4:26-34 “Shrubs, Birds and Bodies”

Mark 4:26-34  “Shrubs, Birds and Bodies”

June 15, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

Mark 4:26-34 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

 

 

When I was a kid there was a huge fad in jewelry that many Christians wore.  It was mustard seed jewelry.  There was a tiny yellow seed sitting loosely inside a tiny glass ball.  I’m pretty sure I had a pair of mustard seed earrings and my sister may have had a bracelet but my memory as it relates to my sister’s jewelry is a little hazy.  The point of this jewelry was to remind us that great things were possible from the tiniest drip of faith.  And while this is true and there are many Bible verses that inspire us with that idea, I would invite us to read today’s text carefully before we jump on that familiar train of interpretation.  I think these two parables are saying something more.

Parables are more than analogy or fable.  Parables reveal things, they flip the standard line over on its head and they are subversive and powerful.  They have a kick to them.  When we don’t feel that kick, that “Aha” moment, we’re probably missing something.  And, surprise, surprise, they can be super funny.  The mixing together the things of daily life into the power of parable stirs the hearer into different ways of being.

The first parable says that the Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seeds, they grow without tending and “he does not know how.”  Part of this parable is about knowing or, more accurately, the lack of knowing.  There are people who are not me that can describe the phases of plant growth from seeds into plants into grain but this parable makes me wonder if they “know how.”

And then the farmer is able to bring in this harvest without knowing how it came to be.  This deep mystery is the set-up for the mustard seed:

“[Jesus] also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

This mustard seed is not of the jewelry variety – a lovely, yellow, round, tiny ball.  This is a black speck – one that you might mistake for a bit of dirt on your cheek.  It is completely unremarkable.  But this mustard seed grows into an invasive shrub.  The text today says the greatest of all shrubs.

Now there’s a goal; to be able to lay claim to being the greatest of all shrubs.  This last week I’ve had a chance to talk about this text with people who come from different parts of the country and everyone could name the invasive plant that causes problems in their area.  Plants with names like kudzu, tamarisk and toadflax were described with all the damage they can do as they spread and then spread some more.  The original hearers of this parable would have laughed out loud to hear the Kingdom of God compared to the mustard seed.  Like a good South Park episode, it would have been funny in that way that is also offensive – shocking them into laughter while making people think.

So the mustard seed goes to work.  Growing and spreading and becoming the greatest of shrubs that has branches large enough to shade the nesting birds.  Earlier in this chapter of Mark, Jesus tells a parable that doesn’t leave birds in a very good light.  Birds are not a friend to the seeds in this earlier parable.  They are the undesirables.  And yet, here they are, just a few parables later, sitting on the branches in the shade.  And the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed growing into the greatest of shrubs that shade even the birds.

Why might Jesus have told this parable in this way?  In the previous chapter in Mark, the religious leaders had already begun plotting with the politicians to destroy Jesus.  So the parables are speaking into their threat.  They know that this person is shaking up the very order in which they operate and their option as they see it is to destroy it.  Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed, foreshadowing that the seemingly fragile thing is going to be so vast that even the birds who threaten will be dependent on it.

It is important to pause here so that we understand our location in the Kingdom of God by first understanding Jesus’ location.  God coming in a body, in the person of Jesus, shifts reality in a new direction for us.  Jesus coming in a body makes space for all bodies to be redeemed, for all bodies to be made new, to be created good.  As Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view…So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  This is an announcement of what Jesus Christ has done and is doing.  Translating out of the original Greek on this would be better stated, “So if anyone is in Christ, A NEW CREATION!”  There is no lead in, no verb necessary, just BAM!  “A NEW CREATION!”

The Kingdom of God, through Jesus Christ, invades the very ways in which we order our lives, invades the very ways in which try to manage our fragile selves, and speaks the truth of our fragility and our need for God.  Jesus Christ, names our fragile selves – the ways we screw up, the ways we see God as a threat to our security and the ways we work against God – and then within us plants a new creation.  Jesus, the living Christ, sends the Kingdom in and through us as he loves us enough to forgive us and he loves us enough to make us new.

Thanks be to God!

Mark 3:20-35 “Crazy, Demonic or ‘of God’?”

Mark 3:20-35 “Crazy, Demonic or ‘of God’?”

June 10, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Centenniel Lutheran Church and New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

Mark 3:20-35 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

 

 

Depending on your background, talking about sin and evil may be as natural as your need to eat or may be as uncomfortable as stepping on broken glass or may be as completely irrelevant as what someone in Alaska is having for breakfast.  I have spent time in all of three of those reactions to sin and evil.  But the most important came to pass when I was in seminary.  I had a professor who is originally from Zimbabwe in Africa.  He spent a lot of time discussing the current conditions in his home country which at that time were not good and getting worse.  He also spent some time talking about sin and evil.

 

American culture is difficult to pin down as any one thing.  However, there is a lot of time spent using the language of tolerance.  I, for one, am grateful that tolerance is at the forefront of many people’s minds and it has been incredibly important for all of our coexisting on the planet together.  However, the shadow side of tolerance is that it can result in live-and-let-live ways even as people are suffering and dying at the hands of other people or suffering and dying by their own hands.  These live-and-let-live ways can leave us without the words to see the problems and without ways to solve them.  So then, sin and evil are a way to name what is happening in order that it might be confronted and changed.

 

Today’s texts are swimming in this stream of thought.  In Mark, Jesus’ family is highly worried that he’s lost his mind.  Think for a moment about someone you know who struggles with mental illness and how much pain it causes both that person and the people around them.   I imagine Jesus’ family in that kind of moment; in the awareness that Jesus’ actions are not going to come to anything good.  And, in fact, Jesus causes so much disarray that someone calls the scribes, who are the religious big guys, to come from Jerusalem to straighten it all out and they begin the name-calling with “Beelzebul.”  Notice for a moment that no one calls Jesus a fake.  From what has been seen of Jesus so far there has left three options – one, that Jesus is of God; two, that Jesus is crazy; or three, that Jesus is of the demonic.  No one in the story – neither family, nor the religious leaders – is prepared for the “of God” label so Jesus must either be crazy or demonic.

 

And Jesus, what does he do?  He cuts to the chase.  He goes “all in” with naming Satan and telling the parable of the strong man.  No watered-down language here.  And this is really an important place to pause and take notice.  Jesus is calling a thing what it is.  Jesus is calling evil what it is.  Jesus is truth telling about evil.  Jesus has come to plunder Satan’s household and liberate the world from evil.  This message is so strong in the Gospel of Mark that some have said that Mark tells this whole story of Jesus – from baptism to the cross – as one long exorcism of the whole planet.  Of Jesus’ ultimate victory over evil that will one day see its final end.

