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Into the Mystic [OR Christian Mystics On The Love of God] Matthew 17:1-9

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on February 26, 2017

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Matthew 17:1-9 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Exodus 24:12-18 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

[sermon begins]

Wow.  Mind-blowing is the right description.  There is a ton happening in this short Bible story about the transfiguration of Jesus.[1]  The layers of thought are astounding.  Connections between Moses, Mount Sinai, and the 10 Commandments made with Jesus and his disciples’ ascent up the high mountain.  Shining Jesus on the high mountain parallels shining Moses after his mountain encounter with God.[2]  Dazzling white clothes of the divine are found in both the Old and New Testaments.[3]  And then there’s Elijah, the beloved, long-awaited, and oh-so-wise prophet.  Elijah who also encountered God and who anointed kings and prophets many hundreds of years previously.[4]  There are more time-bending parallels in this short story.[5]  The parallel that I invite us to hone in on today are the dwellings.

Peter wants to build three dwellings – “one for [Jesus], one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”[6]  What is it about these dwellings that are so important?  Parallels are again made to the Exodus where encounters between the Lord God and God’s people happened in dwellings called the tent of meeting and the tabernacle for the Ark of the Covenant.[7] Peter’s understanding is that dwellings are tents where we meet God.  Jesus’ transfiguration is how God meets and dwells with us through the beloved son.[8]

God dwelling with us through Jesus is what Christian mystics encounter throughout the centuries.  Hildegard of Bingen, John of the Cross, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, the list seems endless.  To be clear, mystics are not playing a theological mystery card whenever something is hard to understand.  Rather, God dwelling with us, God’s claim on us, is part of what mystics understand by faith as a promise from God.

Peter understands God dwelling. Peter, the rock on whom Jesus builds the church.[9]  Peter, one of the first Christian mystics. Peter’s understanding of God’s dwelling starts him talking about building dwellings.  Peter’s understanding is simply limited.  His architectural plans are shut-down by the voice from the blinding cloud but he is not rebuked for wanting to build these dwellings.  Then look what happens.  “Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.”  From Jesus touch, the disciples are able to look up from their fear.  The dwelling does not happen through Peter’s hands.  Dwelling comes from Jesus’ touch.  Jesus touches the three of them.  One way Christians have talked about God dwelling with us is by talking about God’s love.

Julian of Norwich was a Christian mystic in the 1300s.  Her faith was informed by the Bible and the church’s teachings.[10]  Her book was entitled, Revelations of Divine Love.  She writes:

“For we are so preciously loved by God that we cannot even comprehend it. No created being can ever know how much and how sweetly and tenderly God loves them.  It is only with the help of [God’s] grace that we are able to persevere…with endless wonder at [God’s] high, surpassing, immeasurable love.”[11]

Julian’s faithful witness emphasizes that God’s action comes first, before our action of loving.  Her prayers include the desire “to live to love God better and longer.”[12]  Prior to Julian, Bernard de Clairvaux lived at the turn of the first Millennia.[13]  He too wrote down his witness as a Christian mystic and leader in the history of the church.  The title for his major work is On the Love of God.  Bernard wrote about four degrees of love.  In the fourth degree of love, he writes:

“This perfect love of God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength will not happen until we are no longer compelled to think about ourselves…it is within God’s power to give such an experience to whom [God] wills, and it is not attained by our own efforts.” [14]

Bernard’s witness informed the faith of Martin Luther.[15]  So did Augustine of Hippo in the 400s, also a Christian mystic.  Augustine thought that our core human problem, our sin, is that we use God and love things rather than loving God and using things.  Martin Luther was a 16th century Augustinian monk.  Parallels abound between Augustine and Luther.  Luther’s explanations of the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism are one example. They each begin with the statement, “We are to fear and love God…”  I find myself wondering about loving God through this Augustinian lens as we hear Peter talk about dwellings and Jesus’ touch that redirects Peter’s understanding.

Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, the part of the Apostle’s Creed when we confess our faith in the Holy Spirit, reads, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel…”  Luther is speaking from a really low theological anthropology here, meaning that we are drawn to faith by God not by our own intellectual striving – again, very Augustinian.  Just as we are brought to faith in Jesus by God’s power through the Holy Spirit, we also love God by God’s power through the same Spirit.

I often end my public prayers at the children’s sermon, in meetings, or pastoral care by saying, “We love you God, help us love you more, amen.” I picked it up several years ago from a faith-filled friend.  This prayer aligns with the witness of Christian mystics, including Luther’s explanation of the Third Article, because it is only with God’s help that we are able to love God. There is nothing we can do or not do to make God love us any more or any less.  God already dwells with us through the beloved son.

Loving God and asking for God’s help to love acknowledges our need to move from using God to loving God – redirected only by God’s help.  May we all be so redirected by God’s self-sacrificing love in Jesus as we’re drawn into faith and dwell in the love of God.  We love you God, help us love you more.  Alleluia and amen.

 

 

[1] Warren Carter, Professor of New Testament, Brite Divinity School.  Commentary: Matthew 17:1-9 for Working Preacher on February 26, 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3172

[2] Exodus 34:29

[3] Daniel 9:1 and Mark 16:5

[4] 1 Kings 19:11-16

[5] Matthew 3:17 (at Jesus’ baptism)  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

[6] Matthew 17:4

[7] Exodus 33:7-10 and Exodus 40:2, 17-22

[8] Matthew 17:5

[9] Matthew 16:18 [Jesus said] “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

[10] Richard J. Foster & James Bryan Smith. Devotional Classics. (HarperCollins: New York, 1993), 68.

[11] Ibid., 71.

[12] Ibid., 69.

[13] Ibid., 40

[14] Ibid., 42.

[15] Ibid., 40.

 

Loving Before Knowing [OR The Foolishness of the Cross] Matthew 5:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 29, 2017

[sermon begins after Bible reading]

Matthew 5:1-12 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

[1 Corinthians reading is after the sermon]

[sermon begins]

Several months after my husband Rob and I started dating, we ended up at a New Year’s Eve party.  We were standing in a circle of people we didn’t know.  A bit of round-robin started as people talked about their work.  Rob said his usual, “I’m in sales.”  Someone asked, “Oh? What kind?” He said something like, “I’m a manufacturer’s rep for a Georgia-based carpet mill.”  As is often still the case, people don’t seem to know how to reply to that statement.  Possibly because cut-pile vs. loop or solution-dyed vs. yarn-dyed controversies aren’t quite party talk.  So, I’m next in the round-robin.  People have their eyebrows up expectantly, hoping their curiosity moves into easier conversation.  And I say, “I’m a pediatric cancer nurse.”  Stares and crickets. More stares and crickets with some nodding and mmmm’ing, while the conversation moved to the next person.

