**sermon art: Embroidery Art by Pajnsy
Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 13, 2019
[sermon begins after Bible reading]
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 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.”
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Preachers have a strange privilege week to week. We get to wonder with people about scripture, faith, and life in all kinds of ways. We get to convict people and we get to lavish God’s good grace over people. Over the last few weeks, I have become somewhat tangled up in my own thoughts about the cultural moment in which we find ourselves. Last week I attended a funeral for a young man who ended his life in despair. He grew up in church with my kids and was in youth group with my son. My vantage point during the funeral was leaning against the back wall of the sanctuary next to a woman who’s been my friend for the last 21 years. I don’t know about you but I call that a God thing since we hadn’t planned on attending together. The standing room only section was 4 rows deep. Folding chairs had been brought out to create many more temporary rows of seating in front of the standing room only. Every chair in the sanctuary was filled. Together we created a group of just under 350 heartbroken people. Worship bulletins had run out. Some of us in the standing room only section tried to sing the hymns by heart. “It is well…it is well…with my soul…with my soul…it is well…it is well…with, my soul…” and “How great thou art…” bubbled up in pockets through the back of the sanctuary as we celebrated his life and grieved his death.
And it IS well with my soul. Over the last few years, when people ask, “How are you,” sometimes I’ll answer, “Existentially, I’m good.” That’s a soul answer. Yup, soul’s good, thanks. I believe that answer and I’ll proclaim it till Jesus comes again. Yup, soul’s good, thanks. The implication is that while the soul is good, the current moment is kind of challenging. Sometimes we’ll chuckle knowingly at my answer. So, if you were to ask me that question directly, right now, my answer is, “Existentially I’m good thanks, but my heart is broken.” Soul good. Heart broken. Both good and broken.
At the end of the funeral, I turned to my friend and said, “We’re letting our young people down, we have to do better.” And we talked about that for a few minutes – especially related culturally. Collectively all of us are in the culture. We’re all part of something bigger than ourselves. When I called my 21 year old son to tell him about the funeral, he brought up the state of the world. Some of you know that I’ve spent my adult life working with children and adults in their last days of life. First as a nurse and now as a pastor. Along that line, and in tune with where he was at in the conversation, I said to my son, “You know what people in their last days miss the most? They miss how certain things taste or how it feels to move their bodies or how it felt to take a trip to the grocery store. Ordinary, good moments of life that add up living.” So, my son being used to these kinds of things from me, rolled with it and added to the list.
Someone recently messaged me a bit from the movie “The Life of Brian” that we should “always look on the bright side of life.” It’s a satirical, hilarious and cynical take about looking on the bright side of the crucifixion. Just so there’s no confusion. I’m not talking about ignoring the woes of the world to look on the bright side. What I’m asking us to do in difficult times is help each other look on the fullness of life. The dark and the light and the fuzzy stuff in between so that our line of sight captures more than just the dark which can cloud everything.
I bring amaryllis plants to children’s sermons and continue to connect kids to their current moment and, by extension, invite all of us to see beauty in the ordinary moments of a lifetime – no matter how long the life. It’s a serious intention to see life in the ordinary, to laugh at my own quirks, to not take everything so seriously in life, and to see life in all its wonder even in the ordinary. It’s NOT hard to see life in the extraordinary for cryin’ out loud. The baptism of Jesus does that really well. The heavens open up, the Holy Spirit descends bodily like a dove, and a voice comes from heaven. The divine transcendent couldn’t be more majestic and mysterious in this story. We hear a story like that and can easily think, “Well, ya, sure, if only that could happen, then my life would be clear as water.” Someone do me a favor, grab a pew Bible. Look up those missing verses that we didn’t hear in the Bible reading. Luke chapter 3, verses 18 to 20. Someone tell me what happens to John at the end of those verses? … … … …
John is thrown in prison! By Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas. These few verses that take on John’s imprisonment and Jesus’ baptism go from the darkest-dark to the lightest-light with just a sentence-ending period in between. Most of what happens in life is more in the middle. More in the ordinary zone between darkest-dark and lightest-lights. Jesus entering into the fullness of our existence includes this moment of baptism. He is baptized. He didn’t need to be baptized. We are baptized and we more than need it – to hear we’re beloved children of God, to hang on to its promised grace of forgiveness and transformation. One way to think about his baptism is that Jesus was completing the circle of entering into human identity. During baptism, transcendence happens with the heavens opening, the spirit descending, and the voice speaking. The very next thing that happens after his baptism is Jesus’ temptation in the desert.
Jesus enters into the identity of being beloved by God and then into the life we all lead, temptations included. A life lived with a fragile body that can be tempted by despair, power, and safety. A fragile body tempted to believe things other than the love of God for us, and the power of life revealed in the ordinary. Tempted to believe that the dark is greater than the light.
But Jesus roamed around for 33 years. There was likely a spot or two of the ordinary betwixt and between the darkest-dark and lightest-light. Here’s your homework this week. Look for the ordinary things you would miss and talk about them with friends and family. Speak up and speak out about the beauty you see around you. Help each other look on the fullness of life. The dark and the light and the fuzzy stuff in between so that our line of sight captures more than just the dark which can cloud everything. Every so often I’m struck by how weird it is that we are here on an earth breathing and moving and being. That’s crazy amazing, my friends. And, yet we often roll out of bed unaware of our own embodied grace.
I’m going to take liberties with the Apostle Paul’s writings. (Probably something I’m regularly guilty of.) Paul says in his letter to the Thessalonians that we do not grieve as ones without hope. The liberty I’m going to take is to say that we do not live as ones without hope. More simply put, we live as people with hope. This hope gives us eyes to see and ears to hear by way of faith. It’s a hope we carry as light into the world – not our own light but a light bestowed by Jesus the Christ. A light that shines defiantly through the broken hallelujahs of the darkest-dark. A light that celebrates the extraordinary of the lightest-lights. A light that experiences the ordinary as living fully too. A light in the darkness that challenges despair with hope. Thanks be to God. And Amen.
 All Things Monty Python, Facebook. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” From Life of Brian. https://www.facebook.com/AllThingsMontyP/videos/2233060303630365/
 John Petty, Pastor, All Saints Lutheran Church. Commentary on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 for January 13, 2019. https://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2019/01/baptism-of-our-lord-luke-3-15-17-21-22.html
 Luke 4:1-13 The Temptation of Jesus
 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18