 

The Genesis text gives us a beginning for the final end to sin and evil.  This is a really complicated text and deserves its own sermon…or two…or three.  There are two things I want to say here.  The first is that this text has been interpreted poorly and used quite badly against women throughout the centuries.  This is wrong to do and there are many, many academics, theologians and pastors – faithful men and women – who write volumes on this.  With that being said, the second thing I want you to notice is about what God doesn’t say to Adam and Eve.  While there are consequences to their actions, God doesn’t say, “I’m going to hang out here, good luck making your way back.”  No, God doesn’t say this or anything like it.  Where does God go?  God goes out into the world with them.

 

So however we imagine that scene in the garden coming down, erase the one with God’s finger pointing them out and re-imagine one where God moves out into the world with them.  Because that is where God went then and where God is now.

 

God’s living presence in the world is especially important to this story about Jesus in Mark.  Jesus is blowing open the way people think about God being active in the world.  Listen carefully to verses 28 and 29 in the Mark text as Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”  Much has been made of blaspheming the Holy Spirit and what that could possibly be about.

 

I lean towards the one that says that the Holy Spirit forgives sins…period…so if you say there is no forgiveness of sins then you are blaspheming the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps it’s more simply put to say that it is difficult to experience forgiveness if you say it isn’t possible or that it is unnecessary.

 

This takes us back to the language of sin and evil.  It is difficult to explain the horrible things that happen to us and the horrible things that we do to ourselves and others without talking about sin and evil.  And it is difficult to talk about forgiveness when someone or a group of people think there is nothing for which they need to be forgiven.  I’ve been working my way very slowly through a book called, “No Future Without Forgiveness” by Desmond Tutu.  Desmond Tutu was the Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa, during and after a long peroid time that was filled with horrific white on black violence and oppression.  He is a black Christian leader in the Anglican tradition who was part of a large group of people responsible for moving the country forward after the election of Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president, in 1994.

 

Desmond Tutu writes about the key pieces of moving forward in forgiveness.  These key pieces include balancing “the requirements of justice, accountability, stability, peace and reconciliation.”[1]  In order for all of that to happen, those victimized over decades had to be open to forgiving those who hurt them and those who were the oppressors needed to admit what they had done.  The victims, the perpetrators and the leadership involved showed the power of this level of forgiveness in all that has happened in South Africa since that time.

 

What happened in South Africa was possible, in part, because there was the use of the language of sin and evil.  The very language that Jesus is using in Mark allows things to be called by their proper name so that they may be handled.  Jesus calls Satan, “Satan,” and Jesus calls forgiveness of sins, “forgiveness of sins.”

 

And here is the good news of what gets handled.  You…you get handled by Jesus Christ as he opens up his arms to include more than just his relatives into the fullness of what he has done.  By the power of his Holy Spirit, your sins are forgiven.  And few say what this experience is like better than St. Paul.  Listen as he writes words of encouragement to the Corinthians:

 

“But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—”I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.  5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.”

 

In living, in dying and in rising for you, Christ brings wholeness and healing into you by the forgiveness of your sins.

So I say again, by the power of the Holy Spirit, your sins are forgiven.

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 23.

John 3:1-17 “Honest Questions”

John 3:1-17 “Honest Questions”

June 3, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Greenwood Village, CO

 

John 3:1-17 1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

 

I went to a Memorial Day barbeque last Monday.  You may know the kind. We are long time friends of the people who gave the party but don’t really know the other guests as well, maybe only met some of them once or twice before in the last decade.  I found myself standing next to a new acquaintance, chit-chatting with him about the town I grew up in because he had lived there briefly after college. I was enjoying the connection of someone simply knowing background without needing to share it all.

From a few feet away came a voice, “I like your leg.”  The man looked over to the boy, around 9 years old, and said, “Thanks.”  The boy said, “It’s the color of skin.”  I looked down and for the first time noticed his prosthetic leg and looked up to the man looking at me, and he smiled and winked at me.  Then the boy said, “How’d you lose your leg?”  “Hunting accident.”  The man looks at me and smiles and winks again.  The boy continues, “What kind of accident?”  “I was shot.”  “Oh, and they had to cut off your leg?”  “Yes.”  And then, as suddenly as the conversation began, the boy was done with it.

At home, this scene played in bits and pieces in my head as I sat down to read my book of the moment.  So much so that I finally had to put my book down, pull out my laptop and sit down and write it out because I couldn’t stop the chatter in head between this boy’s straight questions in the daylight of high noon and Nicodemus’ questions of Jesus in the dark of night.   Boy…honest questions… and Nicodemus…honest questions…

When I picture Nicodemus, I see him in firstly in the dark of night, well, mostly because that’s what the story says.  And then I see him doing that tip-toeing and sneaking around that we get to see in episodes of Scooby Doo.  You know the kind – dink…dink…dink… with lots of looking this way and that way to make sure no one is onto him.  He has some questions and he thinks that maybe Jesus has the answers.  But he is also an educated man and a religious leader in a group that doesn’t really know what to make of Jesus except they know enough that they’re uncomfortable about him.  It is out of this discomfort that Nicodemus tip-toes over to Jesus and asks questions.   Nicodemus has big questions and Jesus has big answers about being born from above by water and the Spirit and being sent from God into the world not to condemn it but to save it.  All very clear and easily explained answers to Nicodemus’ questions – or maybe not.

I was 17 when I left the fundamentalist church in which I was raised.  God was scary, big and unpredictable, and Jesus was someone who made me very, very uncomfortable.  So, I left the church and ran away from Jesus.  In the years followed, I met two women – Moni when I was about 20 and Lisa when I was about 26.  These women were church-goers, Christians.  I was mystified by their faith and connection to the church.  But I began to suspect, perhaps a little like Nicodemus, that there might be something to this Jesus thing.  I asked each of them at some point in our friendships why they went to church and what was up with that Jesus anyway.  Both of them replied, “It just works for me.”  No big speech, no stumbling around and handing over John 3:16 to me, only their simple evangelical message, “It just works for me.”

As providence would have it, I also married a Lutheran.  I always say you have to watch out for those Lutherans with all the unconditional grace zinging around.  15 years ago we had the first of our two children.  My husband seemed unscarred from his Lutheran upbringing so our children were baptized and we began to raise them in the church.  And slowly, oh so slowly, the message of grace, the good news about God not condemning the world but saving it through Jesus, captured me.  What we don’t see on those John 3:16 signs at football games is the juicy news in John 3:17 – “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

We also don’t get to see to see to the end of the Gospel of John in our passage today so I’m going to jump ahead and give you a glimpse into the last tidbit we are offered about Nicodemus in John 19:39.  Jesus had just been executed on the cross and it was time to bury him.  Verse 39 reads, “Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.”