Some conversations are too detailed for party-talk, like the pros and cons of carpet manufacturing techniques.  And other conversations are too hard, like kids having cancer.  These are not the only ones. Just a couple of examples of so many things that don’t qualify as polite conversation.  Grief is another such thing.  This is where the church comes in, talking through the polite conversation into what’s happening in our lives. It’s one of the reasons being part of the church can be a comfort while we’re also challenged by Jesus’ teachings. Listen to this Bible verse again from the book of Matthew:

[Jesus teaches his disciples, saying,] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Jesus is often found teaching in Matthew.  The Bible verses today are most commonly known as the Beatitudes based on the Latin for blessed.  It is curious that people who suffer are described as blessed when these moments can feel and look like the opposite of blessing.  Jesus is pushing against the idea that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  There is no explanation for why people are poor in spirit or mourning, why people suffer.  There is simply a description of suffering and God’s promise to be present in the midst of it.

The Beatitudes state a promise into the suffering.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Notice there are no requirements to receive the kingdom.  In Matthew, the kingdom of heaven is now and it’s here.  Check out the kingdom parables in Matthew chapter 13.  They describe active presence of the kingdom on earth.  As Jesus teaches his disciples, Jesus teaches us, that we receive the kingdom, live the kingdom, and teach the kingdom.

I can hear you asking, “Well, pastor, that’s lovely poetry, but what does it look like on the ground to receive the kingdom and live in it?”  I’m glad you asked.  Richard Rohr, Franciscan monk and scholar, describes the rational mind hitting a ceiling.[1]  That ceiling is suffering. Today’s Bible verses name suffering as mourning and poor in spirit and more.  We can’t explain why it happens or its purpose.  We just know suffering exists and spend energy trying to prevent our own.  I mean, really, does anyone actually love eating kale?  Eventually, though, someone we love, or maybe even ourselves, suffers – we get sick, we grieve a death, we lose a job, we miscarry, or we watch our partner walk away.  All that we thought we knew about life and our place in it shifts.

But, as Paul says, “we proclaim Christ crucified,” the ultimate in earthly foolishness.[2]  Except that the cross means something beyond comprehension when it’s God’s foolishness. Jesus’ death on the cross means that God knows suffering.  More than that, it’s the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer.  Paul’s use of “Christ crucified” points us there because the crucified Christ is also the resurrected Christ.  Christ whom we claim is among us now by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit.

The same Holy Spirit names us the Body of Christ known as the church.  We are part of a resurrected life that we share together as a congregation.  We share that resurrection promise as a community of faith.  As Jesus teaches his disciples, he also teaches us, that we receive the kingdom and live in the kingdom especially when living through loss and grief.  Knowing this kingdom teaching can help stop us from painting a silver lining into someone else’s grief.[3]  We can simply be present with someone else in their suffering without fixing it or explaining it or telling someone it’s time to get over it.  We can avoid the trap of thinking someone else’s pain is a teaching moment for them and avoid setting ourselves up as the teacher.  Rather we can live the kingdom now by asking people how they’re doing, by telling people we’re sorry this is happening, by quietly listening, and by praying for them.

Prayer is one of the languages of the kingdom.  Jesus prayed the Psalms while on earth and now we do too as the body of Christ. Therefore, in the Psalms, we “encounter the praying Christ…Even if a verse or a psalm is not one’s own prayer, it is nevertheless the prayer of another member of the fellowship.”[4]  Praying for people on our prayer list who are suffering of mind, body, or spirit.  Taking the prayer list that’s in the weekly announcement page home, naming each person on it in prayer, or simply praying the whole list at once.  Praying is kingdom language even when we think our own prayers are uncomfortable and clunky.  That discomfort and humility in prayer are part of the kingdom language.  So is praying for people we don’t necessarily like.

As Christians, praying and being present to each other and the world’s pain is a freedom we have through the cross.  We may recognize God’s foolishness as wisdom and look to the cross as a way of knowing.[5]  It’s possible that one of the truths of Christ crucified is that our suffering connects us to each other differently.  We move through the party talk and listen to someone talk about their grief and loss.  These moments become prayer by transcending what we’re arguing about ideologically and opens our eyes us to see each other truly as beloved children of God.  Through the cross, through the suffering, we love before we know, we love as a way of knowing, we love as Christ loves us.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

[1] Richard Rohr, Public Remarks, Join the Divine Dance: An Exploration of God as Trinity, Arvada, CO, January 13-15, 2017.

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:23-25

[3] This is a riff on Brené Brown’s work on empathy vs sympathy.  See video, “Brené Brown on Empathy”:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw&sns=fb

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 46-47.

[5] Rohr, ibid.

________________________________________

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

People of Courage

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 4, 2016

[sermon begins after 2 Bible readings]

Philemon 1:1-21 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. 8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Luke 14:25-33 Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

[sermon begins]

What is your deepest prayer?  The longing of your heart?  Can you even put it into words?  Some of us can and some of us can’t.  My public prayers come out in a somewhat organized way so that others have a shot a following along.  The silent prayers of my heart and mind?  Not so much.  Those prayers take flight like a hummingbird – first here, then there, then over there – a jumble of images, people’s faces, sentence fragments, sometimes just a single word.  It’s why I occasionally pray prayers written by other people.  Their words can chill out my search for words and help me let go into prayer.

Paul’s writings can land and lift like prayers.  Certainly not every word he’s written, but there are moments.  When I started reading Philemon a couple weeks ago it was that kind of experience.  The way he opens in greeting with grace and peace giving thanks for his friends.  His “appeal to [Philemon] on the basis of love” on behalf of Onesimus.[1]  Challenging Philemon about who a co-worker in the gospel can be.

Paul’s words to Philemon flutter at us.  There’s a sweetness on one side and steel on the other.  Love, love, love and do, do, do.  Paul loves Philemon AND Onesimus.  He wants them to get along in a new way. In Christ.  So he writes a letter.  From prison.  So many powerful words have come from sitting in captivity.  Bonhoeffer wrote in a concentration camp, Dr. King in a Birmingham Jail, and, apparently, prison inspired Paul to write too.

Writing in prison is definitely a thing.  In prison there’s time.  A lot of time.  When freedom is stripped away and there’s no room for choice, time opens up.  These people that I just named wrote before they were in prison as well.  It’s just that some of their most memorable writings came from prison.  Prison’s stark reality seems to bring a different kind of clarity.  If there’s little more to lose then for some people there seems to be even more to say.

I’d like to see Philemon’s response to Paul.  And then I wish we had a transcript from Onesimus. I want to know what these three men are thinking as this negotiation takes shape.  I can imagine all kinds of thing about Philemon.  Just like I can imagine that Onesimus has a bunch of opinions too.  Regardless, Paul has a lot to say to Philemon about changing his behavior.

