Tag Archives: Advent

Football Sidelines and Neighbors – Luke 3:7-18 and Philippians 4:4-7

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on December 13, 2015

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

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

Philippians 4:4-7  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

[sermon begins]

John the Baptist’s speech has a sideline quality.  I’m talking football sideline.  There’s often a guy walking up and down among the other players.  Arms flapping, mouth flapping, hair flapping, there is name calling, yelling.  The gist of speech is to bring people to the next level.  Up their game when they get on the field.  So much is still possible because there is still time on the clock.  There is an expectation that with a positive mindset, perfect timing, and the right mix of skills coming together at the right time that the win is in sight.

Sitting on the sideline means different things to different people.  Defense may be on the field protecting the end-zone so the offense is resting up and pumping up. Or there are players suited up who are lucky enough to take the field once a season.  Regardless of why players are on the sideline, it is powerlessness in the moment.  There are other players out on the field doing the actual work.

The sideline is a bit of wilderness.  There is wandering around. Sitting down.  Very little appears organized.  But those are appearances.

Check out a game. Maybe around 2:00 today when lots of people will be watching a particular game.  Take a gander at those sidelines.  Chances are good you will see a John the Baptist type – arms flapping, mouth flapping, hair flapping.

John is worked up.  He’s a wilderness guy.  This is his terrain.  And the crowds come.  Not just any crowds, this is the riff-raff – tax collectors, mercenaries, and people with too many coats.  The people come to see a man about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  John yells at them, calls them names, and challenges them to, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance!”  The crowds ask, “What shall we do?”  John hollers at them about playing fair and giving away their extra coats.  John’s answers are nothing earth shattering.  The crowds’ question, though, is compelling, “What shall we do?”

In one form or another, this is a question I ask myself and is also asked frequently by many in the congregation.  It is a sincere question.

John tells the riff-raff what to do.  The crowd is apparently hanging onto more than they need, the tax collectors are collecting for Rome but lining their own pockets by overcharging, and the soldiers of the time are mercenary bullies, extorting money from the people.  In short, John tells them to share, play fair, and be kind.  This is not rocket science.  This is standing with your neighbor rather than against them.[1]

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

John’s sideline coaching to the tax collectors and soldiers can be applied to the rest of us.  We can substitute our own roles and try to finish the sentence.  For me, this sounds like sentence starters of a particular kind:

You are a pastor so go and…

You are a wife so go and…

You are a mother so go and…

You are an American so go and..

The trouble is that the actions that fill in the blanks can become ways to validate myself.  And God becomes a theoretical instrument used merely to confirm my best impulses.

Despite the best efforts of wild-haired guy on the sidelines, here’s the reality on the field. The will be an interception, there will be a fumble, there will be a missed field goal, there will be failure to protect the blind side.  For me this translates to a sermon without the promise of good news, a missed hospital visit, inattentive listening to Rob and the kids, missing the mark on prophetic patriotism.  And those are just the easy ones to say out loud in a crowd.

What are fruits worthy of repentance?  The most helpful answer locates our behavior in the realm of worship, an act of praise. Behavior that points us and other people to the good news of Jesus, not to ourselves.  John the Baptist does this quite beautifully – yelling notwithstanding. He is often depicted in art with his finger literally pointing towards Jesus.  Listen to the end of the Bible reading one more time:

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

The power of Pentecost is on fire just under the surface of this Advent text.[2]  The Holy Spirit, at work in Mary’s pregnancy, has more in mind than the gentle quiet of a nativity scene.  The Holy Spirit has us in mind, my friends.

John’s proclamation that “the one who is coming…will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit,” is indeed good news.  One of the ways John’s words help us today is by working us toward an understanding of this wild promise.   This begins with the distinction he makes between the wheat and chaff.  I see each of us here today as one of those grains – a grain sitting all warm and cozy within the chaff that surrounds it.

