Tag Archives: Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

Matthew 22:1-14 – A Haunted House and A Flashlight

Matthew 22:1-14 – “A Haunted House and A Flashlight” [OR “Of A King and A Son and A Thrown-Out One”]

Caitlin Trussell on  October 12, 2014 with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver

 

Matthew 22:1-14 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

 

 

It’s closing in on that time of year.  The time of spooks and ghouls, candy and costumes.  As the official door answerer in our home, I myself sport a combo of halo and horns – get it, saint and sinner – a ginormous bowl of candy, and a big smile for the kids in costume…and maybe even a tolerant smile for the teenagers in masks and make-up who show up hoping for the Snickers score.  It’s also the time of year when someone invariably comes up with the idea for a field trip to a haunted house.

Haunted houses are a thrill-a-minute for those who love them.  For me, they’re too much.  Too much dread.  Too much dark.  Too much lurking in the dark.  I’m not built to enjoy the buzz of adrenalin in response to being terrified.  In fact, midway through the last haunted house I let myself get talked into twenty years ago, I stopped in my tracks and said into the pitch-black-dark, “Show me the way out of here…RIGHT NOW!”  To which some ghoul flicked on a flash-light and, said in that ghoulish Hollywood way, “Waaalk thisss waaay…” while guiding me out with the flashlight.

At least when we open the Bible, there’s no haunted house there.  Oh, wait, maybe there is, sort of.  At least this parable that Jesus is telling sure seems dark, with a lot of built in dread.

Jesus has already told a few stories since entering the temple after being questioned by the religious leaders.  These religious leaders ask him about where his authority comes from and then Jesus waxes on into story, into parable.[1]  If the first two parables he told were intense, this third one is downright extreme.  And Jesus also ups the ante by beginning with the teaser, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…”  This lead-in is so much bigger than “once upon a time.”  Jesus’ listeners, the religious leaders, having already challenged his authority, are even more attentive to what he might say because he mentions the kingdom of heaven.

“Once more, Jesus spoke to them in parables saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”   There’s an immediate kicker in that no one who is invited to the party comes to the party.  Huh.  The king, to whom no one usually says, “no,” suddenly isn’t even getting RSVPs.  People just simply aren’t showing up.  And this is only the beginning of the absurdity.

The king sends slaves with a message of good food, good smells, and good company with the king.  Some of the people laugh and walk away, while other people kill the king’s messengers.  The king throws a king-sized hissy fit – kills the people invited but who didn’t show up to the wedding banquet and burns down their city.  Anyone in need of that ghoul with a flashlight from the haunted house yet – showing us the way out of this death and destruction?

Then the story softens just a bit, going from worse to just bad, when the king sends out more slaves to simply collect whoever will come to this now farcically enforced banquet.  “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”  I don’t know where you land on the topic of forced festivity but it doesn’t work for me.  Imagine being collected for a party where you know the host killed the other people who didn’t show up for the party and burned down their town.

In the middle of this murder, mayhem, and enforced festivity, is a man.  A man not dressed to play the part into which he was conscripted by the king.  A speechless man who did not respond when the king would call him, “Friend.”

One horrifying part of this parable is indeed the king and his actions.  The move that often gets made out of this parable is that this king is interpreted to be God.[2]  Jesus begins the parable by saying that, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king…”  Suddenly, we as listeners’ make the leap that the king must then be God before we get to the end of the parable.  Yet another easy move to make in this parable is that it’s so easy for us as listeners to equate ourselves with the ones not thrown out.  And suddenly we live into what the theologian James Alison calls the pathology of belonging – creating togetherness by getting rid of someone.[3]

This speechless man is bound hand and foot and tossed out.  Not just tossed out of the party but tossed out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  He becomes the tossed-out one.  Where else in the Gospel of Matthew may there be found such a one?  Try a few chapters later in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. During the events leading up to his crucifixion, through the crucifixion itself, we are told of one who dies.  The one who is silent in the face of challenge[4], the one who is mocked for being in the wrong clothes[5], the one who is bound hand and foot[6], the one who is hung on a cross where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth[7], the one who is forsaken,[8] the one who hangs under a sign announcing his kingship[9], and the one who is finally announced as God’s Son.[10]

The parable’s king and the wedding banquet for his son are an absurd portrait of kingship and its festive accoutrement run amuck.  The parable’s thrown-out-one is the one who reveals the farce.

