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The Creed, The Comma, And The Christian Community [OR I Love You Baby] John 21:15-19; Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalm 32; Acts 2:42-47a

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 9, 2017

[sermon begins after 2 reading; 3 additional readings at end of sermon]

John 21:15-19 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Apostles Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

[sermon begins]

Last weekend is a little something I like call, “Two weddings and a funeral.”  Friday, a wedding; Saturday, a funeral and a wedding rehearsal; and Sunday, a wedding. I guided the action as the officiant.  At each event, there was laughter through tears, flowers, and a LOT of talk about love. God’s love. Family love. Partner love. Love was the topic of readings, songs, and promises.  At one point, the father of the bride and her sisters serenaded the happy couple with Frank Valli’s “I Love You Baby” and kazoos were busted out by guests for the refrain.[1]  It was awesome! Each moment like that one became part of the love letter that family and friends write together despite complicated relationships and realities.  The opening line of our gathering song this morning captures it perfectly. “Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live, a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive…”[2]  You and I know that it’s one thing to hold love up as an ideal and it’s quite another to live it out day-to-day with “hearts that learn to forgive.” A beautiful sentiment that’s tougher in reality.

The tough reality is partly why I love the Apostle’s Creed. The creed is about what God is doing, not what we’re doing. It’s easy to get mixed up about that and make the creed about our belief because of those “I believe” statements. Though really, the creed is a love letter from God to us: God creates, God shows up in Jesus, and God is with us today in God’s Spirit.  We’ve focused four Sundays on the creed, wrapping up today.  Of course that makes sense.  Three articles of the creed – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and four Sundays.  Hmmm…that doesn’t quite add up. Except that it does. It’s like von Neumann said, “…in mathematics, you don’t understand things, you just get used to them.” [3]  Regardless, four Sundays on the creed allows for a conversation about we the people who confess it by faith, the people in Christian community called the church.  Right, that should be doable in 10 minutes of preaching…

In today’s Bible reading, the resurrected Jesus asks Peter a question. Three times he asks Peter, “Do you love me?”  Three times come Peter’s heartfelt reply, “Yes, Lord, I love you.”  The three-part dialogue mirrors Peter’s three denials during Jesus’ trial.[4]  Jesus redeems Peter through this very short chat that mends their relationship. Jesus reconciles with Peter because he can. He spends a lot of the Gospel of John talking about how he and the Father are one and also describing himself using “I AM” statements which his Jewish listeners would equate with the divine name of God.  Peter is face-to-face with the One who has the power.  And the One who has the power says, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep; and follow me.”  Verse 18 is tucked in the middle of all that feeding and following. Jesus reminds Peter that he too is going to die.  Time is short for Jesus before his ascension. Time is short for Peter.  In the meantime, Peter is given work to do – the work that Jesus himself began.

Has anyone ever noticed in the creed the profound quiet about Jesus’ life and ministry? Open up your bulletins and look at the creed with me for a minute. Find the second article that begins, “I believe in Jesus Christ…” It continues with conception and birth then (bam!) onto suffering, death, and resurrection.  Take another look, go back to the line about that ends with Mary. There’s a comma there that represents three years of Jesus’ feeding, healing, and forgiving people who are restored back into their communities.  First they are redeemed by grace through Jesus and then they’re re-connected with their people.  Similarly, Jesus first restores Peter and then co-missions him into the ministry designated by the comma of the creed.

The Gospel of John is pretty clear about the church being co-missioned as the “I Am,” the resurrected body of Christ, to feed people and to follow Jesus.  I’d like to suggest that, for this moment, we think of ourselves as people of the comma.  Peter is co-missioned by Jesus into that work and so are we. In chapter 10 of John’s gospel, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”[5] We experience the abundance of Jesus’ very self in worship.  We are fed by God’s love through bread and wine, the waters of baptism, and God’s word preached and sung.  We remind each other of God’s abundant intention for us and for all people.  In this congregation, we say it like this, “Guided by the Holy Spirit we gather in Christian community, reach out and invite, offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ, and walk humbly with our God.”[6]  This means that:

some of us live our faith into family, school, and work by loving neighbor as self;

some of us work in diplomacy, loving our enemies while praying for them;

some of us spend hours of time in retirement volunteering like crazy;

some of us give and raise money for ELCA World Hunger;[7]

some of us give to the mission and ministry of this congregation by way of our stewardship giving;

some of us show up in the public square and advocate with people living in poverty;

some of us cross racial, religious, and socio-economic lines to connect and save lives;

some of us take that comma pretty seriously even if we’ve never called it that before today.

