Tag Archives: bible

Esther: Fate? Luck? A Story for Our Time – Esther 4:12-17, Romans 14:7-10, and John 14:25-27

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 17, 2016

[sermon begins after 3 short Bible readings]

Esther 4:12-17 When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, 13 Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” 15 Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Romans 14:7-10 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

John 14:25-27 [Jesus said to his disciples]  “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.

[sermon begins]

I went to a play called “Sweet and Lucky” about a month ago.[1]  Not your usual play in which you walk into a theater, sit down, and watch the actors on a stage.  “Sweet and Lucky” guides the audience in small groups, out of sequence from each other, across many rooms and sets as it tackles the idea of memory and how it works.

A relevant aside, I just found out last week that the show’s New York director, Zach Morris, is a confirmed son of the Augustana congregation. I mean that in the ritual sense.  Years ago, he affirmed his baptism in the rite of Confirmation here. His mother Maggie and sister Katelynn continue to worship here regularly.  Maggie handed me an article last Sunday about the play.  Funny how things happen like that and a connection can be seen only in hindsight.

And that takes us back to the play and why it may be at least loosely relevant to the sermon today.  At one point, an actor asked me if I believe in luck.  I said, “No.” She then asked if I believe in fate.  I said, “No…I think there’s an option that we aren’t able to understand.”  Just her luck that she got to talk with me, eh?  But her questions are onto something.  We are meaning-making beings.  Things need to mean something. If they don’t mean something, we’re stymied.  If they mean something terrifying, we’re still stymied.  We throw everything we can at situations to find some kind of answer to feel better about them. Whether it’s luck, fate, karma, God’s will, free will, or something else I can’t think of at the moment. Things happen and we start asking “why?” We want answers.  We are answer mongers and meaning makers.  When things happen, either we find answers or we make them up.

This reasoning out the “why” is the surface appeal of the Book of Esther.  Esther is an orphan 500 years before Jesus.  Not just any orphan, she’s descended a few generations from the Jewish people who were rounded up in Jerusalem and carted off into Persia by the king of Babylon. Esther is adopted by her cousin Mordecai and raised as his own daughter.[2]

Through a series of circumstances, Esther becomes the Queen of Persia, married to King Ahasuerus.[3]  She remains a Jew but this secret is kept from even the king himself.  Then comes Haman, second in power only to the king.  Mordecai refuses to bow down to Haman so Haman plots to murder Mordecai, and I quote the Bible story here, “by giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews…”[4]

Mordecai catches wind of Haman’s orders to kill the Jews. What follows are a number of servant delivered messages between Mordecai and Esther.[5]  Mordecai challenges Esther to save her people. Esther argues back that the king could have her put to death if she shows up uninvited.  And then comes Mordecai’s message back to her, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews…Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

Even Mordecai is looking for an answer to the “why” question while he’s looking for an answer to help his people.  The way he asks Esther to help implies that it is either her fate or God’s will or some combination of the two.  In the end, she resolves to help even through it could mean her death and she says, “…if I perish, I perish.”[6]

Esther’s story is cleaned up quite a bit for the G-rated worship musical the kids are preaching through this morning’s 10:30 worship. To get the full story takes reading this Bible book laced with dark humor and questionable outcomes. While reading, it’s engaging to wonder about your own life as reflected in Esther’s self-sacrificial courage, Mordecai’s righteous determination, Haman’s fearful self-preservation, and King Ahasuerus’ detached ignorance.

Esther’s story is meaningful and relevant to the current moment in the world. She begins in the royal court, a place of comfort tainted by episodic fear and indifference. Rattled by Mordecai’s truth, her acceptance of risking death has a self-sacrificial purpose – neither fatalistic nor nihilistic. She listens to him, formulates a dubious plan, and goes into action on behalf of her people.  And the parts of the story you just heard happen in only four short chapters with a little over half the book to go.