On Friday evening, my husband Rob and I attended the New Beginnings Church Annual Celebration and Fundraiser here in Augustana’s Fellowship Hall.  Many Augustana people were also in the mix of almost 200 people from other churches and denominations.   Thank you to those of you who came, those who gave money, and those who pray for and volunteer with New Beginnings Church.

New Beginnings is a congregation that worships within the walls of the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility.  This is a great ministry for which I’ve been substitute preaching over the last seven years.  For the obvious reason of incarceration, the congregation is 100% dependent on donations that include supporting the leadership and pastoral care given to the women by ordained Pastor Terry Schjang.

The women of New Beginnings are held accountable for their crimes while at the same time receive care for the high rate of sexual and physical abuse they experienced prior to incarceration, typically early in their lives.  These women are often the thrown-out ones, forgotten behind the double razor wire fences and the severity of their crimes.

On Friday night, we heard from Denise.  Denise is a four-time offender recently released from prison.  She claimed responsibility for her choices and named the shame that began it all.  Different for her this time in prison is her experience in New Beginnings.  Different for her this time is how she hears that Jesus, the thrown-out one, the crucified and risen one, is the one who has occupied the place of shame and is not run by it.[11]  Jesus, the one who undoes our narrative of futility.  Jesus, the one whose forgiveness opens up our past in such a way that stretches out our future.[12]

Denise’s story, while socially extreme, bears similarities to many of our own stories.  The mash-up of paradoxes may be more visible in her story but the tension of those paradoxes exist nonetheless.  The paradoxes of accountability and forgiveness, justice and freedom, past and future, shame and wholeness, perpetrator and victim all collide at the cross of Christ.

This collision at the cross of Christ puts to death the pathology of belonging and brings to life a community through which God brings all people into God, through which God reconciles us to God. All of us brought to God through the God humbly born into skin and solidarity with us in the person of Jesus, the God who shows us through Jesus how to love and how much we are loved even through death on a cross.  This is the mystery of faith that is for Denise, for me, and for you.  This is the mystery of faith that we are called to steward.  This is the mystery of faith that claims us in a broken world, in the valley of the shadow of death, drawing us into life right now, today, through the cross of Christ singing a defiant “alleluia”.

 

[Those who assemble for worship sing many “alleluias” together in the hymn “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” – ELW #362]

 



[1] Many people try to explain what a parable is by explaining what it’s sort of like.  Explaining parable can sometimes sound like this, “Well, it’s allegory but not really clean allegory with obvious 1:1 correlation; it’s metaphor but not simple poetry.”   Since it’s not clear-cut, I’m going to suggest that today we go with James Allison’s explanation of parable – that parable disrupts the listeners’ unexamined assumptions.

[2] Debbie Blue, one of the founding pastors of House of Mercy in St. Paul, MN.  Find her commentary on Matthew 22:1-14, “Murder and Mayhem” archived at the following link to Spark House: The Hardest Question: http://thq.wearesparkhouse.org/yeara/ordinary28gospel/

[3] James Alison, Catholic theologian, writer and speaker presenting at Rocky Mountain Synod Theological Conference in Colorado Springs; September 24-25, 2014.  Dr. Alison’s website: www.jamesalison.co.uk

[4] Matthew 26:63

[5] Matthew 27:28,

[6] Matthew 27:31b

[7] Matthew 27:33

[8] Matthew 27:46

[9] Matthew 27:37

[10] Matthew 27:54

[11] More from James Alison’s lecture – see footnote #3.

[12] Ibid.

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

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

Caitlin Trussell – April 27, 2014

Augstana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 



[1] 1 Peter 1:5

[2] Revelation 21:4

 

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

 

Psalm 16

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

 

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

Luke 10:38-42 “Taste of Forever”

Luke 10:38-42 “Taste of Forever”

July 19, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, Denver, CO

SIT AT YOUR FEET – Oil on Board

Bryn Gillette (artbybryn.com)

Used with permission.

