All posts by caitlin121608

John 20:19-31 “Doubt in Community”

John 20:19-31 “Doubt in Community”

April 7, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and be drawn to faith in Him.

 

 



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

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

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

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

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

March 31, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh how long our travel to this day!

 

This Easter day when Christ invades our despair.

This Easter day into which Christ infuses hope anew.

This Easter day when Christ calls your name.

 

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

 

 

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

John 18:1-19:42 “Think Again”

March 29, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


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

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

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

 

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

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

March 10, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.   2  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”   3  So he told them this parable:
11  “There was a man who had two sons.   12  The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.   13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.   14  When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.   15  So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.   16  He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.   17 But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!   18  I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;   19  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”  20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.   21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”   22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  23  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;   24  for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.   25  “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.   26  He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.   27 He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’   28  Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.   29 But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.   30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’   31  Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.   32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”

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

Caitlin Trussell, Augustana Lutheran Church

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Luke 13:1-9 “The Promise of Judgment”

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

March 3, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God judges and God forgives.

God judges and God forgives in the proclamation of forgiveness.

God judges and God forgives in the waters of baptism.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

February 10, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!

 

 

Matthew 2:1-12 “By Another Road”

Matthew 2:1-12 “By Another Road”

January 6, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

The wise men see a star and they take off for the West.  The conversation between them is interesting to imagine.  Did they spend a lot of time wondering where they were headed?  Or if they were going the best way?  The right way?  My husband and I often go back and forth about the quickest or most efficient way to get somewhere and I wonder if the wise men’s conversations sound anything like ours.  Examining roads ahead and questioning people who have gone that way about the road, safe rest stops or good places to eat.  Maybe there is a little frustration at the pace of things or with each other.  Perhaps they even wonder if they’re there yet or if they’ve taken a wrong step along the way.

The wise men take a lot of steps as they move west.  We love to guess about where they may be from and how long they journeyed but for the sake of today let’s just say they came a long, long way – taking a lot of steps that likely include a few in the wrong direction as they are drawn by a star lit by a God who they do not consider their own, to see a baby who is born King of the Jews; a baby whose arrival scares not only the actual king but “all Jerusalem with him.”

The epiphany, the manifestation of God in this particular baby, at this particular time, opens up the promises of God for the whole world.  After all, these wise men from far away are not Jews.  And, as Pastor Rob said in a beautiful snap-shot summary last week, we see the whole thing from where we sit – the baby, the man, the ministry, the death, the resurrection and the ascension.  I see two more things to wonder about in our story today.  I see us like Herod and the people of Jerusalem, frightened by the mystery of God showing up in Jesus.  And I see us like the wise men, but now following Jesus as the star.  Because if Jesus is the epiphany, the manifestation of God with us, then, like Herod in verse 3, the mystery of Jesus as the epiphany has us wondering what this is all about and what it means for us…and maybe even what it means about God.  And, like the wise men in verse 12, Jesus as the epiphany moves us out from here onto “another road.”

For the wise men, Jesus as the epiphany means a manger scene.  For us now, today, Jesus as the epiphany means a few different things about how God is revealed in Jesus the Christ.  In the bread and wine of communion, Christ enters into us bringing forgiveness and life. In the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit plunges us into Christ’s death and raises us into Christ’s life in the community of God’s whole church, the church catholic.

One of the things that being church means is that the Epiphany of God in Jesus means being on another road, moving through the world differently than a wider culture.  I’m under no illusions that this has always been a good thing.  After all, this has brought us the Crusades and a myriad of other self-righteous acts wrought in the name of God.  But it also brought 17th century English Christians as the primary caregivers of those with the Plague and brings Christians today who fight against malaria all over the world so that people may live.

The mixed outcomes of the church globally are mirrored in local churches, mirrored here in our congregation today.  We have hits and we have misses as we respond to the Epiphany of God in Jesus in this place and time.  But there is one way in particular that the Holy Spirit, through the neighborhood church, moves us out another road.   And that is the way we agree and disagree with each other here in this place and also between churches.  Because the church is a public place and we are unable to indulge in creating our very own echo chamber of unilateral agreement.  United by the Holy Spirit as one in Christ means that many voices come together all at once in the space of the church that wouldn’t ordinarily mixed together outside of church.  It is good that we challenge each other about what keeping our eyes on Jesus as the star in our lives means so that our actions, like the wise men’s, pay him homage.  It is good that we do this is big ways in our church communities and it is good that this gets lived out in personal ways too.

