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.

John 3:1-17 “Honest Questions”

John 3:1-17 “Honest Questions”

June 3, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Greenwood Village, CO

 

John 3:1-17 1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

 

I went to a Memorial Day barbeque last Monday.  You may know the kind. We are long time friends of the people who gave the party but don’t really know the other guests as well, maybe only met some of them once or twice before in the last decade.  I found myself standing next to a new acquaintance, chit-chatting with him about the town I grew up in because he had lived there briefly after college. I was enjoying the connection of someone simply knowing background without needing to share it all.

From a few feet away came a voice, “I like your leg.”  The man looked over to the boy, around 9 years old, and said, “Thanks.”  The boy said, “It’s the color of skin.”  I looked down and for the first time noticed his prosthetic leg and looked up to the man looking at me, and he smiled and winked at me.  Then the boy said, “How’d you lose your leg?”  “Hunting accident.”  The man looks at me and smiles and winks again.  The boy continues, “What kind of accident?”  “I was shot.”  “Oh, and they had to cut off your leg?”  “Yes.”  And then, as suddenly as the conversation began, the boy was done with it.

At home, this scene played in bits and pieces in my head as I sat down to read my book of the moment.  So much so that I finally had to put my book down, pull out my laptop and sit down and write it out because I couldn’t stop the chatter in head between this boy’s straight questions in the daylight of high noon and Nicodemus’ questions of Jesus in the dark of night.   Boy…honest questions… and Nicodemus…honest questions…

When I picture Nicodemus, I see him in firstly in the dark of night, well, mostly because that’s what the story says.  And then I see him doing that tip-toeing and sneaking around that we get to see in episodes of Scooby Doo.  You know the kind – dink…dink…dink… with lots of looking this way and that way to make sure no one is onto him.  He has some questions and he thinks that maybe Jesus has the answers.  But he is also an educated man and a religious leader in a group that doesn’t really know what to make of Jesus except they know enough that they’re uncomfortable about him.  It is out of this discomfort that Nicodemus tip-toes over to Jesus and asks questions.   Nicodemus has big questions and Jesus has big answers about being born from above by water and the Spirit and being sent from God into the world not to condemn it but to save it.  All very clear and easily explained answers to Nicodemus’ questions – or maybe not.

I was 17 when I left the fundamentalist church in which I was raised.  God was scary, big and unpredictable, and Jesus was someone who made me very, very uncomfortable.  So, I left the church and ran away from Jesus.  In the years followed, I met two women – Moni when I was about 20 and Lisa when I was about 26.  These women were church-goers, Christians.  I was mystified by their faith and connection to the church.  But I began to suspect, perhaps a little like Nicodemus, that there might be something to this Jesus thing.  I asked each of them at some point in our friendships why they went to church and what was up with that Jesus anyway.  Both of them replied, “It just works for me.”  No big speech, no stumbling around and handing over John 3:16 to me, only their simple evangelical message, “It just works for me.”

As providence would have it, I also married a Lutheran.  I always say you have to watch out for those Lutherans with all the unconditional grace zinging around.  15 years ago we had the first of our two children.  My husband seemed unscarred from his Lutheran upbringing so our children were baptized and we began to raise them in the church.  And slowly, oh so slowly, the message of grace, the good news about God not condemning the world but saving it through Jesus, captured me.  What we don’t see on those John 3:16 signs at football games is the juicy news in John 3:17 – “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

We also don’t get to see to see to the end of the Gospel of John in our passage today so I’m going to jump ahead and give you a glimpse into the last tidbit we are offered about Nicodemus in John 19:39.  Jesus had just been executed on the cross and it was time to bury him.  Verse 39 reads, “Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.”

What happened to Nicodemus?  In chapter 3 today we read that he’s tiptoeing around at night and in chapter 19 we read that he turns up in the light of day, thudding along with 100 pounds of spices, risking his own life to bury Jesus’ body.  We get one other brief verse about him in chapter 7.  While we could have a ton of fun wondering and guessing about what happened to Nicodemus, one thing we do know about the in-between time is that Jesus was hung on a cross and died.

Nicodemus was not privy to the resurrection at the time of burial.  The hinge point for him, indeed for the Gospel of John, is the cross.  All the God, Son and Spirit talk in the Gospel of John points us there and draws us, like Nicodemus, to faith through it.

