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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!

Matthew 18:21-35 and Romans 14:1-12 (13) – Don’t Do Me Like That [Or Let’s Get a Good Mad On]

Matthew 18:21-35 and Romans 14:1-12 (13) – Don’t Do Me Like That  [Or Let’s Get a Good Mad On]

Caitlin Trussell on September 14, 2014 with Augustana Lutheran Church

 

[sermon follows the Bible readings from Matthew and Romans]

Matthew 18:21-35 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Romans 14:1-12 (13) Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. 11 For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ 12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

 

 

What does it feel like to get a good mad on?  What does it look like?  Perhaps you’re good at the righteous mad.  These are the effective mads that motivate us to create change.  Change of the ilk of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Inspired by the righteous mad of Dr. King, Ms. Parks got her righteous mad on after being told where to sit on the bus because of her skin color.   As a result, she sat in a seat on the bus reserved for another skin color.  Getting your righteous mad on can change the world one relationship, one neighborhood, one country at a time.

Righteous mad happens in many of us daily on behalf of ourselves and maybe even other people who are being punished by people who use their power over other people to hurt them.  It’s the kind of mad that has us speaking up and speaking out; legitimately asking someone else, “Hey, why you do me like that?” Or, even more assertively, saying along with songwriter Tom Petty, “Don’t do me like that!”[1]

From these righteous mads come the legalities.   The legal dimension is where someone is held accountable.   Peter gets this part right.  These righteous mads are part of the ground from which Peter is asking his question of Jesus.  “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

This is sin accounting.  This is an important question.  There are indeed actual wrong-doings that have consequences.  Someone is accountable.  So Peter’s question to Jesus about how many times to forgive is an honest question out of the knowledge that there are sins.   There are wrongs done against someone and someone else is accountable for them.  In current news, this is illustrated no more clearly than in the recent partner violence committed by NFL Football Player Ray Rice against his wife.[2]  He seems to be gravely at fault and the consequences are stacking up against him even as I stand here talking with you.

I like how David Lose talks about the place for sin accounting:

“It’s not that there is no place for the law in our relationships. There is, indeed, a need to count.  If someone is repeatedly unkind or hurtful, let alone mean-spirited or violent, we may very well want to put some distance between us. We may continue to love a child or sibling or friend [or partner] who is abusive, but we don’t have to put up with the abusive behavior. Indeed, the most loving and forgiving thing to do may very well be to stop putting up with the behavior.”[3]

Dr. Lose is pointing out that Peter’s sin-accounting question is an honest question. His question is also one in which he is trying to understand Jesus’ teaching that we heard Pastor Tim preach about last week; about our response to someone when they sin against us and hurt us.

For Peter, Jesus’ call for infinite forgiveness doesn’t compute.  I would suggest that it doesn’t compute for us either.  In fact, if any part of the reading from Matthew makes sense to us, it’s likely the vengeance done on the part of the king in torturing the greedy slave at the end.  Vengeance is something we can get behind and even celebrate.  As cases-in-point, think The Count of Monte Cristo to almost any Clint Eastwood movie to Sally Field in Eye for an Eye to Iron Man 3.[4]  These characters bait us to their side by their righteous mad and quickly switch us into supporting and even cheering on their self-righteous revenge.

In Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, the reader lives this self-righteous revenge through the eyes of Montresor.  The opening line drops us into the thick of the numbers game. “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.”[5]   The story begins and ends in four and half pages.  The readers find themselves privy to the horror of this revenge as Fortunato, the object of Montresor’s fury, is buried alive behind a freshly built wall of brick and mortar in an ancient catacomb.

On one level, the Bible reading in Matthew speaks to the sin-accounting that is comfortable for both Montresor in Poe’s story, who presumably endured 1,000 injuries before Fortunato’s final insult, and for Peter, who talks with Jesus about forgiving seven times.  Both Peter and Montresor discover that when sin is counted in this way, in the way of law, the inevitable result is a winner and a loser.  The problem is that it’s difficult to figure out who ends up the loser.  This is because the assumption built into the sin-accounting game is that it reaches a limit.  Once this limit is reached, the temptation becomes revenge.

