Luke 13:10-17 – “Freed Into Rest [or Jewish Patriarchs through Moses in 2 Minutes or Less]”

Luke 13:10-17 –  “Freed Into Rest [or Jewish Patriarchs through Moses in 2 Minutes or Less]”

August 25, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 13:10-17   Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

 

I’m going to show my hand and let you know straight out of the gate that my sympathies lie with the leader of the synagogue.[1]  Not because there are parallels between his position and my own as pastor – that would be way too easy  of a target; plus it would leave you all out of it which basically means I’d be preaching to only myself which I can do on any old day without you sitting here while I do it.

To give us some understanding of the leader of the synagogue, think with me for a bit about the history of our Jewish cousins and our common ancestors of faith.  The story of Abraham and Sarah gives us the courageous travelers, uprooted by God and sent to a land far away.[2]  We can appreciate the romantic adventure of their tale from beginning to end; or we could read it through the hard lens of being migrants and immigrants.  Regardless, they were free people.

Sarah and Abraham’s son Isaac and the shenanigans of Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau lead us right into the Joseph story.[3]  Joseph, the favorite son sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, ends up second-in-command of Egypt – saving his band of brothers as the sun sets dreamily in Egypt over the happy family reunion.  Okay, that last part smacks of Hollywood cinematography but you get the picture.  We get to end of the book of Genesis on a high as Joseph, with his dying breath, tells his brothers once more about God’s promises.[4]  So far, these are great stories of deeply flawed people but wildly free people.

We can literally turn the page to the book of Exodus and all manner of hell has broken loose.  Hundreds of years have passed, the new king does not know Joseph, and has no appreciation for the numerous descendents of Joseph and his eleven brothers.  “The Egyptians came to dread the Israelites…and became ruthless in imposing tasks on [them], and made their lives bitter with hard service.”[5]  These were hard times that lead to harder times that led to Moses’ leading the Israelites out of slavery to the Egyptians into…well, the wilderness.  But they were a free people there!  They were a free people who were given laws – laws given by God to preserve life and protect people’s relationships with God and each other.

Some of you could likely come up with the ten big laws, a.k.a. the Ten Commandments.  The one I’m really interested in this morning is the third one.[6]  After being told to have no other gods and to not misuse the name of God, comes commandment number three to:

“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”[7]

Just sit for a moment with this and think about how huge it must have sounded to a newly freed people who were freed from ruthlessly imposed tasks and bitter lives of hard service.  Just imagine that.  It’s difficult at best to understand the magnitude of the freedom given by this law.  At worst, our understanding of it becomes blasé in our current context of labor laws, workers’ rights, and weekends off.  But for the Jewish people of the 1st century, keeping Sabbath meant to be freed into rest by the law of God!  Freed into rest.  Take a breath on that one for a minute.   Freed into rest….

The leader of the synagogue would have worked very hard to make sure that the people followed this law because it was for their good and for their God.  This doesn’t mean he had pure motives when confronted by Jesus’ healing the woman.  It’s a given that he didn’t.  But it does mean that the Sabbath being held up by the leader of the synagogue is a good thing.  So then where does it go awry for the synagogue leader?

Listen again to the beginning of the story:

“ Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.”

Jesus is teaching away, he sees this woman who he can help and so he does.  The problem is that Jesus does this on a day when there is a rule of law about work; a rule of law that has the big history and current meaning of being freed into rest.  And the leader of the synagogue becomes indignant on behalf of this law, starts talking to the people about coming to be cured on any other day but the Sabbath, and gets an earful from Jesus.  Not just any old earful, but a shaming earful.

Jesus clearly did not get the current parenting advice about public shaming.  You may have heard some of this advice.  If your child or grandchild or someone else’s child is up to no good, you are to talk to the child privately to preserve their dignity and create a safe space.  It’s good advice.  It’s even wise advice.  It’s advice that applies well to adults too.  Jesus didn’t get the memo.  While I feel for the leader of the synagogue, I’m grateful for what comes next in the story because then Jesus makes an interesting move that actually isn’t about shaming.  It’s an exegetical move – a move that interprets scriptural law as it has been handed down through the centuries and lived out in that synagogue, a move that breathes new life into the law.

The leader of the synagogue had become so bound into the law, the law was no longer doing its job of preserving life and people’s relationships with God and each other.  Jesus’ interpretation of the law frees the law so that, at least the woman, could be freed by the law.  I like to think that the leader of the synagogue took some time later to ponder the moves that Jesus makes in the synagogue – first freeing the woman from that which binds her, then freeing the law from the person who would try to bind it, and, maybe, just maybe, freeing the lead of the synagogue, the very one who would bind the law.

My sympathies lie with the leader of the synagogue because we can get curved in on ourselves and the law in the same way.  We are given a law to preserve life and protect people’s relationships with God and with each other.  And then we bind up that law, playing a kind of keep-away game between Jesus and law, wondering what will happen to that which we hold dear if we are compelled to a different interpretation of the law – slavery and the role of women in the church are two recent historical examples.  It is into this bound up, curled up mess that Jesus saves by the power of the Spirit.  Calling us on all the ways in which we bind ourselves and each other into the law and freeing us back into the law as a place of rest.

For this and for all that Jesus has done and is doing, thanks be to God!



[1] David Lose, “Dear Working Preacher” for Sunday, August 25, 2013.   http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=2699

[2] Genesis 12-20.

[3] Genesis 21-34.

[4] Genesis 35-50.

