Tag Archives: flesh

For: You, From: A Fleshy Word – John 1:1-14 and Hebrews 1:1-12

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on Christmas Day, December 25, 2015

[sermon begins after the Bible reading, Hebrews reading is at end of post]

John 1:1-14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

[sermon begins]

Way back in Genesis, in the beginning of the Bible, the ancient writers describe a time before Earth-time. [1]  There is a dark, formless void that no one is quite sure about. Creation stories form out of that void as God speaks and God creates, “In the beginning…”  In the Bible reading this Christmas Day, the gospel writer of John takes us way back to that beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Word and God, before time and in the beginning of time.

In the beginning, something happened that broke the relationship God created.   After plenty of millennia in which the world has struggled and continues to struggle through today, I’ve grown comfortable with calling whatever is broken “sin.”  Sin helps me name the struggle within myself.  You might use the language of flaw or weakness or challenge.  I’m pretty good with the language of sin.  It’s a word that digs deep and reveals much that is true in my own life.  Sin separates, hurts, and blocks me from seeing the good in me or anyone else, including God.  Sin has me justifying my actions and thoughts over and against anyone else, including God.

What does God to do restore the broken relationship with humankind that came through sin so soon after creation?  What does God do to free us from our sin that divides and destroys?  God needs to communicate with us on our own terms.  Communicating in a way that is suited to the human condition.[2] Thankfully, over and against my sin, is a Word from God.  A Word that brings life into being.  A Word that communicates and gives life.  A Word that forms, reforms and restores relationships.[3]  A Word made flesh.  A fleshy Word that the Gospel of Luke tells us is a baby in a manger announced by angels and surrounded by his young parents, shepherds, and animals.  A baby whom Mary is told will be called Son of God.[4]  A baby named Jesus.[5]

A baby named Jesus, a fleshy Word through whom all things were made and in whom is life – the life that is the light of all people, a light that darkness cannot overcome.[6]  And with these words of light and darkness we arc back through the creation story in Genesis one more time, sent sling-shot through darkness and light.  “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light…and God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”[7]

A baby named Jesus, Son of God, a fleshy Word who is the light of all people.  Listening to the many layers of the Christmas story, and the Gospel of John’s prologue in particular, is like hearing many notes all at once in a musical chord.[8]  Like a complex chord, the effect moves through head and heart at the same time as we are moved through Genesis and John, through time and space, through light and dark, through Word and flesh, through God and Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Incarnation of the Word into flesh becomes God’s way of communicating with us in a manner suited to our human condition.[9]  Incarnation is the length to which God will go to get through to us.  We are sensate creatures – we see, we touch, we hear.  So God calls through the cry from a manger and the groans from a cross.  In the story of Jesus that follows his birth, God communicates in Jesus’ actions and also in his words.  Jesus enacts life-giving power. God’s radical, subversive action in terms we can grasp.

Christmas is the beginning of God coming to all people[10] – expanding the eternal covenant made long ago through an ancient people.  In that time, God spoke to the ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets.[11]  Now God is speaking to us through the Word made flesh, Jesus the Son of God.

Through Jesus, the Son of God, the Holy Spirit makes us children of God.[12]  The adoption process of God’s wayward, sinful creatures begins in the beginning and arcs through the incarnation, the Word made flesh. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection frees us from sin.  Set free from the business of justifying our actions and thoughts over and against anyone else, or against God.

This Christmas, for you is the gift of Jesus, Son of God, a fleshy Word who is the light of all people.  You are “children of God born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”[13]   Merry Christmas!

__________________________________________________________

In response to the sermon, the people sing a song called the Hymn of the Day.   Today we sing, “What Child is This”

Listen here: http://www.spiritandsong.com/compositions/399

1. What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Refrain
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

2. Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

3. So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come peasant, king, to own him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone him.

______________________________________

Sermon footnotes

[1] Genesis 1:1-2 “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”

[2] Craig R. Koester. Narrative Lectionary 106: Word Made Flesh. Podcast for “I Love to Tell the Story” at WorkingPreacher.org on December 15, 2013. http://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_podcast.aspx?podcast_id=450

[3] Ibid.

[4] Luke 1:35  The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”

[5] Luke 1:30-31 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.

[6] John 1:4-5

[7] Genesis 1:3-4

[8] Koester.

[9] Ibid.

[10] John 1:4

[11] Hebrews 1:1-2 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.