We get used to our chaff.  Some might even argue that we’ve made peace too easily with our chaff, our sin.  But part of the promise is that our repentance, our surrender to the one who has the power to forgive us, is that the sin gets called out in truth, gets forgiven and we are set free.  And once that happens, look out!  It is a salvation day in the here and now.   Salvation that frees us into a new future; one not defined by the past, by location, or by the perception of other people.

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

We are a people who need a Savior and who, very soon, will celebrate our Savior’s arrival.  Because we do not have a God who uses power to do us harm out of anger.  Rather, we have a God who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, came among us in skin and now comes among us in Word, water, bread and wine – forgiving us and refining us by the power of the same Spirit.  We are prepared to receive our Savior in this Advent time by “the One who is and who was and who is to come.”[3]

In light of this gift from God we still ask, “What shall we do?”  We shall worship.  We are drawn through worship to do all kinds of good for our neighbor in the name of Jesus. We confess a faith of Jesus Christ and, in our mission statement, we say that we “offer the hope and healing of Jesus Christ.”[4]  The congregation of Augustana regularly points to Christ, first and foremost through our repentant confession at the beginning of worship that is immediately met with the good news of God’s forgiveness, mercy and love.  Like John the Baptist, frank about our shortcomings and, in spite of them, we take action to help other people.  This care of our neighbor is worship, fruit worthy of repentance, an embodied act of prayer and thanksgiving.  Embodied action that points us and other people to the good news of Jesus, not to ourselves.

The things we do in Jesus’ name tumble out from worship as Christ orients us toward each other and the world for the good of our neighbor – sometimes hitting the mark, sometimes not – trusting in God’s promises regardless. With the apostle Paul, trusting that the Lord is near, rejoicing in the Lord, always, not worrying but worshiping and praying – “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”[5]

Amen and Hallelujah!

 

[1] Neighbor is a fully-loaded theological term from the Bible meaning the person in the next room, the next town, or around the world.  Anyone who is not you is your neighbor.

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

[3] Revelation 1:8

[4] Looking back on 2015, the congregation of Augustana bore much fruit, pointing to the good news of Jesus all the while.  We baptize in Jesus’ name (20 adults and children this past year), we welcome in Jesus name (20 new members by transfer), we bury in Jesus’ name (19 members and 8 friends of Augustana), we help people eat in Jesus’ name (Metro Caring, ELCA World Hunger, Buying farms for people starting over), we care for the stranger in Jesus’ name (LWR Personal Care Kits for refugees oversees), we care for the sick and poor in spirit in Jesus’ name (Tender Loving Care home visitors, Home Communion, Pastoral Care, Health Ministry, King Soopers gift cards, Augustana Foundation), we care for children in Jesus’ name (Early Learning Center, Sunday School, Choirs, Children and Family Ministry), we care for people in prison in Jesus’ name (New Beginnings Worshiping Community), we worship and sing praise in Jesus’ name (Choir, Music Ministry, Augustana Arts), and so much more.

[5] From today’s reading in Philippians 4:4-7.

 

Mark 13:24-37; Isaiah 64:1-9 – The God For Whom We Wait With Longing

Mark 13:24-37; Isaiah 64:1-9 – The God for Whom We Wait With Longing

Caitlin Trussell on November 30, 2014 with Augustana Lutheran Church

 

[sermon begins after these two Bible readings]

Mark 13:24-37  “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Isaiah 64:1-9 “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence– 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”

 

 

During sermon-writing for this Sunday, I felt a strong need for a few laughs and lighter moments.  Especially given all the weeping and gnashing of teeth that we’ve been treated to out of the Gospel of Matthew these last several weeks.  Today we turn the page into a new church year on this first Sunday of Advent.  At the same time, we turn the page into the Gospel of Mark.  With all of this page-turning, we land again where?  Sploosh, right into Mark’s version of the end of time as we know it.  And we begin our Advent waiting with a snap-shot of the beginning of the end.

Jesus is on his way out of the temple from teaching there.  One of his followers strikes up a conversation with him.  They head over to the Mount of Olives, across from the temple, and take a seat.  Once there, Jesus begins a private conversation with a few more people from his inner circle Peter, James, John, and Andrew.[1]  We are listening in on their conversation that takes places just before the events of Jesus death on a cross in Chapters 14 and 15, just before the beginning of the end for Jesus.