[5] Exodus 1:12-13, New Revised Standard Version.

[6] In Jewish tradition, the commandment to keep the Sabbath is number four.  Luther’s Small Catechism lists it third.

[7] Exodus 20:8-11, New Revised Standard Version.

Luke 11:1-13 “…and yet, I pray”

Luke 11:1-13 “…and Yet, I Pray”

July 28, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 11:1-13 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

 

As an adult, I spent a several years outside the church before being captured by grace through the Lutheran tradition.  There’s a lot I can say about that time but one of the most curious things to me is that I continued to pray.  Specifically, this means that I said a lot of quick things to God – flash prayers if you will.  Things like, “Please!” and “Seriously?!”  Occasionally these prayers were simply crying or sometimes I would laugh at God ala the likes of Sarah in the book of Genesis.[1]  I find this all very curious because, at the time, I wasn’t even sure who God was.  But how I prayed, and what I prayed, spoke volumes.  How we pray gives us a lot of information about who we think God is and how we think God moves in the world.  Maybe even more curiously, how we pray and whether we pray gives us a lot of information about how we see ourselves in relationship with God.

Theologians and church-types love to talk about what happens when we pray.  Dissecting it into parts and giving us theories on how prayer works and how it doesn’t work and how God works in the midst of prayer.  Out of all of those theories, some which come from tangling with our text in Luke today, I haven’t found one that is intellectually satisfying.  I have prayed desperate prayers and silly prayers and everything in between to all kinds of outcomes.  So the outcome of prayer is simply a mystery to me.   The mystery of prayer is especially true when my or someone else’s world is torn apart by loss.  And yet…and yet…I pray.  I continue to pray desperate prayers and silly prayers and everything in between.

My prayers have been added to in both content and form from the flash prayers – although I still use those too.  But much more importantly, I simply became comfortable praying.  So much so that now guess what happens at the start of a church meeting or meal…yup, you guessed it – “Pastor, will you pray for us?”

What happens at a church meeting or meal or gathering when the pastor says, “Would anyone like to pray for us?”  … … … … …  Exactly!  Crickets.  Because of this response, I hear the disciples’ demanding, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and Jesus’ answer to them, as good news.  They demand to be taught and he teaches them.  Notice that when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray he doesn’t launch into a three-point didactic instruction with power-point.  He doesn’t say things like, “Well, first you have to have a good theological understanding of the intersection between God and faith and the world.  None of that!  He simply prays.  What might this mean?  Perhaps that prayer can be learned.  Not as technical proficiency but, much more importantly, disciples can simply become comfortable praying through the practice of prayer.  So when someone says that they can’t pray there is a possibility that it could feel differently for them.   I have a good friend who said to me a long time ago that praying out loud is like chewing rocks. Now my friend is a lay assisting minister in her congregation and is praying the Prayers of Intercession…out loud!

The prayer that Jesus teaches the disciples is the prayer we pray together as “The Lord’s Prayer” during worship.  It is a corporate prayer; meaning that all of us, the whole body of Christ, pray this prayer together and on each other’s behalf.  Some of us widen the net a bit with this prayer and pray it in the morning before we get out of bed or on airplanes when the weather is bad.  This is a go-to prayer.  This is a prayer that has served the faithful for over 2,000 years and will continue to serve the faithful long after we’re gone.  We pray this prayer with our ancestors and with those yet to come.  This is THE most persistent prayer of the body of Christ.

During worship we also pray with the worship leader who prepares and prays the Prayers of Intercession when we “pray for the church, those in need, and all of God’s creation.”  This is a prayer for yesterday, today, and tomorrow – the concerns of now, this week.  The person who leads us in this prayer names names and gives voice to individual and community worries, wonderings, events, gratitude, praise, and so much more.  Week after week, like Abraham, we approach God in humble determination with petitions of prayer, holding God accountable to be God.[2]  Our prayers offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ just as we’re encouraged to do by Augustana’s mission statement.[3]

The point is that we already are praying and we pray well together.  So I’ve been wondering what it could look like if we, as the body of Christ, turned toward each other and continued praying on the foundation of our Sunday prayers and beyond.  In essence, turning toward Jesus and saying, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  And rather than a prayer tutorial, we simply begin praying more.  We practice.  I’m so curious about what this could look like that I’ve invited a team of Augustana people to wonder about this with me as part of something called Augustana Praying Project; so named because we are actively praying as well as working on different ways to pray – some that will work in our lives together and some that won’t.  Augustana Praying Project will take shape over time and change shape over time responding to the different needs people have and the different ways people pray.

I also wonder how much our practice of prayer, as David Lose suggests, “attunes ourselves to God and to our shared life.”[4]  In all that we bring to God in prayer, we are essentially putting our lives through the filter of faith.  Prayer as a connecting point between our lives of faith and our daily life gives us language for both.  So, at the very least, perhaps prayer creates fluid connections between the faith we claim as Christian people on Sundays and our lives as Christian people throughout the week.[5]

The disciples demand, “Lord, teach us to pray…”  When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, his prayer attunes them with God our Father and with each other and “our” needs.  Prayer, as Jesus instructs it, is highly relational even as it’s spoken by a single person.  We are set free into this prayer as our Lord Jesus teaches us to pray by praying.  We are also set free to pray our daily concerns so that our prayer reflects this life we live connected with this God in whom we have our being.

Thanks be to God!



[1] Genesis 18:1-15 – Hebrew Bible lectionary reading for July 21, 2013.