Luke 10:38-42 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

 

Here’s how I’m afraid most of us hear the Martha story: “Hey, people, stop all that inconsequential doing, sit down and focus on Jesus!!!   You are delusional in the way you think about what’s important for survival and the things that you’re doing are useless!!!!!” [I use multiple exclamation points so you readers hear this in a very loud, stern voice].

Now, is it possible that we focus on some things that might be unnecessary?  Probably.   But I don’t think that this is what the text is challenging us toward.  And I don’t think this is the good news in this text.  After all, the story of the Good Samaritan, just before this one today, finds Jesus telling the lawyer to “Go and do likewise” after the example of the Good Samaritan.  The act of doing is simply not the problem.  We are commanded by scripture to do all kinds of things that show love for neighbor and love for ourselves.

So if doing is not the problem then what is the problem in this story?  Part of the problem seems to be Martha’s concern about what Mary is doing, or not doing, and trying to bring Jesus on her side against Mary.  This is a common human action that actually does create problems among us and against each other.  After all, if I can get Jesus on my side, then my side automatically puts me on the right side, and I can feel oh so much better about what I’m doing for and with Jesus.

So if Jesus is not invalidating Martha’s work, not siding against her, and is also not siding with her, then what is he doing?  Here’s where the story of Martha and Mary gets interesting.  Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet.  This is a student’s posture, a posture of one who is learning and listening to someone who has something important to teach.  This posture is reverent and focused and ready to receive.  In the first century, this posture was one reserved for students in the temple, traditionally male students.  So this posture, taken by Mary as she listens to Jesus, would be seen by first century people as radical.  But this story is so much more than simply one that breaks down the gender norms of its day or even our day.

In verse 42, Jesus says that Mary’s experience of receiving what Jesus has given her “will not be taken away from her.”  What Jesus gives her “will not be taken away from her…”   All well and good for Mary, but what might this mean for us who live now, worried and distracted by many things today?  It means that those who sit at Jesus’ feet are being given something eternal in the here and now.  If something can never be taken away and is given here, now, today, then it is indeed a taste of forever here and now.  

Did you notice that there is no “if” in our text today?  What Jesus gives, what Mary receives, is for always.  There is no contingent clause that sounds like Mary will only keep what’s been given to her if she performs a certain set of actions.  This means that:

When Jesus comes to you in the proclamation of forgiveness by the power of the Holy Spirit , He will not be taken away from you.

When Jesus comes to you by the power of the Holy Spirit in the waters of baptism by the power of the Holy, He will not be taken away from you.

When Jesus comes to you in bread and in wine by the power of the Holy Spirit, He will not be taken away from you.

Jesus remains with you today, tomorrow and forever…and you with him…which will not be taken away from you.

Thanks be to God!

Mark 4:26-34 “Shrubs, Birds and Bodies”

Mark 4:26-34  “Shrubs, Birds and Bodies”

June 15, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

Mark 4:26-34 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

 

 

When I was a kid there was a huge fad in jewelry that many Christians wore.  It was mustard seed jewelry.  There was a tiny yellow seed sitting loosely inside a tiny glass ball.  I’m pretty sure I had a pair of mustard seed earrings and my sister may have had a bracelet but my memory as it relates to my sister’s jewelry is a little hazy.  The point of this jewelry was to remind us that great things were possible from the tiniest drip of faith.  And while this is true and there are many Bible verses that inspire us with that idea, I would invite us to read today’s text carefully before we jump on that familiar train of interpretation.  I think these two parables are saying something more.

Parables are more than analogy or fable.  Parables reveal things, they flip the standard line over on its head and they are subversive and powerful.  They have a kick to them.  When we don’t feel that kick, that “Aha” moment, we’re probably missing something.  And, surprise, surprise, they can be super funny.  The mixing together the things of daily life into the power of parable stirs the hearer into different ways of being.

The first parable says that the Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seeds, they grow without tending and “he does not know how.”  Part of this parable is about knowing or, more accurately, the lack of knowing.  There are people who are not me that can describe the phases of plant growth from seeds into plants into grain but this parable makes me wonder if they “know how.”

And then the farmer is able to bring in this harvest without knowing how it came to be.  This deep mystery is the set-up for the mustard seed:

“[Jesus] also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

This mustard seed is not of the jewelry variety – a lovely, yellow, round, tiny ball.  This is a black speck – one that you might mistake for a bit of dirt on your cheek.  It is completely unremarkable.  But this mustard seed grows into an invasive shrub.  The text today says the greatest of all shrubs.

