Tag Archives: bodies

Genesis 25:19-34; Romans 8:1-11; and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 “Freedom is Complicated [or A Very Expensive Bowl of Soup]”

Genesis 25:19-34; Romans 8:1-11; and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 “Freedom is Complicated [or A Very Expensive Bowl of Soup]”

Caitlin Trussell at Augustana Lutheran Church on July 6, 2014

 

Genesis 25:19-34   This is the account of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” 24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. 27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. ) 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.

[Please note the Matthew and Romans scripture are available at the end of the sermon post.]

 

Being a middle child of five kids sandwiched me between an older brother and sister and a younger brother and sister.  My younger sister is 5 years younger than me.  The two of us began sharing a room very early on.  Initially she was folded in with my older sister Hilary and me.  Until the day we moved into the house where there was a bed nook just big enough for Hilary’s bed and her things connected to the room Izzy and I shared.

Mostly this room-sharing worked out okay.  There were big belly laugh moments like the time Hilary and I were talking after Izzy had already fallen asleep on the top bunk, only to watch her sail by in slow motion on her way to the floor while falling out of bed asleep.  (She was fine.)  There were the typical off-limits kinds of things between siblings and over-time her tidier nature meant she had to have some patience for her big sister.  And, of course, there were times when having my little sister around was just one too much to bear.

In my pre-teen years, we developed a ritual, Izzy and I.  I would be doing homework or reading or generally hanging around and in would enter her five-year-old energy wanting to connect and play.  I would walk over to my desk, open the drawer, pull out a few possessions I could part with and told her she could choose and keep what she wanted if she went away and left me alone.  I was then free to continue whatever it was I doing without her being there.  A negotiated freedom that happily met my own ends – I had what I wanted and Izzy got a win out of the deal too.  Or so I thought.

Jacob and Esau, in the Genesis story today, are well into an age where sibling shenanigans aren’t quite as innocent.  Although we might be able to argue that the underlying motivations are similar.  Esau’s apparently been quite unsuccessful in the latest hunt and arrives home with a fierce hunger.  He’s looking for freedom from his hunger.  A hunger that blocked everything else from his mind and creates immediate need regardless of the consequences.  Esau walks into the house and rides the smell of warm soup and fresh baked bread right on into the kitchen.  And right into Jacob who is also nursing a desire for freedom.  Freedom from his place as the second sibling; freedom into the rights of the firstborn.  This moment between brothers is a perfect storm of self-interest that frees one brother from a raging hunger but at the cost of his birthright.  A perfect storm that leaves the other brother free from his social location as the second in line but at the cost of relationship with his brother.   The brothers’ freedom from their original problems came poorly thought through by one and highly manipulated by the other.

With freedom as a front and center topic this week, my first remembered Fourth of July came to mind.  It was the Bicentenniel celebrated in 1976.  200 years had passed since the signing of the Declaration of Independence and just a few months had passed since we began living in Washington DC.  It was like a red, white, and blue factory had exploded and the shrapnel blanketed the city.  There were American flags both historic and current of all sizes.  There were banners made of cloth, paper, and ribbons.  There were fireworks, fireworks, and more fireworks.  To my seven-year-old mind, everything around me was about the colors and sounds of Independence Day.  At the same time that was happening outside of me, everything inside of me was aware of the new freedom that my family had found by our move to D.C.  Having just left my mentally ill and violent father in Pennsylvania a few months before, we had a new found freedom from him and from the fear of him.  My single mom and the five of us kids were negotiating that freedom in the face of our poverty.  I learned early on that freedom is complicated.

That first memory of the 4th of July is a microcosm of the complexity of freedom on a larger scale.  During the American Revolutionary War, thousands of people gave their lives for freedom from tyranny of all kinds – political, religious, moral, and financial.   The Declaration of Independence describes the new freedom gained by the ultimate sacrifice of those who died and also served as the basis for freeing slaves well on into the Civil Rights movement.  The flip-side is that these freedoms were gained on land where there were people already here enjoying it as their birthright.  Freedom is indeed complicated.

Given my family’s experience with the mental illness of my first father and now my 19 year old niece, it comes as no surprise that I’m interested in mental health diagnosis and treatment.   I recently attended a meeting of Together Colorado which is an interfaith group of leaders whose efforts include the issue of mental health.  Several of the people at the meeting were Christian clergy who had just attended a walking pilgrimage at the site of the Sand Creek Massacre.[1]  In 1864, 150 Cheyenne and Arapahoe women, children, and elders were murdered and mutilated by 700 soldiers of the Colorado State militia.  One of the pastors led a conversation with our group of 15 people about his experience at the site.  He discussed the Christian faith of the perpetrators led by Colonel Chivington who was a soldier and a Christian minister; someone who considered himself a “good Christian.”  He suggested that perhaps what the world needed were “bad Christians.”  I piped up and said, “That’s where the Lutherans come in.”  There was general laughter all around.  Why?  What did that inter-faith group of people think they knew about Lutherans?