Coming up on 16 years ago, Rob and I were drawn into this congregation when we brought Quinn here to be baptized and then Taryn too not very many months later.  Hearing the Gospel through Pastor Rob that we are saved by grace through faith, not through who we are or what we do, was and still is like breathing pure air.  And being with you all over time in various potlucks, Bible Studies and committee meetings has also revealed the Gospel truth that we are fully saints…and fully sinners…and loved by God and by each other.

Nearly 10 years ago, I preached my first sermon here – you indulged my fumbles, encouraged my enthusiasm and began saying things like, “Have you ever thought about seminary?”  Truthfully, I thought you were crazy.  At the time, Quinn and Taryn were three and five-years-old and I felt like such a freshie in the saved-by-grace-through-faith thing.  But I also knew that you all were affirming something that I felt deep inside – that I was supposed to be talking about this wild thing called the Gospel and this grace-filled God of light who puts us on another road.  Eight years ago, probably almost to the day, I turned to my husband, Rob, and said, “I think I’m supposed to be a pastor.”  His immediate reply?  “Of course you are.”  I quit my job as a nurse a few weeks after that conversation with him and my family and I hopped over to this other road with your constant encouragement as fuel for the journey.  I am eternally grateful for you.

This is but one preacher’s tale out of Lutheran Church of the Master.  The Holy Spirit, working through you, has sent several of us out by way of another road – Michael Tekrony and Gail Mundt, to name a few more recently.  But birthing preachers is not all that happens by the power of the Holy Spirit through this congregation.  Think of all the kids who have grown up here with your constant focus on how we might better serve them and their families as well as kids and families in the Green Mountain neighborhood and around the world – calling passionate shepherds among us like Jason, Brandi, BK and Pastor Brigette.  Think of everyone who gives and receives care through this worshiping community during times of births, life celebrations, poverty, imprisonment, illnesses and deaths.  Do you do this perfectly?  No.  Do you do this faithfully?  Yes.  The scope of God’s mercy and power made real through you simply boggles the mind.

The Epiphany of God in Jesus, revealed here through you by the power of the Holy Spirit is a wonder to behold and a wonder to experience.

Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

 

John 1:1-14 “A Christmas Conversation”

John 1:1-14 “A Christmas Conversation”

December 25, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

John 1:1-14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

 

A friend of mine recently preached that the fourth Sunday in Advent is like the last trimester of pregnancy.  If that’s the case, then today we are in the first day postpartum – the gift of the baby Jesus has arrived and we’re all a little giddy in our fatigue.  And yet the baby is noticeably absent in our gospel reading today.

John begins in the beginning… “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Greek logos, translated as “Word”, can also be translated as “conversation”.[1]  “In the beginning was the Conversation, and the Conversation was with God and the Conversation was God.”  It’s right here in the sermon that I wish that I had a cup of tea and a chair and an hour with you all.  And we could just sit and talk about the relationship between God, Jesus and Spirit as The Conversation.

We could challenge ourselves with what God as The Conversation means about God as Trinity and what it means for us as creatures of this Divine Being who are in conversation with each other.  If I believe that God’s holy Conversation within God’s Self  birthed all that has come into being (v. 2) then how do I understand myself as both created by God’s Conversation as well as a participant in what God is creating in the world today.  And how might you?

I invite you to consider Christmas in the light of The Conversation that creates…that brings things into being…that changes us as we engage with the story and with each other.  Even the Christmas story itself can be thought of as a conversation taking place between the four gospels.  Matthew covers genealogy, conception by the Holy Spirit and the wise men on the move with the star; Mark, similarly to John, begins with John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus and the urgency of Jesus’ ministry; and Luke gives us no-room-at-the-inn, singing angels, shepherds on the job and a manger maternity ward complete with the baby Jesus.  The four gospels each have a voice in the story of Jesus.