How does someone stop doing something and start doing something else?  What are the ways and means that that happens?  Ideally, it comes from the inside.  Self-awareness of something and then a strategy for change.  There’s something more palatable about that process.  I get to identify my problem.  Wail and gnash teeth behind the scenes.  Make a plan.  And get going.  It sounds so tidy.  It’s part of the American ethos.  I get to become a better version of myself and no one’s the wiser because the process is internal, mostly private.

Internal self-improvement and privacy don’t seem to be a part of the Kingdom of God in the scenario between Paul and Philemon.  The letter is addressed to Philemon, some friends, and their church.  Eugene Peterson, a retired pastor and writer, asks this question:

What does it mean to represent the Kingdom of God in a culture devoted to the Kingdom of the Self?[2]

Well, for one thing, it seems to mean not doing things perfectly.  Representing the Kingdom of God looks like the cross that Jesus is talking about in Luke.  Listen to what Jesus tells the people following him on the road to Jerusalem: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” [3]

How many tower builders and kings do you think are in the crowd following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem?  How many in the crowd know what it feels like to decide to go to war or to design a building?  I’m going to guess with you that there aren’t many.  The people in the crowd have a greater chance of working in the tower as it is being built or being sent to the front lines in battle.  They’ve likely seen and known what it means when decisions about those things are made poorly.  Because people die when a tower falls or war goes badly.  It’s good for kings and tower architects to know what they’re doing.  The people in the crowd know that much.

What the people in the crowd don’t know is the extent of what the cross means.  They couldn’t.  The cross is more like towers that fall and wars that are lost.  Ironically, Jesus is talking to them about towers that stand and wars thoughtfully considered.  The cross is a shameful end.

In the honor-shame culture of the first century, shame and avoiding it is something that the people know about.  When Jesus asks them if they’re willing to hate their families, the word he uses for hate means disgrace rather the emotional state of hate we think of today.[4]  There are first century letters from parents complaining about their son or daughter joining the Christians.[5]  This was not good news in families.

I’ll say it again.  The people in the crowd do not know what the cross means.  Ironically, Jesus is talking to them about towers that stand and wars thoughtfully considered.  Yet, the cross is a shameful end.  More like towers that fall and wars that are lost.  Picking up a cross is not a recipe for success.  It’s a burden of shame.

As I continued to read Philemon during the last few weeks, I was drawn to what Paul isn’t saying.  He isn’t saying slavery is wrong.  He isn’t challenging the status quo of owning people.  He is challenging Philemon to treat his slave as a brother in Christ. Upwards of 35-40% of people were enslaved in the 1st century Greco-Roman world.[6]

Turns out the letter to Philemon and others of Paul’s writings were more recently used in history to support over 250 years of American Christian ownership of slaves.[7]  Even as a representative of the Kingdom of God, Paul’s reveals the limitations of his own humanity.  There is confession of sorts in Paul’s letter.  He can see only so far into kingdom freedom for Onesimus and Philemon.

As Jesus asks those following him to count the costs, he also knows our limitations.  Our comfort with the status quo can blind us to the suffering we inflict on ourselves and each other.  If Jesus’ death on the cross says anything it shows just how far we’ll go to keep things the same.

Jesus know this about us and gives us to each other like Paul, Onesimus, and Philemon – appealing to each other in love.  Not a sappy, sentimental kind of love.  The hard kind of love that inspires the courage both to speak and to listen.  The kind of love that saturates the life of Jesus, that leads to the self-sacrificing love of Jesus on a cross.  The same cross that shatters a culture devoted to the Kingdom of Self. The cross that heralds the Kingdom of God and draws us toward each other through the love of Jesus.

Thanks be to God.

 

[1] Philemon 1:9

[2] Eugene H. Peterson. Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1992), 50.

[3] Luke 14:27

[4] John Petty.  Pentecost 16:::Luke 14:25-33 Commentary for September 4, 2016 http://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2016/08/pentecost-16-luke-14-25-33.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] Christian A. Eberhart, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Houston. Commentary on Philemon for September 4, 2016 at WorkingPreacher.org http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1767

[7] Peter Gomes. The Good Book. (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1996), 89.

Sharon Draper. Timeline of Slavery in America: 1501-1865. https://sharondraper.com/timeline.pdf

[8] Eugene H. Peterson. Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1992), 50.

“You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Barn [OR What If Political Conventions Began With Confession]  Luke 12:12-21 [22-31] and Colossians 3:1-11

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 31, 2016

[sermon begins after 2 Bible readings]

Luke 12:12-21 [22-31]  Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’  22 He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!25And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?*26If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;* yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, strive for his* kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Colossians 3:1-11   So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your* life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.*7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.* 8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive* language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal*there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

[sermon begins]

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve watched bits and pieces of two political parties’ national conventions.  All the way around, it’s a big dose of presidential candidates, the people who support them, and their view of the world and America’s place in it.  One of the things I’ve been wondering is what the conventions would look like if they followed the traditional Lutheran worship liturgy.  “Liturgy” means the work of the people and there are a lot of people working pretty hard at those conventions.  At the very least, they’re already standing and sitting at intervals.  It’s a place to start.

Following the liturgy idea, what would it look like for political conventions to open with a confession?   Imagine people saying together:

“…we have sinned by our fault, by our own fault, by our own grievous fault, in thought word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone…”

The thing is, we know because we confess week-after-week, that this is only part of the confession and forgiveness liturgy.  But imagine the conventions opening with that kind of confession – starting the conversation from the point of being convicted.  I know, I get it.  Confession and media hype don’t go hand-in-hand.  But there is something appealing about the idea.

Jesus is talking to thousands of people in the Bible story today.  Thousands of people.  Just a few verses before these thousands converge on him, he quietly teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer.  Pastor Ann preached these verses last Sunday and talked about our God who listens when we pray.  I had a conversation with someone during the week about the comfort we experience in the liturgy and the Lord’s Prayer.  Sometimes this comfort is disrupted by a powerful conviction.  The conviction of being on the wrong road with some part of life.  A conviction that comes through the liturgy’s familiar words of scripture, prayer, and hymns.  Convicted.

Pastor Tim Keller says, “If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.”[1]  I like Pastor Keller’s thought about God disagreeing with us. This disagreement is softer language for being convicted.  But who is right if God disagrees with us?  I’m going to guess God.

The Bible story in Luke is convicting.  A man from the crowd yells out to Jesus. The man wants his help to settle an inheritance dispute with his brother.  Jesus side-steps his question and speaks to the crowd:

Listen to verse 15: “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’”[2]

Jesus warns them against all kinds of greed.  You name it and you can be greedy for it – money, power, things, time, information, degrees, etc.  There’s all kinds of greed but Jesus takes a moment to name one in particular – the abundance of possessions – and tells a story about a man and his crops.  The man’s land produced abundantly.  He looks at the crops and starts talking to himself.  Something along the lines of “self, you’re gonna need a bigger barn.”[3]  Once this is settled, he updates his soul on the latest goings on.  “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for you for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.”[4]

Apparently God has had enough of listening to the man speak only to himself, a first-person universe that includes only the man.[5]  In just three verses, he uses the personal pronoun “I” six times and the personal possessive “my” four times. Then, God calls him a “fool.”

