Tag Archives: courage

Luke 1:26–38 and Romans 16:25–27 – Questions, Courage, and Christ-Bearing

Luke 1:26–38 and Romans 16:25–27 – Questions, Courage, and Christ-Bearing

Caitlin Trussell on December 21, 2014 with Augustana Lutheran Church

 

[Two Bible readings before the sermon]

Luke 1:26-38 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Romans 16:25-27  Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith– 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

 

[sermon begins]

 

There’s a pretty good chance that something is happening in your life right now that has a lock on your mind.  Something that nags at the gray matter.  Something that is looking for a solution.  And life keeps moving along with its time-tables and decisions and final exams and projects.  Or at the very least there is something from which you need a break.  A place to rest.   To unhook from the daily dose of fear, inadequacy, and even shame.  A pause in the action to find a little room to breathe.

Breathing allows a little space and time for being.  For a moment to be flesh and blood and little else.  Breathing allows for calm.  The calm may be in the eye of the storm but for this moment, in this sanctuary, we are in the calm.

And here is Mary.  Mary’s day-to-day is likely one of survival.  She is, after all, a lowly one.  Daily decisions and dangers – true threats to her creaturely, flesh and blood existence.  And dropping in for a visit is Gabriel, the angel.  Mary is “perplexed.”  Great word.

Gabriel’s words, and Mary’s perplexed pondering, birth the question, “How can this be…?”[1]   This is an assertive question.  A bold question.  She puts her question to Gabriel but he’s simply the messenger.  Her question is pointed squarely at God.  “How can this be…?”

Such a flesh and blood question from Mary.  Mary who is perplexed, and ponders, and asks for answers from her place and time.  In her world that is plagued by poverty and political unrest.  Mary who is trying to understand what she is being told.  And also trying to understand how she fits into it.

It’s a pretty quick leap from the question of “how” to the question of “why.”   From, “How can this be?”  To, “Why is this happening?”  In one form or another we ask this question a lot.  We ask this question thinking that the gray matter is going to finally kick in and we’ll finally figure it out.  All that nagging worry will finally pay off in reasons for the thing happening in the first place.  We hop on the merry-go-round of our flawed humanity thinking that we’ll get that gold ring and make everything all right.

Things are flying by so quickly that everything’s a blur.  How might God go about getting our attention while things are moving so quickly?  What are all the ways in which that may have been possible?  God needs to speak in human terms.  But God, at some point, also needs to communicate in a way that bypasses our human defenses. So, through Mary the Christ-bearer, God shows up.  After all, who can resist a baby?  A baby whose life and death ultimately changes everything.  It’s delightfully subversive on God’s part.  Because, quite frankly, we’re just not that good at intervening on our own behalf.

In a startling move, Mary becomes the Christ-bearer.  The one who birthed God into skin and solidarity among us.

Including today’s Bible reading from Luke, the gospels confess, time and again, that God and Jesus are one.  Jesus is God and God is Jesus. The lowly birth we look forward to celebrating, in just a few days’ time, bears into being this incarnation of God, this flesh and fragile Jesus.

Gabriel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid.”  Mary’s answer is so certain that it resonates with a fierce determination to do God’s will, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”[2]  The One who Mary bears into the world, is the One who is focused on the goal of bringing us back into God.  This self-sacrificing love of God, given in the incarnation but given most completely on the cross, draws us back. [3]  Through the cross, you and I become Christ-bearers too.  Different from Mary, we are Christ-bearers of the crucified and risen One.

We await the party of the Christmas birth because we celebrate the One who shows up.  The One who shows up knowing full well we are afraid, confused, and asking ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions.  As Christ-bearers, we are in a sweet-spot of sorts.  We are in the sweet-spot between “How can this be?” and “Here am I, a servant of the Lord”; in the sweet-spot between asking God questions and fiercely set on God’s will.

Echoing between our questions and God’s will are Gabriel’s words, “Do Not Be Afraid.”[4]  Our fearful confusion is offered a place of calm.  Fragile and flawed, we are given a bit of space to breathe…to be.  “Do Not Be Afraid.”  We can move from the ‘how’ and ‘why’ to the ‘what now’ with a bit more courage knowing that God is with us.  God is with us confronting our sin, holding us accountable to each other, and giving us to each other to be Christ-bearers for each other and the world.  As Christ-bearers, we are set free to meet each other’s fear and confusion with a word of forgiveness.  As Christ-bearers, we are set free to meet each other’s fear and confusion with a word of hope.

Paul’s reassurance to the Romans is also for us.  [There is a] “God who is able to strengthen you…and the proclamation of Jesus Christ…the revelation of the mystery…to the obedience of faith…through Jesus Christ.”  The revelation of mystery has us asking, “How can this be?”  The “obedience of faith” has us saying, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  And “…through Jesus Christ” we are not alone, not afraid.  The Hope born of Mary in the fragility of flesh and blood is the One born for you and for the sake of the world.  Thanks be to God.