[12] John 1:12

[13] John 1:13

___________________________________

Hebrews reading

Hebrews 1:1-12 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? 6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.” 8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 10 And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; 12 like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”

 

John 6:51-58 – The Italians, Jesus, and Me

John 6:51-58  – The Italians, Jesus and Me

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 16

John 6:51-58 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

[sermon begins]

John 6:51-58 “The Italians, Jesus, and Me”

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 16, 2015

Last Saturday, I preached a funeral for a dear, dear saint.  He was a member of this congregation.  When I would visit Louie he would spend time telling me stories about his children, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. His angels, he’d call them.  I don’t know many people who loved this life as much as Louie and who was equally as ready to go be with his recently departed wife as much as he was.

Louie and I shared a love of dry red wine and cheese almost as old.  We could talk cheese flavors like some people talk ice cream. Even closer to home, he and I were both drawn into the Lutheran tradition by marriage.  Here’s one stark difference.  Louie came from a very large, very Italian family, which is also mostly Roman Catholic.  His extended family, to a person, was warm and respectful with me through Louie’s last days. This day of celebrating Louie’s life was no exception. At the funeral, I stood to give my welcome and usual greeting.  “The Lord be with you.”  The response that came back?  An enthusiastic, “And with your spirit,” mixed in with, “And also with you.”

The mix of responses created a split-second of space between my greeting and all those other words I was planning to say as we began the celebration of Louie’s life.  It was like time stood still just for second.  My mind opened to take it in and my heart filled.  And I thought, “Oh…right…the church catholic, God’s whole church. Here we all are, Jesus included, right here, together in this place.”

These words of formal greeting between priestly leader and worshiping people are bequeathed to us from our Christian ancestors in the earliest church.  The greeting was used well before the Great Schism in the first millennia and both the East and West continue its use today.  The words are found in Christian writings as early as the year 215 and belong to no one modern denomination.  The Latin reads Dominus vobiscum et cum spiritu tuo.”   (You Latin scholars can correct my pronunciation later.)  Some Christian strands prefer the direct translation, “And with your spirit.”  Some of you may remember the Norwegian ELC black hymnal that translated it this way.

The point of all of this is to say that several hundred of us were there, celebrating Louie’s life in the face of his death and to hear a good word in the middle of it all.  It was what we were there to do.  And right out of the gate, a good word arrived in the very first words of greeting that we shared together as a group.  I’ll get to what I mean by that.  Or, more importantly, Jesus’ words in the Bible verses will help us get there.

Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  The people with him ask, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  We could wish that Jesus would have stayed poetic and metaphorical talking about fresh baked living bread and its warmth and smell.  Proving to everyone that, indeed, the gospel of John is simply, a wild, gnostic tale spun out to be so mystical that only the very few could every attain understanding.

 

People like to get out their “gnostic” stamp.  You know, those wooden stamps that you have to dampen on the ink pad, and then pound the gospel of John with it – gnostic…gnostic…gnostic…  In today’s parlance, the stamp could just as easily read, “spiritual.”  Because if we do that, if we stamp it all to pieces with the gnostic, or the spiritual, or the metaphorical, then maybe it would do one of two things.  We could either ignore it as mythic, romantic poetry.  Or it could help distract us from what it going on in this real mess of a life we’ve created for ourselves.

Well, Jesus, the Word made flesh, begs to differ.  He rides the knife edge between metaphor and reality.    He does not go spiritual and gnostic in answer to the people’s question.  He goes flesh and blood.  He is relentlessly incarnational.  He doesn’t try to explain anything.  He simply tells them to eat.  For those of us who think that being spiritual is about stuff you can’t see, this is the opposite.  It’s anti-gnostic.  It’s not romantic.  It’s fleshy.

The opening dialogue at communion begins with the pastor’s words, “The Lord be with you.”  The assembly replies, “And also with you.”  This dialogue doesn’t try to explain anything either.  The dialogue simply announces.  We announce it, then we give God thanks and praise for it, Jesus words are spoken, and then we eat.  So simple.  And such good news because in the midst of it all we are claimed by life, by Jesus who is the life – in whom we abide, and who abides in us.