Mark George, my Hebrew Bible professor was asked why the stories in these earliest writings are the ones that remain.  Dr. George resisted pious or academic answers.  He said with high intensity, “Because they’re GOOD stories!”  He might have even had a fist in the air when he said it.  There was that much emphasis.  “Because they’re GOOD stories!”

They’re good partly because the stories they tell are about complicated people. Trusty Noah?  Read what happens after the flood when he builds a vineyard and makes wine.[7]  Faithful Abraham?  Lied about Sarah being his sister to save his own skin not once but twice![8] Biblical heroes are often as flawed as they are faithful.  That makes for good story.

It also makes for something more than a good story.  It means that we have a shot at seeing our particular iteration of flawed and faithful in the pages of the Good Book.

Esther is no exception to Dr. George’s “GOOD story” category.  In the face of Haman’s treachery and King Ahasuerus’ indifference, Esther is challenged to save her Jewish people, putting her life at risk to do so.  But the reality is that while we aspire to Esther, we’re regularly caught in moves that smack of King Ahasuerus’ ignorance or Haman’s power grab.  Comparing Esther’s self-sacrificial resolve to Christ’s self-sacrifice may get us a little further.  Today’s reading from the Gospel of John is good for this comparison.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ death on the cross is the inevitable outcome to his life-giving ministry.  Inevitable because the life he offers is one of mercy, freedom, and peace which is perceived as a threat by the people around him.  In his death no hand is raised against the people God so loves. Rather, Jesus is resolved to see it through. Resolve that ends in self-sacrifice on a cross.

Jesus’ resolute self-sacrifice means that Christians are neither nihilists nor fatalists.  Nihilists argue that life is meaningless. Fatalists argue that life is determined by an impersonal fate.  Paul’s words from his letter to the Romans reflect a Christian’s take on life – “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”

Paul’s words are a confession of faith.  Not a faith that protects us against the struggles of life and death.  Rather, a faith that confesses Jesus’ resolve to make redemption and healing known even from the most difficult situation.[9]  And still we may not see the redemption and healing except for time passing and hindsight, if we get to see it at all.

The readings today from Esther, Romans, and John, offer slightly different perspectives on fear, death, and peace.  In John, Jesus promises peace as the One whose ultimate self-sacrifice on the cross is purposeful rather than nihilistic – gathering us around the tree of the cross, transforming death into life as well as our self-preservation and indifference into action for the sake of the world God so loves.

________________________________________

[1] Zach Morris. Sweet and Lucky, a collaboration between Third Rail Projects and Denver Center for Performing Arts Off-Center.

[2] Esther 2:7

[3] Esther, chapters 1 and 2

[4] Esther, chapter 3. Direct quote is from verse 13.

[5] Esther, chapter 4

[6] Esther 4:16

[7] Genesis 9:20-27

[8] See Genesis chapters 12 and 20.

[9] David Lose. “Faith, Forgiveness, and 9-11.”  Dear Working Preacher… September 4, 2011. https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1595

En Pointe, On Point: Dance Made It More Possible For Me To Live [OR Holy Trinity Sunday] John 16:12-15; Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; and Romans 5:1-5                    

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 22 2016

[sermon begins after 3 Bible readings; they’re all too good]

John 16:12-15 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
2 In the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
22 The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

[sermon begins]

 

Jesus tells his disciples that, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  That’s about as frustrating on the listeners’ side as it can get.  Imagine someone telling you that they’d fill you in on the main things if only you could understand them.  This happens all the time when we’re children.  The kids in the room know what I’m talking about.  In fact, Jesus starts his speech that includes the reading from John today by calling his disciples, “Little children…”[1]  Judas betrays Jesus, skulks off into the night, and Jesus starts talking using the endearment of “little children.”  There is a kindness in the endearment but there is also a limit that Jesus places on his listeners.  He knows and tells them that they cannot bear the weight of what he has to say.

