Category Archives: Sermons

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

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

February 10, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!

 

 

Matthew 2:1-12 “By Another Road”

Matthew 2:1-12 “By Another Road”

January 6, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

 

John 1:1-14 “A Christmas Conversation”

John 1:1-14 “A Christmas Conversation”

December 25, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Merry Christmas indeed!



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

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

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

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

December 16, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

 

 



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

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

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

[4] Revelation 1:8

Mark 10:17-31 “Truth-Telling in Love”

Mark 10:17-31 “Truth-Telling in Love”

October 14, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark 9:30-37 “Money, Skepticism and Questions”

Mark 9:30-37 “Money, Skepticism and Questions”

September 23, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

Mark 9:30-37 30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

 

 

How many of us have ever had the experience of saying something that we wished we hadn’t?  That moment where your whole inside goes, “Ugh…”  So much so, that you can feel it in the pit of your stomach.  Yup, I’m pretty sure that this is an almost universal experience.  For me, because I tend toward the chatty side, it happens with frustrating regularity.  And it’s just here in our text today that the disciples do the opposite – they stay silent; not once, but twice!  First they are silent because they were afraid to ask Jesus to clear up their lack of understanding and then they stay silent because Jesus names their humanity when he calls them on their arguing.  Their “Ugh” moment doesn’t even get to include speaking.  It just sits there in the pit of their stomach probably getting heavier as they walk along – falling back a bit to begin that arguing with one another.

They begin their arguing right after Jesus makes this big speech about what’s going to happen to him.  He talks about being betrayed, his murder and resurrection.  I picture the disciples listening attentively, perhaps even giving a nod or two to show they are paying attention and following along.  And then, they drop back a bit, and what do they do as they follow Jesus?  Argue.  They don’t even argue about what Jesus might have meant by his predication.  They argue about being the greatest.  Maybe they really don’t get it, perhaps arguing about the greatest as they wonder who will take over the leadership when Jesus goes down.  And Jesus, well, because he’s Jesus, knows exactly what they are doing.

I like to think Jesus knows what they are doing because it is simply what we, as people, do.  We follow along behind Jesus, not really sure what to make of these big faith claims in Jesus’ predication and very often afraid or uncomfortable to ask about what Jesus’ death and resurrection might mean in our own lives.  So we turn to each other and we argue.  We argue about all kinds of things but often the subtext, the argument beneath the argument, is about who is the greatest.

One of the ways in which we argue about being the greatest has to do with money.  There are obvious ways we do this in American culture, especially in a political year when we argue about taxes and government spending.  But there are more subtle ways we argue about being the greatest when it comes to money.  This can be so subtle for us we don’t tend to think about it as part of the argument we’re having.  It takes shape in whispers as we move through the world in our designated social class based on our income.  But it includes all the ways in which we look to money to tell us who we are and what we’re about.  Not as a conscious thought, but we look nonetheless.

And, suddenly, like the disciples in Mark, we are following behind Jesus but not looking at Jesus.  We begin looking to each other as we come up with our arguments.  One of the classic arguments begins with a deep suspicion of the connection between money and the church.  You hear this in comments all the time, maybe even in your own comments, that sound like, “All the church wants in my money.”  And this suspicion has real roots.

We were joking the other night at this congregation’s church Council meeting abut how fun it might be to hold a tongue-in-cheek ‘Indulgence’ sale.  Indulgences, you may recall, were a 16th century church innovation that cashed in on people’s fear for their loved ones’ eternal doom so that church buildings could be completed.  Indulgences were sold with the marketing line, “When a coin in the coffer sings, a soul from purgatory springs.”  Indulgences were a key fuel in the fury of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, his arguments against the corruption in the church.  So, even as we had fun with the idea, someone made the comment about taking extreme care with such an attempt.  Because even, and maybe especially, we as the church can just as easily as anyone else find ourselves following behind Jesus, confessing him Lord, while arguing amongst ourselves about the greatest.