Jesus says to his friends, “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Jesus is telling time.  He is telling time in the language of his day.  He is telling his friends both that they are not in charge of time and that there is a master who IS in charge of time.

Not only is he telling his friends who is in charge of time, but he is telling them about something that will happen in time. Listen to his words to his friends.

Jesus says, “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Jesus begins his description of time at “evening.”  Might this “evening” he is describing be sooner than later, in a garden maybe, praying desperately, betrayed by a friend, arrested, hopeless.  [2]

“…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  “Midnight”…cross-examined by the high priest, in the cross-fire of false testimony, accused as a blasphemer, hopeless. [3]

“…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Cockcrow, denied three times by a friend, hopeless.[4]

“…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  And dawn, condemned by Pontius Pilate, convicted by the crowd, a dead man walking, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”[5]

Jesus says, “…the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”  This sunless time that Jesus links with suffering, where does this echo in scripture for us?  Just two chapters past our text, Jesus hangs on the cross, hopelessness personified in the light of day and then we are told in the Gospel of Mark, “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.”[6]  Jesus, the Word made flesh, the son of God, God from God, light from light, hung in darkness, nakedness, hopelessness…dead.  The sun was darkened…and the moon gave no light.

The cross is so many things all at once.  In this instance, the cross is apocalyptic revelation.  Jesus’ death on a cross says something about the God of the much anticipated new heaven and a new earth.  The depth of love revealed and poured out on the cross is the same depth of love that accompanies Christ’s return.  Perhaps any apocalyptic doom and gloom on our part says more about what we think we deserve and very little about who God is revealed to be through the cross.

God is the one who dies on the cross in Jesus; God’s the one who returns in Jesus.  If God’s the one orchestrating the redemption, then what are WE doing?  We are waiting.  It’s an odd, enforced passivity.  Like waiting for someone we dearly love to show up.[7]  We can’t control when that loved one gets to us.  We wait.  There is anticipation, suspense, longing.  Isaiah’s words from the reading today sum up the longing…“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”

But this longing, this waiting, is not complacency.  No “whatevers” or “when-evers” from this crowd.  No!  Jesus tells us that we are each with our work (v. 34).  Part of this work is the good news that we share.  We sing, “Lord, have mercy…Kyrie Eleison” because we know God is merciful.  We rehearse the mercy of God in here because so many people need to hear it out there.

From time-to-time, people ask me if I think God is mad at them.  Or someone will wonder with me if God will be mad at them because of something they have done or because of a difficult decision they need to make.  The heartbreaking part of these questions is the worry that somehow God’s mercy only goes so far and no further.  That the wrath of God will ultimately decide the day.  Yet from the cross, we know the love of God has gone through the worst that humanity can inflict and prevailed over death with love blazing; from the cross we learn that God does not raise a hand in anger against us.  This is the God we worship, this is the God of our waiting.

God who comes in skin and solidarity is our Advent hope.  This Advent, we join in the longing of Isaiah and call out to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”



[1] Mark 13:1-3

[2] Mark 14:32-52

[3] Mark 14:53-65

[4] Mark 14:66-72

[5] Mark 15:1-20

[6] Mark 15:33 (Jesus’ crucifixion, death on the cross, and burial: Mark 15:21-47)

[7] Mark Allan Powell, Commentary on Mark 13:24-37 at Working Preacher.org. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2265


Matthew 11:2-11 Careful, You’re Wishing Your Life Away

Matthew 11:2-11  Careful, You’re Wishing Your Life Away

December 15, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Matthew 11:2-6  When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

 

 

My stepfather was always good for a pithy word of wisdom.  Responding to my teenage panic when I forgot to tip the waitress my first time into a restaurant on my own, Pops said, “You don’t get rich by tipping cheap.”  Or time and again when I was just about jumping out of my skin about something exciting on the calendar and would say things like, “I wish it were Saturday already,” Pops would say, “Careful, you’re wishing your life away.”  It’s that one especially that still catches me.  The whole thing about staying in the day, knowing full well there is something amazing ahead on the calendar.  “Careful, you’re wishing your life away.”

