Category Archives: Sermons

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

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

 

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 15, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

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

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

[sermon begins]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[1] Luke 15:11-32

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

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

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

[5] Acts 9:1-19

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

**sermon art: A Cubist Prayer by Anthony Falbo

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 1, 2019

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

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

[sermon begins]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Hebrews 4:14-16

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

[4] Hebrews 13:8

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

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

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

Caitlin Trussell with Bethany Lutheran Church on August 24, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[sermon begins after Bible readings from Luke and Hebrews]

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

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

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

[sermon begins]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________________________

[1] Luke 3:16

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

[3] Luke 9:51-56

[4] Exodus 3:3

[5] Exodus 13:21-22

[6] Hebrews 12:1-2

[7] Hebrews 12:2

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

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

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

[11] John 3:16-17

[12] Hebrews 12:2

 

 

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

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

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 11, 2019

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

Luke 12:32-40  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

[sermon begins]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________________________________________________________________

Hymn of the Day sung after the sermon

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

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

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

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

____________________________________________________________

[1] Luke 12:13-21

[2] Luke 12:33a

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

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

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

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

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

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

[9] Hebrews 11:1

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

_________________________________________________________________

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

Genesis 15:1-6  After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

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

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

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 21, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

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

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

[sermon begins]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________________________

Hymn of the Day following the Sermon.

ELW #770 Give Me Jesus (African American Spiritual)

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____________________________________________________________

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

[2] Luke 8:1-3

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

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

[5] Luke 12:22-34

[6] Luke 10:25-37

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

[8] Ibid.

[9] Matthew Skinner, ibid.

 

Keshia Thomas, Anthony Ray Hinton, and You [OR Imago Dei, Real Image-of-God Type Stuff and The Good Samaritan] Luke 10:25-37

**photo credit: Keshia Thomas, 18 years old, by Mark Brunner (1996)

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 14, 2019

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Luke 10:25-37  Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

[sermon begins]

Anthony Ray Hinton went to prison for a crime that he did not commit and sat on death row for 30 years. When he first went to prison, he was so angry and tired of not being believed that he stopped talking.  He wrote down his answers to the guards’ questions.  Going into his fourth year in prison, he heard a man crying in the cell next to his.  Mr. Hinton says that his mother’s compassion moved him to speak. Before long he was joking with the man.  After that night, Mr. Hinton spent the next 26 years trying to focus on other people’s problems.  He said he realized that the other inmates had not had the unconditional love that his mother had given him.  Family was created between the inmates.  54 people walked down the hallway by his cell on their way to be executed.  Mr. Hinton started the ritual with the other inmates to bang on the bars 5 minutes before the execution, letting them know that love walked with them.  Stories like Mr. Hinton’s are often lifted up as examples of the resiliency of the human spirit.  Very few of us will ever be put in a situation as dire as his to know how we would respond.  Regardless, his story has elements worth considering.  He was in a place of despair, angry and alone.  He was facing death.  But, he found meaning in sharing love and compassion that he himself had received from his mother.[1]

Mr. Hinton sharing compassion he himself received is why his story resonates with today’s Bible reading.  Verse 33 tells us that the Samaritan saw the naked, beaten, half-dead man on the side of the road and was “moved with pity.” This word “pity” is from a Greek word that is also translated as compassion elsewhere in Luke.  Luke uses this word only three times in the Gospel.[2]  In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke it’s used 12 times and used specifically to either describe Jesus’ compassion or used by Jesus in parables to describe a major characters’ response.[3]  You may be asking why this translation gem gets a shout out.  It’s because this kind of compassion as it shows up in the gospels is quite specific.  More than a moral claim, one could say it’s almost holy.  One could even say it’s divine.  But if it’s divine, isn’t it out of reach for the common person?  I’m going to say no, it’s not.