It’s at this point when Jesus moves us beyond the sin-accounting game.  He save us from the lose-lose of considering forgiveness only in light of the law.  Reacting only with the law, we end up doing only the legal math and calculating whether to punish, take revenge, or forgive the person who sins against us.  To get at the limited nature of sin-accounting, imagine two at their own wedding who stop the ceremony to ask how many times they are supposed to forgive each other.  The question is ludicrous.

Two people joining their lives together asking about the number of times to forgive, while professing their love for each other, is as ludicrous as Peter’s question.  In reply, Jesus’ presents an equally ludicrous question back to Peter.  Dr. Lose suggests that:

“It’s not that Jesus wants Peter to increase his forgiveness quota…it’s that he wants him to stop counting altogether simply because forgiveness, like love, is inherently and intimately relational rather than legal and therefore cannot be counted. Had Peter asked Jesus how many times he should love his neighbor, we’d perceive his misunderstanding: love can’t be quantified or counted. But he asks about forgiveness and we miss his mistake…Forgiveness, as an expression of love, ultimately, is not about regulating behavior but rather about maintaining and nurturing our relationships.”[6]

Paul takes us into forgiveness and relationship more deeply in the Bible reading from his letter to the Romans.  He asks the reader to be cautious of the quick move we often make to judgment.  Thinking that we know what is right for ourselves, we quickly decide what is right for everyone.  This kind of self-righteousness infects the whole community with claims of moral superiority and subtle forms of retribution.

The beauty of the Romans reading is that we are reminded that God is the primary actor.  In verse 3 we are told that, “God has welcomed them”; in verse 3 that, “the Lord is able to make them stand”; and in verse 8 that, “Whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord’s”; and finally in verse 9, the breath of air as we are reminded, “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”

It’s easy to get turned around in the questions like Peter.  It’s easy for meat-eaters and vegetarians to go after each other in self-righteous grandiosity.  It’s easy in the face of real hurt to strike back in revenge, justifying our own acts of violence.  When we take the easy way, we are reminded that we are weak, at the same time we are reminded of our need.   This need levels us all at the foot of the cross.  Each one of us in the shadow of the cross that illuminates the frailty and the sin we use to separate ourselves from God and each other.

Someone asked me a few weeks ago what it might mean when Jesus tells his disciples to, “take up their cross and follow me.”[7]   Taking up their cross, in part, means waking up to the reality of our need every day.  Waking up in need, realizing our dependence on the One who was tortured and died on the cross; and through that very cross offers infinite forgiveness for me and for you.  So that each day, within the ambiguity of what constitutes our success or failure, we can say with certainty, along with the Apostle Paul:

“We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”

 



[1] Tom Petty singing “Don’t Do Me Like That” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dL6XwAl_hNo.

[2] SB (SportsBlog) Nation http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2014/5/23/5744964/ray-rice-arrest-assault-statement-apology-ravens

[3] David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia on his blog “…in the Meantime” for Pentecost 14A: Forgiveness and Freedom.  Link: http://www.davidlose.net/2014/09/pentecost-14-a/

[4] The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7126.The_Count_of_Monte_Cristo; Clint Eastwood http://www.clinteastwood.net/; Iron Man 3 (2013) http://marvel.com/movies/movie/176/iron_man_3

Eye for an Eye (1996) – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116260/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl.

[5] Edgar Allan Poe, The Complete Edgar Allan Poe Tales (New York: Chatham River Press, 1981), 542.

