Tag Archives: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Loving Before Knowing [OR The Foolishness of the Cross] Matthew 5:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 29, 2017

[sermon begins after Bible reading]

Matthew 5:1-12 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

[1 Corinthians reading is after the sermon]

[sermon begins]

Several months after my husband Rob and I started dating, we ended up at a New Year’s Eve party.  We were standing in a circle of people we didn’t know.  A bit of round-robin started as people talked about their work.  Rob said his usual, “I’m in sales.”  Someone asked, “Oh? What kind?” He said something like, “I’m a manufacturer’s rep for a Georgia-based carpet mill.”  As is often still the case, people don’t seem to know how to reply to that statement.  Possibly because cut-pile vs. loop or solution-dyed vs. yarn-dyed controversies aren’t quite party talk.  So, I’m next in the round-robin.  People have their eyebrows up expectantly, hoping their curiosity moves into easier conversation.  And I say, “I’m a pediatric cancer nurse.”  Stares and crickets. More stares and crickets with some nodding and mmmm’ing, while the conversation moved to the next person.

Some conversations are too detailed for party-talk, like the pros and cons of carpet manufacturing techniques.  And other conversations are too hard, like kids having cancer.  These are not the only ones. Just a couple of examples of so many things that don’t qualify as polite conversation.  Grief is another such thing.  This is where the church comes in, talking through the polite conversation into what’s happening in our lives. It’s one of the reasons being part of the church can be a comfort while we’re also challenged by Jesus’ teachings. Listen to this Bible verse again from the book of Matthew:

[Jesus teaches his disciples, saying,] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Jesus is often found teaching in Matthew.  The Bible verses today are most commonly known as the Beatitudes based on the Latin for blessed.  It is curious that people who suffer are described as blessed when these moments can feel and look like the opposite of blessing.  Jesus is pushing against the idea that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  There is no explanation for why people are poor in spirit or mourning, why people suffer.  There is simply a description of suffering and God’s promise to be present in the midst of it.

The Beatitudes state a promise into the suffering.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Notice there are no requirements to receive the kingdom.  In Matthew, the kingdom of heaven is now and it’s here.  Check out the kingdom parables in Matthew chapter 13.  They describe active presence of the kingdom on earth.  As Jesus teaches his disciples, Jesus teaches us, that we receive the kingdom, live the kingdom, and teach the kingdom.

I can hear you asking, “Well, pastor, that’s lovely poetry, but what does it look like on the ground to receive the kingdom and live in it?”  I’m glad you asked.  Richard Rohr, Franciscan monk and scholar, describes the rational mind hitting a ceiling.[1]  That ceiling is suffering. Today’s Bible verses name suffering as mourning and poor in spirit and more.  We can’t explain why it happens or its purpose.  We just know suffering exists and spend energy trying to prevent our own.  I mean, really, does anyone actually love eating kale?  Eventually, though, someone we love, or maybe even ourselves, suffers – we get sick, we grieve a death, we lose a job, we miscarry, or we watch our partner walk away.  All that we thought we knew about life and our place in it shifts.

But, as Paul says, “we proclaim Christ crucified,” the ultimate in earthly foolishness.[2]  Except that the cross means something beyond comprehension when it’s God’s foolishness. Jesus’ death on the cross means that God knows suffering.  More than that, it’s the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer.  Paul’s use of “Christ crucified” points us there because the crucified Christ is also the resurrected Christ.  Christ whom we claim is among us now by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit.

The same Holy Spirit names us the Body of Christ known as the church.  We are part of a resurrected life that we share together as a congregation.  We share that resurrection promise as a community of faith.  As Jesus teaches his disciples, he also teaches us, that we receive the kingdom and live in the kingdom especially when living through loss and grief.  Knowing this kingdom teaching can help stop us from painting a silver lining into someone else’s grief.[3]  We can simply be present with someone else in their suffering without fixing it or explaining it or telling someone it’s time to get over it.  We can avoid the trap of thinking someone else’s pain is a teaching moment for them and avoid setting ourselves up as the teacher.  Rather we can live the kingdom now by asking people how they’re doing, by telling people we’re sorry this is happening, by quietly listening, and by praying for them.