In our tradition, we understand ourselves to be created in the image of God.[4]  Imago dei. Our humanity imprinted by God. One of the reasons we worship weekly is to remind ourselves of what we are and to whom we belong.  When we are reminded of what we are in the story of the Good Samaritan, we hear the parable in its rightful place.  Not as a moral action for the to-do list, rather as a divine reaction inspiring us across the road like the Samaritan.  Our bodies are created by divine compassion and also for divine compassion.  When we act compassionately, endorphins are released in our brains making us feel good.  When we act compassionately, the hormone oxytocin is released.  Oxytocin has health benefits like reducing inflammation in our hearts and circulatory systems.[5]  Additionally, compassion is contagious.  Social scientists have found that there’s a ripple effect.  If you are kind and compassionate, your friends, your friends’ friends, and your friends’ friends’ friends have a greater inclination towards compassion.  Our bodies’ systems are wired to react positively to compassion and our community systems are wired to react positively to compassion.  This is one of those moments when faith and science come together like the thumb and index finger – between them we can grasp so much.

In the parable, Jesus reveals the compassion of the neighbor, the compassion that Jesus first and foremost reveals in himself as his own compassion is stirred by the people around him and ultimately his own compassion poured out at the cross.  Jesus’ compassion that is highlighted by Luke in Jesus himself and in the parables about Jesus is compassion stirred by death.  Compassion stirred by the death of the widow of Nain’s son in chapter 7, by the man left half-dead at the side of the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and by the prodigal son showing up after he was assumed dead.  In each of these instances, the compassion of Jesus transforms the ones who are dead, half-dead, or assumed dead.   We could say that the compassion of Jesus, the deathless one, draws him toward death because there is nothing left to fear.

I had a seminary professor who tapped his clergy collar during class and said that the collar would take us boldly into situations where no one else would dare to go. It was a daunting thing to hear.  In hindsight, that seems toplofty to me.  Instead, I would say that it is our baptism that takes us boldly into situations where no one else dares to go.  Our baptism that brings us alive together with Christ, aligning us with the image of God in ourselves and in other people.

Mr. Hinton was released from prison in 2015 after his case was picked up by the Equal Justice Initiative and it was discovered that the evidence against him did not match the crime scene evidence.[6]  His 30 years in prison transformed the experience for himself and the people around him.  First, his mother’s unconditional love and compassion touched his mind and then he was able share it with those around him.  The lawyer questioning Jesus gives the right answer about the law, the Torah – love God and love neighbor as self.  These are the main things, and Jesus agrees with him.  The parable of the Good Samaritan highlights the main things in a way that speaks to us because we’ve see the hesitation of the priest and the Levite rear up in ourselves when confronted by difference and need.  Perhaps the hesitation to cross the road has good logic.  On the other hand, perhaps it’s flawed logic that is primarily fear settling in for an extended stay.

Experiencing compassion ourselves might make us more inclined to cross the road in compassion. Even witnessing acts of compassion makes us more inclined to cross the road in compassion – especially across difference as the Samaritan did.  There’s an image that often comes to mind as an example.  Keshia Thomas was a young black teenage woman protecting a white supremacist middle-aged man from being beaten at a protest.[7]  She’s kneeling on the ground next to him, arms thrown out over him, ready to take the blows herself.  Turns out she’d be on the receiving end of violence in her young life and wishes someone had stood up for her.  She says her faith also played a part in protecting him. The man’s son approached her a few months later and thanked her.  The man remains anonymous.  Both the photographer, Mark Brunner, and another woman, Teri Gunderson, report that Keshia’s action affects them even today.  Ms. Gunderson keeps the picture of Keisha on her wall.

Keshia Thomas and Anthony Ray Hinton are compelling modern examples of compassion.  I would argue that they are contagious examples of compassion inspiring us to cross that road of difference and stare death in the eye like the Samaritan did.  Inspiring us to the compassion that is also in us as the image of God empowered by our baptism into the death and life of Jesus.  Remember that the compassion extended by Jesus includes you too.  Because we’re linear creatures it can be difficult to see love of God, neighbor, and self as all three of those things happening at once.  We’re tempted to say that we have to love ourselves before we can love our neighbor.  Or we have to love God before we can rightly understand love of self.  The actual experience is messier – more like football than baseball if you’ll allow the sports analogy.  A lot is happening at once.  Here’s one suggestion to begin breaking it down.  Take your worship bulletin home this week. Fold it open to this Bible reading. Take a couple minutes to read it as you start your day.  Wonder about it. Ask questions of it.  Pray over it.  Let it remind you.

