Tag Archives: confession

Horseshoeing Elephants [OR Creed, Confession and the Limit of Words] John 1:1-16; Genesis 1:1-5, 26-2:4a; and Psalm 104:1-4, 19-28

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 18, 2017

[sermon begins after two Bible readings; Psalm 104 is at the end of the sermon]

John 1:1-16   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.* He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,* full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Genesis 1:1-5, 26-2:4a In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

[sermon begins]

We’re standing near a blacksmith. It’s a historical farm. There’s a fire so hot that you wonder how anyone could work nearby as your body tries to cool itself, sweat beading on upper lip and forehead, trickling down necks. Hammers and pliers of varied shapes and sizes are at the ready, hanging in reach. An anvil is on the ground, a heavy block of iron ready to take the heat and hammering. The smith’s shirt sleeves are rolled up as tongs grab something small and u-shaped out of the fire. The hammer comes down over-and-over on heated iron and anvil announcing the blacksmith’s new creation, ringing out like a church bell for anyone to hear.  The act is repeated again and again.  Heating and hammering and ringing.  Until, finally, there’s a set of four u-shaped horseshoes, five inches by five inches, strong enough to carry the weight of 1,000 or more pounds of horse. Can you picture it? My guess is that the pictures in our minds cover a vast range of differences. Some picturing ancient metal works and some more clean-lined and concrete.  But most of us imagining horseshoes being shaped in some fashion.

This imagining is possible because of our shared language.  Whether you’re native to English or learned it alongside your primary language, you can glean something from the words being used because we have English in common.  If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know I love words.  Big ones, small ones, picking the right word to describe something probably couldn’t be more fun for me.  That is until the limitations of language make themselves known.  And we hit the ceiling of understanding due to those limitations.  Some words just aren’t capable of what we’re asking from them. It’s like taking one of those horseshoes made for a 1,000 pound horse with hooves and thinking it’ll do for a 10,000 pound elephant with feet because it’s a four-legged animal who walks long distances.  The verb “believe” is one such word.

Believing carries some modern baggage in the English language.  Belief gets tangled up in truth claims and absolutes in a way that faith does not.  “To believe” is often used as the verb correlate for the noun “faith” because faith doesn’t have a verb form.[1]  Using the verb “believe” to describe the action of faith is like thinking that horseshoe will work for the elephant. You’ll hear sermons that use the verb “to trust” to help us understand faith claims.  The meaning of “trust” edges us closer to the meaning of “faith” by way of verb usage.  However, it’s still lacking.  I wish there was a verb “to faith.”  Especially as it relates to the Apostle’s Creed.

Today we begin a four-week series on the Apostle’s Creed.  Many of our creeds like the Nicene or Athanasian Creeds were negotiated by committee. Part faith, part politics, these creeds identify specific theological priorities of their times. The Apostle’s Creed is harder to pin down. It has a more organic history. Various forms popped up in the writings of the early church fathers until settling into its current Trinitarian form in the early 8th century.[2]  It reads like a Biblical highlight reel that we say with people of faith across time, place, and language.  It seems to say, “These are the main things, remember them.”  The Apostle’s Creed also says, “I believe…”

This tension between belief and faith is formative as we confess the Creed together.  Belief think the right thing.  Faith surrenders to what cannot be fully known.  Belief makes us the subject and God the object.  Faith makes God the subject and us the object.[3]  Belief makes a claim about God.  Faith makes a claim on us.  All of this is why I wish for a verb that means “to faith.”  It means something different to my modern mind to say, “I faith in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” Alas, the verb form of faith is not available to us.  So we use the word like the horseshoe that is meant for the 1,000 pound horse on the 10,000 pound elephant. Perhaps that formative tension between belief and faith might yet create something.  And what better place is there to start than in the beginning.