What happened to Nicodemus?  In chapter 3 today we read that he’s tiptoeing around at night and in chapter 19 we read that he turns up in the light of day, thudding along with 100 pounds of spices, risking his own life to bury Jesus’ body.  We get one other brief verse about him in chapter 7.  While we could have a ton of fun wondering and guessing about what happened to Nicodemus, one thing we do know about the in-between time is that Jesus was hung on a cross and died.

Nicodemus was not privy to the resurrection at the time of burial.  The hinge point for him, indeed for the Gospel of John, is the cross.  All the God, Son and Spirit talk in the Gospel of John points us there and draws us, like Nicodemus, to faith through it.

But for us, as 21st century evangelists, as bearers of the good news of Jesus, the cross is a tricky place to start.  There is the reality of Jesus’ execution on a cross recorded by the Romans as a historical event.  And there is the swirling mystery of the Trinity – of Father, Son and Spirit – active on and through that same cross and drawing us to faith through it.  But how many of us, and I include myself in this, are prepared to give a neat and tidy speech about why the cross stuff is a good thing to someone who has never heard a good word about Jesus and perhaps is tip-toeing towards Jesus with some questions of their own about him and his church?

This week, as the season of Pentecost, the season of the Spirit working through the church begins to heat up, I invite you to think about the words you would use as people of the good news of Jesus Christ.  What might you say?  Where might you begin?  My two friends, my two evangelists, started something with a very simple piece of good news.  “It just works me,” they said.  And this gave me something to think about all by itself.  They kept it simple much like the man at the party kept it simple about how he lost his leg.  Obviously, in both scenarios, there is much more that could have been said.  Once back in church, while I was nervously tip-toeing about the edges as others seemed to get it, there was one verse that spoke to me – one verse in the whole Bible that made any kinds of sense.  20 years ago, one friend; 17 years ago, one husband; 16 years ago another friend; 15 years ago, one verse!  That’s a lot of tip-toeing.

Nicodemus went from tip-toeing toward Jesus in the night to lugging 100 pounds of spices for Jesus’ burial in the daylight.  There is a lot that happens during the in-between time that is difficult to fully explain.  Being born from above is just the kind of thing that is difficult to fully explain.  As talked about by Jesus to Nicodemus, the Spirit is involved along with water which for church has meant baptism.

One thing I’m clear about is that all the action belongs to the Spirit who, through the cross of Christ, through the waters of baptism, draws us to faith daily.  And, in drawing us to faith, the Spirit draws a confession of good news out of us.  This is not to be confused with confession of having done something hurtful to ourselves or our neighbor – although the Spirit does that too.  The kind of confession I’m talking about is the kind that the Spirit draws out of us the about who God is and the good news that comes with God.  The Apostle’s Creed is one such confession as we join our voices with our ancestors of the faith and speak it together.  My friends offered me a very different but also powerful confession.  I’m certain that their longer confession would blow me out of the water as they bore witness to Christ by the power of the Spirit.  And it is these confessions, and others like them, confessions born from above that are the good news shared through us to people like Nicodemus.

May the Spirit of God ignite your confession of this good news that is for the world as it is also for you.

For, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

John 10:11-18 “A Good God is a Dead One?!”

John 10:11-18 “A Good God is a Dead One?!”

April 29, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

House for All Sinners and Saints as well as Lutheran Church of the Master

John 10:11-18  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

 

 

I have this memory of an image from childhood.  I’m not sure where it comes from or how old it is.  You may know the kind.  It’s a little hazy around the edges and slightly out-of-focus but a couple of things come through in crisp outline and color.  It pops into my head of its own accord when I hear Jesus talking about being the Good Shepherd.  In this image, Jesus is laughing in a group of children who are also laughing and he is holding a little lamb.  And, after my initial freak-out about overly-sentimentalized religion that would domesticate God, this image rings true for me as I think about the story a friend of mine tells about his Hebrew Bible professor tucking in her children at night.[1]  When she tucks them in she asks them, “Who are you?”  And they reply, “I am Jesus’ little lamb” – a sweet image of mothering and bedtime as she sends her children into the shadows of sleep.  And it rings true for me when I sit with families during funeral planning and they choose Psalm 23 time and time again.  I can hear the psalmist crying out through the families’ tears and from their broken hearts, “The Lord is my shepherd…”

 

And, for some of us, there are times when it is enough and sometimes quite necessary to allow those texts to wrap around us in the sweet, simple comfort of being cherished and celebrated as Jesus cradles us in light.  But what else might these texts have to say to us?

 

Wondering about Jesus’ claim of being a Good Shepherd is a good place to begin.  Psalm 23 gives us a glimpse into one of early Judaism’s understandings of God as shepherd.  And the words of Jesus echo deeply from within this tradition as he says, “I AM the good shepherd.”  The ante is upped as Jesus also says the words, “I AM”.  The “I AM” at the beginning of his words is the same “I AM” used in the divine claim by God, by Yahweh, in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Jesus statement is infused with so much divinity it simply spills out all over. In fact, it is THE claim that sets the cross in motion.  The bottom line for us today?  God is made known in Christ.[2]  But how so according to John?

 

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep.”   Jesus is the good shepherd who died.  There’s a leadership model that would climb the bestseller list today.  A good leader is a dead one?  Why is this?  How is this a good thing?  How is the good shepherd the one who would lay his life down?  Why does the church call the day of Jesus’ crucifixion “Good Friday” anyway?  I know, that last question seems a bit out of order in this exuberant season of Easter resurrection but I will take the liberty of asking it anyway.  How is any of this good?  It is good because God in Jesus, dead on the cross, reveals the depths of God’s love and the lengths to which God will go to wrap us into God.  Belonging to a crucified God doesn’t mean that God is dead but that death is now captured up in the living God.

 

Jesus tells the story of the good shepherd not in an idyllic, cozy, safe location as my determined memory of the smiling image of Jesus from childhood would suggest.  In this story, there is howling that warns of threat and danger and hired hands who run away in fear, leaving the sheep to the wolf, leaving the sheep to death.  Ultimately the wolf means death in this story.  This infuses quite a different urgency into the mother tucking in her child at night and asking, “Who are you?”  And the child saying, “I am Jesus’ little lamb.”  The sweet image of mothering at bedtime, as she sends her children into the shadows of sleep, reverbs within a fiercer promise of love and protection.  And the wolf’s howl intensifies the prayers of a family and a community as they pray the words of Psalm 23 together during a funeral – “yea, though I walk through the darkest valley, (through the valley of the shadow of death), I will fear no evil.”