Crossing the road in compassion breaks the cycle of shame and judgment that we inflict on ourselves and other people.  However compassion comes to you and through you, for today, know that the savior who claims us crosses the road into whatever ditch you currently find yourself in, pulls you out, tends your wounds, and reminds you who you are and to whom you belong.  Alleluia and amen.

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[1] Anthony Ray Hinton’s story can easily be found on any web search.  I encountered his story in the following:

Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. (New York: Avery, 2016), 261-262.  Mr. Hinton tells his own story in The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row (2018).  It’s now on my list of books to read.

[2] Luke 7:13 – Jesus was moved with compassion for the widow of Nain and her dead son; Luke 15:20 – the prodigal son’s father is moved with compassion when he see that his son has returned.

[3] Girardian Lectionary (Proper 10, Year C, Ordinary 15) on Luke 10:25-37, Exegetical Note #5 re Luke 10:33 (2013).

[4] Genesis 1:26-27

[5] The Book of Joy, 258.

[6] EJI. “Anthony Ray Hinton Exonerated After 30 Years on Death Row.” https://eji.org/anthony-ray-hinton-exonerated-from-alabama-death-row

[7] Catherine Wynne. “The teenager who saved the man with the SS tattoo.” BBC News Online on October 29, 2013. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24653643

Peace In, Peace Out (Double Fist-Bump on Heart + Peace Sign) Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 7, 2019

[sermon begins after Bible reading]

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

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

[sermon begins]

The copy room here at the church serves as an ad hoc lunch room for staff.  We cover a lot of conversational ground in there.  Family, trends, politics, travel, nutrition, theology, pets…you name it, we talk about it.  Last week, slang came up.  Well, honestly, I brought it up after making a comment earlier in the day to a younger gym rat at the end of a workout who responded with a really odd look. The look was so odd that I wondered if I’d said something unintentionally inappropriate.  I went home, looked it up, and was relieved to find that his confusion was because I’d been obtuse, not obscene.  You don’t have to hang out with me very long to know that I enjoy good words whether they’re super old and out of use or fresh and new on the scene.  The problem is that I have trouble keeping up with slang which creates confusion from time-to-time.  So when the words “peace out” popped into my head in response to today’s Bible reading, I searched them online before throwing them in the sermon.  Thank God, we’re good.  But you need to let me know if I somehow missed a memo.  Maybe it’s because of growing up in 1980s California, but saying “peace out” with the requisite double fist bump over the heart and peace sign comes second nature to me.  It’s the kind of thing that takes conscious effort not to do although it still regularly slips through the cracks of adulting.

“Peace out” (yes, fist bump and peace sign, too) is what comes to mind this week especially after last week’s Bible reading. The one in which Jesus rebuked James and John for wanting to rain fire down on the Samaritans. In the story today, 70 additional disciples are running around Samaria with the good news of Jesus.  They’re supposed to announce peace by saying, “Peace to this house!”  If their peace is received, the disciples can stay and receive hospitality from the people there.  If not, peace out – wiping off the dust of the town from their feet in protest.  Peace in.  Peace out.

What does “peace in” look like for us?  How can we tell when someone is announcing peace to us?  This may be a good move to make as we think about announcing peace ourselves.  It doesn’t seem to be about like-mindedness.  By like-mindedness, I mean people who just give us the thumbs up on our latest cockamamie scheme or ill-conceived opinion because they’re similarly motivated.  Rather, I wonder if “peace in” looks like a truth contrary to our current opinion.  In the Bible story, the disciples are vulnerable in a potentially hostile environment.  In verse three, Jesus tells them that he is sending them “out like lambs into the midst of wolves” without purse, bag, or extra sandals.  Peace is what they carry.  Peace in.  On a personal level, peace as contrary truth to our current opinion could look like where Jesus meets the dark place in ourselves that we think is unredeemable.  The dark place in ourselves that makes it hard to hear other people.  The dark place from where our attacks on other people are subconsciously launched from.  When I’m with someone who announces this kind of peace, their lack of judgment is a gift as I wrestle with the darkness at hand.  The acceptance and love of Jesus is both honest and compassionate about my humanity on display.