Prayer is one of the languages of the kingdom.  Jesus prayed the Psalms while on earth and now we do too as the body of Christ. Therefore, in the Psalms, we “encounter the praying Christ…Even if a verse or a psalm is not one’s own prayer, it is nevertheless the prayer of another member of the fellowship.”[4]  Praying for people on our prayer list who are suffering of mind, body, or spirit.  Taking the prayer list that’s in the weekly announcement page home, naming each person on it in prayer, or simply praying the whole list at once.  Praying is kingdom language even when we think our own prayers are uncomfortable and clunky.  That discomfort and humility in prayer are part of the kingdom language.  So is praying for people we don’t necessarily like.

As Christians, praying and being present to each other and the world’s pain is a freedom we have through the cross.  We may recognize God’s foolishness as wisdom and look to the cross as a way of knowing.[5]  It’s possible that one of the truths of Christ crucified is that our suffering connects us to each other differently.  We move through the party talk and listen to someone talk about their grief and loss.  These moments become prayer by transcending what we’re arguing about ideologically and opens our eyes us to see each other truly as beloved children of God.  Through the cross, through the suffering, we love before we know, we love as a way of knowing, we love as Christ loves us.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

[1] Richard Rohr, Public Remarks, Join the Divine Dance: An Exploration of God as Trinity, Arvada, CO, January 13-15, 2017.

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:23-25

[3] This is a riff on Brené Brown’s work on empathy vs sympathy.  See video, “Brené Brown on Empathy”:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw&sns=fb

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 46-47.

[5] Rohr, ibid.

________________________________________

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Luke 6:20-31; Part of a Larger Remembering [All Saints’ Sunday] …and Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23

Luke 6:20-31 “Part of a Larger Remembering” [All Saints’ Sunday] …and Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23

November 3, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 6:20-31   Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

 

Today we sing with the saints.  After all, it IS All Saints’ Sunday – a day that comes around every year and is celebrated in the wider church in all kinds of ways.  Here is this place, with these people, we accompany the saints with our own singing as part of a larger remembering.

Today we sing with the saints.  We sing with the prophets of times gone by like Daniel – prophets who dream dreams and see visions during times when chaos seems to have free reign around the world; prophets who bring a God-drenched word of hope in confusing times with uncertain outcomes.[1]  But saints such as Daniel do more than bring a word of hope in the face of despair.  It is their word but it is also their action in the power struggles of their times that move our minds but also our bodies into the struggle.[2] Today we sing with the prophets – Daniel, Anna, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa and so many more who not only spoke but took their bodies into the struggle, and who inspire us to do the same.

Today we sing with the saints.  We sing with those saints described in the Psalm today – saints who carried the two-edged sword.  We sing even as we wonder about the dangers of thinking ourselves on the faithful, and therefore on the right, side of any war.  Today we sing with the saints of the two-edged sword – Joan of Arc, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and so many others who lived and died as warriors and as faithful saints.

Today we sing the saints.  We sing with the apostles of times gone by like Paul who wrote the Ephesians reading we heard today – apostles who encountered the risen Christ and were sent away from that encounter to speak the good news of Jesus.  The good news that tells the truth about our flaws, our sin, and where Jesus meets us in all that flawed, flailing around.  Or as Paul puts it in the reading today, “with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”   Today we sing with the apostles – Paul, Thomas, Peter, Mary Magdalene and so many more whose stories of the risen Christ draw us into the hope of faith.

Today we sing with the saints – the poor, the hungry, the crying, the lonely – these saints among us whose existence afflicts the more comfortable among us.  The comfortable are afflicted by the people who reveal the Kingdom of God without qualification or contingency.  The saints among us who bear almost all the weight of the most painful life experiences and who leave the others of us wondering what part we play in that poverty, benefiting from structures of power that create pain for others.  Today we sing with the nameless saints who are poor, hungry, crying, and lonely even when our song should be silenced so that we can hear the suffering and do something about it.