[6] David Lose at http://www.davidlose.net/2014/09/pentecost-14-a/

[7] Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

John 14:15-21, 1 Peter 3:13-22, Acts 17:22-31 “Words of Hope”

John 14:15-21, 1 Peter 3:13-22, Acts 17:22-31  “Words of Hope”

Caitlin Trussell – May 25, 2014

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

[See 1 Peter and Acts readings at end sermon]

 

My husband Rob has spent quite a bit of his life on the seat of a mountain bike.  In his early days, this included riding like the wind through tree-lined gullies in Nebraska as only a 10 year old with his 10 year old buddies can do.  During his brief California stint, where he met me, this included riding trail in the Santa Monica Mountains that sit between Van Nuys and Malibu.  And now, which I should be clear to say includes the last 23 years, there are few greater joys for Rob than careening around on the trails that wind throughout the Rockies and their foothills.  The last year and a half have been no exception.  In fact, the ante has gone up at our house where we now speak all things Leadville – as in the Leadville 100.  100 miles of trail at 10,000 feet above sea level just waiting to be ridden in the middle of August.  Conversation regularly includes things like dressing in light weight layers for any kind of weather, the total elevation gain of training rides that get progressively longer as August looms, and the nutrition that will sustain those few who actually make it those 100 miles.  There are a lot of moving parts in getting ready and maintaining readiness.

Because readying for Leadville is a constant hum in our home, it’s no surprise that what jumped from the pages this week is the readiness preached to us out of First Peter as we are told to, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”  And it’s no surprise that this text is paired with St. Paul hanging out with the Athenians.  He talks with them about their unnamed God.  And he lives his readiness for talking about the hope of Christ in himself.

You can likely imagine that I come into contact with a few people in any given week.  Something about running into a pastor seems to spark a certain kind of conversation.  A conversation in which I am privileged, and I truly mean privileged, to hear the deep confusion, frustration, and opinions from people about spirituality in general and Christianity in particular.

In these conversations, there is a quote that regularly bubbles up.  A quote popularly, and likely incorrectly, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.  It goes like this, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”  When someone says this out loud in a group, the general reaction typically includes soft smiles and nods as if the meaning is well-understood.  Sometimes I’ll dig deeper with the person who offers this quote. Sometimes I find that this person has been beaten up by the words of a Bible-bearing Christian or two.  In First Peter terms, this Christian was ready to give “an accounting” of the hope in them.  However this Christian did not seem to be ready to do it with the “gentleness and reverence” also encouraged in First Peter.  And sometimes I find that this person quoting this quote struggled to find their own words to talk about gospel, the good news of Jesus, and has given up trying.  Given up trying to find words and given up on finding a community where words can be practiced with “gentleness and reverence.”

The 14th Chapter of John may help us press pause in the ironic debate about whether or not to use words.  The reading starts in verse 15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The only commandment mentioned in whole book of John bookends our verses today.  In Chapter 13 Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another…Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”[1]

And in Chapter 15, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…You are my friends if you do what I command you.”[2]  Jesus words are part of several chapters that are pretty much filled with only words of Jesus.  Next time you hear that quote about preaching the gospel without words, consider that we tend to hear this as a choice; as either action OR words.  Or we tend to hear that actions are superior to words.  This is a false choice.  Jesus encourages us to love in action AND words.

My friends, words are part of this life of faith – words for us to hear and words for us to say.  It’s easy for us to get lost in our own inadequacy about which words to use.  And it’s easy to get lost in our insecurity about what using these words might mean.  It’s so easy to get lost that we also forget about the Advocate who is given to us, the Advocate who is in us.  Jesus says to the disciples and to us, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever…I will not leave you orphaned.”[3]

This Advocate is infused into us by Christ through water and word at baptism; by Christ through bread, wine, and word at the table; and by Christ through us, through people and word in the community of Christ.  Faith is infused into us through these things and people and words – faith that is practiced here in readiness to be exercised in the world.  Practicing starts in baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, and in conversation with each other.

In conversation we practice using words that describe the hope that is in us.  These conversations happen in groups and 1-on-1.  They happen spontaneously and they happen when we plan a coffee with another Christian for just such a purpose.  Sometimes these conversations start with a question about what it means to say the words of the Apostle’s Creed out loud.  Other times the conversations wonder about what Jesus on the cross means in the face of illness. And still other times the conversation struggles to find a place for words about Jesus in a world of too many words.  The bottom line is that the Advocate gives us this community to find the words to use.  In part because other people need the hope into which we’ve been drawn.    “…be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

I dipped a toe back into Christianity almost twenty years ago.  My own frustrating efforts to find words were met by Christians in a Lutheran church.  Christians who held space for my questions and my religious scars with “gentleness and reverence.”  I desperately needed to hear words and to use them.  First to understand that the gospel, the good news of God in Christ Jesus, is for me.  And then to be ready to talk about the hope given by Christ in me.   And I desperately needed a place and group of people in which to practice these words.