Notice in the Bible story that Jesus is not asking the disciples to assess the house or its occupants.[1]  There’s no wondering about whether the people in the house have kept the law or worship the same God or will be worth it to the disciples’ overall work in the long run.  They are to simply announce peace to the whole house.  Peace in.  Jesus’ instructions rely on the assumption that the disciples have peace.[2]  Jesus says, “…your peace will rest on that person.”  He identifies that the disciples’ peace is something they already possess.  More than just an ability to stay calm, they have God’s peace, God’s shalom, in themselves which gives them confidence in God’s presence with other people too.

As Christians we practice this kind of peace during worship when we share the peace before communion.  We embody reconciliation with each other as we announce peace to each other with a word of peace.  When we share the peace in a few minutes, enjoy this moment as the disciples must have also done, confident in the presence of God within you and in each one of us.  From sharing the peace this morning, take the peace out into your interactions this week.  How will you announce peace?  As with Jesus’ disciples, there is nothing lost when we announce peace.  Think about the peaceful presence of other people who may not share the same perspective but are willing to engage with people as a sacred act – fully and peacefully present.  This peace looks really different than the people who treat others as objects on which they act, as others less worthy than themselves.  The disciples share peace and are assured that they lose absolutely nothing if it’s not received.  The world would be a different place if we acted out of that confidence.  But it takes practice.  Like the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  Trying again is part of the freedom of our baptism, my friends.

Unlike last week when James and John wanted to blast those who rejected them off the face of the planet, Jesus prepares the new disciples with a plan for when they’re rejected.  He gives them an action to take knowing that they will be rejected.  The translation today uses the word “protest.”  Jesus gives them the action of peaceful protest.  Life and limb is preserved while the response to the rejection takes the form of dust.  The power of peace in the powder falling from their shoes.

The peace the disciples share is also a prophetic peace.  “The Kingdom of God is near” regardless of whether or not their peace is received. This is the same kingdom sung about by Jesus’ mother Mary in her Magnificat found in the first chapter of Luke.[3] Mary celebrates the kingdom that scatters the proud, brings down the powerful, lifts the lowly, and feeds the hungry.  Again, not a peace that is about calm so much as it is about the confidence that God is present in the tension when the Kingdom of God comes near.

May we be ever confident in the peace of God that passes all understanding as we peacefully protest, announcing the peace that is promised for everyone, and that is promised for you.[4]  Peace out.

____________________________________________________________________

[1] Amy G. Oden. Visiting Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality, St. Paul School of Theology, Oklahoma City, OK. Commentary on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 for July 7, 2019 on WorkingPreacher.org.  https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4104

[2] Ibid.

[3] Luke 1:46-55

[4] Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

One-Liners: Charlie, Jesus, and Misguided Disciples (with a dash of Desmond Tutu for good measure) [Luke 9:51-62, Galatians 5:1, 13-25]

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 30, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 9:51-62  When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

[sermon begins]

Galatians 5:1, 13-25 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

We all know that person.  The one that makes us belly laugh with a good one-liner – the joke that’s as dry as a bone, hilarious, and often pointed at themselves.  My father-in-law Charlie was regularly that guy.  Oh sure, there were plenty of dad jokes that we met with groaning and eye rolls.  But every so often, there was the one-liner that made us really laugh.  Here’s just one example.  The hospice care center that took care of Charlie in his dying days is supported by a family candy business that also makes ice cream.  Charlie loved ice cream.  The last dinner that he ate was a few bites of this special candy ice cream. His oldest son Tony asked him how it was and Charlie quipped, “It’s worth dying for.” There was this pause in the room and then we all just cracked up.  That moment was quintessential Charlie – a one-liner that made us laugh while it cut to the heart of things.