A little background to this parable about the man and his barn in the 12th chapter of Luke.  In the middle of the 10th chapter, Jesus and a lawyer get clear about the priority of loving God and loving neighbor as yourself with the parable of the Good Samaritan.[6]  At the beginning of Luke’s 11th chapter, the Lord’s Prayer is taught by Jesus to his disciples, including praying regularly for God’s kingdom come and our daily bread.[7]  Now, in chapter 12, Luke tells the Parable of the Barn Man.  A couple things to note here.  Wealth and saving for the future do not seem to be the issue.  What does seem to be an issue is the Rich Fool’s first-person universe and the perversion of wealth and savings into greed.

Over the last few decades, wealth around the world has shifted to an ever shrinking percentage of people worldwide.[8]  Think “Roaring ‘20s.”  I’ve wondered about this shift of wealth and track its impact on the most vulnerable people in the world.  I’ve also wondered how the most vulnerable will react as it becomes more and more difficult to feed and raise their families.  I’ve wondered about civil unrest and the price that is paid in blood by the most vulnerable.  You don’t have to think very far back into history to see this at work.[9]  Although, for now, it seems that the presidential primaries have become a way to voice discontent.

Closer to home in the City of Denver, gentrification is out-pricing many urban families who move beyond the city limits along with the next rent increase. Many have lived in Denver for generations.  While a few schools are bursting at the seams, Denver Public Schools is anticipating a decreased enrollment, in part, because of this gentrification.[10]   It’s close to home for us as a congregation and community with some of us facing this very real possibility in our own families.

Human greed functions in every kind of economic system.  Capitalism is no different in that regard to socialism or communism.  There is also no pure form of economic system.[11]  For example, America’s capitalism includes taxation that pays for roads, emergency services, schools, and Social Security. Regardless, as the primary economic system, capitalism can cloak greed in a respectability that makes it difficult to begin a conversation about it.

Conversation partners are sadly lacking in today’s parable.  The man talks only to himself as he plans and builds.  This is where the church has something to offer.  Jesus says to be on guard against all kinds of greed and then tells this parable.  We are conscripted as conversation partners through the gospel.

As conversation partners through the gospel, we begin at the end – FREE.  Made free by Christ, hidden IN Christ as the Colossians reading reminds us.[12]  Already belonging to God beyond those pesky categories of Greek or Jew, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free;[13] and well beyond Independent, Libertarian, Democrat, Republican, and Green.  This freedom in Christ means that fingers don’t point outward first – finding a soul on which to throw the greedy label.  We point those fingers at ourselves.

Pointing our fingers at ourselves, we have a chance of seeing where we store up treasures for ourselves but are not rich toward God.[14]  Where we love possessions and money more than we love God and our neighbor.  Let’s start there this week with that level of honesty.  That greed no longer bankrupt our relationships with God and neighbor; that the gifts of mercy and generosity take hold through our baptisms.[15]  Trusting God’s final word of mercy through the death of Jesus, we find ourselves and our neighbors valued by God beyond anything any of us may possess.

By the power of the Holy Spirit through your baptism, may you be clothed with the new self, “which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”[16]

May God’s abundant grace free you from that which binds you. In the name of Christ (+), amen.

 

[1] Tim Keller (b. 1950 – present). https://twitter.com/timkellernyc/status/510458013606739968

[2] Luke12:15

[3] A nod to Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb’s screenplay for the movie Jaws (Universal: 1975).

[4] Luke 12:19

[5] Matt Skinner used this phrase in Sermon Brainwave podcast for Luke 12:13-21 on WorkingPreacher.org for July 31, 2016.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=784

[6] Luke 10:25-37 – Parable of the Good Samaritan

[7] Luke 11:1-4 – The Lord’s Prayer

[8] CHAD STONEDANILO TRISIARLOC SHERMAN, AND EMILY HORTON. “A Guide to Statistics on Historical Trends of Income Inequality.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 29, 2016.  http://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/a-guide-to-statistics-on-historical-trends-in-income-inequality

[9] For example, The French Revolution

[10] Melanie Asmar. “Enrollment Drop Will Leave 100s of Teachers Jobless.” The Colorado Independent: March 16, 2016.  http://www.coloradoindependent.com/158050/enrollment-drop-will-leave-100s-of-denver-teachers-jobless

[11] American Government: 13b. “Comparing Economic Systems.” http://www.ushistory.org/gov/13b.asp

[12] Colossians 3:3

[13] Colossians 3:11

[14] Luke 12:21

[15] Romans 12:8

[16] Colossians 3:10

We Begin at the End [OR “YOU Are The Man”] Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3; Psalm 32; and 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15

 

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 12, 2016

[sermon begins after 2 Bible readings; the King David story and the Psalm are at the end of sermon]

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

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

My mother has given each of us kids many things over the years.  There is one gift that is relevant today.  It’s a Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language.  I and my siblings each have one. Included with the gift is a metal or wooden book stand to put it on.  People walk into my living room, see the huge book on its wrought iron stand and assume it’s an old family Bible. Easy mistake when you walk into a pastor’s home.  It’s not a Bible.  But the dictionary came in at a close second to the Bible in my family.

When we’d hear a word and didn’t know what it meant, Mom would send us to the dictionary, always opened on the book stand, with a quick, “Go look it up.”  The equivalent of an old school web search except with legs and paper.  Off we’d go and come back to report our findings.  Words are a memorable part of my childhood.  Now words are the tools of my trade in the pulpit and beyond.

In the Galatians reading, we find Paul emphasizing certain words through repetition.  Paul redirects the church in Galatia using words like justification, law, works, and faith over-and-over.  Much as they were for Paul, these four words are tools of the trade for Lutheran preachers, too.  Justification. Law. Works. Faith.  Four words that make sense when, off we go, to look up and find Christ on the heavy wood of the cross.  To paraphrase Martin Luther in the introductory words of his Galatians lectures, we begin at the end.[1]

We begin at the end and the end is our justification – being made right with God through what God did in Christ.  This is passive on our parts.[2]  Simply receiving by faith what God has already done for us.

Luther argues this about Paul’s purpose in the letter to the Galatians: “Paul wants to establish the doctrine of faith, grace, the forgiveness of sins or Christian righteousness, so that we may have a perfect knowledge and know the difference between Christian righteousness and all other kinds of righteousness.”

Then Luther goes on to list various kinds of righteousness including:

Political righteousness that politicians, philosophers, and lawyers consider in regards to guilt, innocence, and justice.