Christmas can be like that kind of waiting.  When you’re four, waiting to open that enormous box under the tree can feel like a lifetime.  When you’re fourteen, waiting to open what looks like it could be the new PlayStation4.  When you’re twenty-four, waiting to hear back about that job interview or whether you’ve been accepted to that graduate program.  When you’re sixty-four, waiting for your daughter’s flight to land or for the grandkids to show up for Christmas dinner.  When you’re ninety-four, waiting to be picked up for that dinner that includes four or five generations under one roof.  The things we wait for change but there is always waiting.

Some of us are better at waiting than others.  But, for most people, waiting often inspires curiosity.  What will whatever we’re waiting for actually be like?  John the Baptist’s question comes out of this kind of curiosity.  John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  And, typical of Jesus, he doesn’t actually answer the question.  He tells them to report back to John what they hear and see.  Although it’s funny that he tells them to report their observations and then he tells them what to say.  Regardless, Jesus responds to John’s question without really answering it.  Leaving John to wonder about the information he receives in light of the question he asked, “Is Jesus the Messiah?”

It’s a great question.  Many people at that time were awaiting the Messiah.  At the turn of the first century there were many people claiming to be the Messiah.  It was a confusing time, differently so than today.  Today, I don’t hear a lot of people wondering about Messiahs.  But I do hear people waiting.  People are looking and waiting for leaders to emerge as is evident in the Presidential elections.  People are looking and waiting for wins as the Broncos sew-up their regular season play and head toward the play-offs.  People are looking and waiting for a lot of things, good things, fine things, even fun things.  But are they looking and waiting for a Messiah?  A Savior?  The evidence would suggest not.

So the move we make in Advent as a church is a big one.  The move into preparation and waiting is not only to celebrate a birthday from long ago.  The people who are the church look toward a future with hope because there is a Messiah.  This promise is massively and widely counter-cultural.  This promise involves some Advent waiting.

Waiting in which some of us in the pews wonder if any of this even makes a difference?  Or wondering if Jesus is who he says he is?  Or who any faithful saint says Jesus is?  However, waiting is not a vacuum.  Waiting is time we don’t wish away.  Revealed in the waiting is need.  This may be some of what Jesus is getting at in his answer to John’s disciples.  There is real need that needs real solutions.  Jesus names hunger, illness, death, and poverty.  We can add to this list quickly by naming violence against family, friend, and neighbor that comes in many forms – gossip, slander, physical abuse, murder.

I would also add to the list the way we are prone to elevate and highlight certain kinds of dramatic violence as grief-worthy while relegating the daily violence that is happening in some people’s lives and communities to normalcy.  Our rapt attention to the spikes of violence deemed newsworthy and our failure to engage in the problem of daily violence that we’ve deemed normal violates our common humanity.  Deeming certain kinds of violence as normal adds, not insult to injury, but injury to injury.  In this way, we are not innocent bystanders.

The problems that Jesus names and the problems we add to the list are relational.  In the relational language of scripture we call each other neighbors; in the language of humanity we simply call each other people.  As people we are capable of fatally wounding each other in mind, body, and spirit…as people, the stark reality of our willingness to hurt each other, and our ignorance in even seeing that we hurt each other, makes obvious that we deeply need a Savior – a Savior who illuminates these stark realities and frees us into them to help our neighbor as well as being helped by them.  Some of us are made ready to do the hard work necessary to meet real needs and some of us are in the sometimes more difficult reality of asking for and receiving help when we have need.  Whichever end of the giving and receiving you find yourself, there is more to consider in this text.  This isn’t simply about helping each other and our neighbor out in the name of Jesus.