This gets me back to thinking about the disciples’ silence when they don’t understand.  To my mind, the silence when people want to ask a question but don’t becomes a pregnant silence.  So, because we’d be here all day if people started shooting out questions, I’m asking that everyone take a slip of paper out of the seatback of the chair in front of you.  And for about a minute, think about what you would ask Jesus about money if you could ask absolutely anything, and write it down on the piece of paper.  This question is purely for you – no group sharing or hand raising will be requested.  This means you can send that editor that lives in your head out for a coffee break.  Okay, ready, set, think and write… … … … …

 

I invite you to consider your question to Jesus that you just wrote down as a prayer this week.  You can simply add it to your prayers.  Or you may discuss it with people.  Or think of the question from time-to-time during the week.  See what comes up for you either as possible answers or perhaps yet another question.

I invite you into this time of asking questions because Jesus has made all of us free to ‘fire away.”  Sitting here, with the whole Bible at our fingertips, we know how the story plays out.  And it is in his death and resurrection that we are made free from the fear that would stop our questions from pouring out.  So that when there are incomprehensible ideas and tension, such as disciples experience, we turn to following Jesus only to find that, with scarcely a glace from us, Jesus is already there.

 

 

 

John 6:56-69 “How Do We Know What We Know?”

John 6:56-69 “How Do We Know What We Know?”

August 26, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

 

John 6:56-69 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

 

 

I have read this text out loud, several times over the last few weeks and, each time I get to the end, I find myself taking a long, deep breath.  As if the text itself is infusing something into me.  I think I even said, “Yum,” once.  So good I could almost taste it.  What’s up with that?  What is it about being in this fifth week of the 6th chapter of John that is so simply delicious?  Oh, and by-the-by, this is indeed the last in this series that are sometimes called the “bread texts.”  So infamous are they among pastors that some choose to preach out of alternate texts during these five weeks in Year B of the Lectionary.  I, however, am grateful that we have had this bread as a steady diet these last weeks and now find ourselves nibbling into the last course of the feast.

And, on this day, some of the disciples say, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”  Just before they pose this question, Jesus says that, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.”  Is this the difficult teaching?  Or how about the part where Jesus says, “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”  Is that the difficult teaching?  While we’re at it, is the whole of Chapter 6, which begins with the feeding of the 5,000, the difficult teaching?  Or do we go back to the very first verse of John, Chapter 1?  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Greek of “Word” here is “logos.”

John also uses the Greek “logos” in verse 60 of our text today, which many Bibles translate into “teaching.”  It makes me curious that the disciples are struggling with “logos” here – the logos, the Word, who was in the beginning and is now standing in front of them as Jesus, who continues to make a divine claim.  And it gives me even greater pause to think about struggle to accept.  “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”  And the way I ultimately hear this question is, “You say you’re God…really?!”

In response to this question, Jesus asks, “Does this offend you?”  Then he proceeds to heap a bunch more on the pile – more difficult to accept teaching added to the already difficult to accept teaching he just spent so much time on.  “Does this offend you?”  And “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

Jesus turns, looks at those still standing there, and asks, “Do you also wish to go away?”  I imagine this moment as really quiet, no one wants to be the first one to speak.  Peter responds with this beautiful question, “Lord to whom can we go?”  It’s curious to note that there is no “yes” or “no” answer here in the text.  “Do you also wish to go away?”  Answered with, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

I want to ask a question of my own.  “How do I know what I know?”  Think about this for a minute.  “How do you know what you know?”  Some might answer, “I know what I know through logic or reason.”  Some might say, “I know it in my gut.”  Others might say, “I know because it feels right.”  Some might even answer, “I know because it matches my experience.”  I’m at a point in my life where it would be cool if a couple of someones, who shall remain nameless, would answer that question by saying, “I know because my Mom said so.”   Hey, a gal can dream.