One of my favorite professors, Dr. Ted Vial, has a beautiful way of talking about conversation.  He believes and embodies through his teaching that we grow as people through our interactions – “changing who you are and who I am through talking over important ideas with each other.” [2]  This way of interacting means that we need to trust that we’re actually listening to each other.

I listen to the world a lot these days, in part to seek out a chink in the armor of the current chaos.  I listen to the media that includes television, newspapers and blogs.  And I listen to lots of different kinds of people with lots of different kinds of opinions about the way the world works or the way the world should work.  There is a lot of name calling at play.  If I call you a name, if I label you in just the right way, then I don’t need to listen to you because your ideas don’t matter.  I become someone who is not open to a conversation because I don’t trust you – even to the point of letting you speak to me.  Your words don’t matter.

Yet, the experience and story of Christmas Day assure us that words do matter.  The words that tell us about a manger, a star, a young couple and a baby are a creation story of sorts for us.  This baby was born and then grew up to embark on a three year ministry that shows us how to love, care and serve so that the hope born in the manger really can mean joy to the world.

The power of The Conversation written about in John’s gospel creates new life in the manger.  The new life of Jesus who is The Conversation made flesh.  John’s gospel spends its precious space telling us about Jesus engaged in all kinds of conversations with all kinds of people.  If I as a Jesus follower take The Conversation seriously and believe that Jesus is working in me and through me then what kind of care do I take with myself and what kind of care do I take with you – what kind of manger am I that is able to reveal Christ?  If I believe that The Conversation created the universe with words and I am a person of the Word then I also believe that words create real stuff – that the words I use are important.  Words create friends, enemies, victims, wars, peace – words create!

In some of the pastoral care I have done for another congregation, I had the opportunity to visit a woman in the hospital – I’ll call her Rose.  I had never met Rose and her husband before.  We visited for a short time and then Rose told me that she had a feeling that she was not going to get well this time and she would never go home.  She then leaned toward me and asked if I had brought communion.  And, “no”, I had not brought communion.  We spent a few minutes talking about how that might happen and finally we decided that I would come back later that afternoon.

I headed back out there at the designated time with communion, using paper towels to create space for the meal on the bedside stand.  Rose and her husband shared a hymnal as they sat next to each other.  I read from Romans 8 where we are assured that “neither death, nor life… nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”; we reminded ourselves of Jesus words in Matthew 26 “given and shed for you”; and together we prayed the Lord’s prayer.  We shared in the meal of bread and wine.

After the final prayer, I knelt in front of them, held their joined hands with one of my own while I raised the other one in blessing.  Rose and I looked into each others eyes as I said, “The Lord Bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.”  The next day, when I received the phone call that Rose had died, I realized that hope was birthed by The Conversation being present in communion just as hope is birthed by Jesus in the manger.

In a few minutes we will say the words of the Nicene Creed together.  This Creed uses some language that sinks us into God as The Conversation.  We will speak the words of “begotten, not made” and “proceeds from” which reveal God as The Conversation, echoes reverberating between Father, Son and Spirit.

God is The Conversation – The Conversation who creates the universe; The Conversation who lives as baby in the manger for the sake of the whole world.  And as people of The Conversation, as Christmas people, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit for the sake of the world!

As Christmas people we are freed to be forgiven and fearless in the midst of difficult times and difficult conversations.

As Christmas people we are born of The Conversation to serve the world as mangers who reveal Christ; even as we are saved by Christ in the comfort and fearlessness of his grace.

As Christmas people, like Rose when she held out her hand to receive the bread, we hold the baby Jesus in our hands; while at the same time, in a wild cosmic reversal, we are held in the hands of Jesus.

A Merry Christmas indeed!



[1] Richard Valantasis, Douglas K. Bleyle, and Dennis C. Haugh.  The Gospels and Christian Life in History and Practice.  (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 253-255.