This is about being saved by the Messiah who reveals our need by calling us out on the way we damage each other and ourselves.  We, who are saint and sinner at the same time, are drawn to faith by the One who forgives us for the hurt we dole out and stands with us while we take on the consequences.  It is this one, this Messiah, who the kids in Simply Christmas point us toward this morning even as we still wonder if we’re really in need.  Only to hear that, yes, we are in need and cannot save ourselves.  But the one who is, who was, and who is to come, is the Savior.  A Savior worth the wait – a Savior for all of us, a Savior for you.

 

 

Matthew 24:36-44 A Future With Hope [or Enough With the Rapture Already]

Matthew 24:36-44 A Future With Hope [or Enough With the Rapture Already]

December 1, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

 

For one long summer, I was a day-camp counselor.  Not the super-fun-guitar-strumming kind – just kick that little bit of counselor stereotype right on outta here.  Oh no, I was the 17-year-old-in-charge-of-a-large-group-of-5-year-old-girls kind of counselor.  I was more the protector-against-mortal-peril kind of counselor – think mother hen.  Our location was cool but slightly tricky for herding 12 little girls.  It was a dried out river arroyo near Pasadena, California.  Water hadn’t run through it in eons and it was full of scrub oak and draught-resistant trees and the constant threat of poison oak.  We built a group fort and created a group flag which means that there was fort raiding and flag stealing going on.  It was utter triumph to show up at the end of the day flag ceremony with another group’s flag – a sign of a successful raid.

Victory and shame were the two-sides of that stolen flag event.  The ultimate in victory was to show up at the flag ceremony with another groups’ kid – but for the counselor with the missing kid, it was the ultimate shame.  Any of you want to guess who one of those shamed camp counselors was at the end of the day?  Yup, yours truly.  Oh, the ultimate shame…knowing your kid was taken and knowing the return would be anything but a triumph.  After all, even in this fairly innocent form, being taken was not a good thing…

Being taken is rarely a good thing.  In fact, our gospel writer seems to have a strong bias against being taken, a problem so big that no one would ever knowingly opt into it.  Revisiting the flood story reveals this negative bias.  The people swept away in the flood story, the ones not on the ark, were leading their normal lives until they suddenly were not.  Through the story of those lost in the flood, the gospel writer is setting up the negative lens of being taken.

The negative lens of being taken is the set up to read the next verses.  There are two workers in the field, one taken the other not; and the two women grinding meal together, one taken and one left.  Through the lens of the flood story, being taken out of the field or away from the grinding are big problems in this text.  And of course that’s problematic!  Who would want to be living life in one moment and only to be taken out of it the next?!

In the context of the gospel of Matthew, being taken is a bad deal.  At the time of its writing, chaos was in full force.  The Roman occupation left the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem destroyed, there were wars and rumors of wars, and many people were suddenly being taken away, kidnapped either to be killed or enslaved.[1]  In this text being taken is a bad deal.  For people curious about or hurt by rapture theology, this begs a critical question? [2] If being taken is a bad deal, might the gospel be suggesting that being left behind is the better deal?

For some of us long told otherwise about being left behind, just asking this question of scripture can be good news indeed.  And, for some of us, it may be the only good news needed today.  However, in the interest of full disclosure on the Bible text today, there’s more…you just have to wait for it – which is appropriate because Advent is a time of waiting.

As Advent begins, the first Sunday is filled with the image of actively waiting and keeping watch.  This scripture argues for watchfulness in the midst of life being lived.  Notice that the list of activities of those washed away in the flood were simply normal activities, not tied to judgment – “they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”  The workers in the field and the women grinding meal are doing the work of daily living.  So, by their example, we are also encouraged to be living and working and taking care of the things of daily life even, and maybe especially, in the midst of the chaos of the times.

This is part of the reassurance of this text.  There is a lot that cannot be controlled.  But there is still life to live.  And into the chaos, the wars, the kidnappings, and just as equally into the work, the life, the events of the day, comes the Son of Man.  The Son of Man is also called “the Son” as well as “Lord” in these verses.  All of these labels mean Jesus.  Jesus is the Son; Jesus is Lord; and Jesus is the Son of Man.  It’s important to spell this out because there seems to be a temptation to disconnect the Son of Man in this passage in Matthew from the Jesus revealed in the gospels as a whole.  As if somehow Jesus lived, loved, healed, and died, and then resurrected in a seriously bad mood ready to wield some divine wrath upon a fallen humanity.