 

One of the things that I am privileged to do with my time over the last year while awaiting a call to a congregation is funerals – lots of them.  All excepting one have been the kind where I receive the call from the funeral director that a family is asking for a Christian minister to be the officiant for their loved one’s funeral within the following three to five days.  Either they or the person they have lost to death are often long unaffiliated with or never been part of any faith community and the element of having a Christian minister seems important.

 

One could argue lots of things – that there request for a minister is simply an example of a family hedging their bets or covering their bases or whatever might work as a metaphor for thinking their motivations shallow.  Or it could be that it is something that is a supposed-to-be-done.  In some of the stories these lines of thinking might be true.

 

But as I speak with these families, often torn open by their person’s death and their own grief, there is something more going on.  That something more has to do with the ways in which meaning in their lives had been suddenly shattered into a million pieces.  What had once made sense from the sum of their experiences and gave life meaning, no longer does.  Something more is needed.  This “something more” that is needed is a word that comes from outside of their own experience.  The story of the good shepherd offers meaning not crafted from within ourselves.  Rather it comes from beyond our experience – gifted to us from outside of ourselves through the cross of the one who laid his life down.

 

As the conversation about the funeral continues with the family, two things quickly become important as the life story about person who died takes shape – having the body or the ashes at the funeral and the commendation at the end of it.  Having the body there speaks a truth about the death that has happened, just as Jesus and the commendation speaks a promise of new life directly into the heart of that truth.  The commendation is a prayer that acknowledges God’s welcome of the person who died.  The prayer of commendation sounds like this…

“Into your hands, O merciful God, we commend your child. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.”

 

When I pray this prayer on behalf of the one who has died, I take quite seriously in our text today, when Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

 

In the Gospel of John we hear over and over and over again how Jesus came for sake of the world.  In day-to-day living, many, many realities are born out of Jesus’ gift on behalf of the world.  And in the day of dying there is one more.

 

So hear this gift, the promise of the good shepherd for you this day of Easter resurrection…

By the power of the Holy Spirit of the risen one who first laid his life down,  Jesus draws you through the cross of Christ into faith, into meaning, into new life.

Jesus, the good shepherd, laid down his life and took it up again for you.

Death is now caught up into God, for you.

New life is here and now, in you and for you, by the power of the risen Christ!

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Justin Nickel, personal conversation, April, 24, 2012.

[2] Craig Koester. Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel.  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 297.

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

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

April 8, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

John 20:1-18 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. 2 So 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 story, this garden.  In real time, it was about 33 years.  In the time of the church year, our travel began with Jesus’ birth at Christmas, wandered with him through his life’s ministry and followed him when he turned toward Jerusalem, toward his death.  Some of us in the church 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 who left Jesus to face his death alone and those who killed him could have easily been us and, if truth be told, are us.

Oh how long the travel to this day!  And this day, we enter the 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 we thought we 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.  And Mary, as she realizes that Jesus isn’t there, runs to tell other disciples, who rush it to see the same thing, and confirm that, indeed, Jesus is not there.  One of them even sees and believes.  But, take note, the story tells us that seeing and believing did not bring understanding of the scriptures to this disciple – a most peculiar point to make in a most peculiar story.

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.  Until, finally, she hears her name… “Mary.”  And…she…knows…

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 – the ultimate outcome of life defeating death.

Oh how long our travel to this day!  Even as we gather here this Easter day, we bring our own despair to the garden.  We wonder where Jesus is and who has hidden him.  We wonder if the tears and fear in our own life will ever be brought to an end.  And on this day, when we proclaim that “Christ is Risen Indeed,” we join Mary in being claimed by hope – a hope that invades deeply into the despair knowing that despair does not have the last word.  Jesus has the last word.

Oh how long our travel to this day!  The risen Christ names and claims Mary in the garden in an act that echoes into the baptisms of some here today.  Through baptism, Christ calls the name of the baptized and then gives the hope of the deeper name of “Child of God.”  Through baptism, Christ gives the baptized the gift of his Holy Spirit, the gift of new birth, the gift of forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.  Through baptism, Christ joins us to his death and raises us with him into new life.

Oh how long our travel to this day!

This day when Christ invades our despair.

This day into which Christ infuses hope anew.

This day when Christ calls your name.

 

Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John 2:13-22 “Using God and Loving Things”

John 2:13-22 “Using God and Loving Things”

March 9, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

John 2:13-22 – The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

 

A long, long time ago, in the year 350, there lived a man named…Augustine.  He tells his story in a book titled The Confessions – he simply pours it all out, the good, the bad, and the ugly…saint and sinner…all of it…and how God met him in the middle of it.  Fast-forwarding sixteen hundred years to this past Sunday, I was preaching at a congregation that I had preached at one other time, one year ago.  A woman came up to me before worship began and told me that she needed to speak with me.  So we arranged to meet back up after the service.   We sat together in the back of sanctuary, the worship space.  This was her 3rd time visiting this congregation and she told me that had spent very little time in church throughout her 60 years.  In the span of just a few minutes and speaking quickly, she spoke of the sin in her life, some of which had happened over 30 years ago.  She then told me that she was too much of a sinner to be in church and then she fell quiet.

 

“First,” I said, “you need to know that God forgives you all your sins.”  She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and began to tear up and said, “Oh, that feels good.”  After a few moments of quiet, the second thing I said to her was that, “One of the things I love about being in Lutheran-land is that we all come before God as sinners, all of us are level with each other at the foot of the cross…so, as a sinner, you’re in the right place.”

 

So, you may be asking yourself, what do St. Augustine and this woman have in common – across time, gender and life situation? St. Augustine wrote, all those many years ago, that sin can be described as what comes from the mixing up of what God has given us to use and what God has given us to love.  His argument is that God means for us to love God and use things but somewhere along the way we use God and love things…we use God and love things.  We have mixed up use and love.

 

Today’s scene in the temple started me wondering about this mix up between what we use and what we love.  Jesus is furious.  The temple has become a marketplace, a place where God is being used and everyone is part of using everyone else as a commodity, as currency, as cash.  Relationship has been transaction.

 

If we’re not very careful in this story, we end up standing behind Jesus, cheering him on, placing ourselves on his side, comfortable that our opinions about God and Jesus are the blameless ones.  I wonder, though, if our rightful place in this story is in the position of the sellers – the ones who use God and love things so much so that in our use of God we end up using each other in such as way that our relationships are transactions.  We see this time and again, right?  The ways in which we use each other, and the ways others use us, create deep pain.  Let’s be clear, while we’re at it, that this is not only a problem magnified within these walls, this is a problem within this world, inside all of us!  And it is into the mixed up mess of use and love that Jesus comes crashing in to clean house.