[1] Check out the ponderings of my friend and colleague Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber on the perplexing topic of the virgin birth: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2014/12/the-virgin-birth-fact-fiction-or-truth/

[2] Luke 1:38

[3] Koester, course notes, 12/1/2010.  For further study see: Craig R. Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

[4] Luke 1:30

Luke 17:11-19 Through Difference to a Common Humanity

Luke 17:11-19 Through Difference to a Common Humanity

Caitlin Trussell on Thanksgiving Eve, November 26, 2014, with Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver

 

Luke 17:11-19 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

There is a lot of talk about distance in this story about the lepers.  Jesus is cutting through the region of Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is code language in Luke for his death on the cross.  But he’s not there yet.  He makes a detour on the way to the cross.  The ten people with leprosy, the Bible’s catch-all label for a range of skin diseases, are also distant.  They are “keeping their distance” as they call out to Jesus.  The story is silent about whether or not Jesus moves toward the lepers.  He simply tells them what to do and the lepers go away to do what he tells them to do, putting even more distance between the Jesus and the lepers.

We are left with the impression that this initial encounter between Jesus and the lepers happens pretty quickly.  Jesus walking along, lepers yell, Jesus yells back, lepers gone.  All the while there is no contact, no laying on of hands mentioned as the lepers are made clean.  Another way to translate being “made clean” out of the Greek is to be “made whole”.[1]

There is no physical contact until after the man is made clean, made whole.  Noticing his cleanness, his wholeness, the leper turns back and drops at Jesus’ feet.  Picture this, the man lays flat on his belly on the ground. The now former-leper is also a Samaritan which is a double-whammy.  Samaritans, being the outcasts of the day, had no business being near any Jewish man.  This was not their place in the social network.  But there he is, flat out, collapsing at Jesus’ feet, collapsing the distance between them.

Also collapsing as the man drops to the ground are the distinctions between faith, gratitude, and wholeness.  It’s difficult to tease apart the mash-up as the man lays there in the dirt at Jesus’ feet.

A few weeks ago, knowing I was going to be preaching on Thanksgiving Eve, I e-mailed the Prayer Chain of people who pray over the weekly prayer requests.[2]  In that e-mail I told the people on the Prayer Chain that I’d love to hear from them about a practice or behavior of gratitude that works for them or something for which they are grateful.  People e-mailed back specifics but one common theme seems to be something about acknowledging God in the mix of life’s ups and downs regardless of outcome.

More specifically, I have permission to share with you this story from last week’s Congregation’s Council meeting.  Council members take turns each month talking about something related to their experience of faith.  This time at the beginning of each meeting is called “the devotion.”   Our Council Treasurer volunteered to open this latest meeting.  He talked about Thanksgiving coming up and the topic of gratitude.  And then he told us that in the middle of thinking about his gratitude for certain things in his life, it occurred to him that he had not been directly thanking God.  He talked about his awareness without judging it and then read Psalm 145 to us.  When he was done, I suggested that perhaps he could the preacher on Thanksgiving Eve.  Clearly that suggestion didn’t pan out.

The point is that Psalm 145 is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God for who God is and what God has done.  Prayers such as this Psalm drop us at the feet of God.  Prayer such as this Psalm collapse the imaginary distance we put between us and God.  Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus’ death on a cross, collapses this imaginary distance for us.  It is already done whether we take notice of it or not.  The question is, “What happens when we notice that there is not distance between ourselves and God?”  What happens is that we get to see things differently, we get to participate in this life differently.

Notice that man who is made whole isn’t made whole by erasing his Samaritan-ness.  The distinction of his ethnicity remains a part of him in his wholeness.  Differences remain.  This is an important part of the good news in this story for us here today.  Across the differences we set up as barriers, Jesus acts to make us whole.  Making us whole individually.  Making us whole collectively.  Seeing our differences within the container of our common humanity.  Celebrating our differences across infinite shades of brown even as we all bleed red.

We live in a world that would have us believe that we need to choose one over the other.  Either I choose to see only that you are different and need to keep you at a distance or I choose to negate our difference by wondering why you can just be more like me because clearly that’s the best way to go.  Jesus making the Samaritan man whole reveals this as a false choice.  These days we face hard questions about the flaws and strengths of our country’s slow crawl out of historical, yet still devastating, racism and classism.

I was sitting with some friends recently, all four of us in our various shades of skin from the palest tan to warm chocolate.  The subject of race came up and one friend said to the other, “When I look at you I don’t see your color.”  After a long pause, my other friend said, “When I hear you say that, I hear that you don’t see me.”  Both of my friends are sincere, earnest people who care deeply about each other and who have been friends long enough to say what’s on their minds.  It is a tough conversation that isn’t over.  This kind conversation is where we can take the wholeness of Christ out for a spin.  Where we encounter each other as foreigners, different from each other.  And as humans, the same as each other.  Both are true.

Like the 10 lepers, we too are made whole by Jesus.  We are given this wholeness regardless of whether we turn back and thank Jesus for it.  This Thanksgiving Eve, may I humbly suggest that we turn first to God and give thanks and praise to God for all that God is doing through Jesus.  And second, may we say a prayer or two this week thanking God for our differences and ask for the humility to offer ourselves in real relationship across those differences to share in our common humanity.

Jesus makes us whole.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit may we be given eyes that see, ears that listen, minds that think, hearts that connect, and hands that give as well as receive.  And may we at all times and in all places say, “Thanks be to God!”



[1] David Lose, Commentary: Luke 17:11-19 https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=783

[2] Prayer requests may be made online on the AugustanaDenver.org homepage, right-hand column, second option.