Tag Archives: Daniel Erlander

Shattering, Living Good News [Bible Books of Hebrews 4:12-16 and Mark 10:17-31

**Shattered-Glass Art by Baptiste Debombourg at Brauweiler Abbey, Benedictine Monastery, Cologne, Germany

Caitlin Trussell with New Beginnings Worshipping Community at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility on October 12, 2018; and with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 14, 2018

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Hebrews 4:12-16  Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. 14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Mark 10:17-31  As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

[sermon begins]

Nursing school is full of the unimaginable.  Procedures, bed pans, and math, lots of math.  Many of these experiences are served up on rotations.  Time is spent alternating through locked psych wards, labor and delivery units, and surgical suites.  It’s that last one, surgery, that caught my 19 year old self off guard.  Stay calm…I’m not going to get graphic about it.  I was excited.  Truly couldn’t imagine anything more cool than being in an operating room.  Then and now, surgery seems on that magical side of medicine reserved for the few, the bold, and the people who can stand on their feet for hours.  The O.R. nurse in charge of me gave me the skinny on how things work as she gave me the scrubs and papery hat and shoe covers.  I talked about it for days leading up to it.  I was set. Unflappable in my own mind.  Doing my best to live up to my long time book heroine, nurse extraordinaire, Cherry Ames.  Based on this build-up, you might be starting to imagine what came next.  I was on my feet, trying to get a better view.  The surgery began, there were the odd sensations as my composure shattered, and I must have turned white as a sheet because the scrub nurse flagged down the circulating nurse who took me out of O.R. and into a chair to regroup.  I was able to go back in but I was given a place to sit with a lesser view than standing.  Humbled, and turns out, quite flappable. Things just didn’t go the way I thought they would.

Things didn’t go the way the faith community described in Hebrews thought they would either.  No one knows who wrote Hebrews except God.[1]  (Although mystery-solving nurse, Cherry Ames could probably figure it out.)  It gets clumped in with the other New Testament letters because of the closing verses but it doesn’t follow the format.  It’s closer to a sermon.  Hebrews begins poetically, similar to the opening of the Gospel of John, in the verses we heard last week:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.[2]

The book of Hebrews reminds listeners about God. Not just any God. This is a God who speaks through prophets and now, more specifically, through a Son.[3]  The verses we hear this week bring God’s speaking more sharply in focus.  Precision focus.  One might even say God’s word is surgical precision.  Listen to verse 12 again:

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.[4]

We hear in this verse about a living word that is sharper than any sword, dividing soul from spirit, joint from marrow.  Is it any wonder that a scalpel comes to mind?

Living Word is a helpful way to consider what the Bible is doing.  Last Sunday, I met with people in the Discover Augustana class who are learning about the ministry of this congregation and what joining that ministry as members might mean. I cover several topics during our time together and one of them is the idea of Living Word as it relates to the Bible.  For this conversation we use Daniel Erlander’s book called Baptized, We Live: Lutheranism as a Way of Life.[5]  In 28 pages, Reverend Erlander summarizes worship, scripture, cross, and more.  The pages on scripture include the Living Word.  A Word that is neither a science textbook nor follows modern journalism standards, but rather a Word that works on each one of us, shattering our ideas and our very selves so that new life may grow in dark places inside of us.  The drawing in the book is a large arrow of Living Word blasting through scattered squares of bits and remnants.  Perhaps Reverend Erlander thought that the description in Hebrews of the sharpened Living Word dividing “soul from spirit” and “joints from marrow” leaving all creatures “naked and laid bare” to the eyes of God would be too graphic to convey in a drawing meant for personal study or Sunday school classes.  But he does convey the point that the Living Word of God acts upon us.  In the words from Hebrews, “…it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” and bares us before “the one to whom we must render an account.”[6]

And no one felt this more sharply than the man kneeling before Jesus in the gospel reading from Mark.  A man who thinks he knows what is required of him.  A man who likely thinks he’s going to get affirmation from Jesus that he’s on the right track, the God track, the eternal life track.  But what does Jesus do?  Jesus ups the ante.