[2] Genesis 18:20-32 – Hebrew Bible lectionary reading for today, July 28, 2013.

[3] Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO.  Mission Statement: Guided by the Holy Spirit we gather in Christian community, reach out and invite, offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ, and walk humbly with God.

[4] David Lose.  “What is Prayer?” Blog: …In the Meantime, February 2013.

Find full post at:http://www.davidlose.net/2013/02/what-is-prayer/

[5] Ibid.

Luke 10:38-42 “Taste of Forever”

Luke 10:38-42 “Taste of Forever”

July 19, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, Denver, CO

SIT AT YOUR FEET – Oil on Board

Bryn Gillette (artbybryn.com)

Used with permission.

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

 

Here’s how I’m afraid most of us hear the Martha story: “Hey, people, stop all that inconsequential doing, sit down and focus on Jesus!!!   You are delusional in the way you think about what’s important for survival and the things that you’re doing are useless!!!!!” [I use multiple exclamation points so you readers hear this in a very loud, stern voice].

Now, is it possible that we focus on some things that might be unnecessary?  Probably.   But I don’t think that this is what the text is challenging us toward.  And I don’t think this is the good news in this text.  After all, the story of the Good Samaritan, just before this one today, finds Jesus telling the lawyer to “Go and do likewise” after the example of the Good Samaritan.  The act of doing is simply not the problem.  We are commanded by scripture to do all kinds of things that show love for neighbor and love for ourselves.

So if doing is not the problem then what is the problem in this story?  Part of the problem seems to be Martha’s concern about what Mary is doing, or not doing, and trying to bring Jesus on her side against Mary.  This is a common human action that actually does create problems among us and against each other.  After all, if I can get Jesus on my side, then my side automatically puts me on the right side, and I can feel oh so much better about what I’m doing for and with Jesus.

So if Jesus is not invalidating Martha’s work, not siding against her, and is also not siding with her, then what is he doing?  Here’s where the story of Martha and Mary gets interesting.  Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet.  This is a student’s posture, a posture of one who is learning and listening to someone who has something important to teach.  This posture is reverent and focused and ready to receive.  In the first century, this posture was one reserved for students in the temple, traditionally male students.  So this posture, taken by Mary as she listens to Jesus, would be seen by first century people as radical.  But this story is so much more than simply one that breaks down the gender norms of its day or even our day.

In verse 42, Jesus says that Mary’s experience of receiving what Jesus has given her “will not be taken away from her.”  What Jesus gives her “will not be taken away from her…”   All well and good for Mary, but what might this mean for us who live now, worried and distracted by many things today?  It means that those who sit at Jesus’ feet are being given something eternal in the here and now.  If something can never be taken away and is given here, now, today, then it is indeed a taste of forever here and now.  

Did you notice that there is no “if” in our text today?  What Jesus gives, what Mary receives, is for always.  There is no contingent clause that sounds like Mary will only keep what’s been given to her if she performs a certain set of actions.  This means that:

When Jesus comes to you in the proclamation of forgiveness by the power of the Holy Spirit , He will not be taken away from you.

When Jesus comes to you by the power of the Holy Spirit in the waters of baptism by the power of the Holy, He will not be taken away from you.

When Jesus comes to you in bread and in wine by the power of the Holy Spirit, He will not be taken away from you.

Jesus remains with you today, tomorrow and forever…and you with him…which will not be taken away from you.

Thanks be to God!

Luke 10:25-37 “Enemy-Neighbors Who Save [aka The Good Samaritan]”

Luke 10:25-37 – “Enemy-Neighbors Who Save Us [aka The Good Samaritan]”

July 14, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver CO

 

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

 

It was Christmas Eve 2002 and my Pops, my step-dad who raised me, had entered his final days of life out in Palm Springs, California.  We lived here – Quinn was five years old and Taryn was three.  My in-laws were coming in for the holiday.  It was a perfect storm of events that immobilized me.  I stayed in touch by phone.  Pops rallied on Christmas morning but by Christmas night was no longer responding.  His fast decline shook me loose from my indecision and I flew out early as early as I could on the 26th to join my mom and a mix of my siblings and step-siblings.

The number of people in the house and the emotions of grief created their own kind of chaos.  Pops died just two days later.  Rob and I decided that I would stay put in Palm Springs with my mom through the funeral scheduled for a week later.  Somewhere in those next days, a friend from church called me.  I was on the phone in my parents’ kitchen.  She told me that she had rallied some meals and also a child-care schedule so that my husband could continue to work.  Her carefully constructed plan knocked me over, almost literally, as I sat down on the kitchen step-stool in a bit of shock that she had figured it all out.  She didn’t ask, she just did the kinds of things a really good friend does when trouble stirs itself into the mix.

Jesus asks the lawyer, ““Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  To which the lawyer responds, “The one who showed him mercy.”   This is a bit of a twist to the way many of us hear the story.  After all, the lawyer was the one who asked, “Who is my neighbor?”  To which Jesus responds by telling the story of the Samaritan.  Interestingly enough, the Samaritan ends up the one with the label of neighbor.

Samaritans are the villains in the story.  Samaritans were Jewish people long ago who intermarried with people who were not Jewish and therefore ritually “unclean”.  A few weeks ago, just two stories before our story today in the book of Luke, we found the disciples asking to rain fire down on the Samaritan village that did not receive Jesus – certainly not a neighborly reaction to the people of the town.  The shock of the first century Jewish listener to Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan would have been enormous.  Because, unlike my friend who helped me and my family around Pops’ death, the Samaritan felt compassion for the man left half-dead by the side of the road – a man likely to have been his enemy on any other regular, not half-dead, day.

