Tag Archives: confession

Jesus’ Side-Fives and Fury Are All of A Peace as Prairie Rose Seminole Encourages and Challenges Mark 9:38-50, James 5:13-20, and Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 30, 2018

[sermon begins after one Bible reading. The other two readings may be found at the end of the sermon]

Mark 9:38-50 John said to [Jesus], “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. 42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 44 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. , 46 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. 49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

[sermon begins]

Running. There are people who love running. The sound of shoed feet hitting the pavement. The sound of breath. The joy of movement. Then you have people like one of my gym friends who says that running makes him die a little inside. Or, like me, whose sprint looks suspiciously similar to jogging it out. Last week, we had a workout of the day that included a 400 meter run at the start of each of the four rounds. During the second run, a couple of the faster runners each threw out an encouraging word and a side five – you know, like a high-five but out to the side – as they ran past me on their way back to the gym. I felt so encouraged that I ran 100 meters past the turnaround point before realizing my snafu. I was joking after the workout that we should think about handing out side-fives at work and in grocery store aisles.  Like, “Good job with the eggs!”  Or, “Way to go scoring that broccoli!”  How good would THAT feel?!  You know, once you got past the weirdness of being high-fived in Produce.  A little encouragement at any point in the day goes a long way.

Encouragement is a common way that many people experience Jesus day-to-day. Jesus cheering us on. Jesus carrying us. Jesus suffering when we suffer. Those stories are compelling and accurate to scripture. Then there’s the Jesus we get in today’s Bible readings. He is mad.  Maybe better to say that he’s furious. He’s had it with his followers arguing with each other about who’s the greatest and completely losing track of the main things. And the main thing in the 9th chapter of Mark’s Gospel is the vulnerable child.

Jesus is still holding that kid preached about by Pastor Ann last week. The baby left by the side of the road by a family with too many mouths to feed. The one picked up by Jesus, planted in the middle of his followers, and then scooped up again in his arms saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”[1] Jesus still has a hold of that kid as he continues talking to them in the verses we hear today. Jesus’ words about the child are ringing in the air and what do the 12 followers do?  They change the subject.

They change the subject to other people. “But, Jesus, what about those other people, doing that other thing in your name?!”  Jesus responds with “these little ones” like the one in his arms.  Don’t “put a stumbling block before one of these little ones,” he says.  Jesus’ words make me think about Prairie Rose Seminole’s keynote talks at Synod Theological Conference two weeks ago.[2]  Ms. Seminole is Program Director of American Indian Alaskan Native Ministries for the ELCA.[3] She is an enrolled tribal member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, descendent of the Sahnish/Arikara, Northern Cheyenne and Lakota Nations through her Indian father and also of German Russian heritage through her white Lutheran mother.

Ms. Seminole talked about a lot things. She encouraged us toward conversation and actions that neither romanticize the American Indian experience nor idealize migrant Europeans looking for religious freedom at the expense of Indian lives nor immobilizes white folks in the ditch of guilt and shame.  Tough balance but if anyone could help us get there it’s people like her.  She also talked about her own experience of Indian Boarding Schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.[4]  Schools that first opened in the 1870s with the explicit goal of being a “solution to the Indian Problem…To “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”[5]

The Indian Boarding Schools were founded by Army officer Richard Pratt who designed them after the education he developed for Indian prisons.  The schools were still going strong through the early 1970s.  People my age have vivid memories of these schools – the corporal punishment, the labor, and the childhoods lived without parents.  Jesus’ words about putting “a stumbling block before one of these little ones” take on a different tone in light of Indian Boarding Schools.  And now, today, in light of migrating families separated at the border by federal officers.  Have we learned nothing?

I ate dinner with several friends last weekend who represent the spectrum of American politics.  We agreed that separating immigrant families is out of line regardless of when such a policy was put on paper and when it was acted on – as if any of that matters when children’s lives hang in the balance. Trauma, especially in childhood, often generates lifelong problems.  As people of the United States, we are responsible for acts committed in the name of our country.  So what is a person sitting in Sunday worship to do?  Fortunately, there’s not far to look.