 

Jesus cleans house by first taking the problem into his own body.  In the Bible story for today, Jesus says that his body is the temple which will be destroyed – hung on a cross – and that he will raise it again three days later.  There is hope after all because Jesus does what we cannot do when left on our own – first in his body and then in ours.  Jesus fights this fight in us daily by virtue of our baptism.  Jesus attacks our sin and sends it packing, right out the door like the sheep and the cattle of the temple.

In his clearing of the temple, Jesus challenges us to look at the way in which we use and the way we love.

In his dying on the cross, Jesus destroys the power of sin and its death dealing way.

And in his rising again, Jesus heals us into new life.

In the name of Jesus Christ, may you be strengthened and filled with God’s grace, that you may know the healing power of the Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark 8:31-38 “The Rebuked and The Rock: We Don’t Get to Choose What Dies”

Mark 8:31- 38 “The Rebuked and The Rock: We Don’t Get to Choose What Dies”

March 4, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Cross of Glory Lutheran Church

 

Mark 8:31-38  – Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

 

It wasn’t so long ago, maybe 10 years-ish, that I carried a special kind of dread for Lent.  After growing up in a tradition that didn’t spend a lot of time on the idea of grace and also spoke loudly and often about God’s judgment as a constant threat, I much preferred Easter for all of its pomp and promise.  My whole thought process had been, “Give me a good, ‘He is Risen’ any day over ‘He is Dead.’  Around that time of dreading Lent, my friend Chris arrived on the scene.  And she loved Lent.  She had grown up worshipping as a Roman Catholic, then dabbled in Lutheran-land for awhile, and has since returned to the rich liturgical tradition of her ancestors.  She has gifted me in many ways.  But, for this way in particular, I am most grateful.  Why so grateful?  Let’s turn to Peter and see what there is to see.

 

Just before our text today, in verse 28 (we begin in verse 30), Peter makes a huge declaration to Jesus that he thinks Jesus is the Messiah – the kristos, the One who has come to save.  So what happens in our story today that invokes Jesus’ rebuke of Peter including some pretty significant name-calling?  Jesus begins to teach them.  Teach them what exactly?  Jesus begins “to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”  Jesus begins to speak about what, up to this point in Mark, has thus far been a secret and Jesus been telling people NOT to speak about.  The jig is up, the secret is out, and what does Peter moves into rebuke mode.  Peter, just having confessed Jesus as the Messiah; Peter, in full view of the crowd and the disciples; Peter, elsewhere named by Jesus as the Rock upon whom Jesus would build his church, begins to challenge Jesus’ teaching about death.

 

Thinking about Peter as the one whom Jesus rebuked AND the Rock on whom Jesus builds his church began my wondering about the connections between Peter and the church in our time.  I’ve been doing some reading here and there about the 21st century church.  There are many, many people who love Jesus writing about the church as the number of people in churches declines.  This decline knows no denominational boundaries as people trickle away from all kinds of traditions.

 

In part, this comes up on pastor’s blogs and in conversations between pastors about the upcoming bishop election for this synod as well as other synods electing bishops this year.  Pastor Keith Anderson is a new friend and pastoral colleague at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Woburn, Massachusetts, in one such synod.  On his blog he has a post entitled, “The Five Things I Hope For in Our Next Bishop.”  Number one on his list?  “Comfort Us in Death.”  He asks the incoming bishop to, “Be honest with us. Don’t sugar coat it. Help us face the future head on with eyes and hearts wide open.”[1]

 

This is a powerful Lenten message.  Death comes.  Jesus announces his impending death to the crowd and to his disciples to what effect?  Peter rebukes Jesus.  What did Peter discover?  He doesn’t get to choose what dies.  And Jesus’ death on the cross is not how Peter would choose.

 

Jesus also talks about us taking up crosses and following him.  Many Christians do this in a symbolic way during Lent, right?  Chocolate, meat, Facebook, video games and the like all end up on do-not-do lists during Lent.  This symbolism represents something larger and something much more out of our control; something that Peter himself discovers in Jesus’ teaching and ultimately in Jesus’ death – again, Peter doesn’t get to choose what dies.  And neither do we as the church.  The church does not get to choose what dies in whatever cultural shifts are creating these painful times as we move into the 21st century together – times that leave us weeping and wondering about the faith of our children and the children of generations to come. 

So, as church, we stand with Peter, caught between our confession of Jesus the Messiah and our utter denial of death in action, wondering what it is that we’re supposed to do now.

 

The church does not get to choose but what else might we glean from our story today?  In no uncertain terms, Jesus rebukes Peter saying,Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  Why might Jesus be so strong in his language?  What about Peter’s rebuke results in his being set to the back?  Sarah Miles, an Episcopalian and a writer, thinks maybe it has to do with the sense that Peter’s rebuke denies Jesus’ hot-off-the-presses teaching that “after three days [the Son of Man will] rise again.”

 

But rising again, by definition, comes after death.  Jesus’ teaching in our story today teases us with the resurrection of Easter but also “reminds us that the way to Easter is through the cross.”[2]  As Jesus instructs the disciples to take up their cross, he’s saying in part that the way to new life is through the cross.  I had a preaching professor who would boil down this Christian good news in her glorious southern accent by saying, “It’s all about Liiife-Death-Liiife.”  And she would flash her hands opened and closed as she said it just like that, “Liiife-Death-Liiife.”   The cross is the way through.  Picking up our cross makes me hopeful that we can be honest about what is dying and curious about what new life will look like.

 

Remember Pastor Keith Anderson’s Blog list of qualities for their next bishop?  Number One is “Comfort Us in Death.”  And Number Two on his list is, “Lead us in Resurrection.”  He argues that, “New ministries will arise…and we need to be smart about the way we plant them and support them.”  New life is possible as the church and individual congregations move through the cross into new life.  Liiiiife-Death-Liiiife.

 

I am grateful for Lent because it focuses on the cross of Christ, his cross of glory, and draws us through death, time after time, toward a merciful and life-giving God.

 

Jesus is Lord and he unleashes life through his death on the cross.

Jesus, God with us, died a death that reveals God who relinquished life so that new life becomes possible.

Jesus, God with us, reassures us that we do not go alone toward the crosses that claim us – whether they are ones upon which the church or we ourselves hang.

Jesus exhales and the Spirit’s inspiration frees you to imagine what might be next for ourselves and for the church including the freedom to fail along the way because we have been saved by grace through faith.