Peter says, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  How do belief and knowing happen?  How do I know what I know?  Heart? Head? Gut? Experience?  How do I know what I know?  Here’s another thought…the Holy Spirit helps us to believe and know.  There’s a wild part of our Sunday worship that we all speak together called the Apostle’s Creed.  In the 3rd part, sometimes called the 3rd article, we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”  Martin Luther explains this part of the Apostle’s Creed this way, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel.”  This belief and knowing through the Holy Spirit isn’t something we’re super good at explaining or talking about.  And most of us move through the world strongly preferring those other ways of knowing without considering the Spirit’s involvement in how we know what we know.

The Spirit’s gift of belief is simply a gift.  Jesus asks the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”  Peter doesn’t answer “yes” or “no” to Jesus question.  But rather says, “Lord to whom can we go?”  The verse that we’re not privy to in our reading today is v70 in which Jesus says, “Did I not choose you, the twelve?”  … “Did I not choose you, the twelve?”

Belief in Jesus is not a logic problem.  It is difficult to argue exactly what it is.  But, along with Peter and the apostles who ultimately abandoned Jesus in the events of the cross that follow our story today, faith seems not to be something we dredge up in ourselves.  It…is…placed…there.  It is a kind of knowing for which we do not own good language.

And it is why we commune, why Jesus feeds us at his table, where we are given wine to drink and bread to chew.  When Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them,” this isn’t simply a poetic spiritual notion.  This is an earthy, intimate one in bread and in wine.  One of my professors says that, “This is the love of God in Christ that wishes to preach to your small intestine.”[1]

Hear these words again from our text today…

“Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

 

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them on the last day.”

“Does this offend you?”

“The one who eats this bread will live forever.”

“Do you also wish to go away?”

 

“Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

“Did I not choose you?”

 

 

 



[1] Steve Paulson, professor, Luther Seminary.

 

John 20:1-2, 11-18 “Shootings and Name Calling”

John 20:1-2, 11-18 “Shootings and Name Calling”

July 22, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Feast Day of Mary Magdalene at Centennial Lutheran Church

 

John 20:1-2, 11-18  1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

While I am delighted to preach almost anywhere, and at any time, I am especially delighted to be here with you today, this 22nd day of July. Now, if you’re like me, you probably don’t have your calendar marked with anything special on this day except for maybe somebody’s birthday or your wedding anniversary.  But every year on July 22nd, Christians of various ilks around the world – including Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Lutherans – commonly celebrate the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene.  And today, this festival in her honor falls on a Sunday.  As a preacher and as a woman, it’s hard to top this lovely confluence of day and date.  And I had a sermon that was a high-energy celebration of Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles, confidently announcing, “I have seen the Lord!”

And then the shooting at the movie theater in Aurora happened in the dark hours of Friday morning.  So many people died and many more were wounded physically, spiritually and emotionally.  My festive mood deflated as quickly as a party balloon pricked by a pin when I remembered that a dear friend in East Denver was going to that showing.   It took some time to figure out if he had gone to that midnight show at that theater.  He hadn’t.  But in my relief for his well-being, I was also aware that many in the city didn’t receive that good news and my heart broke for them.

By mid-morning on Friday I became compelled to look at Mary’s story again – through eyes once again weary of the ways we inflict ourselves on each other and create such pain.  Mary has just been through the horror and violence of Jesus’ death on the cross and most likely her own life was in danger in the swirl of the social and political chaos that hung Jesus there.  But chaos is not new for Mary.  Scripture in Mark and Luke make reference to “Mary Magdalene, from whom [Jesus] had cast out seven demons.”[1]  Mary has a deep knowing of evil and its presence in her very being.

Undeterred by the realities of her own experience of evil and the evil played out in the crucifixion, Mary comes to the tomb to be near Jesus – following him as she has always done…and we follow her.  It is dark, really dark, midnight movie dark.  Mary’s eyes are dried out from crying, her mind moving slowly through that cloudy haze of grief, and her body exhausted by lack of sleep.  She must be wondering about what just happened to all that she thought she knew.  Because that’s how it goes, right?  The unthinkable happens, something that most of us cannot imagine, and it’s as if the world shifts off of its axis ever so slightly and alters time and space.