Hear these words, this confession of faith by the writer of Genesis:

“In the beginning when God created – the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God – swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”[4]

And this confession from the gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all the people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”[5]

We confess similarly during worship in a lot fewer words:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”

As Pastor Ann preached last week on Holy Trinity Sunday, this is a God who creates and sticks around.  As she pointed out, God does more than sticking around to sit back and see how things turn out.  God is involved.  God is present.  God is with us.  John’s confession continues, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”[6]

Father imagery is tricky.  We know this on Father’s Day. We know this because we have fathers who are simply human. Some of us are those fathers. So we know the gifts and limitations of earthy fathers. Sometimes we celebrate them. Sometimes we heal from them. Sometimes we grieve them.  Sometimes we do all of it at once and more.  So when we confess God as Father, these human realities can be confusing as we confess the Apostle’s Creed.  Genesis and the gospel of John re-focus us to God the Father Almighty whose creating power becomes power surrendered, emptied, and sacrificed for this world that God so loves. The breadth of divine power is poured out in the depth of divine love.[7]  God’s almighty self and God’s fatherly sacrifice is confessed in one breath: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”

As we confess, faith reveals that God creates us, sacrifices for us, and claims us as children of God.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

_____________________________________________________

[1] Jaroslav Pelikan. Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003), 43.

[2] Elliot Ritzema and John D. Barry. Lexham Bible Dictionary. https://blog.faithlife.com/blog/2015/04/the-apostles-creed-its-history-and-origins/

[3] “A subject is a being who has a unique consciousness and/or unique personal experiences, or an entity that has a relationship with another entity that exists outside of itself (called an “object“). A subject is an observer and an object is a thing observed.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subject_(philosophy)

[4] Genesis 1:1-4

[5] John 1:1, 3-5

[6] John 1:14 and 16

[7] Dr. Craig Koester said this repeatedly to during in his class on The Gospel of John, Fall 2010.  Luther Seminary.

_____________________________________________

Psalm 104:1-4, 19-28

1Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty,

2wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent,

3you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind,

4you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.

20You make darkness, and it is night, when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.

21The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.

22When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens.

23People go out to their work and to their labor until the evening.

24O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

25Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

26There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

28when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

Luke 17:5-10 What Faith is Not [or Holding God to God’s Promises]

Luke 17:5-10 What Faith Is Not [or Holding God to God’s Promises]

October 6, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 17:5-10  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”   The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

 

Some of us make this faith thing really hard.  And pretty much by “some of us”, I mean at least me and maybe some of you too.  Those of us who make faith hard complicate it with a lot of stuff that makes no sense in the conversation about faith.  Take the disciples in our story who demand that Jesus increase their faith.  What does that even mean?!  “Increase our faith!”  It’s kind of a desperate request, isn’t it?  It sounds like they think they don’t have enough for what this life has in store.

Jesus’ answer is great.  He basically tells them that they have enough.  After all, who actually needs to make a mulberry bush jump in the ocean?   (I imagine him telling them this while secretly wishing he could send them into the sea along with the mulberry bush.)

After Jesus tells them that they have enough faith, he launches into the slavery comparison to tell them that they have all the faith they need to simply show up and do what needs to be done.[1]  A lot of us are just trying to make it through the day.   Our lives move along in ordinary ways – work and play, highs and lows, are all the stuff of our mostly ordinary lives.  And we are given enough faith to make it through the days.

Which begs the question of what is expected of faith?  The disciples are worried because Jesus has been talking about things like forgiveness, giving money to the poor, and picking up crosses and following him.  This is a big to-do list that seems to require some big help to get through.  It’s no wonder the disciples were asking for an extra sprinkle or two of faith.  How could they possibly have enough to get it all done?  And if they think they don’t have enough faith with Jesus right in front of them, how could we?

One of the wrinkles in this text is that faith doesn’t seem to be a measurable thing.  And yet we tend to think that faith equals agreement to each point on a checklist about God.  Like if we intellectually agree 100% with each statement of the Apostle’s Creed then we have a lot.  As if faith can be boiled down to some kind of mathematical proof that has form and measure and only then we can trust in it.  The problem comes when we try to explain how this all adds up to enough faith in the right things.  The problem comes when we think we can measure it at all.