Now there’s a goal; to be able to lay claim to being the greatest of all shrubs.  This last week I’ve had a chance to talk about this text with people who come from different parts of the country and everyone could name the invasive plant that causes problems in their area.  Plants with names like kudzu, tamarisk and toadflax were described with all the damage they can do as they spread and then spread some more.  The original hearers of this parable would have laughed out loud to hear the Kingdom of God compared to the mustard seed.  Like a good South Park episode, it would have been funny in that way that is also offensive – shocking them into laughter while making people think.

So the mustard seed goes to work.  Growing and spreading and becoming the greatest of shrubs that has branches large enough to shade the nesting birds.  Earlier in this chapter of Mark, Jesus tells a parable that doesn’t leave birds in a very good light.  Birds are not a friend to the seeds in this earlier parable.  They are the undesirables.  And yet, here they are, just a few parables later, sitting on the branches in the shade.  And the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed growing into the greatest of shrubs that shade even the birds.

Why might Jesus have told this parable in this way?  In the previous chapter in Mark, the religious leaders had already begun plotting with the politicians to destroy Jesus.  So the parables are speaking into their threat.  They know that this person is shaking up the very order in which they operate and their option as they see it is to destroy it.  Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed, foreshadowing that the seemingly fragile thing is going to be so vast that even the birds who threaten will be dependent on it.

It is important to pause here so that we understand our location in the Kingdom of God by first understanding Jesus’ location.  God coming in a body, in the person of Jesus, shifts reality in a new direction for us.  Jesus coming in a body makes space for all bodies to be redeemed, for all bodies to be made new, to be created good.  As Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view…So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  This is an announcement of what Jesus Christ has done and is doing.  Translating out of the original Greek on this would be better stated, “So if anyone is in Christ, A NEW CREATION!”  There is no lead in, no verb necessary, just BAM!  “A NEW CREATION!”

The Kingdom of God, through Jesus Christ, invades the very ways in which we order our lives, invades the very ways in which try to manage our fragile selves, and speaks the truth of our fragility and our need for God.  Jesus Christ, names our fragile selves – the ways we screw up, the ways we see God as a threat to our security and the ways we work against God – and then within us plants a new creation.  Jesus, the living Christ, sends the Kingdom in and through us as he loves us enough to forgive us and he loves us enough to make us new.

Thanks be to God!

Mark 3:20-35 “Crazy, Demonic or ‘of God’?”

Mark 3:20-35 “Crazy, Demonic or ‘of God’?”

June 10, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Centenniel Lutheran Church and New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

Mark 3:20-35 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

 

 

Depending on your background, talking about sin and evil may be as natural as your need to eat or may be as uncomfortable as stepping on broken glass or may be as completely irrelevant as what someone in Alaska is having for breakfast.  I have spent time in all of three of those reactions to sin and evil.  But the most important came to pass when I was in seminary.  I had a professor who is originally from Zimbabwe in Africa.  He spent a lot of time discussing the current conditions in his home country which at that time were not good and getting worse.  He also spent some time talking about sin and evil.

 

American culture is difficult to pin down as any one thing.  However, there is a lot of time spent using the language of tolerance.  I, for one, am grateful that tolerance is at the forefront of many people’s minds and it has been incredibly important for all of our coexisting on the planet together.  However, the shadow side of tolerance is that it can result in live-and-let-live ways even as people are suffering and dying at the hands of other people or suffering and dying by their own hands.  These live-and-let-live ways can leave us without the words to see the problems and without ways to solve them.  So then, sin and evil are a way to name what is happening in order that it might be confronted and changed.

 

Today’s texts are swimming in this stream of thought.  In Mark, Jesus’ family is highly worried that he’s lost his mind.  Think for a moment about someone you know who struggles with mental illness and how much pain it causes both that person and the people around them.   I imagine Jesus’ family in that kind of moment; in the awareness that Jesus’ actions are not going to come to anything good.  And, in fact, Jesus causes so much disarray that someone calls the scribes, who are the religious big guys, to come from Jerusalem to straighten it all out and they begin the name-calling with “Beelzebul.”  Notice for a moment that no one calls Jesus a fake.  From what has been seen of Jesus so far there has left three options – one, that Jesus is of God; two, that Jesus is crazy; or three, that Jesus is of the demonic.  No one in the story – neither family, nor the religious leaders – is prepared for the “of God” label so Jesus must either be crazy or demonic.