Perhaps it’s because Lutherans experience sin and talk about sin as something real.  It’s why we confess our sin when we gather for worship, knowing that God is using us in spite of our sin.  The freedoms we negotiate between ourselves and by ourselves are fraught with the complication of sin.  Whether it’s my 10 year old self trying to be free from my little sister; Esau and Jacob negotiating freedom between hunger and a birthright; my first father’s violence that sent my mother and us running for freedom; or the people of the United States fighting for their freedom in the 18th century even as they declared a country on land that other peoples already called home.

Sin is in bodies. Paul’s language for this in the reading from Romans is that it exists in the flesh.  Sin exists in us.  This is true for us as individuals, which by extension makes it true for us as church and true for us as country.  We can be just as group-serving as we can be self-serving.  Perhaps even more so when we’re grouped together, cloaked in anonymity.   In a group it’s so much easier to justify our same sin when other people dealing with the same sin are giving us the thumbs up.  In the same way, it’s easier to call out another’s sin over and above our own.  Using their sin against them to dehumanize them while elevating ourselves as the arbiters of only the good.

Looking back to the 18th century, the good and the sinful are perhaps more easily recognized than looking back to last week to separate the good and the sinful.  It is there regardless.  The gift, or what Matthew calls “the good soil”, is to have our sin called out by the Spirit of Christ.[2]  This conviction comes from Christ who came in a body, in the flesh, and puts our sin to death through his body put to death on a cross.  Christ’s humiliation on the cross saves us from ourselves and each other, collapsing our differences into a sobering oneness of the flesh.  Through his humbled body on the cross, Christ infuses us with the humility that comes from such a death.  So humbled, we are free to recognize the ways we are more like Jacob and Esau than not like them, the ways we are more like Colonel Chivington than not like him.[3]  Our need for Christ laid bare at the foot of the cross and in the public square – for his sake, for our sake, and for the sake of the world.

 



[1] There are many resources that offer a full treatment of the Sand Creek Massacre.  Here is one of them from Northwestern University: http://www.northwestern.edu/provost/committees/john-evans-study/study-committee-report.pdf.

[2] Matthew 13:23; Romans 8:11

[3] Augustans Lutheran Church mission statement: “Guided by the Holy Spirit we gather in Christian community, reach out and invite, offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ, and walk humbly with God.”

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

 

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

 

Romans 8:1-11   There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

John 1:1-14 “The Birth, Our Birth”

John 1:1-14  “The Birth, Our Birth”

December 25, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

John 1:1-14  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

 

This morning we come to celebrate a birth.  Not just any birth…but a birth that shines light into the darkness, a birth that changes the world.  God has been active in history before the birth of Jesus. Connecting the moment of this birth to all of God’s history, the gospel writer uses those powerful words, “In the beginning…”  These words that John uses to introduce the Word can also be heard in the very first verse of Genesis. [1] This connection draws a huge arc through time, space, and place, between the birth of creation to the birth of Jesus.

So while Luke spends time on the human details of shepherds and a manger, John spends time on the cosmic ones.  Where Luke’s words are a simple story, John’s words elevate us into poetic mystery.  We could leave it there, in those mysterious heights.  We could keep at a distance this mysterious poetry that many discard as too heady or inaccessible.  Many theologians do.  Except…except…John doesn’t leave it dangling out in the mystery of the cosmos, untouchable or inaccessible.

John brings the Word straight to the ground.  “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”  This God who created…who made promises through Abraham, who brought freedom through Moses, who instigated challenge through the prophets, who gave guidance through kings…this God became flesh.  A mysterious, inaccessible, cosmic God becomes a God that is part of our common humanity, through common flesh.  God taking on flesh to join us in our humanity is the birth we celebrate this morning.  It is why some people call today the Festival of the Incarnation rather than Christmas.  God incarnate simply means God in a body – or as John likes to put it, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

God living among us in Jesus is a cause for celebration this Christmas.  Not simply because God showed up but because God immerses in the struggle of humanity.  As John writes, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  Light moving in the dark; day against night.  This language may be poetic but we get it when someone talks about their darkness:

The darkness of someone we love living with a mental illness that is difficult to treat.

                The darkness of grief and the confusion it brings to daily life.

                The darkness of disease, acute or chronic, that seems to take up more space than anything else.

If we could sit and talk about the darkness, each one of us could name a way that it affects our lives or the life of someone we love.  It is into this real struggle, this darkness, that Jesus is born.  Jesus who continues to bring light that reveals God in the midst of the worst that life brings – a light that brings hope as we are born children of God.