When I was four, my feet found their way into a pair of ballet slippers.  There’s was a lot to learn.  A lot of strength to be gained.  But mostly, from my newly slippered perspective, there was love of the dance.  Body and music working together to make something new along with sounds of Bach and Tchaikovsky.  Classical ballet was a fairly consistent part of life even with the family relocations.  I don’t know how my mother did it through some of the family chaos.  It’s possible it made me easier to live with.  But truly, in hindsight, dance made it more possible for me to live.

Around the age of 13, my ballet teacher started talking about point shoes.  You know these shoes.  They’re part of the classic image of ballet dancers moving around on their toes.  For the dancer, point shoes are a big moment.  The joy of that moment of readiness is heady and alive.  There is much that goes into being ready.  Dancing en pointe means the strength and coordination are there to bear the weight of the body.  When the strength isn’t there – the toes can’t bear the body weight and it’s highly possible there will be pain and a lot of it.

Similarly, Jesus knows his disciples aren’t ready to bear the weight of what he has to say.  At this point in the story, Jesus is still alive.  There is no crucifixion or resurrection to give the disciples perspective.  Paul’s letter to the Romans is well after the crucifixion as the early church is making sense of what happened to Jesus.  Paul talks about the experience of suffering moving to endurance, character and, finally, hope.  Hope that comes through the love of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.  That’s a lot for him to put in one or two sentences.  Let’s slow it down a bit.

In the midst of suffering, it’s hard to have perspective and even harder when someone tries to give you their perspective.  It’s like the time-space continuum starts moving really differently.  This happens when you’re sick enough to land in the hospital or losing a loved one or lost a job or making a tough move or fighting depression.  Perspective is possible typically only after there’s been an experience and time passes.  Even then it can be a stretch to look back on the experience, realize you’ve come through it, and make any meaning out of it – framing it with other experiences.

We tend to think of this individually.  But the Proverbs reading tells us that Wisdom speaks publically.  “On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out…”  Wisdom speaks publically in the places where people are together.  Also in the Proverbs reading, Wisdom holds the perspective of time.  Before the beginning of the earth, before the heavens and the deep, Wisdom was there.  Part of wisdom is public when people are together and part of wisdom is time.  It’s difficult to gain perspective when we’re alone in the middle a mess.

Before seminary and becoming a pastor, I spent about 10 years as an adult worshiper. Listening to sermons was a highlight of worship and my week. Scripture and life come together – sometimes like a breath of fresh air and sometimes in a gnarly collision. Sometimes I agreed with the preacher and sometimes I didn’t.  Mostly I was thankful for the reminders week-after-week that the people described by scripture were often just as lost, just as forgetful, just as gifted, and just as loved by God as I am in this beautiful struggle called life.

I needed and still need the forgiveness and strength that are given freely week-after-week in confession, preaching, bread, and wine and reinforced by the worship liturgy both in words and body motion. When I worship now as a pastor, I’m still grateful for the chances to hear another preacher remind us that we’re just as lost, forgetful, gifted, and loved as everybody else.  That is a gift of perspective.  A gift of wisdom.

For ballet dancers, being ready to dance is partly about practicing coordinated movement with other dancers.  For people of faith, living this beautiful struggle called life is partly about regularly practicing the faith with other people.  Just as the disciples are together with Jesus in the Bible reading today, we are together with Jesus through scripture and worship by the power of the Holy Spirit.  So together, the Holy Spirit draws us into perspective and hope through the love of God.

This Sunday, we celebrate the Holy Trinity – God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The Trinity is shared experience of otherness within itself – separate yet whole.  A mystery revealed to us by Jesus who suffered, died, and lives again. The Trinity integrates us into shared experience with God and with each other through worship and life in the world.

The dance between Father – Spirit – Son makes it possible for us to live.

No one says it like Paul says it to the Roman church and also to us:

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Amen and thanks be to God.

 

Hymn of the Day sung by everyone in response to the sermon.