Jesus, looking at [the man], loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”[7]

In this story, Jesus judges the man’s “thoughts and the intentions of [his] heart.”  The man can render no account that justifies himself before God. The man is attached to things more than he is attached to God. In essence, Jesus is telling the man that the “doing” is God’s alone.  God does the impossible. God saves human creatures. Human creatures do not save themselves.  This is good news.  The hard news is that in God’s economy there are priorities.  God’s grace is not a carte blanche to do whatever we want to do and ignore vulnerable people – particularly people without financial resources.  The man kneeling at Jesus’ feet goes away grieving because he knows that his priorities aren’t lining up with what he’s just been told.  There’s no way to pretty that up.  It’s part of the Christian challenge.  It’s a Living Word that works on us, shattering our composure, and pointing us towards God’s economy.

A couple things to notice here.  In verse 31, Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  Notice that no one is booted out of that line or voted off the island.  There’s a rearranging that reveals the priorities of God’s economy but no one is left behind.  And the other thing to notice is in verse 21. Jesus “looking at [the man], loved him.”  The man is the only person singled out in the Gospel of Mark as being loved by Jesus.[8]  We don’t get to know the end of his story.  Perhaps his open-ended story is a way for us to see ourselves as the story’s closers, to hear a call of obedience as Jesus followers that we hadn’t considered before or feel stronger to respond to now.  It’s a good time to pause and feel uncomfortable because we tend to make quick moves toward grace when we get uncomfortable.  An alternative is to live in the discomfort of not measuring up and actually pray our confessions knowing that our sin is as real as God’s grace.  When we see our sin as real, when we own it, there’s the chance to be freed from it.  The promise of confession is begins in verse 14 of Hebrews:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This promise emboldens our shattering by the Living Word who is Jesus.  Jesus our priest who sympathizes with our weakness and does not hold it against us.  People who’ve experienced this shattering, of having soul divided from spirit and joint from marrow, know the freedom of that shattering.  The freedom of knowing our limitations and our sin. The freedom of “[receiving] mercy and [finding] grace to help in time of need.”  Because it is that freedom that reminds us that we are children of God. Heirs of what Christ has done. Not inheriting because of what we do or not inheriting because of what we didn’t do.  Rather, we live as free people drawn into obedience to God by the Living Word who lives in us.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

_____________________________________________

[1] Craig R. Koester, Professor and Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament, Luther Seminary.  Commentary on Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 for October 7, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3790

[2] Hebrews 1:1-3 (check out John 1:1-3a and 14, to ponder the parallels.)

[3] Craig R. Koester, Commentary on Hebrews 4:12-16 for October 14, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3796

[4] Hebrews 4:12

[5] Daniel Erlander. Baptized, We Live: Lutheranism as a Way of Life. (Daniel Erlander Publications, 1995), 11.

[6] Hebrews 4:12-13

[7] Mark 10:21

[8] Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, Editor, Lutheran Forum, St. Paul, MN. Commentary on Mark 10:17-31 for October 14, 2018 on Working Preacher.  https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3795

 

Jesus: Superhero? Antihero? Neither?  [John 3:14-21]

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on March 11, 2018

[sermon begins after Bible reading]

John 3:14-21 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

[sermon begins]

Wonder Woman hit movie theaters last spring and tallied box office returns of $103 million for opening weekend and over $800 million in worldwide box office sales.[1] Black Panther opened in mid-February to the tune of $202 million and is currently well over $900 million in worldwide ticket sales.[2] It’s still in theaters so, who knows, a billion dollars is possible. Those are record breaking numbers. People not only enjoy the quality movie making, they also care deeply about these films – their characters and stories. I’m fascinated by how deeply people care. Every so often, I day dream about the doctoral program at DU called Theology, Philosophy, and Cultural Theory.[3] Programs like this excavate the layers of experience and thought behind cultural phenomena. For now, there are experts in their fields who propose their own theories. TV critic Eric Deggans thinks that, “Superheroes answer this desire that a lot of us have to have somebody cut through all the nonsense in life, use extraordinary powers to bring justice to a situation, and I think that’s the appeal of these movies and these T.V. shows; To find somebody who can just sort of cut through all the nonsense and deliver justice very directly.”[4]

It’s not a stretch that we would want God to work in the ways of the superhero, too. Especially in the Gospel of John in which Jesus performs miracles and seems to have superman-like resolve from his baptism all the way through his death on the cross. While I do not think this means what we often think it means, there is something both super-human and all too human going on here. The human part is that we are prone to condemnation. We like to judge other people as if we could do better in the same set of circumstances.[5]  And we tend to pull God into our court to support our verdict. Along this line, I hung out with the first communion students and their parents on Wednesday evening. Their first communion book, written by Daniel Erlander, tells stories about the crabby people who were very, very crabby about Jesus.[6] They didn’t like the way he healed. They didn’t like the way he fed. They didn’t like the way he forgave.