Jesus’ rhetorical one-two punch about it being better to drown, or to lose a hand, a foot, or an eye rather than put a stumbling block before a little one, is a good place to start.  We’re as attached to our body parts as we’re attached to our self-absorbed sins.  We take both for granted and barely give them a second thought until we’re made aware of them.  If history teaches us anything, it’s that we often act on self-interest, camouflaged as caution, and end up hurting a bunch of people in the process.  The better angels of our nature occasionally prevail but they often hit obstacles.[6]  The first obstacle is the idea of ourselves as “good people.”  It’s tough to uncover sin camouflaged by self-described “good people.”

I’ve thought about this notion of “good people” in my families’ history of owning slaves.  My family justified slavery as “good people” and Christians. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was justified as necessary caution by self-described “good people.”  Although then the script was flipped.  It was lone Colorado Governor Ralph Carr of the Republicans speaking out against President Roosevelt and the Democrats.[7]  Here’s a shocker. No political party has a corner on the market of inflicting pain.  Why is that?  Because there are people involved.

Lutheran Christians have pretty low expectations when it comes to people. Especially when those same people are arguing about being the greatest like Jesus’ followers were. Especially when those same people create institutions in which accountability is tossed around like a hot potato rather than naming it and confessing sin. Confessing sin opens up the possibility for something different to happen.  It would be cool if we could get ahead of the curve and prevent some of our country’s institutional sins.  Alas, it is sadly rare.  So, we are left today with Jesus’ fury, and an invitation to confession.

Today’s reading from the book of James urges our confession with these words, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.”  This means that first we have to see our sin for what it is.  That’s a painful process for self-described “good people” but not nearly as painful as the sin we inflict on other people or, even worse, the sin we inflict on children.

Remember that gym encouragement I talked at the beginning of this sermon?  It was more than a way into these scripture readings.  When we confess together and hear absolution, we also puzzle through how to better care for our neighbors – especially these last couple weeks when the scripture lifts up vulnerable children.  A few months ago this meant that you all gave $3,500 dollars to the reunification ministry of Lutheran Family Services and ELCA congregations in El Paso, Texas.  This reunification ministry houses and feeds parents and children for brief periods as they’re reunited by the federal government. 35 families were touched by your gifts. Way to go on that ministry (side-five)!

Encouraging each other to connect and help people in pain is something we do as the communion of sinners and saints.  When we’re the ones causing the pain, the encouragement we give each other to confess and to listen to people affected by our sin is critical. Sharing the peace during worship represents connecting, listening and acting to make things right. Sharing the peace is a bit like those side-fives at the gym – helping us connect as bodies through our separation, through the limits we create.

If today’s readings from the books of Mark, James, and Numbers have anything in common, it’s that God reserves the right to break through the limits we create. God reserves the right to work through people who mystify us – whether those people prophecy outside proper channels in Numbers, or deeds of power done by people outside the authorized structure in Mark, or sinners who wander in James. It is good news that God through Jesus is constantly pushing us toward concern for other people, especially today for children, through very surprising sources. Seasoning the planet with people outside of our own experience to challenge us to notice and care for vulnerable children, and as Jesus says, to “be at peace with one another.”[8] Thanks be to God!

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[1] Mark 9:33-37 Then they came to Capernaum; and when [Jesus] was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

[2] Prairie Rose Seminole, Biography. https://www.montanasynod.org/uploads/3/0/9/6/30961995/prairie_rose_seminole.pdf

[3] The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.7 million members in more than 9,300 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God’s work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes God’s grace in Jesus Christ and service in the world. The ELCA’s roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.

[4] Prairie Rose Seminole. “FM Area Foundation Bruch comments.” April 6, 2013.    http://www.prairieroseseminole.com/?p=90

[5] Charla Bear. “American Indian Schools Haunt Many.”  National Public Radio on May 12, 2008. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865

[6] Gene Griessman. “The Better Angels of Our Nature” How Charles Dickens Influenced Abraham Lincoln.  How to Say It Right on February 12, 2018.  http://whatyousay.com/a-quotation-you-can-use-in-writing-charles-dickens-and-abraham-lincoln/

[7] Jesse Paul. “In Gov. Ralph Carr, Colorado has a shining light in the painful history of Japanese internment.” The Denver Post on December 6, 2016. https://www.denverpost.com/2016/12/06/ralph-carr-colorado-japanese-internment/

[8] Mark 9:50 ends with Jesus’ challenge and blessing to “be at peace with one another.”