Ceremonial righteousness that Christians consider in regards to preaching, worship, and sacraments.

Lastly, Luther emphasizes the righteousness of the Law, the commandments – righteous, indeed, but only after the passiveness of faith is given.

I care so much about this passive gift of justification we receive by faith.  I care about it personally for myself and for people like me who were raised in different faith traditions in which you never knew if you were good with God. A lot of how God and I were doing had to do with how well I could keep up with my own active righteousness in the Law.  I care a lot about it for people who have grown up in with the message of passive justification by grace through faith and leave the tradition without understanding the magnitude of this promise.

Here’s Luther again on this topic:

“Thus human reason cannot refrain from looking at active righteousness, that is, its own righteousness…”[3]  We’re an active people, after all.  Passive is a word used in the world that is often given a negative meaning.  But passive in terms of justification is something to revel in – floating in that baptismal promise until we get all pruny.

If there one thing I know, it’s people and their sin.  I’m difficult to surprise with the ways people hurt themselves, each other, and the planet.  If there’s one thing I know better, it’s me and my own sin.  I also know what Luther is talking about as he warns about how easily we fall into trusting our own works, our own active righteousness by which we try to justify ourselves.[4]

In the snippet of the story from Second Samuel, King David stands accused by Nathan.  David wants the woman who is married to Uriah.  He sends Uriah to battle in the front lines with the knowledge that he would die.  Then he marries Uriah’s wife.  Nathan is sent to challenge David with the truth.  Nathan tells him a story about a man who has acted unjustly.  So unjustly has the man acted that David’s “anger was greatly kindled against the man.”[5]  Nathan turns to him and says, “YOU are the man.”[6]

“YOU are the man.”  It’s crushing to stand accused and have the accusation be true.  It’s easy to try to explain it away even when our own culpability is so obvious.  Last week Pastor Ann preached about compassion.  She used the example of the mother whose child ended up in the gorilla enclosure and how quickly the critique and defense began – self-righteousness pouring in from all sides in the news and social media storm.  Pastor Ann encouraged us to remove ourselves from the bandwagon of accusing, pointing fingers.  Slow down our rush to judgment and consider ourselves – our reactions, our own moments of culpability.

This week many of us can’t look away from a rape trial that happened on the prestigious Stanford campus.  The accused is obviously guilty and his father’s justification for a lenient sentence is splattered across the media.  The hue and cry is so great that Congress plans to read the woman’s letter to the rapist into the congressional record.

The thing that gets me about this case is it’s irrefutable.  The crime was public, witnessed. The heroes caught the perpetrator and stayed with the woman while awaiting emergency personnel.  There is no he-said-she-said confusion on this one.  If Nathan were standing with the accused, he might say to him, “YOU are the man.”

The last few weeks, much has been discussed in public about rape on college campuses that includes the sexual assault scandal at Baylor University along with the separate incident at Stanford.  As recently as yesterday, a missing 18 year old woman was found dead in Larimer County – her ex-boyfriend the suspect.  The sense of entitlement that wounds and kills women is appalling.  The temptation to be Nathan and the Pharisee with accusing, pointing fingers is great.  I’ve certainly indulged in my own finger pointing along this line.

There is a challenge here from the scripture.  Jesus says to Simon the Pharisee, “Do you see this woman?”  It’s a convicting question.  “Do you see this woman?”  Simon, so quick to point out the woman’s sin and shame, overlooks his own.  There are many ways we do this pointing and shaming similarly.  Actively justifying our goodness in the world.  “Active righteousness” as Luther would call it.  Stacking up the good-wins in a column.  What would happen if we put our efforts to name ourselves righteous to the side?  Put our fingers away for a moment.  Specifically, confessing the ways that we as both men and women participate in a culture and a world that preys on women.

What would happen if our starting place is passive righteousness?  As Paul says it in verse from Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”  What would happen?  Would Christ in us free us to confess our culpability in this culture that preys on women?  Would we become part of a culture shift?  Would we find the relief that the psalmist describes so well?   The Psalmist writes, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin… You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.”[7]

Passive righteousness is the end that serves as our beginning.  From there we begin living lives of courage.  We begin at the end – no longer content to let our own sin go unspoken.  This kind of courage is a bit thin in the culture at the moment and is an oh-so-desperately-needed gift.  This is a gift Christ offers through us for the sake of the world.  Claim the promise as you move through your week.  Say to yourself, “It is not I, but Christ who lives in me.”  This is most certainly true.

 

[1] Martin Luther. Introductory paragraph to Lectures on Galatians in Luther’s Works Volume 26, 1535.  (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963), [3].

[2] Martin Luther, [4]

[3] Martin Luther, 5.

[4] Martin Luther, 9.

[5] 2 Samuel 12:5

[6] 2 Samuel 12:7

[7] Psalm 32:5, 7

 

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

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord,
12:1 and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” 7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” 15 Then Nathan went to his house. The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill.

 

 

 

Burpees, Eye-rolls, and Other Moving Parts – Luke 4:14-21, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30, and Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 24, 2016

[sermon begins after the Luke reading – two more readings follow the sermon]

Luke 4:12-21 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

[sermon begins]

There’s this thing called a burpee.  It’s a whole body effort that begins by standing.  There’s a quick move to bring the body flat to the floor with chest, stomach, knees, and toes all touching the ground. A quick pop back up to the feet to standing and then jumping in the air to finish.  The burpee was developed in 1940 by Royal H. Burpee, a physiologist in New York City, to assess physical health in non-active people by asking them to do four in a row and taking their heartrates.[1]  The American military picked up the move in 1942 and by 1946 required a one-minute test of max number of burpees.  41 reps was considered excellent and 27 was considered poor.

Burpees came to mind when reading these Bible texts for today. In three of the readings, there’s talk about body parts, whole bodies, movement, and even some weeping which isn’t out of the question when doing max rep burpees.

In story from Nehemiah, “all the people stood up” to hear the reading of the law.  “Lifting their hands” they responded to Ezra’s prayers with an “Amen, Amen.”  “Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”  That is a lot of body movement in unison by a large group.  Then the people wept, convicted as Ezra read the law “with interpretation…so that people understood the reading.”  The people hear the law, understand that they are caught by it, and they start to cry.  However, they are not left to their despair.

Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites tell the people that this is the Lord’s holy day.  The people are instructed to stop crying, to go eat fat and drink wine and “send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared.”  Why?  Because “the joy of the Lord is their strength.”  Conviction by the law of God, by the knowledge that we have not been on the side of our neighbor, is unsettling.  Despair is inevitable if conviction by the law is the only word.