 

And Jesus, what does he do?  He cuts to the chase.  He goes “all in” with naming Satan and telling the parable of the strong man.  No watered-down language here.  And this is really an important place to pause and take notice.  Jesus is calling a thing what it is.  Jesus is calling evil what it is.  Jesus is truth telling about evil.  Jesus has come to plunder Satan’s household and liberate the world from evil.  This message is so strong in the Gospel of Mark that some have said that Mark tells this whole story of Jesus – from baptism to the cross – as one long exorcism of the whole planet.  Of Jesus’ ultimate victory over evil that will one day see its final end.

 

The Genesis text gives us a beginning for the final end to sin and evil.  This is a really complicated text and deserves its own sermon…or two…or three.  There are two things I want to say here.  The first is that this text has been interpreted poorly and used quite badly against women throughout the centuries.  This is wrong to do and there are many, many academics, theologians and pastors – faithful men and women – who write volumes on this.  With that being said, the second thing I want you to notice is about what God doesn’t say to Adam and Eve.  While there are consequences to their actions, God doesn’t say, “I’m going to hang out here, good luck making your way back.”  No, God doesn’t say this or anything like it.  Where does God go?  God goes out into the world with them.

 

So however we imagine that scene in the garden coming down, erase the one with God’s finger pointing them out and re-imagine one where God moves out into the world with them.  Because that is where God went then and where God is now.

 

God’s living presence in the world is especially important to this story about Jesus in Mark.  Jesus is blowing open the way people think about God being active in the world.  Listen carefully to verses 28 and 29 in the Mark text as Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”  Much has been made of blaspheming the Holy Spirit and what that could possibly be about.

 

I lean towards the one that says that the Holy Spirit forgives sins…period…so if you say there is no forgiveness of sins then you are blaspheming the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps it’s more simply put to say that it is difficult to experience forgiveness if you say it isn’t possible or that it is unnecessary.

 

This takes us back to the language of sin and evil.  It is difficult to explain the horrible things that happen to us and the horrible things that we do to ourselves and others without talking about sin and evil.  And it is difficult to talk about forgiveness when someone or a group of people think there is nothing for which they need to be forgiven.  I’ve been working my way very slowly through a book called, “No Future Without Forgiveness” by Desmond Tutu.  Desmond Tutu was the Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa, during and after a long peroid time that was filled with horrific white on black violence and oppression.  He is a black Christian leader in the Anglican tradition who was part of a large group of people responsible for moving the country forward after the election of Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president, in 1994.

 

Desmond Tutu writes about the key pieces of moving forward in forgiveness.  These key pieces include balancing “the requirements of justice, accountability, stability, peace and reconciliation.”[1]  In order for all of that to happen, those victimized over decades had to be open to forgiving those who hurt them and those who were the oppressors needed to admit what they had done.  The victims, the perpetrators and the leadership involved showed the power of this level of forgiveness in all that has happened in South Africa since that time.

 

What happened in South Africa was possible, in part, because there was the use of the language of sin and evil.  The very language that Jesus is using in Mark allows things to be called by their proper name so that they may be handled.  Jesus calls Satan, “Satan,” and Jesus calls forgiveness of sins, “forgiveness of sins.”

 

And here is the good news of what gets handled.  You…you get handled by Jesus Christ as he opens up his arms to include more than just his relatives into the fullness of what he has done.  By the power of his Holy Spirit, your sins are forgiven.  And few say what this experience is like better than St. Paul.  Listen as he writes words of encouragement to the Corinthians:

 

“But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—”I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.  5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.”

 

In living, in dying and in rising for you, Christ brings wholeness and healing into you by the forgiveness of your sins.

So I say again, by the power of the Holy Spirit, your sins are forgiven.

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 23.

John 20:1-18 “Oh, How Long the Travel to This Day!”