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, gives us just such a place and just such a people.  We are given to each other as church to hear a word of good news and to find words to confess that good news.  And we are given to a desperate world, inspired by the Advocate to live and to talk about the hope of Jesus Christ, the one who came for you, for us, and for the sake of the world.

 

1 Peter 3:13-22 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.
18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

 

Acts 17:22-31 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”



[1] John 13:34

[2] John 15:12-14

[3] John 14:16 and 18a.

John 20:19-31 “The Path of Life” [Or, “Resurrection From…and In”] Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31 “The Path of Life” [Or, “Resurrection From…and In”] Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9

Caitlin Trussell – April 27, 2014

Augstana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

[Additional scripture for today is posted at the end of the sermon]

John 20:19-31 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!  Ahhhh, the words of Easter, the proclamation of resurrection, the sweet relief from the dark days of Lent.  Christian churches fill up on Easter Sunday and right then and there, the very first thing, we show our hand.  “Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!”  These are party words.  Celebration words.  And do we ever revel in this celebration.  Trumpets, lilies, singing, smiles, Easter Eggs – these are symbols of the celebration.  And we keep right on partying for 50 days as the season of Easter unfolds.  And so we should.  This is the biggest and best of the good news – God coming in flesh, in the person of Jesus, dying and rising to new life, and saying to Death, “Your services are no longer needed.”  For Christians, it truly doesn’t get any better…or any more scandalous.

Make no mistake, it is a scandal.  Through sealed stone and an armed guard, all meant to protect death inside a tomb, life emerged.  Not just any life but the life of the One and from the One who brings all things to life.  If death is no longer a given, no longer secured in a sealed tomb, then what kind of life are we talking about?  What kind of life are we celebrating these 50 days?   This is a fair and honest question.

Peter preaches to this question of life eschatologically, that life for the Christian is “revealed in the last time.”[1]  He reassures exiled people that their suffering will end even though they suffer right now. Peter’s words are a blessed assurance in a painful time.

A few years ago I was leading a Bible study out at New Beginnings Church in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility.  The topic of life after death, eternal life, came up as a philosophical question – a question we wrestled with intellectually and thoughtfully.  The conversation moved along as these conversations often do, with a lot of opinions thrown around and some curiosity sprinkled in for good measure.  When from the back of the group of about 100 women, one of them chimes in with a lot of anger.  Her words ring in my ears today.  She said, “I don’t know what you all are talking about but I believe God has a place for me where crying and dying are no more…I’m counting on it!”[2]  She preached as powerfully from her own moment as Peter preaches from his.  We even get in on their preaching when we join our voices with theirs as we speak to the “life everlasting” in the Apostle’s Creed.  This is the Easter promise as deliverance.  This is resurrection from something – from this life that can include the unbearable.

As a relevant aside, some of you may know how much some Christians delight in prepositions.  Those small words of grammar tucked in front of a noun to help us write about things in location to other things.  For example, Lutheran Christians will say that Jesus is “in, with, and under” the communion bread and wine.  The theological battles waged over these little words of location are stunning.  Nonetheless, prepositions have their helpful place.  As in the Easter promise of eternal deliverance from this life once having passed through death.  But this week, Thomas makes me curious about resurrection in this life.  “In” being the operating preposition, the key word.