Who is that guy in the ditch?  We know that he was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho.  And we know that he is in no position to help himself after being beaten half-dead by the robbers.   Indeed, he is completely at the mercy of everyone else passing by him on the road.  We can infer from the story that he was likely Jewish given how shocked we are supposed to be about the priest and the Levite not helping him.  Whoever he is, we can be clear that he is someone in need of help and no one on the road is willing to help him until the Samaritan walks by.

So here’s a kicker of a question.  Does part of loving your neighbor as yourself mean that you let someone be a neighbor to you?  Might there be something to learn about loving yourself in letting your neighbor help you?  To take it a step further, might the person you would least like help from be the very one who can show you how to love yourself?  We tend to think of this in the opposite direction – that I am being a good neighbor when I take care of someone that I don’t really like or don’t approve of.  If it was that hard for me to let my friend help me, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to receive help from someone that I don’t like.

The help my unlikeable neighbor gives me can indeed be of the wound-tending kind.  But the help can also come in other ways.  It can take the form of a mirror being held up to me that confronts my privilege and my prejudice – two things that turn my neighbor into my enemy by my own slight-of-hand.  The George Zimmerman trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin is one obvious mirror.  A tense stand-off between neighbors leaves one young man all the way dead and another young man accused of murder.  The death and the killing and the color of these young men hold a mirror up to an entire country of people and have us asking some very difficult questions about race, privilege and prejudice – difficult, painful but important questions that expose important truths that, in the end, can also save lives.

The guy in the ditch needs some pretty serious saving of, at the very least, the wound-tending kind.  He is half-dead and likely headed toward mostly dead unless there is a dramatic turn-around.  The Samaritan gives him that chance.

When I read this story this past week, one of my first thoughts is that we are the half-dead guy in the ditch and Jesus is the Samaritan.  I love a good allegory that stacks up tidily.  After all, we cannot save ourselves much like the guy in the ditch can’t save himself.  And placing Jesus in the position of the one who saves doesn’t really get much more theologically clean….except that it isn’t that tidy or clean – either as an allegory or a theological truth.  In this reading, we lay in the dirt on the side of the road and our enemy, the One from whom we are naturally inclined to turn away, walks over to save us – saving us by bringing us into relationship with the eternal God today, here, now.  He walks over to save us because we cannot in any literal, figurative, allegorical way, save ourselves.  He walks over to save us out of compassion for us.

There are two other places in Luke where the Greek word for “pity”, sometimes translated “compassion”, in our story shows up.  It is used to describe Jesus’ reaction to a grieving mother and then also used to describe the emotions of the Prodigal Father when his son returns home from self-imposed exile.[1]  This divine compassion is boundless, healing and unfathomable in scope.  Being moved towards others, towards our neighbors as neighbors ourselves, by the compassion of Jesus has roots in Jesus’ compassion for us.  Because Jesus Christ is the one who saves, his boundless compassion is gifted to us in our baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit.  And once we are unbound through divine neighborly compassion there is no telling which self-imposed, enemy-limited boundaries might come tumbling down next…and who might get to live because of it…

Thanks be to God!

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 “What if the Means ARE the End?!”

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 – “What if the means ARE the end?”

July 7, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

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

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

 

I am immediately curious when a story begins with, “After this…”  My first question is often, “After what?”  So I want to back up.  Not too far; simply to a story that is told right before our story this morning.  In that story from Luke, chapter 9, Jesus had just “set his face toward Jerusalem” for the first time.  This is Lucan code that Jesus’ journey to the cross has begun.  Jesus and his disciples had entered a Samaritan village.  The Samaritans do not receive Jesus and the disciples’ response to this is to ask Jesus whether or not they should rain fire down from heaven and consume the village.  Let that one sink it for a minute…  Since when did it become an option for them to rain fire down from heaven?!

Fortunately for all involved, Jesus rebuked them (I like to imagine that he also rolls his eyes and gives himself a slap on the forehead) and they continued on their way in a mysterious conversation about foxes and birds.

After he rebukes his disciples’ raining fire plan, Jesus appoints seventy disciples to go into the towns ahead of him.  He must figure they need some guidance as they announce that “the kingdom of God has come near” because he gives them some basic instruction about how to be a good guest.  I like to imagine Jesus this way, “OK, tempers were running a little hot in that last town so here’s the game plan on visiting the towns – stick together, greet the people in peace, eat what they give you, and stay put – no trading up if you get a better offer.”

Perhaps more importantly, given the disciples penchant for retribution, Jesus instructs them on what to do if they are not welcome after they greet the town in peace.  Jesus tells them to dust off their feet in protest (read: no need for fire) and still to tell them that that “the kingdom of God has come near.”

Jesus gave them a job to do and the means to get it done.  The kicker is that the job Jesus gives them is still their job regardless of the townspeople’s’ response – an outcome they have no control over.

In the last few years, some faithful leaders of Augustana spent some time praying, reading scripture, talking, listening and working on a mission statement.  Mission statements are one way for congregations to organize their life together – taking advantage of the diversity and gifts given to that congregation by the Holy Spirit.    At their best, mission statements prioritize ministry decisions and mobilize a diverse congregation into action for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Similarly to what Jesus does by sending out the 70 disciples in different directions for the common mission of telling people that the kingdom of God has come near.