Last week I had a chance to hang out with the 9th graders who are participating in the ritual of Confirmation in a few weeks.  I asked them to explain the scientific method to me.  They did this as easy as 1-2-3.  First you make a hypothesis about something being true, then you set out to collect the data to prove your hypothesis, and you make a conclusion that proves or disproves the truth of your hypothesis.  I then told them that we are not teaching them to argue the faith by way of the scientific method.  We are not making statements about Jesus and proving them.  Rather, the ritual of Confirmation is yet one more point in the baptized life where we are able to pause and take stock of what faith means in our everyday lives.  This is the place where our brains show up.  After all, we don’t leave our minds at the church door.  Plenty of brilliant scientists and gifted minds spend their lifetimes figuring out how to talk about the faith, the meaning and the mystery of it, in their own lives.

Like Timothy, in the second reading, whose faith moves through his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice to him, the Christian faith lives, in part, through what our ancestors of the faith have been moved to confess about God.  It is a confessing faith that is both in tension with the ordinary things of our ordinary days and woven through them.  Like Paul writing to Timothy, faith rests in trusting God to be God “in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”[2]  This confession of faith allows us to hold God accountable to God’s promises made in baptism.

God’s promises in baptism are this…[3]

God promises in baptism to be in relationship with you.  God’s presence is true even, and maybe especially, if you don’t think it is or feel like it is.  And because God is the God of today, tomorrow, and forever, these promises are eternal.  And so, trusting God to keep God’s promises, we confess the life everlasting.

God promises in baptism to always be reconciled with you, always open to your return to God.  And so, trusting God to keep God’s promises, we confess the forgiveness of sins.

God promises in baptism to draw you into a deeper relationship with God, into discipleship.  And so, trusting God to keep God’s promises, we confess the holy catholic church and the communion of saints – the community of people in which our lives as disciples are nurtured.

 

The disciples have one thing right.  Faith does come from Jesus.  This is a faith that rests on the promises of God made to us in our baptism; a faith that moves within our lives no matter what the outcome or how we think it gets measured.

May Christ Jesus gift you faith for today, tomorrow, and all of your days.  Amen.

 



[1] David Lose in “Dear Working Preacher…” on WorkingPreacher.com for Sunday, October 6, 2013. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2773

[2] 2 Timothy 1:12-13.

[3] John Pederson, personal conversation about the promises of baptism.

Luke 7:36-8:3; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21 “

Luke 7:36-8:3; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21  “Joy Extreme”

June 16, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 7:36 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.

Psalm 32 1 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.

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.

 

Have you ever taken a trip that you didn’t want to take?  I’ve had only a few of those but one such trip in the last few years became memorable.  I moped during the drive to DIA, I moped through the security line, and I was still moping as I made my way into the waiting area at the gate.  This gate was at the end of the terminal which housed about eight gates bundled together. There were tons of people waiting for their flights and all I wanted was to be alone with my thoughts.  And, then, I spotted it, a chair facing the windows, looking out at the tarmac.  It’s back faced away from the crowds with a few seats buffering me from anyone else. I had one of those moments when you’re happier than you really should be.  As I was setting down my carry-on, I glanced over at a gentleman a couple of chairs down and, literally during my movement to sit, the man looked at me, looked at the cross on my neck and said, “Can I ask you a question?”

As it turned out, what he really wanted to do was make a statement.  He was heading to his mother’s home to say goodbye to her before she died.  He told me about his family, the mess of it, the pain of it and his part in all of that mess and pain.  He told me about how God had found him, how God had changed his life and how he trusted God to help him now.  Somewhere in all that he had to say, it occurred to me…he was confessing!  He was hurting, he made himself vulnerable and he was confessing in the middle of a busy airport, to an utter stranger and in the midst of all of that, he trusted God to do something about it.  And not just any old thing, the man trusted God to forgive him for what he had done.