Last Sunday, Pastor Todd and I spoke with the TLC volunteers who regularly visit with Augustana’s home-centered members.  Some of these TLC volunteers are on the Home Communion Team.  Today, the bread and wine sits on the communion table along with the bread and wine that we share together during our communion during worship.  Communion will then be taken out to people who cannot gather with us in worship.  Jesus, abiding is us in abundant life, is carried out to those in whom he also abides.  The home communion team takes communion out as an extension of the congregation.  So that the life that claims us here this morning claims more than us this afternoon.

The language of life shows up in these eight verses nine times.  NINE times in EIGHT verses.  You’ve known me long enough to have some inkling that Christ crucified is pretty central to my faith.  That we have a God who died is utterly mind-shattering to me in only the best of ways. There’s a cross either on me or around me in most of my waking moments.  Today, however, is a time for us to revel in the life of God. That we have a God who lived in a body before and after death.

Jesus says, “I am the living bread, that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”   Louie is enjoying the eschatological nature of Jesus’ eternal promise.  Jesus says in the Bible reading today, “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”

But this isn’t only about waiting for the fulfillment of an eschatological hope.  We enjoy the eternal in this moment. Jesus, son of the Living Father abides with us now.  Because it is the promise of the eternal One to abide with us always, which starts today.

Thanks be to God!

John 1:1-14 – Word Creates, Words Create [Or: A Christmas Conversation]

John 1:1-14 – Word Creates, Words Create [Or: A Christmas Conversation]

Caitlin Trussell on December 25, 2014 with Augustana Lutheran Church


John 1:1-14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

 

 

A friend of mine recently preached that the fourth Sunday in Advent is like the last trimester of pregnancy.  If that’s the case, then today we are in the first day postpartum – the gift of the baby Jesus has arrived and we’re all a little giddy in our fatigue.  And yet the baby is noticeably absent in our gospel reading today.

John begins in the beginning… “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Greek logos, translated as “Word”, can also be translated as “conversation”.[1]  “In the beginning was the Conversation, and the Conversation was with God and the Conversation was God.”  It’s right here in the sermon that I wish that I had a cup of tea and a chair and an hour with you all.  And we could just sit and talk about the relationship between God, Jesus and Spirit as The Conversation.

We could challenge ourselves with what God as The Conversation means about God as Trinity and what it means for us as creatures of this Divine Being who are in conversation with each other.  If I believe that God’s holy Conversation within God’s Self  birthed all that has come into being (v. 2) then how do I understand myself as both created by God’s Conversation as well as a participant in what God is creating in the world today.  And how might you?

I invite you to consider Christmas in the light of The Conversation that creates…that brings things into being…that changes us as we engage with the story and with each other.  Even the Christmas story itself can be thought of as a conversation taking place between the four gospels.  Matthew covers genealogy, conception by the Holy Spirit and the magi on the move with the star; Mark begins with John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus and the urgency of Jesus’ ministry; and Luke gives us no-room-at-the-inn, singing angels, shepherds on the job and a manger maternity ward complete with the baby Jesus.  The four gospels each have a voice in the Christmas story.

The Christmas story assures us that words matter.  The words that tell us about a manger, a star, a young couple and a baby are a creation story of sorts for us.  This baby was born and then grew up to embark on a three year ministry that shows us how to love, care and serve so that the hope born in the manger really can mean joy to the world.

The power of The Conversation written about in John’s gospel creates life.  The new life of Jesus is The Conversation made flesh.  John’s gospel spends its precious space telling us about Jesus engaged in all kinds of conversations with all kinds of people.  If I as a Jesus follower take The Conversation seriously and believe that Jesus is working in me and through me then what kind of care do I take with myself and what kind of care do I take with you – what kind of manger am I that is able to reveal Christ?  If I believe that The Conversation created the universe with words and I am a person of the Word then I also believe that words create real stuff – that the words I use are important.  Words create friends, enemies, victims, wars, peace – words create!

Some time ago, I had the opportunity to visit a woman in the hospital – I’ll call her Rose.  I had never met Rose and her husband before.  We visited for a short time and then Rose told me that she had a feeling that she was not going to get well this time and she would never go home.  She then leaned toward me and asked if I had brought communion.  And, “no”, I had not brought communion.  We spent a few minutes talking about how that might happen and finally we decided that I would come back later that afternoon.

I headed back out there at the designated time with communion, using paper towels to create space for the meal on the bedside stand.  Rose and her husband shared a hymnal as they sat next to each other.  I read from Romans 8 where we are assured that “neither death, nor life… nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”; we reminded ourselves of Jesus words in Matthew 26 “given and shed for you”; and together we prayed the Lord’s prayer.  We shared in the meal of bread and wine.