Jesus’ hangs with us on our crosses, revealing the truth of what is dying, comforting us when we fall under the weight of our grief, and bringing new life on the breath of the Spirit.

 

 



[1] http://pastorkeithanderson.net/item/the-five-things-i-hope-for-in-our-next-bishop

[2] Arland Hultren, Working Preaching Website, Luther Seminary, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?tab=1#

Mark 9:2-9 “Death and Dazzle”

Mark 9:2-9 “Death and Dazzle”

February19, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Mark 9:2-9 – Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

 

 

I love the way the church marks time – around the life of Jesus and around the life of the Christian community.  I spent my early childhood in a Christian tradition that marked time in this churchy way but then grew up in one that didn’t and as a result now I’m very aware of being in time differently than many of my friends and family.  It took me awhile to get used to the liturgical year but I developed a love of this alternative way of moving through the world and moving through time.

The church year begins oh-so-softly with the flicker of candles in Advent, moves into the huge fanfare of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, of Emmanuel “God with Us”, followed by the festive 12 days of Christmas and then floods us these last seven weeks of Epiphany with all that Light, Light and more Light of Jesus’ life until we find ourselves here, at his Transfiguration, as Jesus’ very being dazzles on a mountaintop.

Jesus takes us with him and leads us up the mountain with Peter, James and John until we’re by ourselves and he is transfigured before our eyes, becoming dazzling white.  And, not only are we with Jesus, we’re with the heavy hitters of the past – Moses and Elijah who are, by their very being, challenging our ways of loving God and loving each other.  In the midst of all this, what has become of Peter, James and John?  Being there has terrified them because, well, who wouldn’t at least be on edge in this razzle-dazzle, time mash-up, supernatural Light show?

But Peter is reacting in this moment at a deeper level of terror too.  He is an observant Jew who celebrates the Feast of Booths, one of the three biblically mandated festivals in the Hebrew Scriptures that he himself celebrates year after year.[1]  He is also a good church historian one who is aware of the Jewish expectation laid out in Zechariah.  He remembers the temple talk about this “festival that was considered a possible time for God’s taking control of God’s creation and beginning the age of shalom.”[2]

Put more bluntly, Peter is sure that Moses and Elijah being there is a sign of the end of the world as he knows it.  A world that God is now going to reclaim fully and completely in one massive, redeeming fell swoop.  On top of this mountain, Peter has caught the cosmic shift, and Peter is, quite respectfully, not going to let Moses and Elijah build their own booths for the big event – even if he is terrified!

Listen to what Peter says when he doesn’t know what to say because of his terror, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.”  I imagine Peter thinking that it’s good to be with Jesus, Moses and Elijah at the same time that it is good to be witnesses to this great cosmic moment in God’s time.  I can imagine him thinking that, “it is good to be me in this place with these people because I’ve been prepared to know what’s happening and I know what to do.”  I can imagine this because I have felt that clarity of being in the right place at the right time.  And I have also felt the longing of wanting to be there.  And then I began to wonder how much of Peter’s clarity about it being good to be there is born of Peter’s longing to be in the right place at the right time.  And then I began to wonder about how good it is for Peter to be up there on the mountain with the big three of Moses, Elijah and Jesus.  Peter, named by Jesus as the Rock upon whom Jesus would build his church, up there on that mountain in terror and this was good?  Peter, the Rock of the Church, terrified.

This Transfiguration story, especially Peter’s terrified role in it, has me wondering about the church in our time.  There’s a six-minute video making the rounds on Facebook this week of Diana Butler Bass’ perspective on the church in our uncertain age.[3]  She studied and taught American Religious History for many years and has been thinking a lot about being church in the 21st century.  The point that I carried away from her interview is that there are many outside of the church that still want to connect with God and still love the tradition of the church in some way but are not finding the connection.  She argues that faith is in the longing of everyone around us – us being the church.  While I think she and I would have a wonderful conversation about the origin of faith, more importantly in this moment, I want to suggest that we in the church long as well – perhaps similarly to Peter on that mountaintop.

We long for God to fulfill God’s promises – or at least our understanding of them – and we want the traditions of our ancestors to point us in the right direction.

We long for the task at hand to be straightforward and doable.  Like Peter, right? – Age of Shalom, Festival of Booths, let’s build some booths!

I hear this longing from pastors about the upcoming bishop election for this synod – that we need to elect someone who can imagine us into a new future for the church and tell us how to get there in a straightforward and doable way.

Let’s check back in on the mountaintop.  After Peter’s moment of brilliant clarity, while the terror is still a fresh, metallic taste on his tongue and his words about the good of “being here” hang in awkward silence, the cloud overshadows them – clouding out the vision, the light and Peter’s words – shrouding the small band on the mountain.  A cloud with supernatural sound effects no less, as the voice says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  And the terror continues as they look around and see only Jesus.

So, like Peter, some in the church are made aware of God’s ultimate freedom to act in ways that dazzle the senses whether on a mountaintop or otherwise.  And, like Peter, some in the church are looking around and seeing only Jesus.  Jesus, who leads them down from the mountain to a very different hill – one loaded with crosses, and to a very different kind of terror – one loaded with death.   And, as church, we join Peter in this tension, caught between God’s dazzling power and God’s death on a cross, wondering what it is that we’re supposed to do now.

And it is right here, smack dab in the middle of that tension, that the Spirit gifts us in the scripture.  Jesus is the one who takes Peter, James and John and leads them up the mountain and back down again.  And Jesus is the one who tells them they can tell the story only after he has risen from the dead.  Jesus’ caution to the disciple teases us with resurrection of Easter but the trip down the mountain also “reminds us that the way to Easter is through the cross.”[4]  The way to new life is through the cross.  I had a preaching professor who would boil down this Christian good news in her glorious southern accent by saying, “It’s all about Liiife-Death-Liiife.”  And she would flash her hands opened and closed as she said it just like that, “Liiife-Death-Liiife.”   The cross is the way through.  Peter is right.  It IS good for us to be here both tethered by tradition and set free…because Jesus is Lord and he unleashes freedom through the cross.  Jesus gifts freedom and the Spirit’s inspiration to imagine what might be next for you and for the church including the freedom to fail along the way.

Jesus, God with us full of life and light, stood on a holy precipice, a point of no return on his way to a death that reveals God who relinquished that life so that new life is possible.

Jesus, God with us, reassures us that we do not stand alone when staring downhill at the crosses that would claim us – whether they are ones upon which the church or we ourselves hang.

 

Jesus’ dazzles when he hangs with us in our terror,

shedding light in our darkest nights,

comforting us when we fall,

revealing the truth of our weakness, and

illuminating our need so that, when the cloud lifts,

we see only Jesus.