They didn’t like that he ate with the wrong people. You get the idea. We worked through the first few pages of the book, regaled by stories about Jesus while the crabby people in the stories plotted to kill him. The crabby people were meting out their own kind of justice with a plan to hang Jesus on a cross. Class ended with this thought. I told the kids that there may be crabby people who pop up in our lives to ask us the question, “Do you know what God’s going to do to you?!” Then I told them how to answer it by saying, “Yes, God’s going to love me.”  We know this because all the way to the cross there was not one finger lifted by God against the very people who were part of the execution.

The love of God is part of these verses today as the world God so loves. It’s a reference from John 3:16 which begins, “For God so loved the world…”  John 3:16 is well known to us – on signs at football games and quite possibly anywhere else you could imagine, the signs read either just chapter and verse or sometimes the sign-artist will write the whole thing. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” I always hope that the next verse, John 3:17, will make it onto the sign too.

Listen to beginning os John 3:17 again, “”Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world…” The Son in these Bible verses is Jesus. In God’s mysterious way, those of us who confess a faith of Jesus, also say that Jesus is God and God is Jesus. The Gospel of John begins with this claim. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…what came into being 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…and the Word became flesh and lived among us.”[7] The Gospel of John confesses Jesus’ divinity.

 

Jesus came not to condemn – came NOT to be the movie superhero doling out retributive justice. Yet that is the justice often claimed out of these verses. It’s the kind of justice we crave from our superheroes because it cuts through the nonsense and appeals to a sense of fairness that is satisfying. Satisfying, that is, when it’s someone else getting cut down. A little less satisfying when we’re the ones under judgment. But, our satisfaction is amplified when our connections with each other are made around a common enemy. Kind of like those crabby people in the first communion book who are united against their common enemy of Jesus. Why doesn’t Jesus come out swinging and deliver the final one-two punch? Jesus, while occasionally sarcastic and biting, is no anti-hero. He isn’t skulking around, isolated and cynical. He is walking around as the light. Shining light on the human condition by telling the truth about the deeds we do in the darkness and light that exist in the world.

Here’s the truth of it. We take turns in the darkness and light – by choice and by circumstance. Part of God loving the world is shining light on the truth of what we do. This isn’t necessarily joyful or easy. But shining the light on our rush to judgment without all the data, our call for retributive justice without compassion, or our determination to energize around a common enemy is exactly what’s needed. Shining a light on all of our attempts to end up at the top of the heap while condemning others around us.

In the Gospel reading we are told that, “The light has come into the world.” The very first verses of the Gospel of John tells us Jesus is “the light of all people.”[8]  During communion we hear the words of Jesus spoken over the wine:

Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for ALL to drink saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for ALL people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.[9]

During the invitation to communion, we often say that if you are here you are welcome to Holy Communion. It is Christ’s table for all because Jesus is the light come into the world, the light of all people. Such is the welcome and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Neither superhero, nor anti-hero, Jesus is simply given to us by grace, for God so loves the world and continues to draw us into the light of Christ by this good news.

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[1] The Numbers: Where Data and the Movie Business Meet. “Wonder Woman” as of March 10, 2018. https://www.the-numbers.com/movie/Wonder-Woman-(2017)#tab=summary

[2] Ibid. “Black Panther” as of March 10, 2018 https://www.the-numbers.com/movie/Black-Panther#tab=box-office

[3] DU/Iliff Joint PhD Program in the Study of Religion: Theology, Philosophy, and Cultural Theory. https://www.du.edu/duiliffjoint/current-students/concentrations/theology-philosophy-cultural-theory.html

[4] Eric Deggans, NPR TV Critic. “Here and Now.” March 9, 2018. https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510051/here-x26-now

[5] Karoline Lewis. Associate Professor of Preaching and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary.  “After Effects” (John 3:14-21) for Dear Working Preacher. Sunday, March 4, 2018.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5075

[6] Daniel Erlander. A Place for You: My Holy Communion Book. 1999. http://danielerlander.com/apfy.html

[7] John 1:1, 3b-5, 14

[8] John 1:5

[9] Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW). Holy Communion, Setting One. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 108.