So Mary makes her way into the garden…only to be shocked once more.  Jesus is gone.  Not simply dead on a cross or in a tomb, but, literally, gone.  He’s not where he is supposed to be – similarly to how he wasn’t supposed to be dead on that cross.

In the aftermath of the movie theater shooting some of us wonder where Jesus is and, even more urgently, why he doesn’t seem to be showing up.  We wonder if the tears and fear in our own life will ever be brought to an end.  And, like clockwork, conversations about safety and preventing these kinds of murders take shape.

My sister who lives in Wisconsin called me yesterday.  She mentioned safety.  I told her that I’m not sure I believe in safety as the main thing.  Safety is a big thing.  I certainly want my kids to be able to sit through a midnight movie or a high-noon cafeteria lunch without the threat of death.  But there is another reality at work.  The garden we sit in today with Mary Magdalene echoes back into another garden story – a story “In the beginning” of the Bible that had a different gardener who ended up getting kicked out of the garden.  The Adam and Eve story is many things but for our purposes today it is one that names our sin and magnifies the real presence of evil in the world.  And standing between the garden in the beginning and the one in which we sit with Mary today is the cross.

The cross is a real-life example of our capacity to hurt each other in all kinds of shocking ways.  It is also one that calls out evil, names it for what it is and, in part by telling this truth, defeats it.

The murders that took place at the movie theatre in the dark hours of Friday morning were evil.  But if we imagine for a second that we do not also sit within the same darkness we only fool ourselves.  This is something that Mary knows.  She is drawn to the garden in the darkness, drawn toward the one who healed her and who knows her, only to find him gone.

Just when Mary didn’t think it was possible to cry even more tears, she begins to sob.  And this day, Mary’s hope to catch some peace in the garden, to take a breather after all that has happened, is shattered.  The despair seems never-ending because everything keeps going from bad to worse.  The stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty and Jesus is gone.  And she gets asked the question, TWICE, about why she’s crying – first by the angels and then by the one whom she thinks is the gardener…  Until, finally, she hears her name… “Mary.”  And…she…knows…

Mary now knows that Jesus is raised from the dead; she now knows that there is life after death and so there is hope in despair.  Healed of demons by Jesus, called by name by the risen Christ and sent to tell the story, Mary Magdalene the Apostle, sees the world through eyes that know the worst of evil…yet trusts in an ultimate outcome – that God “will reach into sin and death and pull out healing and life.”[2]  The risen Christ shatters her expectations in the aftermath of evil as he calls her name and sends her on her way to speak this Good News.

How is the risen Christ speaking your name and drawing you through the darkness to himself?  Is his voice breaking through your despair and desperation, challenging you to a new reality through the scriptures?  Are our ancestors in the faith, and our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ today, calling you to be in relationship with each other and with him?   Are the waters of baptism murmuring your name even as your sin is washed clean in the water?  Does Christ’s presence at his meal beckon you to love and forgiveness unknown except through him?  Yes, yes, yes and yes – Christ calls your name in all of those ways and more.  And he calls you into God’s new creation – a new garden – using your name, knowing all that you are so that you might know Christ for his sake, for your sake and for the sake of the world.

And on this day we join Mary in being claimed by hope – a hope that invades deeply into the despair knowing that despair does not have the last word – the last word belongs to Jesus who reaches into sin and death and pulls out healing and new life.

 

 



[1] Mark 16:9 (also see Luke 8:1-2)

[2] Pastor Meghan Johnston Aelabouni on Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-meghan-johnston-aelabouni/an-open-letter-to-all-who_b_1691553.html

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

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

June 15, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!

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

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

June 10, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 



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