Come, Join the Dance of Trinity (ELW 412)

Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun –

The interweaving of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.

The universe of space and time did not arise by chance,

But as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.

 

Come see the face of Trinity, newborn in Bethlehem;

Then bloodied by a crown of thorns outside Jerusalem.

The dance of Trinity is meant for human flesh and bone;

When fear confines the dance in death, God rolls away the stone.

 

Come, speak aloud of Trinity, as wind and tongues of flame

Set people free at Pentecost to tell the Savior’s name.

We know the yoke of sin and death, our necks have worn it smooth;

Go tell the world of weight and woe that we are free to move!

 

Within the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun,

We sing the praises of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.

Let voices rise and interweave, by love and hope set free,

To shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity.

[1] John 13:33a [Jesus says to his disciples] “Little children, I am with you only a little longer…”

 

Simultaneous Lament and Gratitude – Luke 17:11-19

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, Thanksgiving Eve, November 25, 2015

[sermon begins after Bible story]

Luke 17:11-19  On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

[sermon begins]

Almost exactly 15 years ago, I was serving as Council Vice President of my family’s congregation.  Pastor-land was not yet on the horizon.  It was a leadership design such that when elected by the congregation to Vice President, it was also an election to be President the following year.  My year spent as Council Vice President was partly a year during which I watched the current President closely, basically picking up the nuts and bolts of what was expected by way of responsibilities.  It was a fun and challenging year getting to know this way of serving the church.

During one Council meeting, discussion became heated.  This can happen at Council meetings.  After all, people who love Jesus and who love their church tend to bring some passion to the task.  And as General George Patton said, “If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”[1]  Our Council President let the conversation and disagreement follow its course for a bit and then did this thing with her hands.  Two of her fingers were raised up like closed peace sign.  Making a half-circle with her hands in the air she closed her fingers and thumb together and said, “Let’s press pause.”  Essentially pressing invisible buttons in mid-air.  And that pause, along her summary of the key points, gave people some time to reflect and regroup.  Probably gave some time for the gray matter to kick in so that thinking could happen after reacting.

“Let’s press pause.”  A great line and a good move.  Giving people time.  Time to see.  Time to think.  Time to respond well.

The tenth leper in the Bible story could be having a similar “press pause” moment.  He is hanging out with his fellow lepers – likely long cut-off from their families and community.  They know the rules.  No contact between people with leprosy and people who are well.  They are socially, religiously, and physically unclean.[2]  The ten lepers yell out to Jesus from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  Somehow they know about this Jesus as they roam in the borderland between Samaria and Galilee.  They cry out to Jesus.  “Have mercy on us!”  There is the first pause.  The pause for lament, to cry out for mercy.

We “press pause” for communal lament in worship on Sundays during the Kyrie when we sing together, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”  That lament we do together, singing to the Lord all of our individual laments poured into one voice made up of many.  “Christ have mercy.”

Because of the lament of the lepers in the borderland, this is a timely passage for our reflection this evening.  Many of us bring into this sanctuary questions about borders, who crosses them and who doesn’t.  Some of us bring the fear of the villagers in the story who need the lepers to stay contained.  Except in our 21st century moment, the undesirables are not as easy to spot and contain.  So there is fear.  There is heated conversation.  There is a love of country, love of world, and love of life.  And right now, there is time to “press pause,” bringing a lament to Christ.  “Have mercy on us!”

In the Bible story, the lepers’ lament “presses pause” on whatever Jesus was heading to do.  Giving Jesus time to see.  Time to think.  Jesus sees the lepers, talks to them, heals them on their way to the priests, restoring them to family and community.  All ten of them receive this healing from Jesus through no merit of their own.  They didn’t earn it, not one of them proving themselves worthy of help first.