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James 5:13-20 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, “Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15 If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.” 16 So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.

24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. 26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

 

Nobody Puts Jesus in a Corner – Mark 8:27-38

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 16, 2018

[sermon begins after Bible reading]

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]

Thump-thump-thump-thump.  Sounds of jumping away in a corner are a vivid memory from from Mrs. Gaines 4th grade class.  Mrs. Gaines cut a tall, elegant, utterly intimidating figure with her long, elegant hair flowing down just so and dressed to the nines in her long, elegant skirts.  She kept an eagle eye out for misdeeds and that eye seemed to be in the back of her head.  Her dreaded eye would fall on one of us attempting to get away with something. (Or, in my case simply talking too much with my desk neighbors.)  And, just like that [snap], the thumping began as 4th grade bodies did penance in the corner. Some of our more foolishly courageous classmates would try to thwart the system by not jumping. They’d use one leg to pound the floor without jumping.  I don’t remember anyone ever actually getting away with it though.  It’s this memory, this sound, of jumping in a corner that popped into my head when I read today’s Bible reading.

In my mind’s eye, I first saw Peter jumping in the corner.  He pulls a typical Peter-y move and clearly annoys Jesus. That isn’t a deep insight. You just know it’s bad when the name-calling starts with “Satan.”  Peter’s busted. There’s a simple problem unfolding here.  Jesus has a hard thing to do and he doesn’t need anyone taking him aside and chewing him out.  If Peter was anything like Mrs. Gaines, he would’ve had Jesus jumping in a corner.  And, nobody puts Jesus in a corner.

I’ve been thinking about how we do this very thing; how we pull Jesus aside and try to contain his wild talk about suffering, death, and new life.  The Bible reading gives us some help when Jesus asks the question, “Who do people say that I am?”  The people around Jesus give various answers about the word on the street in Caesarea Philippi – John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets.  Most of these answers would require a resurrection of someone who died for them to be true. So there is an accidental parallel between their answers and Jesus’ claims about the Son of Man rising again. Jesus then asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter gets closer than the current street gossip with his answer about the Messiah.  This variety of answers about Jesus’ identity is like a snapshot of the Bible’s New Testament.[1]

The 27 books in the New Testament are a conversation much like Jesus’ conversation with his disciples.  Even in the 13 letters attributed to the apostle Paul there are various angles on the Jesus question.  Between the four Gospel books – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – each writer forms part of the conversation about Jesus’ question and sometimes the writers disagree with each other or even contradict themselves in the same book! The First Century church apparently wasn’t much different than our own in that regard.  When you talk to people who have spent some time in the New Testament, you’ll hear people claim a favorite Gospel book  (mine is John) or tell you whether or not they like the Apostle Paul (I do but I wish there were things he’d kept to himself).  Along this line, Pastor Ann begins a three-week Adult Sunday School class today called the “Bible for Busy People.”  If you miss this week, come next week.  This class is for you whether you’re a seasoned reader or just starting to get to know the Bible.  It can be tough with Sunday readings like today’s to figure out where they fit in the overall story that the Bible tries to tell much less just the four Gospels. The opinions that we have about our favorite Gospel or the Apostle Paul are connected to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”  Jesus’ question about who people say he is has a flip-side.  When we say who Jesus is, we also say who we are.  Answering the question of Jesus identity means also having to give voice to our own identity.

Here’s a small example of one way we do this together.  Our worship regularly begins with Confession and Forgiveness.  Before we sing a hymn, before we hear scripture, before a drop of wine is shared, we confess that we’re flawed, that we don’t get things right even when we’re trying, that sometimes we don’t even try, and that we could really use some help loving ourselves and our neighbors – God’s help in particular.  The act of confessing is subversive in a culture that demands best self at the cost of real self.  And it’s pretty powerful to be told that you’re real.  Even in Peter’s tough moment with Jesus, Jesus is telling Peter what’s real.

Real doesn’t mean easy. Real doesn’t pretty things up.  Real means crosses.  Crosses sometimes enter in our lives from the outside in the form of trauma, ill health, death, or disaster.  And crosses sometimes come from the inside in the form of pride, self-sabotage, or addiction – ways we sabotage the good that God has created in us. There are crosses aplenty in our lives without borrowing trouble from other people. It’s also important to say that we may not necessarily be asked by Jesus to go out and suffer some more.