If you would, please take your worship bulletin and find Augustana’s mission statement on the back cover in the upper right hand corner.  Are we all there?  Please read it out loud with me. “Guided by the Holy Spirit we gather in Christian community, reach out and invite, offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ, and walk humbly with God.”  It’s lovely in its simplicity.  And from my perspective, earns extra points for getting the Trinity in there as the guide.

Augustana’s mission statement is something I read and thought about during the pastoral call process.  And it is mentioned occasionally in meetings here as a reference point when various decisions are being made or the future of Augustana is being discussed.  By my way of thinking about this mission statement, Jesus has given Augustana a job to do and the means to get it done.  The kicker is that the job Jesus gives us is still our job regardless of people’s response to us – an outcome we have no control over.

You may have heard the expression, “The end justifies the means.”  People use this expression to justify doing anything and everything that they feel is necessary to achieve their goal, their intended end. Yet,this gospel story is all about the means.  Jesus tells the disciples what to do and how to do it – the outcome, the end, the way people respond, isn’t within the disciples’ control.  It makes me wonder if the means ARE the end – for the disciples and possibly for us.

Augustana’s mission statement is all about the means.  Here’s what we are to do and how we are to do it, at least in general terms.  The outcome, the end, the way people respond, isn’t within our control.  Again, it makes me wonder if the means ARE the end.  This is to say more explicitly that the means ARE the end for us, not for God.  Because God’s going to do what God’s going to do as far as the end is concerned.  We don’t control the outcome, God does.  And I hear this as the very best of the good news.

While we’re on the subject of means, some of you may have heard the expression “means of grace.”  Lutheran Christians use this means-of-grace language to describe the ways in which God comes to us, meeting us on our level.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) website offers a quick explanation of the means of grace.  It goes like this…

“Jesus Christ is the living and abiding Word of God. By the power of the Spirit, this very Word of God, which is Jesus Christ, is read in the Scriptures, proclaimed in preaching, announced in the forgiveness of sins, eaten and drunk in the Holy Communion, and encountered in the bodily presence of the Christian community.  By the power of the Spirit active in the Holy Baptism, this Word washes a people to be Christ’s own Body in the world.  We have called this gift of Word and Sacrament by the name ‘the means of grace.’  The living heart of all these means is the presence of Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit as the gift of the Father.”[1]

Jesus directs the disciples into the towns, giving them the means through which they are to proclaim the kingdom of God coming near.

The Holy Spirit guides this congregation by our mission statement, giving us the means through which our life together takes action.

And Christ the Savior commands us to make available the means of grace and to avail ourselves of the means of grace, giving us the means through which God forgives and sustains us in faith.

In these three situations the logic of the incarnation, of God coming to us, of the means as the end, is real.  In these three situations the actual end, the consequence, the outcome is on God.  For us creatures, who time again pressure ourselves and each other to bigger and better success stories, this is good news indeed.  Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

Luke 7:36-8:3; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21 “

Luke 7:36-8:3; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21  “Joy Extreme”

June 16, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 7:36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  8:1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Psalm 32 1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. (Selah) 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Selah) 6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. (Selah) 8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. 10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Galatians 2:15-21 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17 But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

 

Have you ever taken a trip that you didn’t want to take?  I’ve had only a few of those but one such trip in the last few years became memorable.  I moped during the drive to DIA, I moped through the security line, and I was still moping as I made my way into the waiting area at the gate.  This gate was at the end of the terminal which housed about eight gates bundled together. There were tons of people waiting for their flights and all I wanted was to be alone with my thoughts.  And, then, I spotted it, a chair facing the windows, looking out at the tarmac.  It’s back faced away from the crowds with a few seats buffering me from anyone else. I had one of those moments when you’re happier than you really should be.  As I was setting down my carry-on, I glanced over at a gentleman a couple of chairs down and, literally during my movement to sit, the man looked at me, looked at the cross on my neck and said, “Can I ask you a question?”

As it turned out, what he really wanted to do was make a statement.  He was heading to his mother’s home to say goodbye to her before she died.  He told me about his family, the mess of it, the pain of it and his part in all of that mess and pain.  He told me about how God had found him, how God had changed his life and how he trusted God to help him now.  Somewhere in all that he had to say, it occurred to me…he was confessing!  He was hurting, he made himself vulnerable and he was confessing in the middle of a busy airport, to an utter stranger and in the midst of all of that, he trusted God to do something about it.  And not just any old thing, the man trusted God to forgive him for what he had done.

Our psalmist and the woman at Jesus’ feet make me think about that man in the airport.  That man, in his desperation, made himself vulnerable in the face of the cross and in the faith of his God.  His relief was almost gleeful – which is stunningly paradoxical given that he that he was headed home to take responsibility for the serious breach between him and his mom.

The man in the airport and his story help me make the leap between Simon and the woman at Jesus’ feet.  Oh, we could do the whole gender thing, educated thing or faithful thing but what really makes me curious is this extreme response of the forgiven person – or rather, the extreme response of the one who gets the magnitude of the forgiveness available to everyone.

Our readings today all edge toward that extreme response. The psalmist sings about the happiness of those who have been forgiven; Paul, in his letter, rhapsodizes about, “…not I who live but Christ who live in me”; and this woman who speaks not a word but pours out obscenely expensive ointment, mixes it with her tears and smears it all around with her hair while Simon and his guests are trying to eat.  These people in scripture are unbound and free because of forgiveness.