One of the now healed men “presses pause” on the way to the priests. The healed man sees what just happened, the healing that’s taken place.  He pauses to use his gray matter to think.  Before following Jesus’ direction to continue on to the priests, he turns around to go thank Jesus.  The healed man thanks Jesus first by flinging himself down at Jesus’ feet. That is no less than enthusiastic gratitude!  Jesus points out that it is the “foreigner” of the ten who returns to give praise and thanks. The tenth man, however, presses pause, giving praise to God and gratitude to Jesus.  We could describe what the tenth man does in a single word – worship.

We follow this healed man’s example in our Sunday worship.  After we sing the Kyrie together, giving voice to our lament, very often we sing a song of praise and thanksgiving.  Pressing pause, and giving thanks and praise to God at the beginning of our worship just as the healed man does.

Of the other nine men, Jesus asks, “Where are they?”  Note for a moment that the other nine do nothing wrong.[3] They do exactly what Jesus asks them to do and they retain their healing.  To the healed man lying on the ground in front of him, Jesus says, “Get up, go on your way, your faith has made you well.”  The word translated as “well” is translated from the word “sodzo” in the Greek.  Sodzo is translated across the New Testament in multiple ways.  In the verses today it reads “well.”  In other places it reads healed, made whole, or saved.[4]  All ten lepers are healed.  One returns to Jesus after pressing pause, thinking.  He is not just healed but “is made whole, restored, drawn back into relationship with God and humanity” – in a word, saved.[5]

We talked in Adult Sunday School these past few weeks about the Gospel of Luke.  Salvation is a big theme in this gospel.  Salvation being communal, concrete, and cosmic.  Jesus followers hear his word and act on it.  Tangible acts of healing, feeding, inclusivity, restoration, liberation, and prophetic action taking place in community with each other.[6]  We also talked about whether or not we could see our need for Jesus.  Salvation and need go hand-in-hand.  The lepers saw their need clearly.  They wore it on their skin.  We’re better at hiding our need, or at least not acknowledging it with other people or maybe even to ourselves.  Yet here we are together.  In need.  Bringing lament.  Bringing gratitude.  Lament and gratitude simultaneously.

Many of us don’t have the luxury of the linear progression from lament to gratitude that the lepers do.  We carry both lament and gratitude at the same time.  A lament for a relationship gone awry. A lament for a health issue of our own or someone we love.  A lament for our own fear in a world of uncertainty.  A lament for so many people around the world and in our own neighborhoods who cry out for help.

Woven through our lament here together, gratitude pours out in praise to God and thanksgiving to Jesus.  Gratitude for our life and breath.  Gratitude for family and friends Gratitude for work and pay if we are employed or retired well.  Gratitude for our congregation through whom we hear God’s good Word to challenge us and to comfort us as well the community of the body of Christ to connect us.  Gratitude for God in whom we live and move and have our very being.

By grace, salvation is given to us in Christ Jesus.  Like the lepers, it is without merit – pure gift.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”[7]  Praise God and thank you Jesus!  Amen.

 

 

[1] George Patton, US Army Commanding General, World War II (1941-1945). http://www.generalpatton.com/quotes/

[2] David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, for Working Preacher, Commentary on Luke 17:11-19 on October 10, 2010.  https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=783

[3] David Lose, “Dear Working Preacher…” October 7, 2013. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2796

[4] Lose, October 10, 2010.  https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=783

[5] Ibid.

[6] Raymond Pickett, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  The Year of Luke in Sundays and Seasons 2016.  (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 12-14.