[2] Theodore M. Vial, Faculty Introduction Video: http://www.iliff.edu/index/learn/your-faculty/theodore-m-vial-jr/

Luke 3:7-18 “God’s Righteous Wrath Rocks On”

Luke 3:7-18 “God’s Righteous Wrath Rocks On”

December 16, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

Luke 3:7-18   John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

 

I’m going to skip right over the question about how many of you even knew there was a prophet named Zephaniah and whether or not you knew there is a book in the Bible with his name on it.  Not one of our more commonly referenced prophets, the book is only three chapters long and filled with fierce, angry, wrath of God type stuff.  Somewhere along the way, this God who gets angry fell out of favor and not often discussed.  Because really, who’s in favor of being on the receiving end of anyone’s anger, much less God’s? [1]

So this brings me to a question – one that you could answer easily, unlike the Zephaniah Bible quiz.  Have you ever had someone stand beside you and get angry on your behalf?  You’ve been down and out through no fault of your own or cheated or bullied and someone stands with you railing against the injustice of it all.  Your friend is angry for you and maybe even with you.  Well, this is a small scale way of appreciating the wrath of God message of the prophets – an historic tradition of people who call attention to injustices perpetrated by people against each other and against God.  There is a temptation we need to be careful to avoid as we compare our friend’s righteous anger and God’s righteous anger.  The temptation is that we often view ourselves on the side of God over and against whatever is happening that we may dislike – as opposed to standing apart from God along with everyone else.

I, for one, want a God who gets angry – a God who gets angry about the horror in Newtown, Connecticut rather than being absent or apathetic.  Because a God who died on a cross is there in these crises.  Where else would God be but with those who are suffering and dying at the hands of an evil act?  And now, likewise, with those who are suffering and grieving in its aftermath.  A God who gets angry shows up in defiant compassion and righteous truth.

Zephaniah’s words of hope come at the very end of a two and a half chapter prophetic rant.  And it includes a beautiful promise about God.  Zephaniah says, “He will renew you in his love.” Hear this again, please… “He will renew you in his love.”  How easy would it be view this promise through the soft, filtered light of a dewy, spring morning?  Too easy, if you ask me.   Too quickly, we are inclined to move to a sentimental notion of renewal that leaves the power of God dull and lifeless in our own minds.  And has us saying things like, “I’m not sure I like that Old Testament God.”  Or, “The Old Testament God came out for war and the New Testament God came out for a game of golf.”  In the desire to distance ourselves from the anger, we disconnect God’s story into two distinct pieces rather than appreciating the continuity of  God from the Hebrew Scriptures into the good news of the Gospel.  And sometimes I wonder if we’re not leaving out the better part.

Well, John the Baptist didn’t get the memo.  Listen to him! “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come?”  John’s words reveal him to be part of the continuity between what happened as described by the prophets of old and what is happening now to the crowds who are swarming out to meet him.[2]  Although, after John’s greeting, I would guess that a few of them were wondering why they made the trip.

But John gives more than accusation and threat.  He says to them, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” It is good to pause here to remember all that is embedded in repentance.  Repentance assumes that God’s mercy is available.  Repentance assumes that God’s grace will come.  Repentance then also assumes our need for both of those things.  What good is repentance if God is not merciful?  What good is repentance if God’s grace is unpredictable and easily or capriciously withheld?

Another way to think about repentance is through this lens of being renewed in God’s love, being revealed in all that we are in the fullness of the good, the bad and the ugly.  The crowd, tax collectors and soldiers ask, “What then should we do?”  The crowd is apparently hanging onto more than they need, the tax collectors are collecting for Rome but lining their own pockets by overcharging, and the soldiers of the time are bullies, extorting money from the people.  In short, John tells them to share, play fair, and be kind.  This is not rocket science.  This is renewal that stands you with your neighbor rather than against them.

We can so easily stand apart from the crowd, the tax collectors, and the soldiers, feeling grateful that those aren’t our particular sins.  However, I see us smack in the middle of this crowd wondering why we came in today only to hear John’s words push against us, too.  After all, it’s difficult to fully celebrate the arrival of a savior if you don’t see much need for one from the start.

But then John lobs out a power-filled promise of God’s renewal and I’m left breathing deeply and overflowing with hope:

“16 John answered them all by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”

The power of Pentecost is on fire just under the surface of this Advent text.[3]  The Holy Spirit, at work in Mary’s pregnancy, has more in mind than the gentle quiet of a nativity scene.  The Holy Spirit has us in mind, my friends.