Thomas and the disciples have locked themselves in a room in Jerusalem.  The metallic taste of terror still on their tongues after Jesus’ crucifixion.  Terror that includes their own inability to prevent Jesus’ death or be present for it.  A week before this moment in the locked room, Thomas missed out on seeing the risen Jesus with the other disciples.  But Jesus shows up, wounds and all, and Thomas’ mind and faith are put at ease as he puts his fingers in the hand and side wounds of Jesus.  Which, by the way, gross!  Most of us can’t stomach a small wound that needs stitches much less a stab-wound created by a spear or a nail-hole through a hand.  And there’s Thomas, poking and prodding in the wounds of Jesus like he’s on an Easter egg hunt.

To what end is Thomas physically examining Jesus?  More importantly, why is Jesus subjecting himself to this exam?  The end-point is not deliverance from the locked room or from eventual death.  Thomas goes on to die a martyr after all is said and done.  This is the resurrection of Christ, wounds and all, playing out in the locked room with Thomas and the other disciples – resurrection in, not from.

A good friend of mine has been listed in our ongoing prayer requests for some weeks now.  Her name is Chris.  She gave me permission to tell you her story.  Chris and I go back a ways.  The kind of friendship that includes talking about our families and our lives within the context of our faith.  In part because of this soul-searching and Christ-searching, Chris formally presented me during my ordination.  She and I continue to talk faith, life, and Bible with seamless fluidity.  A year older than me, six months ago Chris was living daily life with the usual mix of highs and lows and good health.  On November 5th, her hands started to hurt during the night.  From that first symptom we fast forward to today.  She now has muscle weakness that makes it difficult to walk up stairs, empty a dishwasher, and swallow.  Looking more and more to her doctors like some kind of autoimmune inflammation in her muscles, she and I spoke at length this past Monday night.

In our usual way, the conversation wove together her Prednisone questions with how her family is doing with what we heard during the Easter sermons at our churches.  She told me that the Easter gift for her this year is a bone-deep certainty that Christ’s resurrection is in her current situation.  She talks about Christ’s resurrection in her current situation whether or not the medications bring physical healing to her disease, whether or not she is delivered from her disease.  She doesn’t know what that will look like but she is sure of it.  I can’t help but hear her voice in today’s Psalm, speaking to the Lord, “…my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure…You show me the path of life.”

There are many of us or people we love dealing with situations in life along the lines of Chris or Thomas.   During Easter we celebrate Christ’s resurrection as life everlasting even as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection in our lives now.

Christ now breathes the Holy Spirit on you, sharing his peace.

Christ’s resurrection, wounds and all, is in this life for you.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!

 



[1] 1 Peter 1:5

[2] Revelation 21:4

 

Acts 2:14a, 22-32 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, 22You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know — 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
29Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

 

Psalm 16

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2I say to the LORD, “You are my LORD;
I have no good apart from you.”
3As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.
4Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.
5The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.
7I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8I keep the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
10For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

 

1 Peter 1:3-9  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith — being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 Ash Wednesday Greeting Card [Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17]

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 Ash Wednesday Greeting Card [Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17]

March 5, 2014 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10  We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

 

Matthew writes, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[1]

In Joel, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing.”

The psalmist writes, “The sacrifice that is acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

For all this talk of hearts, Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent couldn’t be less sentimental. Imagine a greeting card:   “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, treasures consumed by moth and rust…”  It just doesn’t work.  Lent doesn’t translate into simple sentimentality.  Oh how glad I am that it doesn’t.   Because who among us hasn’t felt like the psalmist who offers God a broken spirit.  It’s something that we may not confess as readily as the psalmist but many of us have been there or are there right now.

Broken spirits come from being acted upon.  This is a tough one for a lot of us.  That we are in bondage to something, anything, can be insufferable – and in fact often is insufferable.  A spirit broken open is the opposite of self-control or self-determination; and it’s not the same thing as lack of self-esteem.

Some of us have brushed by a thin place that breaks our spirits open.  It can happen in a flash, and suddenly it seems as though everything around us has shifted just ever so slightly while the light in the room has changed.  Breaking open can happen in a living room when a dear friend blurts out they have cancer and it’s not treatable.  It can happen when a child becomes so beloved that the parent realizes they are watching a piece of their heart walk around on the outside of themselves.  It can happen looking up at the night sky, in the millisecond of awareness in which we feel our actual size.  There are a lot of us in the room right now and, for as many of us as are here, there are hundreds and thousands of ways that this looks in our lives.