 

 

 



[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukkot

[2] Sarah Heinrich on Working Preacher 2012 for Mark 9:2-9. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=2/19/2012

[3] Diana Butler Bass on Day1http://day1.org/3655-does_the_church_have_a_future__diana_butler_bass

[4] Arland Hultren, Working Preaching Website, Luther Seminary, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?tab=1#

 

John 1:43-51 “Can Anything Good Come Out of Lutheran Church of the Master?”

John 1:43-51 “Can Anything Good Come Out of Lutheran Church of the Master?”

January 15, 2012

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

 

John 1:43-51 – The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

 

From time-to-time I go through the ritual of giving up coffee for awhile.  Maybe just to see if I can.  Maybe because I like it with fake sugar and half-and-half, neither of which are all that good for me.  Maybe it’s so I can live piously alongside those green tea zealots.  Or maybe a little of all of that and more.  Regardless, I’m in tea mode.  This means that I get to read poetry on the sides of my boxes of tea and receive wise counsel from the little tags that hang from the tea bag’s string.  About a week ago there was one such tea bag tag that hung in my mind for awhile.  This particular tea bag tag spoke a 19th century Chinese proverb also credited to Maya Angelou.

“A bird does not sing because it has an answer, a bird sings because it has a song.”

And “What,” I hear you thinking, “does this tea-frothed bit of pop philosophy have to do with Philip, Nathaniel and Jesus?”  Fabulous question!  Let’s recap…

Jesus finds Philip – note that please – Jesus finds Philip.  Philip then finds Nathaniel and makes a big speech about finding Jesus.  Who found whom here?  And then, after Philip says he found Jesus, he launches into Jesus’ family tree – first from the way, way back into Moses-and-the-law-and-the-prophets part and then the more recent son-of-Joseph-from-Nazareth part.  Philip has the details.  After being found by Jesus, he makes known who Jesus is.  He’s laying out Jesus’ street cred to Nathaniel.  Now here’s where it gets interesting.  And here’s where I’d like us to spend some time.  Nathaniel says to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  How snarky is that?  Philip is pumped up, super-excited and gets shot down by his buddy.  He has a song to sing about Jesus, he sings it, only to receive a snorting, derisive laugh from his unbelieving friend.

Think for a second about what you’re natural inclination is when that kind of thing happens to you – when you receive a snorting, derisive laugh from an unbelieving friend.

Maybe you go quiet, stunned that you’re unable to communicate this huge thing in a convincing way.

Maybe you get angry, shocked that your ideas and your excitement are so easily dismissed by a friend.

Maybe you get legal, spurned into creating an air-tight argument that builds the logical case for faith.  Your song gets shut down and you either shut-down or rev up the debate machine.

Personally, I’ve tried them all.  All of those responses have bubbled up without a lot of thought or clarity when someone goes snarky on who I think Jesus is.  I’ve gone quiet. I’ve gone angry and I’ve gone legal.  About eight years ago I handed out the book “Case for Faith” by Lee Strobel to a longtime friend.  She handed it back to me and said something like, “Well he argues out of the Bible and so you have to believe the Bible to believe his argument.”  In essence, she said to me, “Can anything good come out of the Bible?”

There is a YouTube video gone viral this past week called “Why I hate Religion but Love Jesus.”[1]   In his video, this young man is singing a song about Jesus while railing against his experience of the church.  In essence he is asking, “Can anything good come out of the church?”

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

“Can anything good come out of the Bible?”

“Can anything good come out of the Church?”

It is my guess that many of us have taken our turns at being both Philip and Nathaniel.  We have tried to sing a song of Jesus, or quietly hummed one, and we have also tried to discredit someone’s faith-filled singing telegram filled with love for Jesus.

Let’s look at Philip again.  What is his response to Nathaniel?  Does he go quiet?  No.  Does he get angry?  No.  Does he argue?  No.  What does he do?  He invites…“Come and See.”

So Nathaniel troops off to meet Jesus.  And what does he do after his encounter with Jesus?  He sings his own song about Him.  Nathaniel says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  From snarky unbelief to singing faithfulness, Jesus is the one who has seen it all and Jesus is the one who turns it all.  He turned it for Philip and then he turned it for Nathaniel.

The text isn’t entirely clear on when Nathaniel was under the fig tree or if anyone was with him.  I imagine him standing there under the fig tree with Philip while he proclaims his unbelief over and against Philip’s confessional song of Jesus and I can hear Philip’s call of, “Come and see,” to Nathaniel.  So then Jesus would have heard both the honesty of Nathaniel’s unbelief and the honesty of his confessional song.  This is a different slant on what it means to confess.  In the church we use the word a couple of ways.  Mostly we think of confession and forgiveness.  That there is something I need to come clean about so I confess to it, I fess up, I admit my wrongdoing.

Philip and Nathaniel’s confession is of a different sort.  They are making a declaration, making something known.  They are confessing who they think Jesus to be – much like we do when we confess the Apostle’s Creed together.  If the confessional songs of our ancestors in the faith hinge on meeting Jesus then what does meeting Jesus look like today.

In this season of Epiphany, we have this symbol of a star over our heads to remind us that Jesus Christ is revealed to those we think the least likely to succeed on Christ’s mission – peasant parents, suspect shepherds and milling magi.  It’s not so different today really.  While Christ promises to reveal himself in the waters of baptism, in bread and wine of the communion table and in the words of scripture, Christ also promises to reveal himself in the least likely to succeed on Christ’s mission – us.  See these ribbons pointing out over us?

Can anything good come out of Lutheran Church of the Master?

Can anything good come from us people whose snarky unbelief can sometimes seem to claim the day?  And to us Jesus says, “I have seen you when you were standing away from me under the fig tree in your unbelief just as I hear you confessing me now as Lord.”

And Jesus continues, “I see what you don’t do and what you do that hurts people.  I see the pain you inflict on your brothers and sisters in Christ and to other children of God by not giving, not forgiving, not helping, not loving.  I see your unbelief and I pour myself through it.”  In the last verse of the reading today Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”  In this he refers to himself on the cross as the redeemer of us – the ones who are least likely to succeed.

And Jesus also promises to send us with the power of his Spirit, working through us, revealing Himself through the active care of others.   So as we confess, as we declare, Jesus in word and action, led by the Spirit, Jesus says, “Yes, I have seen you under the fig tree but I also see you organizing canned food drives in your neighborhoods, sending teenagers and brave adult chaperones to New Orleans, tutoring the children at the elementary school, taking communion to the sick and hurting, praying for those who need help, building homes for the homeless, donating money and time and action to those who need it, walking toward the communion table together in your need for Jesus.”