John 20:1-18 “Oh, How Long the Travel to This Day!”

April 8, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

John 20:1-18 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

Oh how long the travel to this day!  This day and, in our story, this garden.  In real time, it was about 33 years.  In the time of the church year, our travel began with Jesus’ birth at Christmas, wandered with him through his life’s ministry and followed him when he turned toward Jerusalem, toward his death.  Some of us in the church have spent the last 6 weeks of Lent walking the journey to the cross with Jesus – listening as everyone who knew Jesus, drifted away from him in denial and fear.  Listening to those stories became reminders that those who left Jesus to face his death alone and those who killed him could have easily been us and, if truth be told, are us.

Oh how long the travel to this day!  And this day, we enter the garden with Mary Magdalene – her eyes dried out from crying, her mind moving slowly through that cloudy haze of grief, and her body exhausted by lack of sleep – and the wondering continues about what just happened to all that we thought we knew…only to be shocked once more.  Jesus is gone.  Not simply dead on a cross or in a tomb, but, literally, gone.  He’s not where he was supposed to be – similarly to how he wasn’t supposed to be dead on that cross.  And Mary, as she realizes that Jesus isn’t there, runs to tell other disciples, who rush it to see the same thing, and confirm that, indeed, Jesus is not there.  One of them even sees and believes.  But, take note, the story tells us that seeing and believing did not bring understanding of the scriptures to this disciple – a most peculiar point to make in a most peculiar story.

Oh how long the travel to this day!  Just when Mary didn’t think it was possible to cry even more tears, she begins to sob.  And this day, Mary’s hope to catch some peace in the garden, to take a breather after all that has happened, is shattered.  The despair is never-ending because everything seems to keep going from bad to worse.  The stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty and Jesus is gone.  And she gets asked the question, TWICE, about why she’s crying.  Until, finally, she hears her name… “Mary.”  And…she…knows…

Oh how long the travel to this day!  As Mary now knows that Jesus is raised from the dead, she now knows that there is life after death and hope in despair.  Called her name by the risen Christ and sent to tell the story, Mary the Apostle, sees the world through eyes that know the worst…yet trust in an ultimate outcome – the ultimate outcome of life defeating death.

Oh how long our travel to this day!  Even as we gather here this Easter day, we bring our own despair to the garden.  We wonder where Jesus is and who has hidden him.  We wonder if the tears and fear in our own life will ever be brought to an end.  And on this day, when we proclaim that “Christ is Risen Indeed,” we join Mary in being claimed by hope – a hope that invades deeply into the despair knowing that despair does not have the last word.  Jesus has the last word.

Oh how long our travel to this day!  The risen Christ names and claims Mary in the garden in an act that echoes into the baptisms of some here today.  Through baptism, Christ calls the name of the baptized and then gives the hope of the deeper name of “Child of God.”  Through baptism, Christ gives the baptized the gift of his Holy Spirit, the gift of new birth, the gift of forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.  Through baptism, Christ joins us to his death and raises us with him into new life.

Oh how long our travel to this day!

This day when Christ invades our despair.

This day into which Christ infuses hope anew.

This day when Christ calls your name.

 

Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John 2:13-22 “Using God and Loving Things”

John 2:13-22 “Using God and Loving Things”

March 9, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

John 2:13-22 – The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

 

A long, long time ago, in the year 350, there lived a man named…Augustine.  He tells his story in a book titled The Confessions – he simply pours it all out, the good, the bad, and the ugly…saint and sinner…all of it…and how God met him in the middle of it.  Fast-forwarding sixteen hundred years to this past Sunday, I was preaching at a congregation that I had preached at one other time, one year ago.  A woman came up to me before worship began and told me that she needed to speak with me.  So we arranged to meet back up after the service.   We sat together in the back of sanctuary, the worship space.  This was her 3rd time visiting this congregation and she told me that had spent very little time in church throughout her 60 years.  In the span of just a few minutes and speaking quickly, she spoke of the sin in her life, some of which had happened over 30 years ago.  She then told me that she was too much of a sinner to be in church and then she fell quiet.

 

“First,” I said, “you need to know that God forgives you all your sins.”  She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and began to tear up and said, “Oh, that feels good.”  After a few moments of quiet, the second thing I said to her was that, “One of the things I love about being in Lutheran-land is that we all come before God as sinners, all of us are level with each other at the foot of the cross…so, as a sinner, you’re in the right place.”