But for us, as 21st century evangelists, as bearers of the good news of Jesus, the cross is a tricky place to start.  There is the reality of Jesus’ execution on a cross recorded by the Romans as a historical event.  And there is the swirling mystery of the Trinity – of Father, Son and Spirit – active on and through that same cross and drawing us to faith through it.  But how many of us, and I include myself in this, are prepared to give a neat and tidy speech about why the cross stuff is a good thing to someone who has never heard a good word about Jesus and perhaps is tip-toeing towards Jesus with some questions of their own about him and his church?

This week, as the season of Pentecost, the season of the Spirit working through the church begins to heat up, I invite you to think about the words you would use as people of the good news of Jesus Christ.  What might you say?  Where might you begin?  My two friends, my two evangelists, started something with a very simple piece of good news.  “It just works me,” they said.  And this gave me something to think about all by itself.  They kept it simple much like the man at the party kept it simple about how he lost his leg.  Obviously, in both scenarios, there is much more that could have been said.  Once back in church, while I was nervously tip-toeing about the edges as others seemed to get it, there was one verse that spoke to me – one verse in the whole Bible that made any kinds of sense.  20 years ago, one friend; 17 years ago, one husband; 16 years ago another friend; 15 years ago, one verse!  That’s a lot of tip-toeing.

Nicodemus went from tip-toeing toward Jesus in the night to lugging 100 pounds of spices for Jesus’ burial in the daylight.  There is a lot that happens during the in-between time that is difficult to fully explain.  Being born from above is just the kind of thing that is difficult to fully explain.  As talked about by Jesus to Nicodemus, the Spirit is involved along with water which for church has meant baptism.

One thing I’m clear about is that all the action belongs to the Spirit who, through the cross of Christ, through the waters of baptism, draws us to faith daily.  And, in drawing us to faith, the Spirit draws a confession of good news out of us.  This is not to be confused with confession of having done something hurtful to ourselves or our neighbor – although the Spirit does that too.  The kind of confession I’m talking about is the kind that the Spirit draws out of us the about who God is and the good news that comes with God.  The Apostle’s Creed is one such confession as we join our voices with our ancestors of the faith and speak it together.  My friends offered me a very different but also powerful confession.  I’m certain that their longer confession would blow me out of the water as they bore witness to Christ by the power of the Spirit.  And it is these confessions, and others like them, confessions born from above that are the good news shared through us to people like Nicodemus.

May the Spirit of God ignite your confession of this good news that is for the world as it is also for you.

For, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

John 10:11-18 “A Good God is a Dead One?!”

John 10:11-18 “A Good God is a Dead One?!”

April 29, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

House for All Sinners and Saints as well as Lutheran Church of the Master

John 10:11-18  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

 

 

I have this memory of an image from childhood.  I’m not sure where it comes from or how old it is.  You may know the kind.  It’s a little hazy around the edges and slightly out-of-focus but a couple of things come through in crisp outline and color.  It pops into my head of its own accord when I hear Jesus talking about being the Good Shepherd.  In this image, Jesus is laughing in a group of children who are also laughing and he is holding a little lamb.  And, after my initial freak-out about overly-sentimentalized religion that would domesticate God, this image rings true for me as I think about the story a friend of mine tells about his Hebrew Bible professor tucking in her children at night.[1]  When she tucks them in she asks them, “Who are you?”  And they reply, “I am Jesus’ little lamb” – a sweet image of mothering and bedtime as she sends her children into the shadows of sleep.  And it rings true for me when I sit with families during funeral planning and they choose Psalm 23 time and time again.  I can hear the psalmist crying out through the families’ tears and from their broken hearts, “The Lord is my shepherd…”

 

And, for some of us, there are times when it is enough and sometimes quite necessary to allow those texts to wrap around us in the sweet, simple comfort of being cherished and celebrated as Jesus cradles us in light.  But what else might these texts have to say to us?

 

Wondering about Jesus’ claim of being a Good Shepherd is a good place to begin.  Psalm 23 gives us a glimpse into one of early Judaism’s understandings of God as shepherd.  And the words of Jesus echo deeply from within this tradition as he says, “I AM the good shepherd.”  The ante is upped as Jesus also says the words, “I AM”.  The “I AM” at the beginning of his words is the same “I AM” used in the divine claim by God, by Yahweh, in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Jesus statement is infused with so much divinity it simply spills out all over. In fact, it is THE claim that sets the cross in motion.  The bottom line for us today?  God is made known in Christ.[2]  But how so according to John?

 

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep.”   Jesus is the good shepherd who died.  There’s a leadership model that would climb the bestseller list today.  A good leader is a dead one?  Why is this?  How is this a good thing?  How is the good shepherd the one who would lay his life down?  Why does the church call the day of Jesus’ crucifixion “Good Friday” anyway?  I know, that last question seems a bit out of order in this exuberant season of Easter resurrection but I will take the liberty of asking it anyway.  How is any of this good?  It is good because God in Jesus, dead on the cross, reveals the depths of God’s love and the lengths to which God will go to wrap us into God.  Belonging to a crucified God doesn’t mean that God is dead but that death is now captured up in the living God.

 

Jesus tells the story of the good shepherd not in an idyllic, cozy, safe location as my determined memory of the smiling image of Jesus from childhood would suggest.  In this story, there is howling that warns of threat and danger and hired hands who run away in fear, leaving the sheep to the wolf, leaving the sheep to death.  Ultimately the wolf means death in this story.  This infuses quite a different urgency into the mother tucking in her child at night and asking, “Who are you?”  And the child saying, “I am Jesus’ little lamb.”  The sweet image of mothering at bedtime, as she sends her children into the shadows of sleep, reverbs within a fiercer promise of love and protection.  And the wolf’s howl intensifies the prayers of a family and a community as they pray the words of Psalm 23 together during a funeral – “yea, though I walk through the darkest valley, (through the valley of the shadow of death), I will fear no evil.”

 

One of the things that I am privileged to do with my time over the last year while awaiting a call to a congregation is funerals – lots of them.  All excepting one have been the kind where I receive the call from the funeral director that a family is asking for a Christian minister to be the officiant for their loved one’s funeral within the following three to five days.  Either they or the person they have lost to death are often long unaffiliated with or never been part of any faith community and the element of having a Christian minister seems important.

 

One could argue lots of things – that there request for a minister is simply an example of a family hedging their bets or covering their bases or whatever might work as a metaphor for thinking their motivations shallow.  Or it could be that it is something that is a supposed-to-be-done.  In some of the stories these lines of thinking might be true.

 

But as I speak with these families, often torn open by their person’s death and their own grief, there is something more going on.  That something more has to do with the ways in which meaning in their lives had been suddenly shattered into a million pieces.  What had once made sense from the sum of their experiences and gave life meaning, no longer does.  Something more is needed.  This “something more” that is needed is a word that comes from outside of their own experience.  The story of the good shepherd offers meaning not crafted from within ourselves.  Rather it comes from beyond our experience – gifted to us from outside of ourselves through the cross of the one who laid his life down.

 

As the conversation about the funeral continues with the family, two things quickly become important as the life story about person who died takes shape – having the body or the ashes at the funeral and the commendation at the end of it.  Having the body there speaks a truth about the death that has happened, just as Jesus and the commendation speaks a promise of new life directly into the heart of that truth.  The commendation is a prayer that acknowledges God’s welcome of the person who died.  The prayer of commendation sounds like this…

“Into your hands, O merciful God, we commend your child. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.”

 

When I pray this prayer on behalf of the one who has died, I take quite seriously in our text today, when Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

 

In the Gospel of John we hear over and over and over again how Jesus came for sake of the world.  In day-to-day living, many, many realities are born out of Jesus’ gift on behalf of the world.  And in the day of dying there is one more.

 

So hear this gift, the promise of the good shepherd for you this day of Easter resurrection…

By the power of the Holy Spirit of the risen one who first laid his life down,  Jesus draws you through the cross of Christ into faith, into meaning, into new life.

Jesus, the good shepherd, laid down his life and took it up again for you.

Death is now caught up into God, for you.

New life is here and now, in you and for you, by the power of the risen Christ!

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Justin Nickel, personal conversation, April, 24, 2012.

[2] Craig Koester. Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel.  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 297.

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

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

April 8, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

John 20:1-18 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.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

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

Oh how long the travel to this day!  And this day, we enter the garden with Mary Magdalene – her eyes dried out from crying, her mind moving slowly through that cloudy haze of grief, and her body exhausted by lack of sleep – and the wondering continues about what just happened to all that we thought we knew…only to be shocked once more.  Jesus is gone.  Not simply dead on a cross or in a tomb, but, literally, gone.  He’s not where he was supposed to be – similarly to how he wasn’t supposed to be dead on that cross.  And Mary, as she realizes that Jesus isn’t there, runs to tell other disciples, who rush it to see the same thing, and confirm that, indeed, Jesus is not there.  One of them even sees and believes.  But, take note, the story tells us that seeing and believing did not bring understanding of the scriptures to this disciple – a most peculiar point to make in a most peculiar story.