After the final prayer, I knelt in front of them, held their joined hands with one of my own while I raised the other one in blessing.  Rose and I looked into each others eyes as I said, “The Lord Bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.”  The next day, when I received the phone call that Rose had died, I realized that hope was birthed by The Conversation being present in communion just as hope is birthed by Jesus in the manger.

In a few minutes we will say the words of the Nicene Creed together.[2]  This Creed uses some language that sinks us into God as The Conversation.  We will speak the words of “begotten, not made” and “proceeds from”.   This language reveals God as The Conversation between Father, Son and Spirit.  And, we will also sing “What Child is This?”[3]  Reminding us about both the baby and The Conversation made flesh and the ways that the Bible places the gospel writers themselves in conversation with each other.

God is The Conversation – The Conversation who creates the universe; The Conversation who lives as baby in the manger for the sake of the whole world.  And as people of The Conversation, as Christmas people, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit for the sake of the world.

As Christmas people we are born of The Conversation to serve the world as mangers who reveal Christ; even as we are saved by Christ in the comfort and fearlessness of his grace.

And, as Christmas people, we are like Rose when she held out her hand to receive the bread. We hold Jesus in our hands; while at the same time, in a wild cosmic reversal, we are held in the hands of Jesus.

Merry Christmas indeed!


[1] Richard Valantasis, Douglas K. Bleyle, and Dennis C. Haugh.  The Gospels and Christian Life in History and Practice.  (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 253-255.

[2] The Nicene Creed full text: http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Nicene_Creed_Evangelical_Lutheran_Worship_.pdf

[3] Lyrics “What Child is This?” http://www.metrolyrics.com/what-child-is-this-lyrics-christmas-carols.html

Genesis 25:19-34; Romans 8:1-11; and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 “Freedom is Complicated [or A Very Expensive Bowl of Soup]”

Genesis 25:19-34; Romans 8:1-11; and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 “Freedom is Complicated [or A Very Expensive Bowl of Soup]”

Caitlin Trussell at Augustana Lutheran Church on July 6, 2014

 

Genesis 25:19-34   This is the account of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” 24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. 27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. ) 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.

[Please note the Matthew and Romans scripture are available at the end of the sermon post.]

 

Being a middle child of five kids sandwiched me between an older brother and sister and a younger brother and sister.  My younger sister is 5 years younger than me.  The two of us began sharing a room very early on.  Initially she was folded in with my older sister Hilary and me.  Until the day we moved into the house where there was a bed nook just big enough for Hilary’s bed and her things connected to the room Izzy and I shared.

Mostly this room-sharing worked out okay.  There were big belly laugh moments like the time Hilary and I were talking after Izzy had already fallen asleep on the top bunk, only to watch her sail by in slow motion on her way to the floor while falling out of bed asleep.  (She was fine.)  There were the typical off-limits kinds of things between siblings and over-time her tidier nature meant she had to have some patience for her big sister.  And, of course, there were times when having my little sister around was just one too much to bear.

In my pre-teen years, we developed a ritual, Izzy and I.  I would be doing homework or reading or generally hanging around and in would enter her five-year-old energy wanting to connect and play.  I would walk over to my desk, open the drawer, pull out a few possessions I could part with and told her she could choose and keep what she wanted if she went away and left me alone.  I was then free to continue whatever it was I doing without her being there.  A negotiated freedom that happily met my own ends – I had what I wanted and Izzy got a win out of the deal too.  Or so I thought.

Jacob and Esau, in the Genesis story today, are well into an age where sibling shenanigans aren’t quite as innocent.  Although we might be able to argue that the underlying motivations are similar.  Esau’s apparently been quite unsuccessful in the latest hunt and arrives home with a fierce hunger.  He’s looking for freedom from his hunger.  A hunger that blocked everything else from his mind and creates immediate need regardless of the consequences.  Esau walks into the house and rides the smell of warm soup and fresh baked bread right on into the kitchen.  And right into Jacob who is also nursing a desire for freedom.  Freedom from his place as the second sibling; freedom into the rights of the firstborn.  This moment between brothers is a perfect storm of self-interest that frees one brother from a raging hunger but at the cost of his birthright.  A perfect storm that leaves the other brother free from his social location as the second in line but at the cost of relationship with his brother.   The brothers’ freedom from their original problems came poorly thought through by one and highly manipulated by the other.