Our birth as children of God is ‘not of blood.’  This birth gives us hope that “we will not be subject to the frailties of human flesh forever.”[2]  Our birth as children of God is “not of the will of the flesh”.  This birth gives us hope that “we are more than our desires.”[3]  Our birth as children of God is not “of the will of humans.”[4]   This birth gives us hope that “we will not always be subject to the whim and will of others.”  As children of God, our lives have meaning over against anything we can come up with to say they don’t

Our birth as children of God allows us to see the transcendent, cosmic God up close and personal in the person of Jesus.  So that when we celebrate Emmanuel (God with us) we celebrate the hope that is given to us as we are born children of God.  To this and to all God is doing we can say, “Merry Christmas!”

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Genesis is the first book of the Bible’s 66 books. Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…”

[2] David Lose on Working Preacher, December 25, 2010.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=857

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Mark 4:26-34 “Shrubs, Birds and Bodies”

Mark 4:26-34  “Shrubs, Birds and Bodies”

June 15, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

Mark 4:26-34 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

 

 

When I was a kid there was a huge fad in jewelry that many Christians wore.  It was mustard seed jewelry.  There was a tiny yellow seed sitting loosely inside a tiny glass ball.  I’m pretty sure I had a pair of mustard seed earrings and my sister may have had a bracelet but my memory as it relates to my sister’s jewelry is a little hazy.  The point of this jewelry was to remind us that great things were possible from the tiniest drip of faith.  And while this is true and there are many Bible verses that inspire us with that idea, I would invite us to read today’s text carefully before we jump on that familiar train of interpretation.  I think these two parables are saying something more.

Parables are more than analogy or fable.  Parables reveal things, they flip the standard line over on its head and they are subversive and powerful.  They have a kick to them.  When we don’t feel that kick, that “Aha” moment, we’re probably missing something.  And, surprise, surprise, they can be super funny.  The mixing together the things of daily life into the power of parable stirs the hearer into different ways of being.

The first parable says that the Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seeds, they grow without tending and “he does not know how.”  Part of this parable is about knowing or, more accurately, the lack of knowing.  There are people who are not me that can describe the phases of plant growth from seeds into plants into grain but this parable makes me wonder if they “know how.”

And then the farmer is able to bring in this harvest without knowing how it came to be.  This deep mystery is the set-up for the mustard seed:

“[Jesus] also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

This mustard seed is not of the jewelry variety – a lovely, yellow, round, tiny ball.  This is a black speck – one that you might mistake for a bit of dirt on your cheek.  It is completely unremarkable.  But this mustard seed grows into an invasive shrub.  The text today says the greatest of all shrubs.

Now there’s a goal; to be able to lay claim to being the greatest of all shrubs.  This last week I’ve had a chance to talk about this text with people who come from different parts of the country and everyone could name the invasive plant that causes problems in their area.  Plants with names like kudzu, tamarisk and toadflax were described with all the damage they can do as they spread and then spread some more.  The original hearers of this parable would have laughed out loud to hear the Kingdom of God compared to the mustard seed.  Like a good South Park episode, it would have been funny in that way that is also offensive – shocking them into laughter while making people think.

So the mustard seed goes to work.  Growing and spreading and becoming the greatest of shrubs that has branches large enough to shade the nesting birds.  Earlier in this chapter of Mark, Jesus tells a parable that doesn’t leave birds in a very good light.  Birds are not a friend to the seeds in this earlier parable.  They are the undesirables.  And yet, here they are, just a few parables later, sitting on the branches in the shade.  And the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed growing into the greatest of shrubs that shade even the birds.

Why might Jesus have told this parable in this way?  In the previous chapter in Mark, the religious leaders had already begun plotting with the politicians to destroy Jesus.  So the parables are speaking into their threat.  They know that this person is shaking up the very order in which they operate and their option as they see it is to destroy it.  Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed, foreshadowing that the seemingly fragile thing is going to be so vast that even the birds who threaten will be dependent on it.

It is important to pause here so that we understand our location in the Kingdom of God by first understanding Jesus’ location.  God coming in a body, in the person of Jesus, shifts reality in a new direction for us.  Jesus coming in a body makes space for all bodies to be redeemed, for all bodies to be made new, to be created good.  As Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view…So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  This is an announcement of what Jesus Christ has done and is doing.  Translating out of the original Greek on this would be better stated, “So if anyone is in Christ, A NEW CREATION!”  There is no lead in, no verb necessary, just BAM!  “A NEW CREATION!”

The Kingdom of God, through Jesus Christ, invades the very ways in which we order our lives, invades the very ways in which try to manage our fragile selves, and speaks the truth of our fragility and our need for God.  Jesus Christ, names our fragile selves – the ways we screw up, the ways we see God as a threat to our security and the ways we work against God – and then within us plants a new creation.  Jesus, the living Christ, sends the Kingdom in and through us as he loves us enough to forgive us and he loves us enough to make us new.

Thanks be to God!