These events and people and moments that break us open have a way of reminding us of our fragility.  Ash Wednesday is also such a moment.  As ashes are placed on our foreheads, we are acted upon once again and brush by the thin place.  It is not to dangle us over an abyss of perverse self-deprecation.  But rather to uncover that which is already made known in our lives – our inability to save ourselves from ourselves…and God’s ability to do so.

And it is God who is being made known.  Not in the abstract but in the particular person of Jesus.  This is what Paul is getting at in Second Corinthians when he writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Our spirits are broken open and are a mercy seat for Christ.

Paul helps us get at this as he writes, “…be reconciled to God.”   Another, less churchy, way to say this is, “Be forgiven.”  Paul is talking about Christ’s action that makes God’s presence real before any action on our part.  God is not irresistible.  We can certainly run away.  Being reconciled simply means that God is at your heels.  God is there because Christ has already done the work of reconciliation, of bringing us back into God.

Paul’s laundry list of activities, after his comment about reconciliation, isn’t what brings the reconciliation.  His and others actions simply come from life on the planet.  Life as it’s lived in paradox – amid seemingly opposite things that are true at the same time.  Paraphrasing Paul, we ARE living while we’re dying; we ARE rejoicing while sad.  This list of paradoxes reveals the gifts of the reconciliation that are made known to us in the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

The people of this congregation that interviewed me before I came here asked me a great question.  They asked me many but this is one stands out in my memory.  “What would you fight for?”  My answer?  “I would fight for the gospel.”   The message that God takes our broken spirits, all we actually have to offer God, and brings us back into God through Christ.

Ash Wednesday lays this good news bare.  Lent creates space and time for the magnitude of the gospel, the good news, to reflect off the darkness of the cross, off of the crucified One.  This is a paradox of faith.  Come with your broken spirit and be filled with hope.



[1] All Bible passages are from the New Revised Standard Version.

 

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21  “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.

12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?’ ”

Psalm 51:1-17 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. 5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. 6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. 17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

 

 

Matthew 2:1-12 “By Another Road”

Matthew 2:1-12 “By Another Road”

January 6, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

The wise men see a star and they take off for the West.  The conversation between them is interesting to imagine.  Did they spend a lot of time wondering where they were headed?  Or if they were going the best way?  The right way?  My husband and I often go back and forth about the quickest or most efficient way to get somewhere and I wonder if the wise men’s conversations sound anything like ours.  Examining roads ahead and questioning people who have gone that way about the road, safe rest stops or good places to eat.  Maybe there is a little frustration at the pace of things or with each other.  Perhaps they even wonder if they’re there yet or if they’ve taken a wrong step along the way.

The wise men take a lot of steps as they move west.  We love to guess about where they may be from and how long they journeyed but for the sake of today let’s just say they came a long, long way – taking a lot of steps that likely include a few in the wrong direction as they are drawn by a star lit by a God who they do not consider their own, to see a baby who is born King of the Jews; a baby whose arrival scares not only the actual king but “all Jerusalem with him.”

The epiphany, the manifestation of God in this particular baby, at this particular time, opens up the promises of God for the whole world.  After all, these wise men from far away are not Jews.  And, as Pastor Rob said in a beautiful snap-shot summary last week, we see the whole thing from where we sit – the baby, the man, the ministry, the death, the resurrection and the ascension.  I see two more things to wonder about in our story today.  I see us like Herod and the people of Jerusalem, frightened by the mystery of God showing up in Jesus.  And I see us like the wise men, but now following Jesus as the star.  Because if Jesus is the epiphany, the manifestation of God with us, then, like Herod in verse 3, the mystery of Jesus as the epiphany has us wondering what this is all about and what it means for us…and maybe even what it means about God.  And, like the wise men in verse 12, Jesus as the epiphany moves us out from here onto “another road.”