There are other kinds of one-liners that cut to the heart of things.  The reading from Luke today is full of them. Let’s set the stage a bit. Jesus and the gang had been in Galilee where Jesus’ home town sermon had people wanting to hurl him off a cliff.[1]  They left that town but stayed in Galilee for a bit before heading through Samaria to Jerusalem.  Today’s reading begins the travel narrative.  The travel narrative lasts 10 chapters and begins here with Jesus setting his face to Jerusalem.  It’s unclear how long he takes to get there.  It also marks a shift in Luke from Jesus’ behavior and actions to Jesus’ teaching and words.

Before we get to his words though, let’s focus on the first one-liner that he responds to.  It makes me laugh every time because it’s over-the-top and so very human.  James and John arrive at a Samaritan village ahead of Jesus.  We’re not privy to what happens there except that the Samaritans don’t receive him.  James and John say to Jesus together, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Instead of a one-liner at their own expense, those two misguided disciples launch one together at the expense of the Samaritans. Maybe it made them feel better to practice it ahead of time and to have each other’s company while they repeated it to Jesus. I wonder if their self-righteousness was strengthened since it became shared-righteousness. Ganging up on the people who disagree with us is a pretty common human vice. The trouble is that it’s not too far of a leap from wishing them ill to inflicting vengeance on them ourselves. Christianity has a particularly troubled history with this very thing. Which is ironic given that the Messiah we claim to follow is against raining fire down from the sky to consume people. Verse 55 says that Jesus “turned and rebuked them.” I wish we had his words here. We could frame them and hang them on our walls as words of wisdom whenever we get the urge to take any action that resembles our fellow disciples, James and John. Because we often need that reminder when our most cherished beliefs are rejected.[2]

Here’s one way to think about anger that I read from Desmond Tutu, the archbishop emeritus of South Africa.

“Righteous anger is usually not about oneself. It is about those whom one sees being harmed and whom one wants to help.”[3]

Give Bishop Tutu’s test a try this week when you’re experiencing the rejection of your beliefs. Take that step back and wonder about your reaction and your response in the priorities of discipleship.  Perhaps there’s a one-liner, or five, that would cut to the heart of things.

The beginning of the travel narrative doesn’t stop with James and John’s one-liners.  Usually Jesus is plainspoken in Luke.  Not here.  Three times there are followers who want to follow Jesus but just need time to prepare. Three times Jesus responds with comments that leave us scratching our heads.  But his comments aren’t totally mysterious.  He’s making the point that discipleship is hard. Demands are made on our lives that don’t jive with the idea that all our choices have equal value. And Jesus’ words are going to get harder as the travel narrative continues in Luke. He’ll push on how money is spent, who gets invited to dinner, and where to sit during dinner to surrender privilege. [4] Two Sundays from now, we’ll even learn about love from a Samaritan, from the very people that James and John wanted to incinerate with heavenly fire.

The one-liners are extreme from Jesus but they get to the heart of the matter. Jesus’ words don’t seem to be philosophical teachings to mull over, journal about, and file away as “good in theory.”  Jesus invites followers to re-think the priorities of discipleship.  Wait a minute though, what about grace?  I can almost hear that question in the room as I write this sermon.  Of course, yes, grace.  Grace reminds us that we’ll misalign the priorities and that God loves us regardless of what we do or don’t do.  Grace also shows us real life moments where we can try again.

The Apostle Paul hones in on this very question of grace and discipleship priorities in the reading today from his letter to the Galatians.  He writes:

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

You are free, Paul writes.  Be slaves to each other through love, Paul writes.  When James and John forgot the humanity of the Samaritans, Jesus rebuked them.  When his followers say they need time to get ready to follow, Jesus reminds them that discipleship is hard. When Paul tells the Galatians that they are free in Christ, at the same time he tells them that their freedom enslaves them to each other through the love of Christ.