 

So, you may be asking yourself, what do St. Augustine and this woman have in common – across time, gender and life situation? St. Augustine wrote, all those many years ago, that sin can be described as what comes from the mixing up of what God has given us to use and what God has given us to love.  His argument is that God means for us to love God and use things but somewhere along the way we use God and love things…we use God and love things.  We have mixed up use and love.

 

Today’s scene in the temple started me wondering about this mix up between what we use and what we love.  Jesus is furious.  The temple has become a marketplace, a place where God is being used and everyone is part of using everyone else as a commodity, as currency, as cash.  Relationship has been transaction.

 

If we’re not very careful in this story, we end up standing behind Jesus, cheering him on, placing ourselves on his side, comfortable that our opinions about God and Jesus are the blameless ones.  I wonder, though, if our rightful place in this story is in the position of the sellers – the ones who use God and love things so much so that in our use of God we end up using each other in such as way that our relationships are transactions.  We see this time and again, right?  The ways in which we use each other, and the ways others use us, create deep pain.  Let’s be clear, while we’re at it, that this is not only a problem magnified within these walls, this is a problem within this world, inside all of us!  And it is into the mixed up mess of use and love that Jesus comes crashing in to clean house.

 

Jesus cleans house by first taking the problem into his own body.  In the Bible story for today, Jesus says that his body is the temple which will be destroyed – hung on a cross – and that he will raise it again three days later.  There is hope after all because Jesus does what we cannot do when left on our own – first in his body and then in ours.  Jesus fights this fight in us daily by virtue of our baptism.  Jesus attacks our sin and sends it packing, right out the door like the sheep and the cattle of the temple.

In his clearing of the temple, Jesus challenges us to look at the way in which we use and the way we love.

In his dying on the cross, Jesus destroys the power of sin and its death dealing way.

And in his rising again, Jesus heals us into new life.

In the name of Jesus Christ, may you be strengthened and filled with God’s grace, that you may know the healing power of the Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark 13:24-37 “The Cross Echoes in Advent”

Mark 13:24-37 “The Cross Echoes in Advent”

November 27, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

Mark 13:24-37 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

 

Tonight opens the season of advent.  Advent is the beginning of how we tell time in the church, it is the beginning of what we call the church year.  Advent is the four weeks before Christmas of waiting for the celebration of Christ’s birth – of the moment when God takes human form in a baby, in a person, who by word and action draws us into God.  And advent is waiting Christ to come again – looking ahead to God doing something, anything.[1]  In the act of waiting, space is created to pay attention to the here and now.  So the theme of advent is both good news and not such good news.[2]  When I say that I am waiting for the God to show up, I’m saying that, in this moment, I feel abandoned.  Our texts from Isaiah 64 and Psalm 80 are both cries for God’s presence during terrifying and anxious times.

Think for a moment about being a child – about having a wild imagination that swims in the wonder, mystery and fear of really scary things.  We hear our parents talking about things we have no hope of understanding.  Frightening things seem like they can happen to us at any time, any place.  And often do happen at any time, any place.  As kids we keep ourselves safe with good luck charms that ward off the threat of the imaginary boogie man as well as real threats of dark and scary places.  Think for a minute about how you did this as a child or how you even do this now.  What shape does the charm of hope and protection take…?

In our text today, Jesus is speaking about a really scary thing – an apocalyptic time that is volatile and tragic and terrifying.  So much so that when the text is read and the reading is closed by saying, “The Gospel of the Lord,” and the congregation replies, “Praise to you, O Christ,” that some of us might want to challenge each other and say “Really…this is gospel, this is the good news we need today? This is the message that inspires our praise as we head toward Christmas?!”  And, to that, I say, “YES!”  Jesus, through this good Word, gives us hope in the middle our hopelessness and points us in just the direction we should be looking and onto that which we should cling in our most troubled and anxious times.