For the wise men, Jesus as the epiphany means a manger scene.  For us now, today, Jesus as the epiphany means a few different things about how God is revealed in Jesus the Christ.  In the bread and wine of communion, Christ enters into us bringing forgiveness and life. In the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit plunges us into Christ’s death and raises us into Christ’s life in the community of God’s whole church, the church catholic.

One of the things that being church means is that the Epiphany of God in Jesus means being on another road, moving through the world differently than a wider culture.  I’m under no illusions that this has always been a good thing.  After all, this has brought us the Crusades and a myriad of other self-righteous acts wrought in the name of God.  But it also brought 17th century English Christians as the primary caregivers of those with the Plague and brings Christians today who fight against malaria all over the world so that people may live.

The mixed outcomes of the church globally are mirrored in local churches, mirrored here in our congregation today.  We have hits and we have misses as we respond to the Epiphany of God in Jesus in this place and time.  But there is one way in particular that the Holy Spirit, through the neighborhood church, moves us out another road.   And that is the way we agree and disagree with each other here in this place and also between churches.  Because the church is a public place and we are unable to indulge in creating our very own echo chamber of unilateral agreement.  United by the Holy Spirit as one in Christ means that many voices come together all at once in the space of the church that wouldn’t ordinarily mixed together outside of church.  It is good that we challenge each other about what keeping our eyes on Jesus as the star in our lives means so that our actions, like the wise men’s, pay him homage.  It is good that we do this is big ways in our church communities and it is good that this gets lived out in personal ways too.

Coming up on 16 years ago, Rob and I were drawn into this congregation when we brought Quinn here to be baptized and then Taryn too not very many months later.  Hearing the Gospel through Pastor Rob that we are saved by grace through faith, not through who we are or what we do, was and still is like breathing pure air.  And being with you all over time in various potlucks, Bible Studies and committee meetings has also revealed the Gospel truth that we are fully saints…and fully sinners…and loved by God and by each other.

Nearly 10 years ago, I preached my first sermon here – you indulged my fumbles, encouraged my enthusiasm and began saying things like, “Have you ever thought about seminary?”  Truthfully, I thought you were crazy.  At the time, Quinn and Taryn were three and five-years-old and I felt like such a freshie in the saved-by-grace-through-faith thing.  But I also knew that you all were affirming something that I felt deep inside – that I was supposed to be talking about this wild thing called the Gospel and this grace-filled God of light who puts us on another road.  Eight years ago, probably almost to the day, I turned to my husband, Rob, and said, “I think I’m supposed to be a pastor.”  His immediate reply?  “Of course you are.”  I quit my job as a nurse a few weeks after that conversation with him and my family and I hopped over to this other road with your constant encouragement as fuel for the journey.  I am eternally grateful for you.

This is but one preacher’s tale out of Lutheran Church of the Master.  The Holy Spirit, working through you, has sent several of us out by way of another road – Michael Tekrony and Gail Mundt, to name a few more recently.  But birthing preachers is not all that happens by the power of the Holy Spirit through this congregation.  Think of all the kids who have grown up here with your constant focus on how we might better serve them and their families as well as kids and families in the Green Mountain neighborhood and around the world – calling passionate shepherds among us like Jason, Brandi, BK and Pastor Brigette.  Think of everyone who gives and receives care through this worshiping community during times of births, life celebrations, poverty, imprisonment, illnesses and deaths.  Do you do this perfectly?  No.  Do you do this faithfully?  Yes.  The scope of God’s mercy and power made real through you simply boggles the mind.

The Epiphany of God in Jesus, revealed here through you by the power of the Holy Spirit is a wonder to behold and a wonder to experience.

Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

 

John 6:56-69 “How Do We Know What We Know?”

John 6:56-69 “How Do We Know What We Know?”