In our confession at the beginning of worship, we tell the truth about our shadows, our pain, and our sin; about where we fall short because we are lost and we’ve forgotten how to care about it. We tell the truth about our crosses that hem us in much like being in a corner and not being about to turn ourselves toward the way out.  Peter makes this kind of move. He pulls Jesus to the side and rebukes him.  We make similar moves all the time – justifying our actions and disguising it as rational thought.

Jesus turns toward the crowd and disciples and calls to them. Bringing more people into the situation and leading Peter out.  Where Peter would isolate, Jesus turns toward other people and shows Peter the way out of the corner he just tried to put Jesus in.  Jesus does the same with us.  Jesus is in the corner with us doing what Jesus came to do which is shine a light into that corner where we disguise our misdeeds as rational thought and ending up hurting ourselves or other people.  In the confession and forgiveness at the beginning of worship, we don’t only confess how we’re cornered.  We are told the corresponding truth that Jesus is with us, naming the power of sin, taking its power away, and naming what is real and true and good about who God made us to be and who God calls us to be.  God is not in the sin accounting business. God is in the new life business.  Not a business of best self but rather a recognition of what is real – as much flawed and fragile as we are created good.  Jesus turns to us, calls us by the gospel, shattering the illusion of best life someday while drawing us into real life now.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

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[1] Karoline Lewis. Associate Professor of Preaching and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary.  On Mark 8:27-28 for “Dear Working Preacher.”  September 11, 2018.  www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5220

Mr. Irrelevant 2017 is a Denver Bronco [OR The Last Will Be First…Thank God!] Matthew 20:1-16 and Jonah 3:10-4:11

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 24, 2017

[sermon begins after two Bible readings from the books of Matthew and Jonah – hang in there]

Matthew 20:1-16  “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Jonah 3:10-4:11 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
4:1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. 6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

[sermon begins]

Some of you know of my hope to someday call an NFL game in the booth with Chris Collingsworth and Al Michaels. Word-sparring with Al and arguing biases with Chris would be tons of fun. Alas, not only would my inability to accurately call pass interference hold me back, but then I learn something else I didn’t know about American football and wonder if I would even have the courage to speak. The courage question will go unanswered as Al’s retirement will happen eventually and NBC hasn’t called. The latest NFL knowledge to pop on my radar is Mr. Irrelevant.[1] Are there people here that know this is a thing? Since 1976, the last player chosen in the annual NFL draft is given the title of Mr. Irrelevant.[2]  There’s a big-buildup as the draft comes to a close. The chosen player receives a team jersey. On the back, in big bold, letters, is Mr. Irrelevant.  This year, that team jersey was Bronco Orange.[3]  Anybody here that can name the player? … … Chad Kelly, Ole Miss, quarterback, 253rd overall pick of the draft.  Mr. Kelly apparently has an abundance of talent that is shadowed by health and character. What fascinates me is that regardless of his draft title, he’s still part of the team. He has the same shot as everyone else to make it happen. There’s even such a list as the top 5 Mr. Irrelevants who have gone on to make names for themselves in the sport.[4]

Mr. Irrelevant is a limited metaphor for Jesus’ parable today but it leans us toward it. (It also ups the odds that scripture comes to mind during today’s Bronco game. You’ll have to let me know.)  Regardless of its limits as a metaphor, this notion of the last chosen seems to be a main concern. Those last workers are at least the main concern of the first workers – especially the salary scale.  It’s easy to get lost in the levels of employment.  Into what level is each worker slotted as the landowner goes back out and gets more workers?  9am, noon, 3pm, and 5pm.

One move we could make would be to think through the parable economically. We could ask about the landowner’s wealth and generosity in terms of our own biases about economic systems and merit pay.  A pure capitalist might ask about the landowner’s business plan if this turns into HR policy.  A pure socialist might ask why land ownership was necessary.