Today we sing with the saints – those people we know and love who died within the last year – saints who were part of this baptized community and saints who were connected to this baptized community in many other ways.   We sing through tears of loss and grief as we mourn those who were with us for the briefest of days to the longest of lives.  Today we sing with the beloved saints whom we name as we remember their time with us and as we cling to the promise of joining them when we too will die and pass from this life to the next.

Today we sing with the saints next to us in the pew – family, stranger, or friend.  You heard me right.  You, me, them…saints.  We ourselves and those people sitting next to us are deeply flawed people, sinful people, who by the very grace of God in Christ Jesus are at the same time beloved saints.  Right here and right now we are one hundred percent saint and, at the same time, one hundred percent sinner.  This is the radical calculus given and revealed in each one of us.  And I can say with clarity that is not I who live but Christ who lives in me and it is not you who live but Christ who lives in you.  It is this Christ who presents us as saints to the eternal God and as saints to each other in the here and now.

Today we sing with the saints.  Thanks be to God.



[1] Steed Davidson, Working Preacher Commentary: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 for November 3, 2013.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1842

[2] Ibid.

 

Daniel 7:1-3; 15-18   In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: 2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 
15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 16 I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: 17 “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”

Psalm 149   Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful. 2 Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King. 3 Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre. 4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory. 5 Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches. 6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, 7 to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, 8 to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron, 9 to execute on them the judgment decreed. This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the Lord!

Ephesians 1:11-23   In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

John 18:1-19:42 “Think Again” [a sermon for Good Friday]

John 18:1-19:42 “Think Again”

March 29, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Pick a spot, any spot, in Jesus’ crucifixion.  There are many places to sit, stand or lie down.  We can betray, deny, judge, rant, abandon or despair.  Go ahead, pick a spot, because those characters are us.  Those characters who run amok and rail against Jesus, ridicule him, or despair in his death are us.  The irony of being a part of this cast of characters is that the person who hangs on the cross is the precisely the one who saves us.  Jesus was tried, crucified, dead and buried.  In every way that the cross could be offensive, it does indeed offend.

 

It offends the sophisticated thought of modern people to think that the cross, and Jesus hanging there, was necessary or effective in any way.  That we even need saving offends our enlightened sensibilities.  That this appalling execution can change anything about real life seems at worst a massive deception and at best an utter folly.  And yet, alarmingly, and quite surprisingly, it does.  Jesus death on the cross changes everything.  Jesus insists, time and again in the gospel, that God and Jesus are one.  Jesus is in God and God is in Jesus.

 

Think on this for a moment.  How might God go about getting our attention?  What are all the ways in which that may have been possible?  God, at some point, needs to grab us in ways that we might have some shot at understanding.  God needs to speak in human terms.  When we hear of someone who dives into a raging river to save someone from drowning, saves that person but succumbs and dies in the flood waters, what are our first thoughts?  What kinds of things do we say to honor the soldier who returns again and again to the firefight to save fallen friends?  Wow!  Spectacular save!  How selfless!  And on and on goes the praise and adoration.  Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  After all, how much more can be given?[1]

 

In the Gospel of John as a whole, and in this reading from John on this Good Friday, Jesus is aware and focused on the goal of bringing people back into relationship with God.  Somewhere along the way, as human creatures we lost our way.  Rather than living into the image of God we became much more interested in placing ourselves in the center of things and holding God to the outskirts, leaving us free to make God into whatever image we choose – distorting God.[2]  It is in that re-creation of God that we are separate from God, powerless to repair what has happened.  This separateness, this breach, this distance between us and God is called sin.  Out of that separateness, that breach, that distance, that sin, comes all the ways in which we hurt each other and ourselves; inflicting sins against each other, ourselves, and God.