[7] Ephesians 2:8-9

Mark 1:14-20 – A Divine Dare [OR When Good Plans Bite The Dust]

Mark 1:14-20; Jonah 3:1-5,10 –  A Divine Dare [OR When Good Plans Bite The Dust]

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 25, 2015

 

[sermon begins after this Bible story]

Mark 1:14-20 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

 

[sermon begins]

Living with a couple of teenagers, there are these things that happen in my home loosely called “homework parties.”  Sometimes they’re more party than homework although homework seems to get done somehow.  They happen on various days throughout the week around the dinner table.  There’s the requisite books, pencils, calculators that I’ve come to think of as homework camo.  There’s typically food involved – sometimes dinner, sometimes snacks, but always food.  Often I’m in the kitchen/family room either reading, writing, or watching TV.  An occasional teenager will migrate through on a quest for more food and we’ll have a bit of a chat.  Since some of these teenagers are high school seniors, the chats include tidbits about what’s next after high school.  The answers vary.  Some will continue onto college, some will find work, some aren’t sure yet.

What seems to be consistent, though, is this growing sense of urgency to figure it out.  That makes sense.  We’ve cruised through the beginning of the New Year and graduation is only part of a semester away.  Sometimes, if one of the kids seems to be lingering and the chat keeps going, I’ll share a bit of my own first try at the post-high school life.

I had just turned 17 that August before heading out the door to college.  The short of it is that it didn’t go well.  Friends were far more interesting than physics.  In June, at the end of the school year, I was still 17.  My parents came out to my college town, took me to lunch, and told me that the last 9 months had been “a poor return on their investment.”  I was invited home where the offer was to get a job and hit the books at the City College to finish my nursing degree there.  At the time, I was devastated.  Ten years later, I could see my culpability and had a vague appreciation that they had done what they thought was best.  Now as a parent of a high-school senior, I have some sense of their frustration that led to the courage it took on their part to do what they did.

When I tell this story to the teens who move in and out of my kitchen, it ends with something like this, “Remember, there are a lot of ways through this life.”  Some ways are created by our choices and some ways we figure out as things happen to us out of the blue.  Regardless, there are a lot of ways through this life.

Today’s Bible story is triggered by a trauma.  John the Baptist has just been arrested.  Prior to his arrest, John was baptizing a lot of people, including Jesus. John’s arrest starts the action.  John and Jesus are known to each other and also to the Galileans – Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Matt Skinner suggests that the four fishers had likely grown up around each other.  They had probably heard John and Jesus teaching as well as simply known each other as locals.[1]  So the action that John’s arrest instigates is connected backwards into history and relationship even as it moves forward.  And forward it does.

Jesus walks by the sea, calling the fishers off of their boats.  There’s no explanation in the text for it really.  It’s the shortest persuasive street preaching outside of Jonah’s eight word sermon to the people of Ninevah.[2]  Too bad Jonah isn’t available for some preaching here with us today.  For all intents and purposes, Jesus tells the fishers that the time is now and the kingdom of God is brushing by them – meaning, God is present.  The fishers’ are immediately inspired to leave their nets and their boats and follow.[3]  They are one more example of the many ways through this life as a Jesus follower.

Today at worship we are installing the newly elected and called members of our Congregational Council who help lead the congregation somewhat like a Board of Directors might.  A few months ago, we installed the called members of our Transition Team.  These people are collecting information from all of us in the congregation so that we might be able to describe Augustana as we are now, while trying to describe a future as we go through a call process for the next Senior Pastor.  There is some attention to detail needed while leading a congregation or calling a new pastor.  In the midst of those details, there are also things that require immediate action.  The trick for Jesus followers is figuring out a direction through the many ways our life together could go while keeping the main thing, the main thing.  The main thing being what Jesus calls “the good news of God”.  Sometimes we also call it the “gospel”.

It is the good news of God that sustains a lot of us as we figure out our way through this life.  For some of us, this may mean simply muddling through today.  There is something reassuring to me about the immediacy of Jesus-following along the lines of the Galilean fishers who likely started out with a different plan for their day that didn’t include leaving behind nets, boats, and father to follow Jesus.  How many times have you started out your day, your week, or your year with a plan?  You have a good, doable plan only to have it subverted by an entirely new thing that seems neither good nor doable?