By the power of the Holy Spirit, it is Christ in you who frees you into these things – these ministries that stretch you beyond your own self-interest into being the hands of Christ for each other and for the world.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, it is Christ in you who strengthens you to serve people in God’s name.

And, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is Christ who inspires your confessional song of Jesus.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, may your song of Jesus be revealed to you by the One who came under a star to live in skin and solidarity with us!



[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY

Mark 13:24-37 “The Cross Echoes in Advent”

Mark 13:24-37 “The Cross Echoes in Advent”

November 27, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

Mark 13:24-37 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

 

Tonight opens the season of advent.  Advent is the beginning of how we tell time in the church, it is the beginning of what we call the church year.  Advent is the four weeks before Christmas of waiting for the celebration of Christ’s birth – of the moment when God takes human form in a baby, in a person, who by word and action draws us into God.  And advent is waiting Christ to come again – looking ahead to God doing something, anything.[1]  In the act of waiting, space is created to pay attention to the here and now.  So the theme of advent is both good news and not such good news.[2]  When I say that I am waiting for the God to show up, I’m saying that, in this moment, I feel abandoned.  Our texts from Isaiah 64 and Psalm 80 are both cries for God’s presence during terrifying and anxious times.

Think for a moment about being a child – about having a wild imagination that swims in the wonder, mystery and fear of really scary things.  We hear our parents talking about things we have no hope of understanding.  Frightening things seem like they can happen to us at any time, any place.  And often do happen at any time, any place.  As kids we keep ourselves safe with good luck charms that ward off the threat of the imaginary boogie man as well as real threats of dark and scary places.  Think for a minute about how you did this as a child or how you even do this now.  What shape does the charm of hope and protection take…?

In our text today, Jesus is speaking about a really scary thing – an apocalyptic time that is volatile and tragic and terrifying.  So much so that when the text is read and the reading is closed by saying, “The Gospel of the Lord,” and the congregation replies, “Praise to you, O Christ,” that some of us might want to challenge each other and say “Really…this is gospel, this is the good news we need today? This is the message that inspires our praise as we head toward Christmas?!”  And, to that, I say, “YES!”  Jesus, through this good Word, gives us hope in the middle our hopelessness and points us in just the direction we should be looking and onto that which we should cling in our most troubled and anxious times.

Jesus says, “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  As we begin telling time at the beginning of the church year, Jesus’ words are telling time for us.  What kind of time is he keeping?  What is he saying?  Evening…in a garden maybe, praying desperately, betrayed by a friend, arrested, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Midnight…cross-examined by the high priest, in the cross fire of false testimony, accused as a blasphemer, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Cockcrow, denied three times by a friend, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  And dawn, condemned by Pontius Pilate, convicted by the crowed, a dead man walking, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”

Jesus says, “…the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”  This sunless time that Jesus links with suffering, where does this echo in scripture for us… just two chapters past our text, Jesus hangs on the cross, hopelessness personified in the light of day and then suddenly, “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.”  Jesus, the Word made flesh, the son of God, God from God, light from light, hung in darkness, nakedness, hopelessness…dead.  The sun was darkened…and the moon gave no light.

As part of my seminary education to become a pastor I had to spend long blocks of time away from my husband and kids.  Last fall I moved up to Saint Paul, Minnesota to complete the last of those courses and I lived away from home for months.  Before I left, my husband was anxious, my son was anxious and my daughter was anxious.  I was doing my best to be a non-anxious presence but it wasn’t working out so well…well…because I was anxious!

We could argue all the reasons for my having to be away from my family – God’s call, necessity, church rules, costs/ benefits and maternal ego-trip.  We could argue a lot of things and believe me when I say that I argued them all.  Regardless, as it came closer to the time of having to go, I was determined to bless my children before I left.  I gave them each a journal to write down their thoughts to me, an inspirational bookmark to mark their page, candy to sweeten their days, handmade soap from our Colorado summer vacation to perfume their shower and treats for their brown-bag lunches.  All so that they could be assured that their mother loves them and remembers them daily.

At the bottom of their gift bag was the BIG GIFT.  It is called a Clinging Cross.  It is gnarled in shape so that it is cradled in the palm of the hand with the bars sticking out through the fingers.  I asked them to keep it under their pillows.  My daughter told me before I left that her big worry was that she would be lonely.

I gave it to them so that when they miss me, or feel sad, or feel angry, or feel lonely, they cling to the cross.  I told them both that God knows what sad and lonely are all about because the God that we believe in knows darkness and loneliness in the biggest way.  My son told me he fell asleep with the cross every night.  That’s a vision – my then 13-year-old clinging to the cross.

The cross is darkness, fear, loneliness, pain, betrayal, abusive power, oppression, hopelessness…and it is also apocalyptic revelation.  The cross tormented and violated Jesus’ humanity and Jesus’ words point us to that very cross as he shoulders the crosses in our lives too – we all hang or have hung on crosses or watch and suffer with others as they hang on their crosses.  Our crosses torment us.  They hurt us and they leave us feeling walled off from each other and from God.  But God says, “Not so fast…I’ve been there too …I who came in the form of a baby, who lived and walked the earth, who was put to death and who conquered death in rising again…I am God and I have the last word.”

God’s last word meets our hopelessness with hope.  “Our hope rests not in what we have done, nor can do, but in all that God is”, has done and is doing.[3] The cross of Christ names our fear for what it is.[4]  The cross also, at the same time, reveals the One who came under a star in skin and solidarity.  The One who holds our fear so that we might cling to him even as he is holds onto us.

The cross of Jesus Christ is the “meeting of darkness and light and the final victory of light.”[5]  As we cling to the humanity of Jesus on the cross, we cling also to the promise of Christ’s hope – the hope of all that God is yesterday in a living babe, today in a living Christ and tomorrow in an eternal God – the eternal God who turns a cross into resurrection and a baby in a manger into salvation for the world.  And so on the breath of the Spirit, as we cling to the cross waiting in the hope and light of Advent, we confess the mystery of our faith that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again…. [6]

[sing to close] Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come, come again…

 



[1] Rolf Jacobson, WorkingPreacher.com, “Sermon Brainwave 206.” Lectionary Texts for November 27, 2011.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx

[2] Karoline Lewis, WorkingPreacher.com, “Sermon Brainwave 206.” Lectionary Texts for November 27, 2011.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx

[3] W. Dennis Tucher Jr., “Lectionary for November 27, 2011: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19.”  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx

[4] Frederick Buechner.  Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 17.

[5] Ibid., 90.

[6] Ibid., 91

[7] http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx

[8] The Living Pulpit magazine, check ATLA.

[9] Frederick Buechner.  Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 17.