With freedom as a front and center topic this week, my first remembered Fourth of July came to mind.  It was the Bicentenniel celebrated in 1976.  200 years had passed since the signing of the Declaration of Independence and just a few months had passed since we began living in Washington DC.  It was like a red, white, and blue factory had exploded and the shrapnel blanketed the city.  There were American flags both historic and current of all sizes.  There were banners made of cloth, paper, and ribbons.  There were fireworks, fireworks, and more fireworks.  To my seven-year-old mind, everything around me was about the colors and sounds of Independence Day.  At the same time that was happening outside of me, everything inside of me was aware of the new freedom that my family had found by our move to D.C.  Having just left my mentally ill and violent father in Pennsylvania a few months before, we had a new found freedom from him and from the fear of him.  My single mom and the five of us kids were negotiating that freedom in the face of our poverty.  I learned early on that freedom is complicated.

That first memory of the 4th of July is a microcosm of the complexity of freedom on a larger scale.  During the American Revolutionary War, thousands of people gave their lives for freedom from tyranny of all kinds – political, religious, moral, and financial.   The Declaration of Independence describes the new freedom gained by the ultimate sacrifice of those who died and also served as the basis for freeing slaves well on into the Civil Rights movement.  The flip-side is that these freedoms were gained on land where there were people already here enjoying it as their birthright.  Freedom is indeed complicated.

Given my family’s experience with the mental illness of my first father and now my 19 year old niece, it comes as no surprise that I’m interested in mental health diagnosis and treatment.   I recently attended a meeting of Together Colorado which is an interfaith group of leaders whose efforts include the issue of mental health.  Several of the people at the meeting were Christian clergy who had just attended a walking pilgrimage at the site of the Sand Creek Massacre.[1]  In 1864, 150 Cheyenne and Arapahoe women, children, and elders were murdered and mutilated by 700 soldiers of the Colorado State militia.  One of the pastors led a conversation with our group of 15 people about his experience at the site.  He discussed the Christian faith of the perpetrators led by Colonel Chivington who was a soldier and a Christian minister; someone who considered himself a “good Christian.”  He suggested that perhaps what the world needed were “bad Christians.”  I piped up and said, “That’s where the Lutherans come in.”  There was general laughter all around.  Why?  What did that inter-faith group of people think they knew about Lutherans?

Perhaps it’s because Lutherans experience sin and talk about sin as something real.  It’s why we confess our sin when we gather for worship, knowing that God is using us in spite of our sin.  The freedoms we negotiate between ourselves and by ourselves are fraught with the complication of sin.  Whether it’s my 10 year old self trying to be free from my little sister; Esau and Jacob negotiating freedom between hunger and a birthright; my first father’s violence that sent my mother and us running for freedom; or the people of the United States fighting for their freedom in the 18th century even as they declared a country on land that other peoples already called home.

Sin is in bodies. Paul’s language for this in the reading from Romans is that it exists in the flesh.  Sin exists in us.  This is true for us as individuals, which by extension makes it true for us as church and true for us as country.  We can be just as group-serving as we can be self-serving.  Perhaps even more so when we’re grouped together, cloaked in anonymity.   In a group it’s so much easier to justify our same sin when other people dealing with the same sin are giving us the thumbs up.  In the same way, it’s easier to call out another’s sin over and above our own.  Using their sin against them to dehumanize them while elevating ourselves as the arbiters of only the good.

Looking back to the 18th century, the good and the sinful are perhaps more easily recognized than looking back to last week to separate the good and the sinful.  It is there regardless.  The gift, or what Matthew calls “the good soil”, is to have our sin called out by the Spirit of Christ.[2]  This conviction comes from Christ who came in a body, in the flesh, and puts our sin to death through his body put to death on a cross.  Christ’s humiliation on the cross saves us from ourselves and each other, collapsing our differences into a sobering oneness of the flesh.  Through his humbled body on the cross, Christ infuses us with the humility that comes from such a death.  So humbled, we are free to recognize the ways we are more like Jacob and Esau than not like them, the ways we are more like Colonel Chivington than not like him.[3]  Our need for Christ laid bare at the foot of the cross and in the public square – for his sake, for our sake, and for the sake of the world.