August 26, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

 

John 6:56-69 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.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

 

 

I have read this text out loud, several times over the last few weeks and, each time I get to the end, I find myself taking a long, deep breath.  As if the text itself is infusing something into me.  I think I even said, “Yum,” once.  So good I could almost taste it.  What’s up with that?  What is it about being in this fifth week of the 6th chapter of John that is so simply delicious?  Oh, and by-the-by, this is indeed the last in this series that are sometimes called the “bread texts.”  So infamous are they among pastors that some choose to preach out of alternate texts during these five weeks in Year B of the Lectionary.  I, however, am grateful that we have had this bread as a steady diet these last weeks and now find ourselves nibbling into the last course of the feast.

And, on this day, some of the disciples say, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”  Just before they pose this question, Jesus says that, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.”  Is this the difficult teaching?  Or how about the part where Jesus says, “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”  Is that the difficult teaching?  While we’re at it, is the whole of Chapter 6, which begins with the feeding of the 5,000, the difficult teaching?  Or do we go back to the very first verse of John, Chapter 1?  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Greek of “Word” here is “logos.”

John also uses the Greek “logos” in verse 60 of our text today, which many Bibles translate into “teaching.”  It makes me curious that the disciples are struggling with “logos” here – the logos, the Word, who was in the beginning and is now standing in front of them as Jesus, who continues to make a divine claim.  And it gives me even greater pause to think about struggle to accept.  “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”  And the way I ultimately hear this question is, “You say you’re God…really?!”

In response to this question, Jesus asks, “Does this offend you?”  Then he proceeds to heap a bunch more on the pile – more difficult to accept teaching added to the already difficult to accept teaching he just spent so much time on.  “Does this offend you?”  And “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

Jesus turns, looks at those still standing there, and asks, “Do you also wish to go away?”  I imagine this moment as really quiet, no one wants to be the first one to speak.  Peter responds with this beautiful question, “Lord to whom can we go?”  It’s curious to note that there is no “yes” or “no” answer here in the text.  “Do you also wish to go away?”  Answered with, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

I want to ask a question of my own.  “How do I know what I know?”  Think about this for a minute.  “How do you know what you know?”  Some might answer, “I know what I know through logic or reason.”  Some might say, “I know it in my gut.”  Others might say, “I know because it feels right.”  Some might even answer, “I know because it matches my experience.”  I’m at a point in my life where it would be cool if a couple of someones, who shall remain nameless, would answer that question by saying, “I know because my Mom said so.”   Hey, a gal can dream.

Peter says, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  How do belief and knowing happen?  How do I know what I know?  Heart? Head? Gut? Experience?  How do I know what I know?  Here’s another thought…the Holy Spirit helps us to believe and know.  There’s a wild part of our Sunday worship that we all speak together called the Apostle’s Creed.  In the 3rd part, sometimes called the 3rd article, we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”  Martin Luther explains this part of the Apostle’s Creed this way, “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.”  This belief and knowing through the Holy Spirit isn’t something we’re super good at explaining or talking about.  And most of us move through the world strongly preferring those other ways of knowing without considering the Spirit’s involvement in how we know what we know.

The Spirit’s gift of belief is simply a gift.  Jesus asks the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”  Peter doesn’t answer “yes” or “no” to Jesus question.  But rather says, “Lord to whom can we go?”  The verse that we’re not privy to in our reading today is v70 in which Jesus says, “Did I not choose you, the twelve?”  … “Did I not choose you, the twelve?”

Belief in Jesus is not a logic problem.  It is difficult to argue exactly what it is.  But, along with Peter and the apostles who ultimately abandoned Jesus in the events of the cross that follow our story today, faith seems not to be something we dredge up in ourselves.  It…is…placed…there.  It is a kind of knowing for which we do not own good language.

And it is why we commune, why Jesus feeds us at his table, where we are given wine to drink and bread to chew.  When Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them,” this isn’t simply a poetic spiritual notion.  This is an earthy, intimate one in bread and in wine.  One of my professors says that, “This is the love of God in Christ that wishes to preach to your small intestine.”[1]

Hear these words again from our text today…

“Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

 

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them on the last day.”

“Does this offend you?”

“The one who eats this bread will live forever.”

“Do you also wish to go away?”

 

“Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

“Did I not choose you?”

 

 

 



[1] Steve Paulson, professor, Luther Seminary.