 

The cross is God’s answer to all of that re-imagining of God that we are so wont to do. That re-imagining that leaves us separate from God.  Oh, so you think you know who God is?  Well, what about a God who hangs dead on a cross and needs to be buried in a tomb rather than use divine power over and against the very creatures whom God loves.  Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.”  Jesus on the cross simultaneously reveals the scope of divine power poured out to reveal the depth of divine love as we are drawn toward the God who saves us.  When the self-sacrificing love of God, given fully, is made known to you, when this message of divine love gets through to you, you are drawn by God back into relationship. [3]

 

With great intention, Jesus hangs on the cross.  And, in one of his final acts while still breathing, does something radical.  Jesus turns to his own mother and then to the beloved disciple and redefines their relationship with the cross in between them.  “‘Woman, here is your son…then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’”

 

Not only does Jesus draw us into relationship with God through the cross but Jesus redefines our relationship with each other at the foot of the cross – standing with the cross between us, Jesus intercedes for us on each other’s behalf.  Drawn back into the relationship with God our Father, Jesus the Christ turns us towards each other in new ways.  Here, at the cross, love is freely taken up for us and for the sake of the people standing next to us.  In the same moment we have everything to do with what happened at the cross and we have nothing to do with it.

 

We are, first and foremost, passive spectators who are being handed a radical realization of our powerlessness.  As people in and around the story of the crucifixion, we think we know what’s happening and that the power is ours to create the story.  It is our turn on this day to hear God say, “Think again.”

 


[1] Craig Koester, class notes, Luther Seminary: Gospel of John class: John’s Theology of the Cross.  December 1, 2010.  I am sincerely grateful for Dr. Koester’s faithful witness as a master of holding aspects of Jesus Christ’s life and work in formative tension.  His work is beautiful, articulate, and draws me more deeply into faith and love of Jesus.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 113.  This is a great text for deepening into the theological reflection on the “The Fall” that breached God’s intention for the creature as imago dei, in the image of God.

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

 

Matthew 3:13-37 “On Plunging…and Gasping into New Life”

Matthew 3:13-37 “On Plunging…and Gasping into New Life”

January 9, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master

13  Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  14  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  15  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  16  And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  17  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved,  with whom I am well pleased.”

 

 

Today we gather on the festival of the Baptism of Our Lord – the day when Jesus plunges into the waters of baptism.  In this plunge, all righteousness, all that is pure, sacred and holy, flows from God.  Jesus’ plunge into the waters of baptism is a saturating and surprising immersion into the flow of God’s righteousness.  And, as Jesus gasps up from the waters, the Spirit claims him and God names him as God cries, ““Jesus, my Son, the Beloved.”  Just as we are claimed in our gasp out of the waters of baptism, “You belong to Christ, in whom you have been baptized.  Alleluia!”[1]

Lately I have been caught up in the imagination and powerful writing of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo.[2]  I dove into the book after being pulled into the story by the movie that was released a few years ago.  The tale begins by introducing us to Edmond Dantes at the age of 19.  Through a series of events that include a conspiracy of vicious betrayals, he is wrongly imprisoned in the dungeon of the Chateau D’If – an island prison that housed the worst of the worst.  The reader, along with Edmond, descends into the dark, wet, cold isolation of the dungeon cell where the terror and sheer loneliness of being a prisoner almost overtake sanity.  And then one night, through the wall of his cell, another prisoner, a priest named Abbe Faria, emerged during an escape attempt that had led him by mistake into Edmond’s cell.  Their powerful friendship of 14 years transitioned at the death of the Abbe.  Because of the Abbe’s death, an opportunity was created for Edmond’s escape.  Edmond sewed himself up in the Abbe’s shroud, and with heart pounding in fear, was carried by the guards to the edge of the cliffs of the island, thrown off and plunged into the February cold water of the sea for burial.  Edmond rises up, gasping for air, now 33 years old and pulled in the direction of a new identity and a new life with his new found freedom.

Edmond’s plunge under water echoes for me the Lutheran confession of baptism in the Small Catechism.  “It signifies that the old creature…is to be drowned and die through daily contrition and repentance, and… that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[3]  I do have to confess that once Edmond begins his life as the Count of Monte Cristo, this metaphor of baptism easily breaks down.  However, the themes of baptism that include wild ideas around judgment, dying to self, setting the prisoner free and God’s righteousness are compelling both in the story of Edmond and in the scripture read for us today as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.