 



[1] There are many resources that offer a full treatment of the Sand Creek Massacre.  Here is one of them from Northwestern University: http://www.northwestern.edu/provost/committees/john-evans-study/study-committee-report.pdf.

[2] Matthew 13:23; Romans 8:11

[3] Augustans Lutheran Church mission statement: “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 God.”

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

 

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

 

Romans 8:1-11   There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

John 1:1-18; Matthew 2:1-12 “What’s In Your Darkness?”

John 1:1-18; Matthew 2:1-12  “What’ s In Your Darkness?

January 5, 2014 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

John 1:1-18   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ “) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

 

For the 12 days of Christmas we celebrate the birth of a savior.  On Epiphany, January 6th, we celebrate the light of the savior.  On this, the 12th day of Christmas, this Epiphany Eve, we’ll do a little bit of both.

We celebrate not just any birth over Christmas…but a birth that shines light into the darkness, a birth that changes the world.  Now certainly God has been active in history before the birth of Jesus. Connecting the moment of this birth to all of God’s history, the gospel writer uses those powerful words, “In the beginning…”  These words that John uses to introduce the Word can also be heard in the very first verse of Genesis. [1] This connection draws a huge arc through time, space, and place, between the birth of creation to the birth of Jesus.

So while Luke spends time on the human details of shepherds and a manger and Matthew gives us the magi, John spends time on the cosmic ones.  Where Luke and Matthew’s words weave a compelling story, John’s words elevate us into poetic mystery.  We could leave it there, in those mysterious heights.  We could keep at a distance this mysterious poetry that many discard as too heady or inaccessible.  Many theologians do.  Except…except…John doesn’t leave it dangling out in the mystery of the cosmos, untouchable or inaccessible.

John brings the Word straight to the ground.  “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”  This God who created…who made promises through Abraham, who brought freedom through Moses, who instigated challenge through the prophets, who gave guidance through kings…this God became flesh.  A mysterious, inaccessible, cosmic God becomes a God that is part of our common humanity, through common flesh.  God taking on flesh to join us in our humanity is the birth we celebrate over Christmas.  It is the birth recognized by the Magi’s visit.  It is why some people call Christmas the Festival of the Incarnation rather than Christmas.[2]  God incarnate simply means God in a body – or as John likes to put it, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”   But if it were only that, if it were only God joining us and dabbling in fleshiness, we leave out a critical piece of the story.

God living among us in Jesus is a cause for celebration during Christmas as well as a reason to pause and reflect on Epiphany.  Not simply because God showed up but because God immerses in the struggle of humanity as the first and last Word.  As John writes, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  Light moving in the dark; day against night.  This language may be poetic but we get it when someone talks about their darkness:

The darkness of someone we love living with a mental illness that is difficult to treat.

The darkness of grief and the confusion it brings to daily life.

The darkness of disease, acute or chronic, that takes up more space in the day than anything else.

If we could sit and talk about the darkness here this morning, each one of us could name a way that it affects our lives or the life of someone we love.  Before today, you’ve likely had some of these conversations with family, friends, sometimes even with strangers.  The kind of conversation where all the walls between people are down and the darkness is named for what it is.

Besides the obvious location of a pastor’s office, they can pop up almost anywhere – at work, on the sideline of a sports event, or over lunch.

A few years ago, preparing to catch a flight out of DIA, I was moving into the waiting area at the gate.  The gate was in the end of the terminal which housed about eight gates bundled together. There were tons of people waiting for their flights and all I wanted was to be alone with my thoughts.  And, then, I spotted it, a chair facing the windows, looking out at the tarmac, away from the crowds with a few seats buffer on either side. I had one of those moments where you’re happier than you really should be.  As I was setting down my carry-on, I glanced over at a gentleman a couple of chairs down and, literally during my movement to sit, the man looked at me, looked at the cross on my neck and said, “Can I ask you a question?”

As it turned out, what he really wanted to do was tell his story.  He was heading to his mother’s home to say goodbye to her before she died.  He told me about his family, the mess of it, the pain of it and his part in all of that mess and pain.  He told me about how Jesus had found him, how Jesus had changed his life and how he trusted Jesus to help him now.  He was hurting, he made himself vulnerable and he was confessing in the middle of a busy airport, to an utter stranger.  And in the midst of all of that, he trusted God’s presence in the midst of some pretty big darkness.  And not just that God showed up but that God was fighting in the struggle with him.