John’s proclamation that “the one who is coming…will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit,” is indeed good news.  One of the ways John’s words help us today is by working us toward an understanding of this wild promise.   This begins with the distinction he makes between the wheat and chaff.  I see each of us here today as one of those grains – a grain sitting all warm and cozy within the chaff that surrounds it.  We get used to our chaff.  Some might even argue that we’ve made peace too easily with our chaff, our sinful selves.  But part of the promise is that our repentance, our surrender to the one who has the power to renew us, is that the sin gets called out in truth, gets forgiven and gets worked with.  And once that happens, look out!  This kind of renewal is more than a spa day – it is a salvation day in the here and now.

There are all kinds of ways God’s renewal in God’s love by the power of the Holy Spirit looks in people’s lives.  It can look utterly dramatic on the outside – like the woman with whom I’ve worshiped who killed her lover’s wife and has been incarcerated in Denver Women’s Correctional Facility for the past 20 years.  This woman sits in a Bible Study about the 10 commandments and confesses to breaking all of them.  She has a powerful ministry within the walls, reaching out in faith to other offenders –taking responsibility for her crime and living with the consequence as she sings of Christ’s freedom at Friday evening worship.  Renewal for her is being freed into a new future; one not defined by her past or the perception of those around her or even her location.

God’s renewal in God’s love by the power of the Holy Spirit can also look more subtle.  It can look like people who rage, gossip, gloat, hoard, cheat and bully, in both clever and unaware ways, and those same people walking up to bread and wine, surrendering to the Holy Spirit’s power to renew us in forgiveness and hope.   In short, it looks like people in need of a Savior, people who may or may not see or understand this need, and who celebrate his birth.

We are a people who need a Savior and who, very soon, will celebrate our Savior’s arrival.  Because we do not have a God who uses power to do us harm out of anger.  Rather, we have a God who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, came among us in skin and solidarity under star and comes among us now in Word, water, bread and wine – forgiving us and refining us by the power of the same Spirit.  We are prepared to receive our Savior in this Advent time by “the one who is and who was and who is to come.”[4]

Amen and Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Abram Heschel, “The Meaning and Mystery of Wrath” in The Prophets (New York: Harper &Row, 1962), 358-382.

[2] Rolf Jacobson, WorkingPreacher.com, “Sermon Brainwave #267 – Lectionary Texts for December 16, 2012.”

[3] Karoline Lewis, WorkingPreacher.com, “Sermon Brainwave #267 – Lectionary Texts for December 16, 2012.”

[4] Revelation 1:8

Mark 10:17-31 “Truth-Telling in Love”

Mark 10:17-31 “Truth-Telling in Love”

October 14, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

Mark 10:17-31 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

 

 

I wonder about this man – this random guy who, out of nowhere, races up to Jesus and kneels at his feet, interrupting his journey.  This kind of movement and interruption is so common.  How many of us, at one time or another, have raced up to someone else hoping to catch them just in time before they have to leave?  Whether it’s our teacher’s classroom at the end of the day or a government office that’s just about to close or a boss that’s getting ready to be away for a week, there are times in our lives where we are urgently in need of an answer and the someone with the answer is just about head out.  Flying by the seat of our pants, we race toward our goal, trying to beat the clock and we…just…make…it…trying to collect our thoughts, maybe even a little out of breath from making the mad dash, and out spills the question.  No time for, “Hi, how are you?”  Not even an, “Oh, good, you’re still here!”  The question just pops out.

 

And this man’s question is a doozy.  “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus doesn’t answer his question but simple tells the man that only God is good and then lists some of the Ten Commandments.  The man feels confident that he’s lived a good life in good ways which means he has loved God, at least as much as is humanly possible, and hasn’t inflicted himself on his neighbors, at least as little as is humanly possible.  In our own ways, these are common thoughts for us.  We love God as much as is humanly possible and we inflict ourselves on our neighbors as little as is humanly possible.  In an earnest, faith-filled way there is a confidence in living how God asks us to live.  How could there not be?