Small scale enslavement to our neighbors through the love of Christ looks like the hospice staff and their loving care of my father-in-law as he was dying.  Large scale enslavement to our neighbors through love demands taking care of migrant children and families at the border through the love of Christ regardless of whatever you personally think is the political answer to the immigration question.  Those kids and their families are as equally deserving as anyone else of the fruits of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Oh yeah, while we’re at it, those people who disagree with you, who reject your deeply held beliefs, the ones that seem so easy to de-humanize on media, in the work place, or in your own family, those people that we’d try to incinerate a la James and John, they are as equally deserving as anyone else of the fruits of the Spirit.  That’s the grace part.  The grace part that swings all the directions, across all of humanity, in the world that God so loves.  The love of God that reorganizes our priorities as disciples.  The love of God that set Jesus’ face to Jerusalem. The love of God that frees us. The love of God that calls us to follow.

_________________________________________________________________

Song after the Sermon:

The Summons (Will You Come and Follow Me)[5]
John L. Bell & Graham Maule

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I’ll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

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[1] Luke 4:16-30

[2] Amy G. Oden. Visiting Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality, St. Paul School of Theology, Oklahoma City, OK. Commentary on Luke 9:51-62 for June 30, 2019 on WorkingPreacher.org. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4101

[3] The Dalai Llama and Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. The Book of Joy. (New York: Penguin, 2016), 106.

[4] Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave Podcast for Third Sunday after Pentecost: June 30, 2019.

[5] Watch and Listen to the hymn sung here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zk6IUalJ3sk

Bit Parts, Cameos, and Congregation Land Campaign [OR Lydia – Small Role, Big Impact] Acts 16:9- John 14:23-29

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 26, 2019

[sermon begins after the Bible reading from the Book of Acts; John reading is posted below the sermon]

Acts 16:9-15 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

[sermon begins]

There are these moments when you’re hanging out, watching a movie, and suddenly – BAM – someone famous is on the screen that you didn’t expect to see.  But they’re on screen for such a brief moment that you weren’t sure it was them.  Surprise cameos often make the difference between a good movie and a great movie.  Those small moments catch us off guard and can flip the script in the middle of the action.  Some actors are known for cameos.  Samuel Jackson, Julie Andrews, Oprah Winfrey, and Dick Van Dyke are well known for adding that rare gem of gravitas in 30 seconds or less.  Different but similar to cameos are bit parts.  Bit parts are given to lesser known actors.  Bit parts can also make the difference between a good movie and a great movie.  By definition, cameos and bit parts are never the whole cast.  All the parts, big and small, are needed to tell the whole story.

Bible stories, especially in the books of Acts, make me wonder how many great directors and screen writers marinated in Biblical preaching growing up.  Sometimes, when I read certain parts of Acts, I wonder if I’ve ever read them before because they are wacky and surprise me all over again – like I never read them before.  These stories in Acts are filled with main characters, cameos, and bit parts essential to God’s whole story.  We’re well familiar with Paul.  Former persecutor of the church.  Murderer of Jesus’ followers.[1]  He literally had a come-to-Jesus meeting and started preaching the gospel.[2]  In the story today, a few chapters later, Paul has a vision.  The man from Macedonia in the vision could be considered a bit part but a bit part with big impact, sending Paul and Silas sailing toward Philippi in Macedonia.

We never hear about the man in the vision again.  Instead, Lydia shows up in her bit part.  Paul and Silas went ♬down to the river to pray.♪  Lydia was already down at the river to pray with other women in a place of prayer.  She’s from out of town too and also owns a business successful enough that she has her own household that gets baptized as well as hosts Paul and Silas.  I wish we knew more than the bit part we get about Lydia. Her story, the one where she’s the main character, would be fascinating. But we don’t.  The moment that stuck with me this time is the part about the Lord opening “her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.”  It stuck with me because it flips the script on how we usually think the gospel works.  We often think that we take the gospel out of the church doors and somehow are in charge of it.  We’re not far off.  We ARE called to share the gospel – to communicate with our lives and voices the unconditional love and grace of Jesus for each and every person.  What we tend to forget is how God goes ahead of us, guiding us with visions and opening our hearts, weaving the gospel story of bit parts with cameos of God’s own.