It didn’t make sense for the Galilean fishers to follow Jesus.  Frankly, it may not make much sense for us either.  There may be ways in which our plans are being challenged and destabilized – plans that are biting the dust either by our own fault, somebody else’s fault, or merely by happenstance. Jesus dares us to trust in God’s presence regardless, in the kingdom of God coming near no matter what else comes.

Jesus calls us to follow regardless of our plans today or tomorrow.  We can’t follow perfectly in this world.  Not even those Galilean fishers can pull it off when the going gets tough around the cross.   The time is now and the kingdom of God is brushing by you, meaning God IS present.  That’s why the call to follow is connected to the good news of Jesus.   We know now what the Galilean fishers did not know then, this does end well. Thanks be to God.



[1] Matt Skinner.  Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.  Mark 1:14-20, Sermon Brainwave on WorkingPreacher.org for Sunday, January 25, 2015.

[2] Jonah 3:4

[3] Again from Matt Skinner [see footnote 1]: Following Jesus is one of the main messages in the Gospel of Mark.  In Mark, Jesus wants followers. In contrast with John’s gospel in which Jesus wants witnesses and in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is after disciples.

 

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.

John 1:43-51 “Can Anything Good Come Out of Lutheran Church of the Master?”

John 1:43-51 “Can Anything Good Come Out of Lutheran Church of the Master?”

January 15, 2012

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

 

John 1:43-51 – The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

 

From time-to-time I go through the ritual of giving up coffee for awhile.  Maybe just to see if I can.  Maybe because I like it with fake sugar and half-and-half, neither of which are all that good for me.  Maybe it’s so I can live piously alongside those green tea zealots.  Or maybe a little of all of that and more.  Regardless, I’m in tea mode.  This means that I get to read poetry on the sides of my boxes of tea and receive wise counsel from the little tags that hang from the tea bag’s string.  About a week ago there was one such tea bag tag that hung in my mind for awhile.  This particular tea bag tag spoke a 19th century Chinese proverb also credited to Maya Angelou.

“A bird does not sing because it has an answer, a bird sings because it has a song.”

And “What,” I hear you thinking, “does this tea-frothed bit of pop philosophy have to do with Philip, Nathaniel and Jesus?”  Fabulous question!  Let’s recap…

Jesus finds Philip – note that please – Jesus finds Philip.  Philip then finds Nathaniel and makes a big speech about finding Jesus.  Who found whom here?  And then, after Philip says he found Jesus, he launches into Jesus’ family tree – first from the way, way back into Moses-and-the-law-and-the-prophets part and then the more recent son-of-Joseph-from-Nazareth part.  Philip has the details.  After being found by Jesus, he makes known who Jesus is.  He’s laying out Jesus’ street cred to Nathaniel.  Now here’s where it gets interesting.  And here’s where I’d like us to spend some time.  Nathaniel says to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  How snarky is that?  Philip is pumped up, super-excited and gets shot down by his buddy.  He has a song to sing about Jesus, he sings it, only to receive a snorting, derisive laugh from his unbelieving friend.

Think for a second about what you’re natural inclination is when that kind of thing happens to you – when you receive a snorting, derisive laugh from an unbelieving friend.

Maybe you go quiet, stunned that you’re unable to communicate this huge thing in a convincing way.

Maybe you get angry, shocked that your ideas and your excitement are so easily dismissed by a friend.

Maybe you get legal, spurned into creating an air-tight argument that builds the logical case for faith.  Your song gets shut down and you either shut-down or rev up the debate machine.

Personally, I’ve tried them all.  All of those responses have bubbled up without a lot of thought or clarity when someone goes snarky on who I think Jesus is.  I’ve gone quiet. I’ve gone angry and I’ve gone legal.  About eight years ago I handed out the book “Case for Faith” by Lee Strobel to a longtime friend.  She handed it back to me and said something like, “Well he argues out of the Bible and so you have to believe the Bible to believe his argument.”  In essence, she said to me, “Can anything good come out of the Bible?”