It is not so difficult to fathom how idea of the Son of Man became disconnected from the Jesus who died on the cross.  It is the same disconnect made by the criminal on the cross from our gospel reading last week, hanging next to Jesus who was also on a cross and challenging him to save them both if he was the actually Messiah.  Regardless, the one who hung on the cross is also called the Son of Man.  And this is a word of comfort and hope to Jesus followers during the confusing times of the first century and the equally if not more confusing times of the 21st century.

Because, as Pastor Pederson reminded us yesterday at Nina Forgo’s memorial service, Christian people model life not on one particular morality or philosophy or piety.  In relation to this text today, I would add that Christian people do not model life on panic or fear either.

Rather, Christian people’s lives hinge on promise, God’s promise.

God’s promise that insists there is more to the human story and God’s own story than that which has been experienced already.

God’s promise that the Son of Man, for whom we wait and stay watchful this Advent, is the Christ who walked the earth as healer of those in need and died on a cross for all.[3]

God’s promise that draws us into the fullness of the future, a future with hope.[4]



[1] Barbara R. Rossing.  The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 178-181.

[2] Ibid.  Rapture theology is a 19th century construct.

[3] Arland Hultgren.  Commentary on Matthew 24:36-44 on WorkingPreacher.com. [http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1912

[4] Jeremiah 29:11 – For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

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

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

December 16, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

 

 



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

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

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

[4] Revelation 1:8

Mark 13:24-37 “The Cross Echoes in Advent”

Mark 13:24-37 “The Cross Echoes in Advent”

November 27, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

Mark 13:24-37 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

 

Tonight opens the season of advent.  Advent is the beginning of how we tell time in the church, it is the beginning of what we call the church year.  Advent is the four weeks before Christmas of waiting for the celebration of Christ’s birth – of the moment when God takes human form in a baby, in a person, who by word and action draws us into God.  And advent is waiting Christ to come again – looking ahead to God doing something, anything.[1]  In the act of waiting, space is created to pay attention to the here and now.  So the theme of advent is both good news and not such good news.[2]  When I say that I am waiting for the God to show up, I’m saying that, in this moment, I feel abandoned.  Our texts from Isaiah 64 and Psalm 80 are both cries for God’s presence during terrifying and anxious times.

Think for a moment about being a child – about having a wild imagination that swims in the wonder, mystery and fear of really scary things.  We hear our parents talking about things we have no hope of understanding.  Frightening things seem like they can happen to us at any time, any place.  And often do happen at any time, any place.  As kids we keep ourselves safe with good luck charms that ward off the threat of the imaginary boogie man as well as real threats of dark and scary places.  Think for a minute about how you did this as a child or how you even do this now.  What shape does the charm of hope and protection take…?

In our text today, Jesus is speaking about a really scary thing – an apocalyptic time that is volatile and tragic and terrifying.  So much so that when the text is read and the reading is closed by saying, “The Gospel of the Lord,” and the congregation replies, “Praise to you, O Christ,” that some of us might want to challenge each other and say “Really…this is gospel, this is the good news we need today? This is the message that inspires our praise as we head toward Christmas?!”  And, to that, I say, “YES!”  Jesus, through this good Word, gives us hope in the middle our hopelessness and points us in just the direction we should be looking and onto that which we should cling in our most troubled and anxious times.