The reading from First Corinthians gives us a solid bit of law through the poetry of Paul.  Listen to Paul’s words again:

“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. . 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”

Paul’s talk about eyes not needing hands or the head not needing feet infers that the church in Corinth is behaving in just such an exclusionary manner.  The talk of eyes getting rid of hands or the head getting rid of feet brings to mind the language of dismembering – taking a body apart.  Paul’s description using body parts is applicable because one of the Biblical descriptors of the church is the body of Christ.  He is especially focused on the discovery that some people are dis-membering certain other people from the church, from the body of Christ, for whatever reason that someone deems as non-need.

Lutheran Christian identity is as old as Christianity itself because it can identify its antecedents well before the 16th century Reformation.  However, the way the Reformation came down means that Lutheranism has dis-memberment as part of its ethos.  Meaning that the denomination formed on a foundation of disagreement that resulted in broken community.  We know what this looks like from the outside and from the inside.  It can make us quick to judge others through whether we think we need them or not.

This talk about church and denomination makes me want to broaden this conversation in the direction of politics.  It’s a political time and it’s simple to find dismembering kind of talk in public and in private.  Talk that makes the leap to who cares about this country and the Constitution and who doesn’t.  Talk that makes clear that if you care about this country you’ll believe certain things and act in certain ways.  Talk that includes a lot of eye-rolling up, down, and across the aisle.

As I think about the public dialogue that includes eye-rolling, I realize that even my eyes can get away from me.  My own eye rolls that communicate disbelief and disrespect in one fell swoop.  Eye rolls that disconnect people before their thought is even completed.  My sister and I talked a long while back about those eyes rolls and disrespect.  Whether it’s the eye roll that happens by a parent to teen or a teen to a parent.  Or maybe the eye roll at your spouse’s back.  Or even the eye-roll about a public servant, a politician.  All of this eye-rolling amounts to a cut direct that dismembers one person from another.  There’s a bit of homework for your week.  Catch yourself as you roll your eyes.  Think about why you’re doing it and the effect on what it means for you to listen and respond differently to someone.

For people of the church, people called into a body of Christ, Paul’s description is convicting and a possible antidote to the eye-roll.  Convicted by these words about holding together across differences.  We may not have equal passion about same things.  We may not believe the same things.  We are certainly not gifted for the same things.  This congregation is a group of people who are confronted by difference all the time.  That’s part of being the body of Christ.  We also don’t choose the people who are in the body with us.   Paul writes, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

The Middle School youth of this congregation have some recent practice with Paul’s words.  Last weekend, at the Rocky Mountain Synod’s Middle School Youth Gathering, they had a chance to figure out what their spiritual gifts might be and how they add to mix in the body of Christ.  Some gifts that make the list in First Corinthians are forms of assistance, healing, prophesying, deeds of power, teaching, leadership, and interpretation.  Identifying their spiritual gifts give these young people a baptismal understanding of themselves beyond what the wider culture might have to say about them and what they offer the world.  This is something the church gives people by way of the Spirit.  Another possible antidote in a culture of celebrity, accumulation, and eye-rolling.

In Luke, it’s Jesus’ turn to make a stand – no jump and clap needed for added emphasis.  He stands as he reads in the synagogue.  Something he’s done all over Galilee before returning to his hometown “filled with the power of the Spirit.”

Luke tells us that, “Jesus unrolled the scroll [of Isaiah] and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In that synagogue and here today Jesus makes these promises.  He’s anointed by the Spirit to proclaim freedom, sight, and good news.  Not only to proclaim these things but has fulfilled them in his person.  Note Jesus uses the word “today.”  Fulfillment in the present tense so long ago.  We can make as much sense of his promises as did the people in the Nazorean synagogue.  And still, with confidence in those promises, we find that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  Thanks be to God.

 

[1] Sally Tamarkin, “A Brief History of the Burpee.” Huffpost Healthy Living, May 2, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/02/burpee-history_n_5248575.html

Two more of the Bible readings:

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

1 Corinthians 12:12-30 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.

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

Looking Backward to Move Forward – John 11:32-44

[sermon begins after the 3 Bible readings]

John 11-32-44  When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Isaiah 25:6-9 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Reveleation 21:1-6a  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

[sermon begins]

One of the things I get to do at Augustana is work with a Faith Community Nurse as part of the staff here.  Sheryl is so titled because (a) she’s a nurse and (b) she works in a faith community.  See how that works?  She has a Master’s Degree. She’s a Nurse Practitioner.  She has worked in an ICU.  She has worked in an outpatient clinic. She has a passion for wellness.  She has a heart for the gospel.  She brings an amazing amount of knowledge to the congregation.  We all benefit.  She’s on vacation this week so I get to brag on her all kinds while she’s out of town.  That has to be some kind of reverse gossip, #Lutheranhumility, right?

Sheryl is part of our weekly Care Team meeting that also includes our Children and Family Minister and the pastors.  Two weeks ago she told us about a conference she attended to prepare for the upcoming Grief Support Group at Augustana.  The conference was led by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transitions in Fort Collins and known for healing and grief.[1]  Sheryl summarized Dr. Wolfelt’s three main points in this way – we need to say hello to the person who died before we can say goodbye, we need to sit in the darkness before we see the light, and we need to look backwards before we can go forward.

All three points are worth addressing.  And Sheryl will facilitate the Grief Support Group beginning on Sunday, November 15th between worship services.  I encourage you to take advantage of it.  However, it was the last point that really caught my attention.  “We need to look backwards before we can go forward.”

The story of Lazarus is a long story in the Bible.  We are only privy to part of it in the reading today.  Lazarus has died.  Jesus takes his time getting there.  Martha, Lazarus’ sister, is in tears.  Mary, Lazarus’ other sister, is also tears.  The Jews are in tears.  Jesus ends up in tears.  There are a lot of tears.  The Isaiah and Revelation verses reference no more tears but we are not there yet.  We are in the Gospel of John with a lot of tears.  Mary says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Mary is looking backwards.  She is looking backwards on the event of her brother’s death with Jesus by her side and with her people, the Jews, by her side.  She is doing the work of grief and the people around her are doing the work with her.

Funerals happen here in Augustana’s Christ Chapel and Sanctuary.  Sometimes the funeral is for a member of the congregation.  Sometimes they are not.  As a pastor, I make no distinction between member or not.  We are a visible church on a busy road and a lot of people know people connected to the people here.  Sometimes they just know that the building is here.  Sometimes they know the Early Learning Center is here.  Regardless, this congregation offers hope and healing in Jesus Christ and there is no more significant moment in which God’s promise is more alive than at the time of death.

A few weeks ago, Pastor Todd was the officiant for one such funeral here in Augustana’s Christ Chapel. The Early Learning Center children were on their way to lunch.  I was headed downstairs as they were headed up.  Their teacher was reminding the children to walk quietly with the funeral going on upstairs.  I crouched down and whispered to the kids, “There are people upstairs who are sad because someone they love died a few days ago…can you all help them by being quiet on your way to lunch?”  They all nodded at me, big-eyed, some serious, some smiling, some telling me their names, some waving wildly.  The children became part of the community doing the work of grief with the people at the funeral.  They started ever so quietly on their way to lunch while looking backwards up the stairs before moving forward.