Jesus says, “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  As we begin telling time at the beginning of the church year, Jesus’ words are telling time for us.  What kind of time is he keeping?  What is he saying?  Evening…in a garden maybe, praying desperately, betrayed by a friend, arrested, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Midnight…cross-examined by the high priest, in the cross fire of false testimony, accused as a blasphemer, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Cockcrow, denied three times by a friend, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  And dawn, condemned by Pontius Pilate, convicted by the crowed, a dead man walking, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”

Jesus says, “…the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”  This sunless time that Jesus links with suffering, where does this echo in scripture for us… just two chapters past our text, Jesus hangs on the cross, hopelessness personified in the light of day and then suddenly, “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.”  Jesus, the Word made flesh, the son of God, God from God, light from light, hung in darkness, nakedness, hopelessness…dead.  The sun was darkened…and the moon gave no light.

As part of my seminary education to become a pastor I had to spend long blocks of time away from my husband and kids.  Last fall I moved up to Saint Paul, Minnesota to complete the last of those courses and I lived away from home for months.  Before I left, my husband was anxious, my son was anxious and my daughter was anxious.  I was doing my best to be a non-anxious presence but it wasn’t working out so well…well…because I was anxious!

We could argue all the reasons for my having to be away from my family – God’s call, necessity, church rules, costs/ benefits and maternal ego-trip.  We could argue a lot of things and believe me when I say that I argued them all.  Regardless, as it came closer to the time of having to go, I was determined to bless my children before I left.  I gave them each a journal to write down their thoughts to me, an inspirational bookmark to mark their page, candy to sweeten their days, handmade soap from our Colorado summer vacation to perfume their shower and treats for their brown-bag lunches.  All so that they could be assured that their mother loves them and remembers them daily.

At the bottom of their gift bag was the BIG GIFT.  It is called a Clinging Cross.  It is gnarled in shape so that it is cradled in the palm of the hand with the bars sticking out through the fingers.  I asked them to keep it under their pillows.  My daughter told me before I left that her big worry was that she would be lonely.

I gave it to them so that when they miss me, or feel sad, or feel angry, or feel lonely, they cling to the cross.  I told them both that God knows what sad and lonely are all about because the God that we believe in knows darkness and loneliness in the biggest way.  My son told me he fell asleep with the cross every night.  That’s a vision – my then 13-year-old clinging to the cross.

The cross is darkness, fear, loneliness, pain, betrayal, abusive power, oppression, hopelessness…and it is also apocalyptic revelation.  The cross tormented and violated Jesus’ humanity and Jesus’ words point us to that very cross as he shoulders the crosses in our lives too – we all hang or have hung on crosses or watch and suffer with others as they hang on their crosses.  Our crosses torment us.  They hurt us and they leave us feeling walled off from each other and from God.  But God says, “Not so fast…I’ve been there too …I who came in the form of a baby, who lived and walked the earth, who was put to death and who conquered death in rising again…I am God and I have the last word.”

God’s last word meets our hopelessness with hope.  “Our hope rests not in what we have done, nor can do, but in all that God is”, has done and is doing.[3] The cross of Christ names our fear for what it is.[4]  The cross also, at the same time, reveals the One who came under a star in skin and solidarity.  The One who holds our fear so that we might cling to him even as he is holds onto us.

The cross of Jesus Christ is the “meeting of darkness and light and the final victory of light.”[5]  As we cling to the humanity of Jesus on the cross, we cling also to the promise of Christ’s hope – the hope of all that God is yesterday in a living babe, today in a living Christ and tomorrow in an eternal God – the eternal God who turns a cross into resurrection and a baby in a manger into salvation for the world.  And so on the breath of the Spirit, as we cling to the cross waiting in the hope and light of Advent, we confess the mystery of our faith that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again…. [6]

[sing to close] Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come, come again…

 



[1] Rolf Jacobson, WorkingPreacher.com, “Sermon Brainwave 206.” Lectionary Texts for November 27, 2011.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx

[2] Karoline Lewis, WorkingPreacher.com, “Sermon Brainwave 206.” Lectionary Texts for November 27, 2011.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx

[3] W. Dennis Tucher Jr., “Lectionary for November 27, 2011: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19.”  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx

[4] Frederick Buechner.  Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 17.

[5] Ibid., 90.

[6] Ibid., 91

[7] http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx

[8] The Living Pulpit magazine, check ATLA.

[9] Frederick Buechner.  Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 17.