About a month ago I was over at a friend’s house for dinner.  As I was chopping veggies and she was checking the pasta, she turned to me and asked me to explain why Christians seems to be so wrapped up in forgiveness.  After all, wasn’t it just a free pass to do whatever you want and get away with it?  Her question was so honest.  She wasn’t snarky or cynical when she asked it.  She was simply curious.  Because why wouldn’t she be?  We see this kind of thing all the time.  The moral lapse of someone politically powerful or randomly famous results in their public apology that journalists then dissect for dubious authenticity.

In Galatians, Paul’s wording is different but he basically asks my friend’s question in a different way; “But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin?”  Meaning, if Christ is going to forgive us can’t we just do whatever we want? To which Paul answers his own question, “Certainly not!”

As a Christian, when I say with Paul, “It is not I but Christ in me,” one of the moves being made is that being crucified with Christ puts us into a new relationship with sin.  We get to call it what it is beyond simple moral categories of right and wrong.  We acknowledge the depth and pain resulting from relational sins between us and God, between each other and within each of us against our self.  Much like the man in the airport, we are freed by the cross of Christ to admit our flaws and take responsibility.

When we begin our time in worship with confession we are making a move similarly to the man in the airport.  We turn to God as if to say, “Can I ask you a question?”  And in that moment, we confess our sin.

As a group in worship, we confess thing like:  our arguments and plans taking center stage; our comfort or survival as overriding motivations; and our selves are the primary object of our attention.  We confess that these things and more take first place over God, over our neighbor and even over what is actually good for us.  We confess all these things and more as we stand or kneel before God.  Like the psalmist we surrender to the truth of our sin and fall into God as our hiding place, our deliverance.

Our individual confessions are as varied as there are people.  Lutheran Christians don’t often take advantage of individual confession but we do have a beautiful rite of confession between a person and a pastor.  During this individual rite of confession, which is highly confidential in its discipline and practice, there is an opportunity for a person to “confess sin and receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness.”[1]  The opening of this rite begins with these words: “You have come to make confession before God.  You are free to confess before me, a pastor in the church of Christ, Sins of which you are aware and which trouble you.”[2]  

My own experience of hearing a personal word of forgiveness truly has no words.

Whether our confession is said with other people in worship or spoken individually, we are bowed down by God’s power and opened up to God’s judgment and mercy so that with the psalmist and Paul and the woman we can weep tears of relief, tears of freedom, as we hear God say, “Your sins are forgiven.”                                                                      

God forgives and delivers you.  Through Christ crucified you are free to sing with the psalmist, revel with Paul, and weep with the woman about the joy of being forgiven, of being delivered from bondage to sin into Jesus Christ who brings life.

No longer captive, God gives you new life in Christ.    You are made whole by God, by Christ in you, and, like the woman, you are freed to show great love… for God’s sake, for your sake and for the sake of the world.



[1] Evangelical Lutheran Worship [“hymnal”], Pew Edition, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), p. 243.

[2] Ibid.

John 14:8-17, 25-27; Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17 A Sermon for Pentecost

John 14:8-17, 25-27; Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17  – A Sermon for Pentecost

 

John 14:8-17, 25-27  Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

 

Acts 2:1-21 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

Pentecost is today!  We get together for worship, some of us remembering to wear red to symbolize the Holy Spirit while others of us are trying to piece together exactly why, and away we go!  Pentecost is a church holiday that ratchets up our intensity just a bit – making the joyous a little more joyful and the reverent a little more respectful.  We in the church sing and celebrate and worship God the Holy Spirit on this day and, for the most part, we have a pretty good time at the party.

 

What I want to ask is, “Why?”  Why do we do this strange celebration of Pentecost?  The first reading from the book of Acts takes us back to remembering the earliest days of the church.  The roaring sound of a violent wind, the flames that settle over the heads of the faithful, God the Holy Spirit pouring out and over those gathered people, creating church from those gathered people, a grand spectacle to be sure – amazing to behold by those who received a spirit of adoption on that day.  But thinking about that day, so far back in time, can feel a little slippery to some of us.  What was that sound of wind; was it actual wind?  What about those tongues of flame; did they shimmer like personal, red northern lights?  Or were the flames more like real fire but not actual fire that would have burned the people?  Was the writer indulging in poetic metaphor?  If so, in which direction does the metaphor point?  All great questions that are utterly and frustratingly unanswerable.

 

Celebrating Pentecost year after year does indeed take us back to that noisy, flaming day in the church when the church was instigated and inspired to get moving by God the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost helps us remember those earliest believers in that mysterious event and reminds us of our connection through time to those earliest believers.  Perhaps more importantly, remembering the first Pentecost helps us remember God’s presence in the midst of the church.  So remembering is good.  And it is right.  And it is…tame.  Remembering implies that what happened is in the past and stays in the past.  It is easy to remember; it is much harder to see and to claim that very same Spirit of God here, now, today.  So let’s see what might be revealed if we poke around and through the symbols of the day.

 

The Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly happened a few weeks ago.  Church goers, Pastors, Diaconal Ministers, Youth Ministers, and Associates in Ministry from 176 churches in Wyoming, Utah, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, met together along with the ministers and bishop from the Bishop’s office.  There were highs, lows, snoozes and surprises as there was God to be worshipped, business to be done, friends to be greeted, and gleanings to be learned.  And then there was this thing, this moment that simply stole my breath away.

 

Saturday morning the Assembly was in its 37th hour.  We were seated around our tables, with tables next to tables throughout the large hotel ballroom.  Bishop Gonia was up front at a podium with two huge, wall-mounted, projection screens on either side of the speaker’s platform.  He told us that very shortly we would be connected via Skype to the Malagasy Lutheran Church in Madagascar, Africa, with whom our synod has shared a long and thriving history of accompaniment as some people from our synod have been there and some of their people have spent time here.  The technological process – which I’ve been told stops just this side of being a minor miracle – progressed in fits and starts.  Bishop Gonia exchanged lengthy, formal greetings with his Malagasy counterpart in the Malagasy language as he translated it for the rest of us so that we could understand what was being said.  During the breaks in the connection, other people would give their reports from the podium.  A disjointed flow that came to another pause just after their choir sang us a beautiful song in their language and our clapping for them.

 

What was supposed to happen next was a download of previously taped singing from our very own Rocky Mountain Synod people who will be headed to Madagascar together in a few months.   Something happened to that download and suddenly the bishop was inviting us all to stand and sing Amazing Grace, via Skype, for the people representing the Malagasy Lutheran Church.  We sang two verses from memory while their faces watched us from the two large projection screens.  As we were singing, a couple of things hit me.  There we were, an eclectic mix of people to be sure but predominantly white Americans, singing Amazing Grace, a song written in the 18th century by a former slave trader turned Christian minister, to a predominantly black group of Malagasy people.[1]  The magnitude of it hit me like a ton of bricks during their clapping for us.  While it did not feel surprising that the Malagasy people sang to us, our impromptu singing and its levels of meaning felt full of surprise to me.

 

Perhaps this surprising moment is a small taste of what Paul means in verse 16 of the Romans letter that was read a few minutes ago when he says, “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”[2]  This is not to say that every surprising moment with the element of ironic cool thrown in is of the Spirit – although the Spirit can be ironic and is definitely cool.  It is to say that the Spirit who moves in us reverses even our most sincere efforts to do a good thing and often ends up doing something else entirely.

 

The reading from John may help us out here.  Jesus says, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works… the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”[3]  These works that Jesus is talking about are as intricately connected to the dwelling of the Father in the person of Jesus as they are to the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  And, as such, these works take us beyond the ironic and the cool.  God the Holy Spirit participates in the movement of the whole Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – abiding as One with each other even as the Holy Spirit abides in us.

 

The Holy Spirit, abiding in us, brings us into that same participation with the Trinity.  This participation is so tempting to tame down into soft light and warm feelings without drawing out any particular specificity.  But there are specifics to our participation in the Trinity – the power of God the Holy Spirit hands us over to Christ who renders us to a loving God.[4]  Again, this is to say that the Spirit who moves in us reverses even our most sincere efforts to do a good thing and often ends up doing something else entirely.

 

The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ makes us, as Paul says, “…heirs of Christ.”  Or, more simply put, makes us the church, making us One with Christ our Lord while allowing for the differences of language, voice, and gifts as it did that first moments of Pentecost.

 

The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ, means that we, the church, stand under the cross of Christ which reveals our need for Jesus even as that same Spirit picks us up, dusts us off and sends us out of our sheltered comfort for Kingdom work of which we may never see the import or outcome.

 

The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ, means that we, the church, participate in the power of God – this very same power that stood on the side of truth for you and the side of love for you even to death on the cross so that you might know the depth and magnitude of God’s love, and be drawn to faith, so that on this day, as on your last day, you are handed by the Holy Spirit over to Christ who renders you to a loving God.



[2] Romans 8:10

[3] John 14:10b, 12

[4] Justin Nickel, Pastor of Centenniel Lutheran Church, personal conversation, May 16, 2013.

 

John 10:22-30; Acts 9:36-43 “The Voice of Jesus is Heard…”

John 10:22-30; Acts 9:36-43 “The Voice of Jesus is Heard…”

John 10:22-30 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

 

Acts 9:36-43 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

 

There are so many things that disquiet our hearts and minds today.  The unfolding events in Boston and the town of West, Texas, continue as we hear story after story.  There is also much that is close to home and personal.  Family and friends we are thinking about maybe even this very minute who are struggling.  I pray that you find comfort as the love of Christ is shared between us today.  Amen.

Jesus says in our gospel passage today that, “My sheep hear my voice…I know them, and they follow me.”  That is a lovely thing to say and maybe even more lovely to hear.  The imagery of God as shepherd is so common in scripture that many, many people, whether or not they have any connection to church, know the opening lines, and maybe even the whole, of Psalm 23.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”  While the image may be poetic and comforting, I began to wonder what it might actually sound like to hear Jesus’ voice.

The Acts text might help us out here – bringing us in on hearing Jesus’ voice from a different angle.  Only slightly less well known than Psalm 23, the story begins this way.  “Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas.”  Her name is offered in two languages which gives us an inkling that she is comfortable in her religious community as well as in the wider Greco-Roman culture around her.[1]  The story goes on to tell us that she is known for her charity and good works.  This is how she moves through the world.  And then she dies.

We are told neither how she dies nor the specifics of why the disciples call for Peter to come to them.  Simply that the disciple Tabitha dies and that Peter is in a town near-enough to be able to come.  So he does.  When he gets there, the widows who are there show Peter all the clothing that Dorcas made during her time with them.  We are not told much about the clothing but we know that scripture demands the care of widows who, at that time, were dependent of the community for their lives.  Again, they request nothing of him; they simply tell him their experience and show him Dorcas’ work.  Peter sends them out of the room, prays, and tells Tabitha to get up.  She sits up and Peter offers her his hand to help her stand up, at the same time calling the saints and windows back into the room.