There is sometimes a misconception that tears show a lack of faith. Or that funerals should be only a celebration of life – no sadness allowed.  Indeed, funerals are a celebration of the person who lived.  But they also make space for our loss and surround us with people who also feel that loss.  In the Lazarus story, Jesus cries with Mary and the people with her.  When people we love die, Jesus cries with us too.  There is indeed a time for tears to be cried and we do well to let our bodies do what bodies do cry them.  When we allow the tears to come, we are looking backward to move forward.

Today is All Saints Sunday.  Today we remember by name those who have died as part of the Augustana congregation or loved by those in the congregation over the last year.  Some of us are in worship today to hear a particular name.  Like Mary, there are people with and around us.

Today is All Saints Sunday so we also remember the saints who came before us in last two millennia.  Today there is a sign marking the stairs to the choir loft.  It reads, “No seating upstairs in the choir loft for worship today. We leave them empty in remembrance of our ancestors in the faith.”   I like the idea of seats held empty in remembrance of the people who came before us.

Saints, so named by their baptism, whose lives and voices proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ so that we might live in faith today.  Some of whom went on to lead extraordinary lives that we can look to as examples for our own lives of faith. Looking back toward the saints, we look forward in faith.  We can look as far back as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  Slightly more recently through history to Hildegard of Bingen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Rosa Parks.  We look backward and hear them crying with grieving people, proclaiming Christ crucified and risen for you, and setting the captives free.

In the Lazarus story, Jesus cries with Mary and the people with her.  There is a time for grief.  Jesus spends time looking backward with them.  And, only then, Jesus looks forward.  He rejoins them with Lazarus raised from the dead.

Jesus is the one who turns death into life.  Jesus turns death into life for Lazarus.  Jesus turns death into life for you.  This is an unconditional promise made by the power of the Holy Spirit through the cross of Jesus Christ, through Christ crucified and risen, for you.

God, the Alpha and the Omega, cries with us and opens our future through Jesus Christ.  “[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”

Amen and thanks be to God!

 

[1] Alan D. Wolfelt. Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart.  (Fort Collins: Companion Press, 2003).

Mark 8:27-38 – I, Skeptic

Mark 8:27-38 – I, Skeptic

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church  on September 13

Mark 8:27-38 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

[sermon begins]

 

Weekly staff meetings here at the church are a mixed bag.  There’s some very practical business.  We go through the calendar.  Identify all the community groups that will be in the building that week. Who’s using what rooms. Figure out what needs to get set up. Talk about mutual projects.  There’s details for the upcoming Sunday with the staff involved in worship.  Not so different than many of your staff meetings.  Just exchange the content for that of your work place.

One possible difference between your staff meeting and ours might be the devotions at the beginning of ours.  “Devotions” is a churchy word that usually means time spent in scripture, prayer, and talking about faith and life. The responsibility for devotions rotates among the staff. We all bring our different personalities to the mix.  Lyn was up last week.  She asked us all to take a minute to write down on a piece of paper what we think the gospel is and then she asked us to share it… … …  Yup.  Write it down and share it.  Should be simple.  But somehow it didn’t feel simple.

I preach the gospel on Sundays and at funerals.  I talk about it with people who wonder about it – both people who call themselves Christians and those who don’t.  But there was something about looking at a blank half sheet of paper and picking up a #2 pencil to write down the gospel that gave me pause.  And I don’t get text anxiety!  I’m not going to spend more time then I should navel gazing on this one.  But I do think it’s interesting.  And it was interesting to go around the room and listen to everyone else’s answers too.  It was a 30 second, gospel-drenched sermon.

Jesus does something similar in the Bible story today.  He tells the gospel of his own suffering, death, and resurrection in the smallest amount of time possible.  It takes even less time for Peter the skeptic to show up.  It’s funny how that works.  For someone to say something earth shattering and for the skeptic to show up.

About a year ago, Augustana member Barb Watts asked me something almost casually about “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday.  This is a church-wide emphasis for ELCA Lutherans.  It includes doing good and practical things for our local and global neighbors while wearing these wild yellow t-shirts. I don’t remember exactly what Barb said but it was close to, “Would something like that ever be something we would do here?”  My response was supportive of the idea while investigating her interest and passion for helping lead it.  “I’m game…do you want to be a part of seeing what’s possible?”

Honestly, though? My inner skeptic had long been at work.  In the ELCA’s first year of “God’s work. Our hands. Sunday”, 2013, I balked at the idea.  Augustana had just called me as a pastor and we were getting to know each other slowly but surely.  The e-mail from church-wide came in the summer.  Discover Augustana ministry fair was already in place and going strong on the second Sunday in September.  The second year, 2014, was the summer following Pastor Pederson’s retirement and, quite frankly, God’s work for my hands had filled them plenty full.

These excuses worked those first couple of years mostly because I was skeptical of the project.  Here’s a confession for you.  As a general rule, I’m fairly skeptical of Christian projects.  How’s that for a paradox in a collar?  Part of the skepticism is that Christian projects take on various forms.  These forms can have the effect of trying to dress up the gospel, turning it into something else entirely.  So that you no longer hear that Jesus died on a cross and lives again for the unconditional forgiveness of the world.

Like Peter taking Jesus aside and rebuking him for saying he would suffer, die, and rise again.  It becomes so easy to take the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection and pile something else on top of it.  Making the gospel contingent and conditional. Whether it’s moral conservatism or liberal moralism or some other –ism entirely.  You’ve likely heard the language.  Fill in this blank, “You’re really a Jesus follower if you _______________.”

Christian projects have a way of turning into these contingent, conditional sentences.  And these sentences have a way of turning into self-righteous weapons that truly hurt other people and cut-off relationships.  So as benign as these yellow t-shirts look, I could see their short-sleeved shadows.

Anybody notice what happens to the skeptic in the Bible story today?  Yeah, doesn’t end up so well for Peter.  Jesus rebukes him, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  These are important words for us as church.  And important words for this person standing here in front of you, yellow-shirted today.  As Jesus people, we say that we are baptized into Christ’s death and raised to new life in Christ.

By this baptism, we are the Body of Christ in the world.  The waters of baptism drown the skeptic.  Skepticism can be occasionally helpful and sometimes fun.  But there are issues of justice that need attention.  More immediately, people need to eat.  So, the waters of baptism drown the skeptic and send us to participate in the practical.  We tend to the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the healing of the sick, and offering hope to the hopeless.

Barb Watts asked her curious question and the possibility of it simmered for a while as we agreed to pick it back up in the spring. The congregation welcomed our new Interim Senior Pastor.  A few more months went by. 2015 flipped on the calendar.