 

So I read this man as quite sincere.  Living a faithful life, doing what he thinks God has asked him to do, the man wants to be even more faithful, more confident that he’s doing all of it.  He’s ready to do some serious listening to God so that he can take the next step.  The man has done all he knows so he’s asking for more and from where he sits he is a good person and simply wants to be a better one.  He has a big, fat “A” on his report card and he’s going for the A+.  How many of us long for the same?  So he turns to Jesus asking, “What must I do…?”

 

And, Jesus drops the bomb, a big one, right on the man, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

 

And the whispers in our minds begin, “…Oh, Jesus is talking to that deluded Jewish man who thinks the commandments are going to save him…no, he must be saying that that man lacks faith and has set his money up as an idol…what Jesus really wants is for the man to have faith and follow him…what’s this business about eternal life anyway…maybe this all means something else other than what it says – the Bible has layers of meaning…this is about the man, not about me…”

 

Okay, so some of the whispers in our head may or may not have merit.  But let’s sit with this.  Jesus’ words to the rich man are mind-blowing, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  And the man went away – grieving, mind-blown.

 

Jesus looks around at his disciples and says, “”How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  Now the disciples’ minds are blown.  They had left everything they had, are following Jesus, and can’t get what he is saying.  Jesus says, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

 

And the whispers in our minds begin again, “…well, Jesus must mean idolatrous wealth and I’m not tied to my money that way…I’m doing what I have to do, this is about being independent…this is about the rich man, not me…what is the kingdom of God anyway…who needs saving…what does saving even mean?”

 

One of my professors at seminary is a man named Vincent Harding.  He is a compatriot of Martin Luther King Jr., occasionally his speech writer, and also his friend.  When my fellow students and I talk about Dr. Harding, it has that slightly whispered quality of reverence and maybe a little sigh thrown in for good measure.  I was sitting in a class taught by someone else who brought in a few other professors including Dr. Harding.  They sat up front, panel-style, and were asked questions – proceeding to answer them in ways that revealed obvious areas of agreement and also exposed the fault lines among them.  At one point, Dr. Harding turned to one of his colleagues, spoke his name in his usual quiet way, softness around his solid core, and said, “I’m going to disagree with you in love.”

 

“I’m going to disagree with you in love.”  Who says stuff like that?!  Who even stops to think it before they dive into a disagreement?!  In v21, “Jesus, looking at [the man], loved him.”  Before Jesus says the truly mind-blowing words about wealth, he looks at the man, and loved him.  One of the only times the Bible refers to Jesus loving any one particular person and his love is for this man.  Jesus loves this man who wants a formula to translate into God saving him just as much as the disciples do.  The rich man kept all the commandments and the disciples dropped everything in their lives to follow Jesus.  And it is into this desire, the desire for saving, the desire to be good enough for God, to do enough for God, that Jesus says, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

 

The reading from Hebrews says, “…the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  This is a promise.  This is a promise because, like the rich man, our whole selves are known – the success, the stress and the shame – all of it, all of us, are known.  Like the rich man, our whole selves are loved – the success, the stress and the shame – all of it, all of us, are loved.

 

And, like the rich man, Jesus works to set us free from the energy conserving concern for ourselves to the energy unleashing concern for our neighbor.  Those commandments that kept the rich man and keep us so busy are merely protective.  They protect our neighbor from us.   “Thou shalt NOT…” Right?  They do not take us the extra step toward our neighbor.  Jesus does.  Jesus stands between us and our neighbor and tells us that God is good, God is the One and that these commandments have merit on behalf of our neighbor but no merit on behalf of ourselves.

 

And Jesus disagrees with us in love.  He right-sizes us into our mortal, human bodies, reassuring us that our soul-saving shenanigans are impossible for us but totally possible for God.  Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  This last and first business is only possible in the shape of a circle where the first and last form together so that it is impossible to see who is first and last because we’re all in it together.

 

So this morning, we are wrapped together in a circle of truth-telling in love.  We are pulled together around a table.  On this table is bread and wine – perishable, fragile things that make incredible things happen.  Incredible things like the love that shows up in forgiveness for you, in you and through you.  Forgiveness in love from the One who pours himself out from a cross through you as a sure and everlasting hope for His sake, for your sake and for the sake of the world.