Another move we could make is to rank the workers against our own scale of worthiness.  In the Confession and Forgiveness at the beginning of worship, we say together:

“Living God, source of all life, we confess that we struggle to believe that your grace sets us free. You love us unconditionally, yet we expect others to earn it. We turn the church inward, rather than following you in the world. Forgive us. Stir us. Reform us. Amen.” [5]

“You love us unconditionally, yet we expect others to earn it.”  When we confess together in worship, it’s a chance to slow our thinking down and acknowledge our behavior.  While we’re on the topic, though, might I go a step further and suggest that we also think WE need to earn God’s love and grace.  Oh, I know, many of us have been Lutheran Christians a long time, some from the cradle.  So we know we’re not supposed to talk about earning God’s grace. But I’m here to tell you that in my world it’s not uncommon to hear people wondering if God is happy with them.  I hear questions like:  Am I worth it?  Do I know enough?  Have I read enough?  Am I kind enough?  Apparently, there is no limit to the ways in which we can torture ourselves.  No limit to the ways we can feel shame ourselves and inflict it on other people.  And, in the meantime, limit God.

For some reason, I’m hesitant to let the landowner off the hook in Jesus’ parable.  Maybe I’ve read too much Jonah and his lament against God. I want the landowner in the lineup with everyone else and ask him hard questions. I want to lump him into the problem of envy that the parable taps. And then, to go a step further, I want to erase everyone out the parable.  The parable is too complicated as allegory and, at the same time, oversimplifies humanity. Who is that landowner and why is the manager even there?  Can’t everyone just go home to live, work, and eat another day without reacting to the landowner’s behavior?  What if Jesus had simply said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…the last will be first and the first will be last.”[6]   The kingdom of heaven is the first being last.

Perhaps the first being last is like those nefarious Ninevites so despised by Jonah.[7]  He has every reason to avoid them. They were first in the land, top dogs, part of the Assyrian Empire that captured, killed, or carried away Jonah’s people to the north. They did bad, bad things. Jonah was sent by God to pronounce God’s mercy to the Ninevites so that they might repent and receive forgiveness. Jonah did NOT want to announce God’s mercy to the Ninevites because he knew about God’s slow anger and steadfast love. He knew that God would forgive them and Jonah did not want them forgiven.

The story wraps up with Ninevah’s repentance and God’s forgiveness. We share this story this week with our Jewish cousins in the faith who read the story of Jonah for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, their highest holy day of the year. Yom Kippur begins before sunset this Friday and ends after nightfall on Saturday. Jews ask for other people’s and God’s forgiveness and praise God’s mercy and steadfast love as they reflect on Jonah’s story. It’s an incredibly offensive forgiveness.  God forgives the Ninevites their kidnapping and murder of the northern tribes. We heard read this morning the closing verse of the book of Jonah as God asks Jonah, “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”[8]

Perhaps…perhaps…the first being last means that the landowner ends up as the last.  If the parable being told by Jesus infers God as the landowner, then one possibility is that Jesus ending up dead on a cross is definitely ending up last. The Roman Empire’s own version of Mr. Irrelevant playing out in first century politics, on a hill, far away. Except, theirs is not the last word.

At the end of the book of Revelation, Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”[9]  Here’s the good news. God is not limited to our finite understanding of first and last.  We’re well beyond landowners, managers, and workers.

This God is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  This is the God you hear from after your confession at the beginning of worship as God’s good forgiveness is announced to you.  “God hears your cry and the Spirit sets you free; your sins are forgiven, + in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”[10]

No small thing, God’s forgiveness.  God’s forgiveness turns lasts into firsts, and firsts into lasts, turning despair into defiant hope.  You are forgiven and set free.  Thanks be to God.

______________________________________________________

[1] Sundays and Seasons. Day Resources for Sunday, September 24, 2017. https://members.sundaysandseasons.com/Home/TextsAndResources#resources

[2] Foxsports.com.“The NFL Draft’s Top 5 “Mr. Irrelevants” of the Modern Era. April 26, 2016 http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/nfl-draft-mr-irrelevant-successes-042616

[3] Max Meyer. “Broncos Tab Chad Kelly as 2017’s “Mr. Irrelevant.” April 20, 2017. NFL.com http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000805002/article/broncos-tab-chad-kelly-as-2017s-mr-irrelevant

[5] Confession and Forgiveness modified from Sundays and Seasons online: Seasonal Texts for Fall 2017.

[6] Matthew 20:1a and 16b

[7] I recommend reading all of Jonah.  It is four chapters and a fun read.

[8] Jonah 4:11

[9] Revelation 22:13

[10] Confession and Forgiveness modified from Sundays and Seasons online: Seasonal Texts for Fall 2017.

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.