Julie MacDougall started working in the office as the Volunteer Coordinator, bringing her years of Augustana membership, relationships, and formidable skills from the business arena along with her.  She was more than game for “God’s work. Our hands. Sunday.” We started the conversation with Barb Watts and Lyn Goodrum, Augustana’s communications specialist.  Slowly but surely many, many people added their gifts to the mix from Global Mission and Social Ministry Committees, Children and Family Ministry, Health Ministry, Prayer Shawl Ministry, Music Ministry, Barbeque Ministry and many more.

This is the punch of “God’s work. Our hands. Sunday.”  It’s like setting up a magnifier over the ministry of the baptized.  On the other 364 days of the year, the ministry of the baptized hums along in our homes and our places of work in our daily vocations of relationships, work, and volunteerism.  The ministry of the baptized hums along in our worship in white robes and street clothes. Sometimes we know the good we do but most of the time we really don’t. It’s often hidden from us and it’s mostly hidden from others.  And that is likely a good thing because otherwise the ministry of the baptized so easily becomes our project and not God’s.

Today, Jesus puts the skeptical behind him and draws our participation into the practical.  When Jesus talks about taking up crosses, it’s more than a picking and choosing ceremony. Christianity is more than opting for which cross to take up. Taking up crosses is what happens to us by way of the cross of the Christ.  There is a kind of promise here that taking up your cross is what is going to happen TO you as a Jesus follower.

As we are conscripted by our baptisms, be assured by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians…

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Amen. And thanks be to God!

John 6:51-58 – The Italians, Jesus, and Me

John 6:51-58  – The Italians, Jesus and Me

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 16

John 6:51-58 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

[sermon begins]

John 6:51-58 “The Italians, Jesus, and Me”

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 16, 2015

Last Saturday, I preached a funeral for a dear, dear saint.  He was a member of this congregation.  When I would visit Louie he would spend time telling me stories about his children, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. His angels, he’d call them.  I don’t know many people who loved this life as much as Louie and who was equally as ready to go be with his recently departed wife as much as he was.

Louie and I shared a love of dry red wine and cheese almost as old.  We could talk cheese flavors like some people talk ice cream. Even closer to home, he and I were both drawn into the Lutheran tradition by marriage.  Here’s one stark difference.  Louie came from a very large, very Italian family, which is also mostly Roman Catholic.  His extended family, to a person, was warm and respectful with me through Louie’s last days. This day of celebrating Louie’s life was no exception. At the funeral, I stood to give my welcome and usual greeting.  “The Lord be with you.”  The response that came back?  An enthusiastic, “And with your spirit,” mixed in with, “And also with you.”

The mix of responses created a split-second of space between my greeting and all those other words I was planning to say as we began the celebration of Louie’s life.  It was like time stood still just for second.  My mind opened to take it in and my heart filled.  And I thought, “Oh…right…the church catholic, God’s whole church. Here we all are, Jesus included, right here, together in this place.”

These words of formal greeting between priestly leader and worshiping people are bequeathed to us from our Christian ancestors in the earliest church.  The greeting was used well before the Great Schism in the first millennia and both the East and West continue its use today.  The words are found in Christian writings as early as the year 215 and belong to no one modern denomination.  The Latin reads Dominus vobiscum et cum spiritu tuo.”   (You Latin scholars can correct my pronunciation later.)  Some Christian strands prefer the direct translation, “And with your spirit.”  Some of you may remember the Norwegian ELC black hymnal that translated it this way.

The point of all of this is to say that several hundred of us were there, celebrating Louie’s life in the face of his death and to hear a good word in the middle of it all.  It was what we were there to do.  And right out of the gate, a good word arrived in the very first words of greeting that we shared together as a group.  I’ll get to what I mean by that.  Or, more importantly, Jesus’ words in the Bible verses will help us get there.

Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  The people with him ask, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  We could wish that Jesus would have stayed poetic and metaphorical talking about fresh baked living bread and its warmth and smell.  Proving to everyone that, indeed, the gospel of John is simply, a wild, gnostic tale spun out to be so mystical that only the very few could every attain understanding.

 

People like to get out their “gnostic” stamp.  You know, those wooden stamps that you have to dampen on the ink pad, and then pound the gospel of John with it – gnostic…gnostic…gnostic…  In today’s parlance, the stamp could just as easily read, “spiritual.”  Because if we do that, if we stamp it all to pieces with the gnostic, or the spiritual, or the metaphorical, then maybe it would do one of two things.  We could either ignore it as mythic, romantic poetry.  Or it could help distract us from what it going on in this real mess of a life we’ve created for ourselves.

Well, Jesus, the Word made flesh, begs to differ.  He rides the knife edge between metaphor and reality.    He does not go spiritual and gnostic in answer to the people’s question.  He goes flesh and blood.  He is relentlessly incarnational.  He doesn’t try to explain anything.  He simply tells them to eat.  For those of us who think that being spiritual is about stuff you can’t see, this is the opposite.  It’s anti-gnostic.  It’s not romantic.  It’s fleshy.

The opening dialogue at communion begins with the pastor’s words, “The Lord be with you.”  The assembly replies, “And also with you.”  This dialogue doesn’t try to explain anything either.  The dialogue simply announces.  We announce it, then we give God thanks and praise for it, Jesus words are spoken, and then we eat.  So simple.  And such good news because in the midst of it all we are claimed by life, by Jesus who is the life – in whom we abide, and who abides in us.

Last Sunday, Pastor Todd and I spoke with the TLC volunteers who regularly visit with Augustana’s home-centered members.  Some of these TLC volunteers are on the Home Communion Team.  Today, the bread and wine sits on the communion table along with the bread and wine that we share together during our communion during worship.  Communion will then be taken out to people who cannot gather with us in worship.  Jesus, abiding is us in abundant life, is carried out to those in whom he also abides.  The home communion team takes communion out as an extension of the congregation.  So that the life that claims us here this morning claims more than us this afternoon.

The language of life shows up in these eight verses nine times.  NINE times in EIGHT verses.  You’ve known me long enough to have some inkling that Christ crucified is pretty central to my faith.  That we have a God who died is utterly mind-shattering to me in only the best of ways. There’s a cross either on me or around me in most of my waking moments.  Today, however, is a time for us to revel in the life of God. That we have a God who lived in a body before and after death.

Jesus says, “I am the living bread, that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”   Louie is enjoying the eschatological nature of Jesus’ eternal promise.  Jesus says in the Bible reading today, “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”

But this isn’t only about waiting for the fulfillment of an eschatological hope.  We enjoy the eternal in this moment. Jesus, son of the Living Father abides with us now.  Because it is the promise of the eternal One to abide with us always, which starts today.

Thanks be to God!