This is a ton of story packed into seven verses.  Imagine the biography that would be written if this story were expanded in its fullness.  It is a story to inspire the imagination.  For those of us who are disciples today, we are here in large part because of the witness of Tabitha and other disciples.  And it is disciples like Tabitha who are powerful examples of discipleship.  But above and beyond the example of discipleship and the witness of a religious faith in a wider world, the story of Tabitha, the widows, Peter, and other disciples speaks powerfully to the way Jesus’ voice is heard in community.  Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.”  How do we hear the voice of Jesus today?

This morning we will be celebrating many, many people here in this place who give of their time and who give of their skills in this congregational community and beyond its walls as volunteers.  As a full assembly, we will celebrate these volunteers in a litany of gratitude, echoing the grateful celebration of the saints and widows who told Peter about Dorcas.  The voice of Jesus is heard through the work of these volunteers and through our celebration of their work.[2]

There is a story about the love shared between a disciple of Jesus and her community that I’d like to share with you. I received permission this week from her husband Mark to tell a bit of her story.  Her name is Nina.  Nina walked into Augustana many years ago following a nine month long recovery in New York State from a two-seater plane crash.  She suffered major burns in the crash and was still wearing the special stockings for healing over much of her body.  Nina came back Sunday after Sunday and experienced a time of healing here at Augustana; a time that she describes as having “established her faith.”  As she told it to Mark, the church was the one place where she felt welcome all of the time regardless of her physical scars.  The voice of Jesus is heard in this welcome.[3]

A few years ago, Nina’s life situation allowed her to begin participating in the work of Augustana.  Krista Rahe, a good friend of Nina’s and head of the Spiritual Arts Committee, drafted Nina and her creative talent into that committee.  She also began working with Dianne Nelson and the Altar Guild who prepares the sanctuary for worship.  Then Nina became involved with Advent Adventure working with our Children’s and Family Minister, Cary Mathis, which led her to pour her creative energies into the Music Art and Drama camp that impacts children who worship here as well as children in the wider community.  Cary says he keeps a long list of her unique ideas close at hand.  The voice of Jesus is heard as invitations to share Spirit given gifts with people both in the church and beyond and the voice of Jesus is heard in the response to the invitation to share those gifts.[4]

Last Fall, just before Thanksgiving, Nina had a catastrophic stroke.  Her survival in those first days was touch and go but as Mark says, it is not Nina’s first time around dealing with a major illness and recovery that will not be measured in days, weeks, or months – calling into place her resourcefulness and zest for life as part of her recovery.  The church community far and wide began praying, and showing up, and praying some more.  The voice of Jesus is heard in those prayers and in the groans too deep for words.[5]

A little over two months ago you called me as a pastor here and very quickly I began to hear about Nina.  First from the Care Team who stay up to date on care visits to Nina and the progress of her recovery, then bits and pieces from the rest of the staff who know her, then from the Congregational Council, then from the Children and Family Committee, then from other people in the congregation…and so on, and so on…you get the idea.  People say things to me like, “Oh, that’s right, you haven’t met Nina.”  And then they would proceed to tell me something about her – making me think of the widows talking about Dorcas in our Bible story today.  The voice of Jesus is heard as you tell these stories.[6]

I had my first visit with Nina this week.  Her long-time friend, Susie, was also there visiting which was wonderful, in part because the way Nina and Susie are able to communicate their love for each other and stories about each other despite Nina not being able to speak. While I was sitting there with Nina and Susie, listening to their stories, watching them nod back and forth to each other, the Easter Sunday story of Mary Magdalene popped into my head in what I like to call a Holy Spirit moment.  As I re-told the story to Nina, reminding her of Mary Magdalene standing at the empty tomb, thinking that Jesus the Christ is the gardener, until he says her name, “Mary.”  And then Mary knows it is Jesus and not the gardener.  Nina nodded and smiled throughout the story as we remembered our way through it and then I said to Nina, “If you could hear the way people at church say your name… … …”    The voice of Jesus is heard as we hear our names spoken by the risen Christ in the Body of Christ knows as the church.[7]

The story of Tabitha’s discipleship intertwined with the saints and widows; and the story of Nina’s discipleship intertwined with this congregation are only two of the stories that help us to hear the voice of Jesus.  As there are these two, so there are many people who form the great cloud of witnesses in this congregation and in the church catholic.  These two disciples’ and their interconnectedness within and beyond their faith community bear witness to the one who calls and sends them into the world for the sake of the world.[8]

For the witness of disciples who help us hear the voice of Jesus through their work and their stories, today we celebrate and say, thanks be to God!

 

 



[1] Eric Barreto, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary.  On Working Preacher for Acts 9:36-43 on April 21, 2013; http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1625.

[2] Matthew 20:1-16

[3] Mark 9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

[4] See 1 Corinthians 12 on Spiritual Gifts.

[5] See Romans 8:26 – “But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.”

[6] Hebrews 12:1-2

[7] John 20:1-18

[8] Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-34; Luke 5:1-11

 

John 20:19-31 “Doubt in Community”

John 20:19-31 “Doubt in Community”

April 7, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and be drawn to faith in Him.

 

 



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

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

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

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

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

March 31, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh how long our travel to this day!

 

This Easter day when Christ invades our despair.

This Easter day into which Christ infuses hope anew.

This Easter day when Christ calls your name.

 

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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