Category Archives: Sermons

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

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

April 10, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Aurora, CO

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 



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

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

Matthew 6:24-34 “Fragile Things “

Matthew 6:24-34  “Fragile Things”

February 27, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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



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

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

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

January 9, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through the waters of baptism,

Christ forgives you.

Through the waters of baptism,

Christ claims you.

Through the waters of baptism,

Christ frees you.

Through waters of baptism,

Christ loves the world through you.



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

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

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

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

[5] Bonhoeffer, 113.

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