There is a YouTube video gone viral this past week called “Why I hate Religion but Love Jesus.”[1]   In his video, this young man is singing a song about Jesus while railing against his experience of the church.  In essence he is asking, “Can anything good come out of the church?”

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

“Can anything good come out of the Bible?”

“Can anything good come out of the Church?”

It is my guess that many of us have taken our turns at being both Philip and Nathaniel.  We have tried to sing a song of Jesus, or quietly hummed one, and we have also tried to discredit someone’s faith-filled singing telegram filled with love for Jesus.

Let’s look at Philip again.  What is his response to Nathaniel?  Does he go quiet?  No.  Does he get angry?  No.  Does he argue?  No.  What does he do?  He invites…“Come and See.”

So Nathaniel troops off to meet Jesus.  And what does he do after his encounter with Jesus?  He sings his own song about Him.  Nathaniel says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  From snarky unbelief to singing faithfulness, Jesus is the one who has seen it all and Jesus is the one who turns it all.  He turned it for Philip and then he turned it for Nathaniel.

The text isn’t entirely clear on when Nathaniel was under the fig tree or if anyone was with him.  I imagine him standing there under the fig tree with Philip while he proclaims his unbelief over and against Philip’s confessional song of Jesus and I can hear Philip’s call of, “Come and see,” to Nathaniel.  So then Jesus would have heard both the honesty of Nathaniel’s unbelief and the honesty of his confessional song.  This is a different slant on what it means to confess.  In the church we use the word a couple of ways.  Mostly we think of confession and forgiveness.  That there is something I need to come clean about so I confess to it, I fess up, I admit my wrongdoing.

Philip and Nathaniel’s confession is of a different sort.  They are making a declaration, making something known.  They are confessing who they think Jesus to be – much like we do when we confess the Apostle’s Creed together.  If the confessional songs of our ancestors in the faith hinge on meeting Jesus then what does meeting Jesus look like today.

In this season of Epiphany, we have this symbol of a star over our heads to remind us that Jesus Christ is revealed to those we think the least likely to succeed on Christ’s mission – peasant parents, suspect shepherds and milling magi.  It’s not so different today really.  While Christ promises to reveal himself in the waters of baptism, in bread and wine of the communion table and in the words of scripture, Christ also promises to reveal himself in the least likely to succeed on Christ’s mission – us.  See these ribbons pointing out over us?

Can anything good come out of Lutheran Church of the Master?

Can anything good come from us people whose snarky unbelief can sometimes seem to claim the day?  And to us Jesus says, “I have seen you when you were standing away from me under the fig tree in your unbelief just as I hear you confessing me now as Lord.”

And Jesus continues, “I see what you don’t do and what you do that hurts people.  I see the pain you inflict on your brothers and sisters in Christ and to other children of God by not giving, not forgiving, not helping, not loving.  I see your unbelief and I pour myself through it.”  In the last verse of the reading today Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”  In this he refers to himself on the cross as the redeemer of us – the ones who are least likely to succeed.

And Jesus also promises to send us with the power of his Spirit, working through us, revealing Himself through the active care of others.   So as we confess, as we declare, Jesus in word and action, led by the Spirit, Jesus says, “Yes, I have seen you under the fig tree but I also see you organizing canned food drives in your neighborhoods, sending teenagers and brave adult chaperones to New Orleans, tutoring the children at the elementary school, taking communion to the sick and hurting, praying for those who need help, building homes for the homeless, donating money and time and action to those who need it, walking toward the communion table together in your need for Jesus.”

By the power of the Holy Spirit, it is Christ in you who frees you into these things – these ministries that stretch you beyond your own self-interest into being the hands of Christ for each other and for the world.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, it is Christ in you who strengthens you to serve people in God’s name.

And, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is Christ who inspires your confessional song of Jesus.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, may your song of Jesus be revealed to you by the One who came under a star to live in skin and solidarity with us!



[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY