All posts by caitlin121608

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.

Mark 9:9-13; Ezekiel 2:8-3:11; Ephesians 2:4-10 “Crossing the Beams”

Mark 9:9-13; Ezekiel 2:8-3:11; Ephesians 2:4-10 “Crossing the Beams”

September 21, 2011 (The Feast Day of St. Matthew) – Caitlin Trussell

Bishop’s Retreat for Metro South Conference, Rocky Mountain Synod

 

Mark 9:9-13 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

 

The life that has taken shape for me out of seminary and not yet ordained has filled with unexpected and random connections with clergy types of various denominational and confessional stripes.  Not too long ago I had a meeting scheduled with one such person that I thought had a pretty clear and tame agenda.  When we met together, not one of those agenda items made it into the conversation.  This pastor was in such despair over the pastoral call, over the reason for it, for any of it.  The clear and repeated question was, “How is it that I am still called when I no longer feel confident about what I’m doing?”  And, of course, internship was all that was needed for me to respond perfectly…

Regardless of the qualifications of the listener, the pain and doubt about call spilling out of this pastor to a yet untried one speaks to how muffled the voice of God, the voice of call, can become in the static and blur of congregational life and in the wider life of the culture in which we sit.  So, it is fitting that we gather as colleagues and holy friends late in evening on the feast day of St. Matthew.  And listen in as a tax collector at a table was called by Jesus.

We can read between the lines here too.  Of course Matthew, being called from his current field of tax work, also spoke fluently in 5 languages, had his double-major undergrad in philosophy and comparative literature, an MBA, a Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling, doctorates in hermeneutics, leadership, political science and international studies and an MDiv just to round it all out and be super ready to work for Jesus.  This sounds as ridiculous as it felt to write it.  But how much of the wild expectations that are placed on pastors and that pastors place on themselves emerge from more subtle, but just as ridiculous, expectations.  Expectations that are disembodied from the cross of Christ, disconnected from the call of the gospel, that wear away the sense of call like water on stone until the heart of the stone is washed away.

I’d like to do dangerous thing here and cross the beams of Ezekiel and Matthew.  (You can chew me out later.)  Ezekiel was called by God into the social-political chaos of Babylonian invasion and relocation.  Matthew was called by Jesus into the social-political dust kicked up by Roman occupation.  Ezekiel eats a scroll from the Lord that is as sweet as honey and then speaks a word from the Lord.  Matthew sits and eats in his own house with Jesus and then follows Jesus.  Ezekiel is called to speak a word.  Matthew is called to follow and eat.

These calls from the Lord to our ancestors in the faith echo into this room, into this time and place, into the socio-political chaos of our changing world and emerge out of socio-political dust kicked up by both people and nature from small to grand scale.  The calls leave us with questions like, “Why us?  Why are these barriers in the call seem so great, so painful?  Why me?  Why now?”  While the calls may be different, they are also not so much different.  God still calls for some to speak and God still calls for some to set the table.  Calling with a word and sending with the Word – placing us in sacred space with holy friends who can hold our despair and our joy, our deaths and our lives, our crosses into new life.

And through all these, what remains at the end of the day, at the end of today, is this…the call of the Gospel revealed in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, the call that releases you from death into life, through which all other calls to vocation are revealed, nurtured and strengthened… “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 “Freedom: Not a Free-For-All”

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 “Freedom: Not a Free-For-All”

July 4, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

Risen Lord Lutheran Church, Conifer, CO

 

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon'; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

I’m going to ask a super fashionable question.  I’m going to ask one of those questions that lands preachers right on top of the popularity scale and gets us invited to all the best parties.  Now I’m not looking for an out loud answer – don’t panic – just keep your answer quietly and privately in your head.  Ready?  What is that thing you do that you do not want to do?  What is that thing you do that you hate?  …………While thinking about Paul’s words in Romans, my own answer to that question keeps bubbling up in my head without me even having to ask the question.  It is as if regret and shame are ready and willing to set up shop at a moment’s notice.  Listen to Paul’s words of confession, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  He is so immersed in this idea that he writes it again with a bit of a tweak, a few verses later, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

But along with the regret and shame there is something else that sets up shop inside of me too.  Something powerful that competes against regret and shame – there is a powerful relief.  Relief that I, and my life, get named – get called out so that, even if for just a moment, the pretending that takes so much energy goes away.  Thank God Paul names his humanity in Romans 7.  So that even if just for a bit of time we can see our situation named too.  “I do not do what I want but I do the very thing that I hate.”

For Paul, this sin is not a morality tale.  Yes, sin has effect and consequence but for Paul it is so much bigger than the language we so often use of “right and wrong” or “good and bad.”  There is simply that which kills and that which brings life.  If I accuse you of immorality or bad theology or not-really-being-a-Christian-or-a patriot-or-a-good-person, then I elevate myself while lowering you, in a sense while killing that which you hold dear.

Matthew’s gospel gives us a perfect example of the critique that happens when others aren’t doing what we think they should do, when people aren’t living up to our standards.  [Jesus said] “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,   17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’   I hear Jesus chastising those who would superimpose their standards of right religion, of acceptable living, onto others.   After all, it is so much easier to accuse you of not doing what I want you to do than to hold up the mirror of Paul’s words to our own lives – “I do not do what I want but I do the very thing that I hate.”

In part for this reason of naming the reality of sin, we began today’s Service of the Word in confession together.  But naming sin is not the ultimate reason we confess together.  In Matthew Jesus also says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.   29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

These are lovely words –“Come to me, you that are weary…I will give you rest.”  Even saying them I get that they are full of promise.  Yoking to Jesus is poetic language to be sure but what might it mean?  Even Paul, who gives this litany of powerlessness to sin, ends his speech with “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Why does he do that?!  Why do any of us do that?

First off, a yoke tutorial seems in order.  While first century listeners would make immediate sense of this, we do not.  Although some of you may have grown up on a farm or currently farm so let’s just say you’re probably light years ahead of me on being able to explain this one but please bear with me.  Yoking means placing two animals together under a long, formed piece of word designed for the purpose of being able to move animals in a particular direction but also to allow the more experienced, seasoned animal to guide the younger, less able one.  Yoking was a method that made the work happen and taught the animals how to do what they are meant to do.

Those of us who have struggled with attempting to control our own sin, and who have hit bottom in such a way that we don’t even recognize ourselves, understand that trying harder on our own doesn’t work.  Thinking that if we just dig deeper or start over tomorrow or the next day or the day after that….we’ve realized that there are just not enough days to exert the kind of control we think we have that changes the situation for the long term.  Paul would call this being yoked to sin.  And that a sinner recognizes this yoke of sin for what it is and that this is the very place where grace meets us.

One of the things that Jesus has done and is doing is freeing us from this false idea of complete and utter independence from God and from each another.  This freedom is not a free-for-all but it is a yoked freedom.  We are not set free into a bunch of new rules – into a new morality of good and bad.  We are liberated by the yoke of Christ into new relationship with God and with each other.  This allows us to be in community with each other not as a community of mediocre people whom some call hypocrites.  But rather draws us into a living body as a community of sinners who say that transformation is possible although it is not I but Christ who lives in me – utterly dependent on God to work in us and through us and also to forgive us whenever we hurt ourselves or each other

Audacious freedom is bestowed to you by the Holy Spirit through the waters of baptism and sustained by that same Spirit. Drawn into relationship with Jesus who saves us from ourselves and says, “I see you and I intend something quite different than you may intend for yourself.  I intend for you to be as you’ve been created to be – a new creation.  And now you are forgiven, now you are freed from having to do it all and having to be it all.  Welcome home.”

And together with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

John 10:1-10 “Gate: Cross and Promise”

John 10:1-10 “Gate: Cross and Promise”

May 13th – New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, Denver, CO

May 14th – Women of the ELCA, RMS Boulder Cluster Gathering, Wheatridge, CO

May 15th – Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

 

John 10:1-10 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 

So which one is it?!  Is Jesus the gate or is Jesus the shepherd?  So which one is it?! Are we the sheep?   Or are we the thieves, bandits and strangers?  This text is saturated to overflowing with imagery as Jesus tries to communicate who he is with his disciples.  But today, I really want you to hear Jesus’ gift to us as he says, “I am the gate.”  He says it twice.  “I am the gate.”

Think for a moment about gates that you come across in your day-to-day.  Picture the gate in your mind and who controls the gate and whether the gate stands opened or closed.  Think about what the gate is for and who is allowed to go in and go out of that gate and what it costs to move in and out of the gate.

Now, picture another gate.  And picture this gate welded open. There is freedom of movement as it stands open.  The gate cannot be closed or manipulated in any way.  It simply…stands…open… this is the gate I would like you to have in mind for the next few minutes.  A gate that stands open.

Every so often a text from the Bible is such that it really helps us if we know what comes right before it in the story.  This is true of so many things.  If we learn just a little more of the context of what someone is trying to say, then we have a better shot at understanding at least a little of what is going on.   This story of Jesus is the gate is one such story.  Right before our verses today is the story of the man born blind to whom Jesus gives sight.  The man born blind, who can now see because of Jesus, is asked all kinds of questions by the religious leaders of the temple and they ultimately drive him out of the temple when their questions aren’t answered to their expectations.  And Jesus receives that man.

How many times in each of our lives has a new experience led us to new questions and then to new answers that challenge how we think about life and how we think about God?  Not God changing but us changing.  Time and time again as children our minds stretch and grow to absorb all the new stuff we see and do and hear.  Time and time again in our adolescence and, hopefully, if we’re lucky, time and time again as adults, we are challenged to either understand something new or take on something new in the face of new information that arrives on the scene.  It is the way of life.  And for Jesus followers, it is a way of faith as we try to figure out what in the name of God…literally…we’re talking about when we talk about loving to tell the story Jesus.

But it is also the way of life to not let all the possibilities and information in.  It is also the way of life to be overwhelmed by it.  It is also the way of life to be knocked down by the sheer quantity of information and experience that blow our minds and leave our expectations in tatters.  And it is the way of life to close ourselves off and create our own sheepfolds and set ourselves and our beliefs about Jesus as the gate so that we might feel some small glimmer of hope that our right faith keeps us safe from that which would harm us or destroy us.  And, very quickly, we fall to the same temptation as the religious leaders did with the man born blind and we drive people out as if we are the ones who are the gate.

During the Apostles’ Creed, the traditional line spoken throughout the centuries is “I believe in the holy catholic church.”  This can be incredibly confusing for people since a large part of the world worships in the Roman Catholic tradition.  So, we often change the traditional language to say, “I believe in the holy Christian church.”  My kids will tell you that on any given Sunday, they’re not sure exactly what will come out of my mouth during this part of the Creed.  In whispers, you might even hear them say, “You said it again Mom.”  And here’s the truth of it for me.  I love the word catholic.  I love that it means universal.  I love that our ancestors in the church applied the word that means universal to the church.  I love pondering what the God of the universe, which includes us sitting in our teeny-tiny corner of it, thinks about how we’re doing in our teeny-tiny part of the church catholic as we divide, and divide again, and divide again – driving people out of sheepfold, after sheepfold, as if we were the gate.

And then I like to take a big breath as Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the gate.”  Because Jesus as the open gate in this passage is very, very different then Jesus as the faith-ticket-taker.  You know, like I have my ticket of faith which gives me entrance to the right church and then, at the just the right time, I hand my ticket of faith over to Jesus so that all will be well, so that I will be well.

I’m pretty sure a ticket of faith in Jesus does not purchase protective outerwear that deflects the worst kind of pain – perhaps to confirm this we could check in with a few of our most faithful brothers and sisters in the nearest ICU or hospice.

And I’m pretty sure that a ticket of faith in Jesus does not unleash a cash windfall – perhaps we could check in with some of our poorest and most faithful brothers and sisters, numbering in the millions across the planet, who wonder where their next meal is coming from.

In fact, what these faithful brothers and sisters experience, indeed, what we experience as we experience life and others at their worst, is faith living in the shadow of the cross while clinging to the promise of the Easter resurrection.  And we don’t have to look very far within ourselves, our own families and our circle of friends to see and feel its shadow too.  In this season of Easter, we do live on this side of the resurrection although we see it in a hazy kind of way because the realities of the cross are real even today.  Jesus does not describe a world free of bandits and thieves.  Jesus names the bandits as real, the powers that rob us of life and health.[1]

So then, Jesus is the gate to the abundance of what?  He says, “I came so that you may have LIFE and have it abundantly.”  That he says this through the specter of the cross is critical.  Jesus lives a truth about the mess of human reality on the cross; Jesus overcomes that reality not by ignoring it but by dying on it, lighting it up so that our vulnerability cannot be ignored and we can stop pretending that we know enough and are strong enough to be our own gates, our own gods.  Jesus promises an abundant life that is the power of the love of God in the midst of real threats, in the middle of thieves and bandits.

Jesus is the gate and sees and speaks the truth of the whole you – the image of God in you and worst of the brokenness in you.

Jesus is the gate who pours out forgiveness for you when you bring your worst.

Jesus is the gate who stands open by the grace of God for you – nothing you do opens it and nothing you do can close it.

And Jesus is the gate who promises that death, when it comes, may win the moment but does not win the day when you breathe your last in this body and Jesus welcomes you into the arms of the eternal God.



[1] Craig Koester, Gospel of John, Course Lecture at Luther Seminary, October, 13, 2010.

John 20:19-31 “Locked by Fear; Sent in Peace”

John 20:19-31 “Locked by Fear; Sent in Peace”

April 29, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

John 20:19-31  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.

 

 

Think for a second about fear.  Fear as you’ve experienced it in your own life.  What does it feel like to be afraid?  What does it smell like to be afraid?   What does it taste like?

Let’s recap the last three days of the disciples’ lives to this point.  One of their own, their friend and fellow disciple Judas, sold out Jesus to the religious leaders and then to the Roman police.  Peter lies about knowing Jesus, betrays him three times, to save his own skin.  The rest of them are nowhere to be found as Jesus dies by execution on a cross.  The air is so thick with the smell of fear for their own lives over the last three days that their stomachs are tight and turning over with nausea, leaving a sour taste in their mouths and no appetite for food.  Their shame over their desertion of their friend and leader keeps them up at night, leaving them totally wiped out and with hands that constantly have the shakes.  They are in bad shape.  And now, afraid that their deaths are next, they are locked in a room – locked in a room in fear, locked up tight in shame.

Fear rules this whole story of Jesus ending up on the cross.  The religious leaders were afraid of all that wild life-giving that Jesus was doing – giving sight to the man born blind, raising Lazarus from the dead.  The Roman government was afraid of all that wild freedom that Jesus was going on and on about.  Everyone so afraid of what Jesus was doing that they thought killing him would solve the problem of Jesus.

And fear lands the followers of Jesus in a locked room.  “…and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear.”

And Jesus shows up.  After all that’s happened, after the weakness of the disciples and the torture on the cross, Jesus shows up.  Take note, it is NOT their faithfulness that lures Jesus to them.  And not only does he show up, he shows up with the wounds inflicted by the fear, anger and fragile egos of everyone else.

Jesus doesn’t criticize their fear and doubt but he meets it with himself.  He gets it.  He just died through it.  And death did not have the last word.  Jesus shows up in his wounded, resurrected body offering words of peace – “Peace be with you” he says.  And he doesn’t say this in a touchy-feely, stars and flowers kind of way.  He says this after the ordeal of the cross.  He knows what’s possible in the face of fear.  And he brings this peace to the disciples who are sent from that room to enter the same reality that they were hiding from.  The world around them has not magically changed since Jesus visited.  So what did?

Jesus is not blind.  Jesus sees who we are, the fear that controls our being, and Jesus moves to where we are just as Jesus went into that locked room with the disciples.  We do not surprise Jesus with our actions and, more importantly, our actions, with or without faith, do not determine Jesus’ love for us.

The wounds from cross are where Jesus connects into our own lives – in the fearful, hurt and dark places where crosses stab us, cause pain and bring death.  And then, in the midst of all that, Jesus says, “Not so fast – death and pain do not have the last word…by my life-giving life, by my death on the cross and by the Spirit’s power that raised me to life again, God connects you back into God.”

Today, here and now, that is the promise that is for you.  God’s love and God’s amazing grace are unleashed through the Spirit of the risen and wounded Jesus and God’s love, God’s amazing grace, meets you where you are, forgives you of all your sins and sends you out in peace.

John 11:1-45 “Lazarus: A Buried Hope?”

John 11:1-45 “Lazarus: A Buried Hope?”

April 10, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Aurora, CO

 

John 11:1-45 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  2  Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.  3  So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,  “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  4  But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  5  Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,  6  after having heard that Lazarus  was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.  7  Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”  8  The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”  9  Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.  10  But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”  11  After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”  12  The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”  13  Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.  14  Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.  15  For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”  16  Thomas, who was called the Twin,  said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  17  When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus  had already been in the tomb four days.  18  Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles  away,  19  and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.  20  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.  21  Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  22  But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”  23  Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  24  Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  25  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,  26  and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  27  She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,  the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”  28  When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”  29  And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.  30  Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.  31  The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.  32  When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  33  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.  34  He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  35  Jesus began to weep.  36  So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  37  But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  38  Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.  39  Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”  40  Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  41  So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.  42  I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”  43  When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  44  The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  45  Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

 

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was in college for the first time.  I had a good friend and fellow dorm-mate, whom I’ll call Rickie, who struggled mightily with many things about her life.  My door was open more often than not and one of my vivid memories of that first year of school was Rickie, regularly moving into my doorway, throwing her forearm up to her forehead and lamenting, “My life is a graveyard of buried hopes.”    Her melodrama would crack us up into belly laughs and help to lift her dark clouds for a little while.  While there were moments when her gesture was simply over-the-top theatrical, it was her truth as a fully loaded lament…“My life is a graveyard of buried hopes.”

In verse 3, we hear the sisters’ words to Jesus through a messenger, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”  Jesus loved Lazarus and Lazarus was ill, not yet dead and buried, a dwindling hope.  The story is uninterested in the origin of the illness but rather tells us that Jesus’ love and Lazarus’ illness both existed at the same time – “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”  Jesus’ love did not prevent the suffering that was happening.  And when Jesus showed up in Bethany there was more for him to hear.

Martha ran to meet him with a faith-filled lament, “Lord, My brother is dead, if you had been here, he would not be dead and, beyond that, I know that God is still listening to you.”  Her lament echoes with accusation even as it echoes with faith.  What follows between Martha and Jesus is a conversation of faith.  Jesus met Martha’s faith-talk with his own faith-talk.

Mary also ran to meet Jesus but collapsed at his feet sobbing, “Lord, my brother is dead, if you had been here, he would not be dead.”  Period.  Mary, like her sister Martha, is in a faith-filled lament but in no condition to speak further.  What follows between Mary and Jesus is a connection of heart.  Jesus met Mary’s pain with his own pain, and Jesus wept with her.

Maybe you’re sitting here today overwhelmed by the thought of losing someone whom you love into the arms of death and you wonder how you will live without this person you love so much.  Or maybe you have already loved and lost someone, or more than one someone, into the arms of death.  Sitting at a bedside watching illness capturing the person you love little by little, moment by moment, breath by breath.  Lamenting either the speed at which death happens or frantically praying for death to end the suffering or desperately hoping for physical cure even to the last breath.

Know this…Jesus, God in the flesh, God with us, meets you where you are in your moment of loss, in your moment of pain.  Powerfully communicating the “the immeasurable depth of human worth” through his tears.[1]  And that can feel like the end of the story; indeed, many sermons end right here.  In our grief and in our fear, Jesus both speaks a comforting word and weeps with us, offering provisional comfort in the midst of our grief.  But, in the quiet, in the dark hours, in the honest moments, in the fear of dying, in the terminal prognosis of our earthly bodies, many of us come face to face with our fear of death.  This fear builds out into tunnel vision, or maybe we could call it tomb vision, that all we experience here on the planet is all that there is…that we end up dead…entombed…done…gone…

But then, there’s Jesus, standing and staring at a stone in front of his friend’s tomb foreshadowing time soon spent in his own tomb.  There is Jesus who says, “Lazarus, come out!”  And the man came out.  Lazarus, loved by Jesus, was given temporary reprieve from the terminal condition we call living.  Nobody has seen Lazarus still running around have you?  Clearly he had to go through death a second time.  But I invite you to consider that the inevitability of death is not ultimately not the end.[2]  Jesus gave life to Lazarus which intensified Jesus’ death spiral toward the cross.  And the cross is the place where Jesus finally destroys the inevitable so that the ultimate of resurrection is possible.

Lazarus, a specific person, in a specific time and place, dies and comes back into life through Jesus – signifying all the people of the world whom God so loves, across time and place, who also die and are raised to new life in resurrected bodies by the power of the Spirit.

And so, Jesus, whose death on a cross stirs up faith through that same cross,

Jesus, whose death on a cross pours out grace upon grace in forgiveness and healing,

Jesus, whose death on a cross reveals the depth of divine love,

Jesus, whose death on a cross unleashes the power of truth and love over the power of death,

Jesus, whose death on a cross sweeps us up into relationship with the eternal God,

And Jesus, whose death on a cross sets you free to love and care for your neighbor,

Jesus will stand at your tomb and say to you, “Come out, I refuse to live without you!”

 

 

 



[1] Justin Nickel, personal correspondence, April 6, 2011.

[2] Nadia Bolz-Weber, personal conversation, April 5, 2011.

Matthew 6:24-34 “Fragile Things “

Matthew 6:24-34  “Fragile Things”

February 27, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

Cross of Glory Lutheran Church and House for All Sinners and Saints

 

Matthew 6:24-34  “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.   25  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,  or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  26  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  27  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?   28  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  29  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  30  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  31  Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?’ or “What will we drink?’ or “What will we wear?’  32  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  33  But strive first for the kingdom of God  and his  righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34  “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

 

 

Money is a fragile thing.  It comes, it goes, sometimes it comes in quantities that exceed anyone’s expectations and sometimes it doesn’t come at all.  Money gains interest, it depreciates, it profits, it falls short.  Money makes the wealthy and defines the poor.  Money feeds people, money hydrates people, money clothes people.  Money inspires people to great heights and lures people to desperate acts.  Money is an instrument of great generosity and the object of intense greed.  Money builds schools and money builds prisons.  Money provides a service and money also demands to be served.  Money lives.  Money is powerful.  Money dies. [1]   God knows that money is a fragile thing.

 

A creature is a fragile thing.  Creatures come, creatures go, sometimes they exceed everyone’s expectations and sometimes they don’t.  Creatures include the wealthy and the poor and everyone in between.  Creatures need food, hydration and clothing.  Creatures are inspired to great heights and creatures are lured into desperate acts.  Creatures are instruments of great generosity and the seat of intense greed.  Creatures build schools and creatures build prisons.  Creatures provided services and creatures demand to be served.  Creatures live.  Creatures are powerful.  Creatures die.  Creatures worry.  God knows that a creature is a fragile thing.

 

This past Wednesday, I was parked across the street from my daughter’s school to drop her off.  I watched her push the button for the crosswalk light.  I watched her wait.  I watched her step into the street without a care in the world.  I watched a flash in my rearview mirror of a car accelerating toward the red light and realized it wasn’t going to stop.  And I watched the horror on the driver’s face as her car came within three feet of hitting my daughter in full acceleration.  In one and a half seconds, fear ruled my being.  In one and a half seconds, I became more aware than ever before of my daughter’s fragility…and my own.  God knows that I am a fragile thing.

 

Jesus’ words at the end of the passage, about the worries that will exist tomorrow and the trouble that exists today, do justice to our very real fears as creatures.  Today there is trouble and tomorrow there will be something to worry about.  Jesus is not saying that there aren’t real problems; that real problems don’t exist so let’s just all be ignorantly happy.  The cross itself is a testimony to the very real pain we experience from other people and within ourselves as well as that very real pain we inflict on others.

 

It’s crucial to consider that Jesus claims God’s kingdom very real in the here-and-now and not solely a promise of the here-after, although he does that too.    Our text today echoes the end of Matthew, just before the beginning of the end of Jesus’ life on earth when Jesus gives deeply intense commands to feed your hungry neighbor, hydrate your thirsty neighbor, clothe your naked neighbor, welcome your strange neighbor and visit your imprisoned neighbor.

 

Neighbors come, neighbors go, sometimes they exceed everyone’s expectations and sometimes they don’t.  Neighbors include the wealthy and the poor and everyone in between.  Neighbors need food, water and clothing.  Neighbors reach great heights and neighbors commit desperate acts.  Neighbors build schools and neighbors live in prisons.  Neighbors are the instruments of great generosity and the seat of intense greed.  Neighbors provide services and neighbors demand to be served.  Neighbors live.  Neighbors are powerful.  Neighbors die. Neighbors worry.  For the love of your neighbor, and for Jesus’ sake, God sends you out for the good of your neighbor because God knows that your neighbor is a fragile thing.

 

And God knows that you need all of these things and God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness make these things possible. Jesus’ language about your neighbor, by extension, includes you.  You are included as Jesus says, “God knows already what you need.”  God knows that you need to eat. God knows that you need to drink. God knows that you need clothes.  God knows that you need a welcome when you’re the stranger.  God knows that you need a visit when you’re in prison.  In the text, Jesus says, “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  This is not provision from the clouds but provision from each other.  God’s kingdom now and God’s righteousness now – works through you for the good your neighbor.  And God’s kingdom now and God’s righteousness now works through your neighbor for the good of you.

 

You are a fragile thing.  You came, you will go, sometimes you exceed everyone’s expectations and sometimes you don’t.  You may be the wealthy or the poor or someone in between.  You need food, water and clothing.  You reach great heights and you commit desperate acts.  You build schools and you build prisons.  You provide services and you also demand to be served.  You might even be a governor or a union worker or a Republican or a Democrat.  You live.  You are powerful.  You die.  You worry.  God knows that you are a fragile thing.  And God knows fragility personally.

 

God became fragile in Jesus for you so that your fragility is not the last word.  God draws you into relationship through the fragility of the cross into the freedom of new life.  The cross does not separate you from life’s trouble but places you into new relationship with those troubles –confronting the truth of them, the reality of them, the pain of them and asserting the truth that the suffering does not have the last word.  God knows the fragility that leads to the crosses in your life is real and so is the Spirit’s power to draw you through that suffering into new life, tearing your gaze away from yourself for just long enough to see that God loves your neighbor, and unleashes you into the Kingdom love for neighbor that frees you into a moment or two where you’ll look back and suddenly realize that you were not worried, that you were not afraid – not because you were told not to worry but because you just did not worry – which is a small but tasty portion of God’s promise of the feast to come in your moment now.



[1] David Worley, Dissertation Topic: The Ontology (Being) of Money”, personal conversation, February 16, 2011.

Matthew 3:13-37 “On Plunging…and Gasping into New Life”

Matthew 3:13-37 “On Plunging…and Gasping into New Life”

January 9, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master

13  Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  14  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  15  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  16  And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  17  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved,  with whom I am well pleased.”

 

 

Today we gather on the festival of the Baptism of Our Lord – the day when Jesus plunges into the waters of baptism.  In this plunge, all righteousness, all that is pure, sacred and holy, flows from God.  Jesus’ plunge into the waters of baptism is a saturating and surprising immersion into the flow of God’s righteousness.  And, as Jesus gasps up from the waters, the Spirit claims him and God names him as God cries, ““Jesus, my Son, the Beloved.”  Just as we are claimed in our gasp out of the waters of baptism, “You belong to Christ, in whom you have been baptized.  Alleluia!”[1]

Lately I have been caught up in the imagination and powerful writing of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo.[2]  I dove into the book after being pulled into the story by the movie that was released a few years ago.  The tale begins by introducing us to Edmond Dantes at the age of 19.  Through a series of events that include a conspiracy of vicious betrayals, he is wrongly imprisoned in the dungeon of the Chateau D’If – an island prison that housed the worst of the worst.  The reader, along with Edmond, descends into the dark, wet, cold isolation of the dungeon cell where the terror and sheer loneliness of being a prisoner almost overtake sanity.  And then one night, through the wall of his cell, another prisoner, a priest named Abbe Faria, emerged during an escape attempt that had led him by mistake into Edmond’s cell.  Their powerful friendship of 14 years transitioned at the death of the Abbe.  Because of the Abbe’s death, an opportunity was created for Edmond’s escape.  Edmond sewed himself up in the Abbe’s shroud, and with heart pounding in fear, was carried by the guards to the edge of the cliffs of the island, thrown off and plunged into the February cold water of the sea for burial.  Edmond rises up, gasping for air, now 33 years old and pulled in the direction of a new identity and a new life with his new found freedom.

Edmond’s plunge under water echoes for me the Lutheran confession of baptism in the Small Catechism.  “It signifies that the old creature…is to be drowned and die through daily contrition and repentance, and… that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[3]  I do have to confess that once Edmond begins his life as the Count of Monte Cristo, this metaphor of baptism easily breaks down.  However, the themes of baptism that include wild ideas around judgment, dying to self, setting the prisoner free and God’s righteousness are compelling both in the story of Edmond and in the scripture read for us today as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.