It’s tempting to make the gospel all about the comma, and some people do. I appreciate the creed for the tension it builds between God’s activity and our passivity.  If grace is grace, then there are no conditions.  We’re pretty much sunk if grace is dependent upon us running all over the planet doing good in order to be in good standing with God.  There will never be enough good done to get us there.  Sinners, the lot of us. Like Peter, first we are redeemed by the grace of divine love, reminded that we are finite creatures, and then co-missioned into service.

Jesus says to us, “Augustana friends, children of God, do you love me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord, we love you.” Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.” A second time, Jesus asks, “Augustana children of God, do you love me?”  We say to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that we love you.” Jesus says, “Tend my sheep.”  He says to us a third time, “Augustana people of God, do you love me?” And we say, “Lord, you know everything; you know that we love you.” Jesus says, “Feed my sheep…Follow me…”

 

[1] Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. You’re Just Too Good To Be True. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQugcviHDTA

[2] All Are Welcome. Hymn 641 in Evangelical Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006).

[3] John von Neumann (1903-1957). http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/42636-young-man-in-mathematics-you-don-t-understand-things-you-just

[4] John 18:12-26

[5] John 10:10

[6] Augustana’s mission statement. http://www.augustanadenver.org/augustana-lutheran-church/

[7] ELCA.org/hunger “is uniquely positioned to reach communities in need. From health clinics to microloans, water wells to animal husbandry, community meals to advocacy, your gifts to ELCA World Hunger make it possible for the ELCA to respond, supporting sustainable solutions that get at the root causes of hunger and poverty.”

Acts 2:42-47a They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. 4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Psalm 32 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. (Selah) 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Selah) 6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. (Selah) 8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. 10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Mark 8:31-38 “The Rebuked and The Rock: We Don’t Get to Choose What Dies”

Mark 8:31- 38 “The Rebuked and The Rock: We Don’t Get to Choose What Dies”

March 4, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Cross of Glory Lutheran Church

 

Mark 8:31-38  – Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

 

It wasn’t so long ago, maybe 10 years-ish, that I carried a special kind of dread for Lent.  After growing up in a tradition that didn’t spend a lot of time on the idea of grace and also spoke loudly and often about God’s judgment as a constant threat, I much preferred Easter for all of its pomp and promise.  My whole thought process had been, “Give me a good, ‘He is Risen’ any day over ‘He is Dead.’  Around that time of dreading Lent, my friend Chris arrived on the scene.  And she loved Lent.  She had grown up worshipping as a Roman Catholic, then dabbled in Lutheran-land for awhile, and has since returned to the rich liturgical tradition of her ancestors.  She has gifted me in many ways.  But, for this way in particular, I am most grateful.  Why so grateful?  Let’s turn to Peter and see what there is to see.

 

Just before our text today, in verse 28 (we begin in verse 30), Peter makes a huge declaration to Jesus that he thinks Jesus is the Messiah – the kristos, the One who has come to save.  So what happens in our story today that invokes Jesus’ rebuke of Peter including some pretty significant name-calling?  Jesus begins to teach them.  Teach them what exactly?  Jesus begins “to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”  Jesus begins to speak about what, up to this point in Mark, has thus far been a secret and Jesus been telling people NOT to speak about.  The jig is up, the secret is out, and what does Peter moves into rebuke mode.  Peter, just having confessed Jesus as the Messiah; Peter, in full view of the crowd and the disciples; Peter, elsewhere named by Jesus as the Rock upon whom Jesus would build his church, begins to challenge Jesus’ teaching about death.