Our psalmist and the woman at Jesus’ feet make me think about that man in the airport.  That man, in his desperation, made himself vulnerable in the face of the cross and in the faith of his God.  His relief was almost gleeful – which is stunningly paradoxical given that he that he was headed home to take responsibility for the serious breach between him and his mom.

The man in the airport and his story help me make the leap between Simon and the woman at Jesus’ feet.  Oh, we could do the whole gender thing, educated thing or faithful thing but what really makes me curious is this extreme response of the forgiven person – or rather, the extreme response of the one who gets the magnitude of the forgiveness available to everyone.

Our readings today all edge toward that extreme response. The psalmist sings about the happiness of those who have been forgiven; Paul, in his letter, rhapsodizes about, “…not I who live but Christ who live in me”; and this woman who speaks not a word but pours out obscenely expensive ointment, mixes it with her tears and smears it all around with her hair while Simon and his guests are trying to eat.  These people in scripture are unbound and free because of forgiveness.

About a month ago I was over at a friend’s house for dinner.  As I was chopping veggies and she was checking the pasta, she turned to me and asked me to explain why Christians seems to be so wrapped up in forgiveness.  After all, wasn’t it just a free pass to do whatever you want and get away with it?  Her question was so honest.  She wasn’t snarky or cynical when she asked it.  She was simply curious.  Because why wouldn’t she be?  We see this kind of thing all the time.  The moral lapse of someone politically powerful or randomly famous results in their public apology that journalists then dissect for dubious authenticity.

In Galatians, Paul’s wording is different but he basically asks my friend’s question in a different way; “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?”  Meaning, if Christ is going to forgive us can’t we just do whatever we want? To which Paul answers his own question, “Certainly not!”

As a Christian, when I say with Paul, “It is not I but Christ in me,” one of the moves being made is that being crucified with Christ puts us into a new relationship with sin.  We get to call it what it is beyond simple moral categories of right and wrong.  We acknowledge the depth and pain resulting from relational sins between us and God, between each other and within each of us against our self.  Much like the man in the airport, we are freed by the cross of Christ to admit our flaws and take responsibility.

When we begin our time in worship with confession we are making a move similarly to the man in the airport.  We turn to God as if to say, “Can I ask you a question?”  And in that moment, we confess our sin.

As a group in worship, we confess thing like:  our arguments and plans taking center stage; our comfort or survival as overriding motivations; and our selves are the primary object of our attention.  We confess that these things and more take first place over God, over our neighbor and even over what is actually good for us.  We confess all these things and more as we stand or kneel before God.  Like the psalmist we surrender to the truth of our sin and fall into God as our hiding place, our deliverance.

Our individual confessions are as varied as there are people.  Lutheran Christians don’t often take advantage of individual confession but we do have a beautiful rite of confession between a person and a pastor.  During this individual rite of confession, which is highly confidential in its discipline and practice, there is an opportunity for a person to “confess sin and receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness.”[1]  The opening of this rite begins with these words: “You have come to make confession before God.  You are free to confess before me, a pastor in the church of Christ, Sins of which you are aware and which trouble you.”[2]  

My own experience of hearing a personal word of forgiveness truly has no words.

Whether our confession is said with other people in worship or spoken individually, we are bowed down by God’s power and opened up to God’s judgment and mercy so that with the psalmist and Paul and the woman we can weep tears of relief, tears of freedom, as we hear God say, “Your sins are forgiven.”                                                                      

God forgives and delivers you.  Through Christ crucified you are free to sing with the psalmist, revel with Paul, and weep with the woman about the joy of being forgiven, of being delivered from bondage to sin into Jesus Christ who brings life.

No longer captive, God gives you new life in Christ.    You are made whole by God, by Christ in you, and, like the woman, you are freed to show great love… for God’s sake, for your sake and for the sake of the world.



[1] Evangelical Lutheran Worship [“hymnal”], Pew Edition, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), p. 243.

[2] Ibid.