In Isaiah we encounter the poignant imagery of the Suffering Servant as the Lord says, “Here is my servant…I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations…I am the Lord, I have called you to righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; …to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”  The Hebrew word for justice in Isaiah can also be translated as both judgment and mercy.  Additionally, in Acts, we hear that Jesus is ordained as “judge of the living and the dead.”  The word judgment used to terrify me.  Raised in a tradition that wielded messages of judgment in terrifying ways, I have little good to say about the experience.

What is this judgment and why is it sloshing around with the waters of baptism in our readings?  The Apostles Creed, pouring our voices together with our ancestors of the faith, also says that Jesus comes “to judge the living and the dead.”  That sentence stymied me for a long time.  What’s good news about that?!  Let’s think about the Hebrew of Isaiah again – justice can also be translated as judgment and mercy.  So, in a sense, during the Creed we can also hear that Jesus comes to “mercy” the living and the dead!  The reading from Acts raises the issue of judgment in verse 42 but gives the final word on the issue in verse 43 naming and claiming Jesus Christ as the forgiver of sins.  In the waters of baptism, through the plunge into death and the gasp into new life, the Spirit unleashes the full magnitude of Christ’s saving grace and forgiveness in and through the baptized.

Which raises another question…what is this sin that needs forgiving through the power of unleashed grace?  Sin as a discussion topic isn’t very popular.  These conversations make us nervous and slightly twitchy about what’s coming next.  Who’s going to start judging who with a finger pointed and who is being pointed at with that finger?  If we get into a discussion about sin at all, it is usually to talk about sin as if there is a moral problem to untangle.  We use questions like, “Should he?” or “Shouldn’t he?”  Or, “What does it mean if she does?”  The Ten Commandments reinforce this focus on behavior as they mandate the ways in which we are to love God, each other and ourselves.  In the midst of these moralizing conversations it becomes easy to miss the deeper, conditional nature of sin – that it courses through our very being.  Sometimes this looks like an attempt to feel better about ourselves through the acquisition of self-power, self-righteousness, or self-knowledge.  At other times, it takes the form of extreme self-deprecation – the extreme belittling of your self that fails to acknowledge that God has given you gifts for God’s purposes.  The self-deprecation can be just as self-involved as the self-righteous path.  Regardless of how the self-involvement of sin looks on the outside, the nature of the sin inside of us is the same.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who conspired against Hitler, argues that the original plan for creation places God at the center of all things and people are then created in the image of God. [4]  He claims that people replace God with themselves in the center of being and set themselves up to be “like god.”  This is what sin means.  Sin is humankind located right in the middle where God should be.

What is the obvious conclusion of humankind’s replacement of God with the self?  The death of God as Christ crucified.  It’s as if God said, “Okay humans, so you think you want to be “like God”?   Well, have at it.”  And the cross happened.  But the resurrection is the final word.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ bring the sin of humankind back into the image of God.[5]  This is a radical, destabilizing claim.  God is the source of our proclamation that “Christ is Risen”, and in it we claim Jesus Christ the conqueror over our very own selves, our frailty, our self-involvement, our sin.  We proclaim our desperate need for His Grace.  That Holy proclamation poises us on the brink of the font, plunges us into the waters and brings us up gasping in the breath of the Holy Spirit.

And we rise gasping out of the waters of baptism with the freedom of a Christian – perfectly free, subject to none; perfectly servant, subject to all.[6]  Freedom that unleashes the servant described by Isaiah…“Here is my servant…I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations…I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; …to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”  Freedom that unleashes you to seek justice and mercy for each other and for the world.  And so it is that…

Through the waters of baptism,

Christ forgives you.

Through the waters of baptism,

Christ claims you.

Through the waters of baptism,

Christ frees you.

Through waters of baptism,

Christ loves the world through you.



[1] “Holy Baptism” in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 230.

[2] Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (1845), (New York: Modern Library, 1996).

[3] Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 360.

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, (Mineapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 113.

[5] Bonhoeffer, 113.

[6] Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian (1520) in Three Treatises (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1970), 277.