Here in Acts, we have the vision given to Paul and the Lord opening Lydia’s heart.  In the story here today, this equates in the story to a gospel call, gospel shared, and gospel received. Bit parts showing that there’s no such thing as a small role in the unpredictable imagination of the Holy Spirit.

Last week, Pastor Ann preached that the “doors of the church are open” through Peter’s experience of being called by the gospel to eat with people that his coworkers in the gospel thought were problematic.  When Peter was called to account for his reckless grace, he responded to his accusers with the memorable line, “Who am I to hinder God?”  A few chapters later, we find Paul in similar circumstances.  Sailing across the sea to Macedonia, encountering Lydia who was not from Macedonia but from Thyatira, also an out-of-towner.  Brought together in a place of prayer by the gospel, by God.  Neither one of those people could have imagined their encounter or the changes that would come from it.  Lydia’s household was baptized and she became recorded in history for her hospitality and generosity.  She’ll turn up one more time in next week’s Bible story from Acts after yet another plot twist for Paul and Silas.  Stay tuned…

As we play our bit parts, the challenge for us becomes listening with open hearts prepared by God.  We’ve all seen situations where the gospel has been used manipulatively to pump up egos and limit grace to a select few.  Bit parts like Lydia’s remind us that the unlimited grace of God moves outside the boundary lines we draw for ourselves and other people.  Paul meets her outside the city gate by the river, explicitly drawing us a picture of how the gospel works.  The city gates and the doors of the church are indeed open.  Much like today’s scripture, we can often get a glimpse of this reality by looking backwards to imagine forward.

Last spring, this congregation began a process to imagine where God might be calling us by the gospel.  A group of people that included Pastor Ann and me began meeting to plan strategically.  The congregation began talking and individually answering questions in the hopes of revealing common themes and a unified direction.  One of the things identified in that process was the congregation’s decade long history of vacant land that was originally slated for senior housing.  Congregation members long ago took out additional loans on their own homes to secure that land on behalf of the church’s commitment to the gospel.  For a variety of reasons, including the city of Denver at the time, the vision of senior housing didn’t materialize.  That very land continued to pulse with possibility even in its dormancy.  Transforming that land became a goal. A few congregation members in powerful bit parts of their own, attended a breakfast last fall hosted by Interfaith Alliance and discovered the Congregation Land Campaign.[3]  A Campaign that over the last few years identified almost 5,000 acres of unused land on faith community property that could be used for affordable housing.  One acre of that land sits at the bottom of the hill here, next to and behind our park on the slope. New meetings began here in the congregation that dovetailed the goal of Transforming Our Vacant Land and the Congregation Land Campaign.  Last week the congregation voted 98-7 to continue that process and figure out what Permanent Affordable Housing with a land lease could look like.  Those Holy Spirit cameos are inspiring a whole lot of bit parts adding up to exciting, unimaginable times for Augustana’s hospitality meeting deep need for people in our city.  Does it get any better than that?!

The Holy Spirit is already out of ahead of us.  Imagining. Inspiring. Softening hearts.  What we call a Strategic Plan is simply us trying to get a bead on where and how that’s happening. To get on board with what the Spirit is laying out ahead of us.  Next week on June 2, there’s a meeting between worship services for ministries in the congregation to strategize boldly because we are emboldened by God’s grace to continue to see what the Holy Spirit is imagining ahead of us.  Are we going to get it right?  Hardly.  Are we going to make every effort to be faithful?  You betcha.

It would be easy to sentimentalize our faith into solely a personal experience or to fall into despair for the wounded world.  We are made of stern stuff, my friends.  In water, wine, and bread we become what we receive – the risen Christ in the world.  We are emboldened by the grace of God into bit parts of the Spirit’s leading for the world God so loves.

Thanks be to God.  Amen! And Allelulia!

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[1] Acts 7:54-8:1

[2] Acts 9:1-22

[3] Congregation Land Campaign is a partnership between Interfaith Alliance and Radian Architecture (non-profit). https://interfaithallianceco.org/clc

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John 14:23-29Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.