Jesus says, “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  As we begin telling time at the beginning of the church year, Jesus’ words are telling time for us.  What kind of time is he keeping?  What is he saying?  Evening…in a garden maybe, praying desperately, betrayed by a friend, arrested, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Midnight…cross-examined by the high priest, in the cross fire of false testimony, accused as a blasphemer, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Cockcrow, denied three times by a friend, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  And dawn, condemned by Pontius Pilate, convicted by the crowed, a dead man walking, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”

Jesus says, “…the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”  This sunless time that Jesus links with suffering, where does this echo in scripture for us… just two chapters past our text, Jesus hangs on the cross, hopelessness personified in the light of day and then suddenly, “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.”  Jesus, the Word made flesh, the son of God, God from God, light from light, hung in darkness, nakedness, hopelessness…dead.  The sun was darkened…and the moon gave no light.

As part of my seminary education to become a pastor I had to spend long blocks of time away from my husband and kids.  Last fall I moved up to Saint Paul, Minnesota to complete the last of those courses and I lived away from home for months.  Before I left, my husband was anxious, my son was anxious and my daughter was anxious.  I was doing my best to be a non-anxious presence but it wasn’t working out so well…well…because I was anxious!

We could argue all the reasons for my having to be away from my family – God’s call, necessity, church rules, costs/ benefits and maternal ego-trip.  We could argue a lot of things and believe me when I say that I argued them all.  Regardless, as it came closer to the time of having to go, I was determined to bless my children before I left.  I gave them each a journal to write down their thoughts to me, an inspirational bookmark to mark their page, candy to sweeten their days, handmade soap from our Colorado summer vacation to perfume their shower and treats for their brown-bag lunches.  All so that they could be assured that their mother loves them and remembers them daily.

At the bottom of their gift bag was the BIG GIFT.  It is called a Clinging Cross.  It is gnarled in shape so that it is cradled in the palm of the hand with the bars sticking out through the fingers.  I asked them to keep it under their pillows.  My daughter told me before I left that her big worry was that she would be lonely.

I gave it to them so that when they miss me, or feel sad, or feel angry, or feel lonely, they cling to the cross.  I told them both that God knows what sad and lonely are all about because the God that we believe in knows darkness and loneliness in the biggest way.  My son told me he fell asleep with the cross every night.  That’s a vision – my then 13-year-old clinging to the cross.

The cross is darkness, fear, loneliness, pain, betrayal, abusive power, oppression, hopelessness…and it is also apocalyptic revelation.  The cross tormented and violated Jesus’ humanity and Jesus’ words point us to that very cross as he shoulders the crosses in our lives too – we all hang or have hung on crosses or watch and suffer with others as they hang on their crosses.  Our crosses torment us.  They hurt us and they leave us feeling walled off from each other and from God.  But God says, “Not so fast…I’ve been there too …I who came in the form of a baby, who lived and walked the earth, who was put to death and who conquered death in rising again…I am God and I have the last word.”

God’s last word meets our hopelessness with hope.  “Our hope rests not in what we have done, nor can do, but in all that God is”, has done and is doing.[3] The cross of Christ names our fear for what it is.[4]  The cross also, at the same time, reveals the One who came under a star in skin and solidarity.  The One who holds our fear so that we might cling to him even as he is holds onto us.

The cross of Jesus Christ is the “meeting of darkness and light and the final victory of light.”[5]  As we cling to the humanity of Jesus on the cross, we cling also to the promise of Christ’s hope – the hope of all that God is yesterday in a living babe, today in a living Christ and tomorrow in an eternal God – the eternal God who turns a cross into resurrection and a baby in a manger into salvation for the world.  And so on the breath of the Spirit, as we cling to the cross waiting in the hope and light of Advent, we confess the mystery of our faith that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again…. [6]

[sing to close] Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come, come again…

 



[1] Rolf Jacobson, WorkingPreacher.com, “Sermon Brainwave 206.” Lectionary Texts for November 27, 2011.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx

[2] Karoline Lewis, WorkingPreacher.com, “Sermon Brainwave 206.” Lectionary Texts for November 27, 2011.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx

[3] W. Dennis Tucher Jr., “Lectionary for November 27, 2011: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19.”  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx

[4] Frederick Buechner.  Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 17.

[5] Ibid., 90.

[6] Ibid., 91

[7] http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx

[8] The Living Pulpit magazine, check ATLA.

[9] Frederick Buechner.  Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 17.