 

Thinking about Peter as the one whom Jesus rebuked AND the Rock on whom Jesus builds his church began my wondering about the connections between Peter and the church in our time.  I’ve been doing some reading here and there about the 21st century church.  There are many, many people who love Jesus writing about the church as the number of people in churches declines.  This decline knows no denominational boundaries as people trickle away from all kinds of traditions.

 

In part, this comes up on pastor’s blogs and in conversations between pastors about the upcoming bishop election for this synod as well as other synods electing bishops this year.  Pastor Keith Anderson is a new friend and pastoral colleague at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Woburn, Massachusetts, in one such synod.  On his blog he has a post entitled, “The Five Things I Hope For in Our Next Bishop.”  Number one on his list?  “Comfort Us in Death.”  He asks the incoming bishop to, “Be honest with us. Don’t sugar coat it. Help us face the future head on with eyes and hearts wide open.”[1]

 

This is a powerful Lenten message.  Death comes.  Jesus announces his impending death to the crowd and to his disciples to what effect?  Peter rebukes Jesus.  What did Peter discover?  He doesn’t get to choose what dies.  And Jesus’ death on the cross is not how Peter would choose.

 

Jesus also talks about us taking up crosses and following him.  Many Christians do this in a symbolic way during Lent, right?  Chocolate, meat, Facebook, video games and the like all end up on do-not-do lists during Lent.  This symbolism represents something larger and something much more out of our control; something that Peter himself discovers in Jesus’ teaching and ultimately in Jesus’ death – again, Peter doesn’t get to choose what dies.  And neither do we as the church.  The church does not get to choose what dies in whatever cultural shifts are creating these painful times as we move into the 21st century together – times that leave us weeping and wondering about the faith of our children and the children of generations to come. 

So, as church, we stand with Peter, caught between our confession of Jesus the Messiah and our utter denial of death in action, wondering what it is that we’re supposed to do now.

 

The church does not get to choose but what else might we glean from our story today?  In no uncertain terms, Jesus rebukes Peter saying,Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  Why might Jesus be so strong in his language?  What about Peter’s rebuke results in his being set to the back?  Sarah Miles, an Episcopalian and a writer, thinks maybe it has to do with the sense that Peter’s rebuke denies Jesus’ hot-off-the-presses teaching that “after three days [the Son of Man will] rise again.”

 

But rising again, by definition, comes after death.  Jesus’ teaching in our story today teases us with the resurrection of Easter but also “reminds us that the way to Easter is through the cross.”[2]  As Jesus instructs the disciples to take up their cross, he’s saying in part that the way to new life is through the cross.  I had a preaching professor who would boil down this Christian good news in her glorious southern accent by saying, “It’s all about Liiife-Death-Liiife.”  And she would flash her hands opened and closed as she said it just like that, “Liiife-Death-Liiife.”   The cross is the way through.  Picking up our cross makes me hopeful that we can be honest about what is dying and curious about what new life will look like.

 

Remember Pastor Keith Anderson’s Blog list of qualities for their next bishop?  Number One is “Comfort Us in Death.”  And Number Two on his list is, “Lead us in Resurrection.”  He argues that, “New ministries will arise…and we need to be smart about the way we plant them and support them.”  New life is possible as the church and individual congregations move through the cross into new life.  Liiiiife-Death-Liiiife.

 

I am grateful for Lent because it focuses on the cross of Christ, his cross of glory, and draws us through death, time after time, toward a merciful and life-giving God.

 

Jesus is Lord and he unleashes life through his death on the cross.

Jesus, God with us, died a death that reveals God who relinquished life so that new life becomes possible.

Jesus, God with us, reassures us that we do not go alone toward the crosses that claim us – whether they are ones upon which the church or we ourselves hang.

Jesus exhales and the Spirit’s inspiration frees you to imagine what might be next for ourselves and for the church including the freedom to fail along the way because we have been saved by grace through faith.

Jesus’ hangs with us on our crosses, revealing the truth of what is dying, comforting us when we fall under the weight of our grief, and bringing new life on the breath of the Spirit.

 

 



[1] http://pastorkeithanderson.net/item/the-five-things-i-hope-for-in-our-next-bishop

[2] Arland Hultren, Working Preaching Website, Luther Seminary, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?tab=1#