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

Oh how long the travel to this day!  As Mary now knows that Jesus is raised from the dead, she now knows that there is life after death and hope in despair.  Called her name by the risen Christ and sent to tell the story, Mary the Apostle, sees the world through eyes that know the worst…yet trust in an ultimate outcome – the ultimate outcome of life defeating death.

Oh how long our travel to this day!  Even as we gather here this Easter day, we bring our own despair to the garden.  We wonder where Jesus is and who has hidden him.  We wonder if the tears and fear in our own life will ever be brought to an end.  And on this day, when we proclaim that “Christ is Risen Indeed,” 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.  Jesus has the last word.

Oh how long our travel to this day!  The risen Christ names and claims Mary in the garden in an act that echoes into the baptisms of some here today.  Through baptism, Christ calls the name of the baptized and then gives the hope of the deeper name of “Child of God.”  Through baptism, Christ gives the baptized the gift of his Holy Spirit, the gift of new birth, the gift of forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.  Through baptism, Christ joins us to his death and raises us with him into new life.

Oh how long our travel to this day!

This day when Christ invades our despair.

This day into which Christ infuses hope anew.

This day when Christ calls your name.

 

Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John 2:13-22 “Using God and Loving Things”

John 2:13-22 “Using God and Loving Things”

March 9, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

John 2:13-22 – The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

 

A long, long time ago, in the year 350, there lived a man named…Augustine.  He tells his story in a book titled The Confessions – he simply pours it all out, the good, the bad, and the ugly…saint and sinner…all of it…and how God met him in the middle of it.  Fast-forwarding sixteen hundred years to this past Sunday, I was preaching at a congregation that I had preached at one other time, one year ago.  A woman came up to me before worship began and told me that she needed to speak with me.  So we arranged to meet back up after the service.   We sat together in the back of sanctuary, the worship space.  This was her 3rd time visiting this congregation and she told me that had spent very little time in church throughout her 60 years.  In the span of just a few minutes and speaking quickly, she spoke of the sin in her life, some of which had happened over 30 years ago.  She then told me that she was too much of a sinner to be in church and then she fell quiet.

 

“First,” I said, “you need to know that God forgives you all your sins.”  She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and began to tear up and said, “Oh, that feels good.”  After a few moments of quiet, the second thing I said to her was that, “One of the things I love about being in Lutheran-land is that we all come before God as sinners, all of us are level with each other at the foot of the cross…so, as a sinner, you’re in the right place.”

 

So, you may be asking yourself, what do St. Augustine and this woman have in common – across time, gender and life situation? St. Augustine wrote, all those many years ago, that sin can be described as what comes from the mixing up of what God has given us to use and what God has given us to love.  His argument is that God means for us to love God and use things but somewhere along the way we use God and love things…we use God and love things.  We have mixed up use and love.

 

Today’s scene in the temple started me wondering about this mix up between what we use and what we love.  Jesus is furious.  The temple has become a marketplace, a place where God is being used and everyone is part of using everyone else as a commodity, as currency, as cash.  Relationship has been transaction.

 

If we’re not very careful in this story, we end up standing behind Jesus, cheering him on, placing ourselves on his side, comfortable that our opinions about God and Jesus are the blameless ones.  I wonder, though, if our rightful place in this story is in the position of the sellers – the ones who use God and love things so much so that in our use of God we end up using each other in such as way that our relationships are transactions.  We see this time and again, right?  The ways in which we use each other, and the ways others use us, create deep pain.  Let’s be clear, while we’re at it, that this is not only a problem magnified within these walls, this is a problem within this world, inside all of us!  And it is into the mixed up mess of use and love that Jesus comes crashing in to clean house.

 

Jesus cleans house by first taking the problem into his own body.  In the Bible story for today, Jesus says that his body is the temple which will be destroyed – hung on a cross – and that he will raise it again three days later.  There is hope after all because Jesus does what we cannot do when left on our own – first in his body and then in ours.  Jesus fights this fight in us daily by virtue of our baptism.  Jesus attacks our sin and sends it packing, right out the door like the sheep and the cattle of the temple.

In his clearing of the temple, Jesus challenges us to look at the way in which we use and the way we love.

In his dying on the cross, Jesus destroys the power of sin and its death dealing way.

And in his rising again, Jesus heals us into new life.

In the name of Jesus Christ, may you be strengthened and filled with God’s grace, that you may know the healing power of the Spirit.  Amen.