In Isaiah we encounter the poignant imagery of the Suffering Servant as the Lord says, “Here is my servant…I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations…I am the Lord, I have called you to righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; …to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”  The Hebrew word for justice in Isaiah can also be translated as both judgment and mercy.  Additionally, in Acts, we hear that Jesus is ordained as “judge of the living and the dead.”  The word judgment used to terrify me.  Raised in a tradition that wielded messages of judgment in terrifying ways, I have little good to say about the experience.

What is this judgment and why is it sloshing around with the waters of baptism in our readings?  The Apostles Creed, pouring our voices together with our ancestors of the faith, also says that Jesus comes “to judge the living and the dead.”  That sentence stymied me for a long time.  What’s good news about that?!  Let’s think about the Hebrew of Isaiah again – justice can also be translated as judgment and mercy.  So, in a sense, during the Creed we can also hear that Jesus comes to “mercy” the living and the dead!  The reading from Acts raises the issue of judgment in verse 42 but gives the final word on the issue in verse 43 naming and claiming Jesus Christ as the forgiver of sins.  In the waters of baptism, through the plunge into death and the gasp into new life, the Spirit unleashes the full magnitude of Christ’s saving grace and forgiveness in and through the baptized.

Which raises another question…what is this sin that needs forgiving through the power of unleashed grace?  Sin as a discussion topic isn’t very popular.  These conversations make us nervous and slightly twitchy about what’s coming next.  Who’s going to start judging who with a finger pointed and who is being pointed at with that finger?  If we get into a discussion about sin at all, it is usually to talk about sin as if there is a moral problem to untangle.  We use questions like, “Should he?” or “Shouldn’t he?”  Or, “What does it mean if she does?”  The Ten Commandments reinforce this focus on behavior as they mandate the ways in which we are to love God, each other and ourselves.  In the midst of these moralizing conversations it becomes easy to miss the deeper, conditional nature of sin – that it courses through our very being.  Sometimes this looks like an attempt to feel better about ourselves through the acquisition of self-power, self-righteousness, or self-knowledge.  At other times, it takes the form of extreme self-deprecation – the extreme belittling of your self that fails to acknowledge that God has given you gifts for God’s purposes.  The self-deprecation can be just as self-involved as the self-righteous path.  Regardless of how the self-involvement of sin looks on the outside, the nature of the sin inside of us is the same.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who conspired against Hitler, argues that the original plan for creation places God at the center of all things and people are then created in the image of God. [4]  He claims that people replace God with themselves in the center of being and set themselves up to be “like god.”  This is what sin means.  Sin is humankind located right in the middle where God should be.

What is the obvious conclusion of humankind’s replacement of God with the self?  The death of God as Christ crucified.  It’s as if God said, “Okay humans, so you think you want to be “like God”?   Well, have at it.”  And the cross happened.  But the resurrection is the final word.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ bring the sin of humankind back into the image of God.[5]  This is a radical, destabilizing claim.  God is the source of our proclamation that “Christ is Risen”, and in it we claim Jesus Christ the conqueror over our very own selves, our frailty, our self-involvement, our sin.  We proclaim our desperate need for His Grace.  That Holy proclamation poises us on the brink of the font, plunges us into the waters and brings us up gasping in the breath of the Holy Spirit.

And we rise gasping out of the waters of baptism with the freedom of a Christian – perfectly free, subject to none; perfectly servant, subject to all.[6]  Freedom that unleashes the servant described by Isaiah…“Here is my servant…I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations…I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; …to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”  Freedom that unleashes you to seek justice and mercy for each other and for the world.  And so it is that…

Through the waters of baptism,

Christ forgives you.

Through the waters of baptism,

Christ claims you.

Through the waters of baptism,

Christ frees you.

Through waters of baptism,

Christ loves the world through you.



[1] “Holy Baptism” in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 230.

[2] Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (1845), (New York: Modern Library, 1996).

[3] Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 360.

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, (Mineapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 113.

[5] Bonhoeffer, 113.

[6] Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian (1520) in Three Treatises (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1970), 277.