His testimony about where he sees God, where he sees the light shining in the darkness, helps us think about where we might see God in our own.

Thinking about the struggle with darkness makes me think about that man in the airport.  Thinking about the struggle with darkness makes me think about my own.  Thinking about the struggle with darkness makes me want to invite you to consider yours.  Because it is into this real struggle, this darkness, that Jesus is not only born but lived, died, and lives again.  Jesus who continues to bring light that reveals God in the midst of the worst that life brings – a light that brings hope as we are born children of God.

Our birth as children of God is ‘not of blood.’  This birth gives us hope that “we will not be subject to the frailties of human flesh forever.”[3]  Our birth as children of God is “not of the will of the flesh”.  This birth gives us hope that “we are more than our desires.”[4]  Our birth as children of God is not “of the will of humans.”  This birth gives us hope that “we will not always be subject to the whim and will of others” [5]  or the many other dimensions of darkness that affects our lives. [6]

As children of God, our lives have meaning over and against any darkness that overwhelms us.  That is to say, that our lives have meaning over and against anything we can come up with to say they don’t.  Maybe, closer to home yet, your life has meaning over and against any darkness that someone else or even you can come up with to say it doesn’t.  You mean something to God – the light who shines into your darkness and joins the struggle with you, who births you a child of God.

 



[1] Genesis is the first book of the Bible’s 66 books. Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…”

[2] Thank you Sigurd Nelson, Retired Pastor and Army Chaplain, for this reflection.

[3] David Lose on Working Preacher, December 25, 2010.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=857

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lawrence Ulrich, Ph.D., personal conversation on January 4, 2013.

 

John 1:1-14 “The Birth, Our Birth”

John 1:1-14  “The Birth, Our Birth”

December 25, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

John 1:1-14  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

 

This morning we come to celebrate a birth.  Not just any birth…but a birth that shines light into the darkness, a birth that changes the world.  God has been active in history before the birth of Jesus. Connecting the moment of this birth to all of God’s history, the gospel writer uses those powerful words, “In the beginning…”  These words that John uses to introduce the Word can also be heard in the very first verse of Genesis. [1] This connection draws a huge arc through time, space, and place, between the birth of creation to the birth of Jesus.

So while Luke spends time on the human details of shepherds and a manger, John spends time on the cosmic ones.  Where Luke’s words are a simple story, John’s words elevate us into poetic mystery.  We could leave it there, in those mysterious heights.  We could keep at a distance this mysterious poetry that many discard as too heady or inaccessible.  Many theologians do.  Except…except…John doesn’t leave it dangling out in the mystery of the cosmos, untouchable or inaccessible.

John brings the Word straight to the ground.  “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”  This God who created…who made promises through Abraham, who brought freedom through Moses, who instigated challenge through the prophets, who gave guidance through kings…this God became flesh.  A mysterious, inaccessible, cosmic God becomes a God that is part of our common humanity, through common flesh.  God taking on flesh to join us in our humanity is the birth we celebrate this morning.  It is why some people call today the Festival of the Incarnation rather than Christmas.  God incarnate simply means God in a body – or as John likes to put it, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

God living among us in Jesus is a cause for celebration this Christmas.  Not simply because God showed up but because God immerses in the struggle of humanity.  As John writes, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  Light moving in the dark; day against night.  This language may be poetic but we get it when someone talks about their darkness:

The darkness of someone we love living with a mental illness that is difficult to treat.

                The darkness of grief and the confusion it brings to daily life.

                The darkness of disease, acute or chronic, that seems to take up more space than anything else.

If we could sit and talk about the darkness, each one of us could name a way that it affects our lives or the life of someone we love.  It is into this real struggle, this darkness, that Jesus is born.  Jesus who continues to bring light that reveals God in the midst of the worst that life brings – a light that brings hope as we are born children of God.

Our birth as children of God is ‘not of blood.’  This birth gives us hope that “we will not be subject to the frailties of human flesh forever.”[2]  Our birth as children of God is “not of the will of the flesh”.  This birth gives us hope that “we are more than our desires.”[3]  Our birth as children of God is not “of the will of humans.”[4]   This birth gives us hope that “we will not always be subject to the whim and will of others.”  As children of God, our lives have meaning over against anything we can come up with to say they don’t

Our birth as children of God allows us to see the transcendent, cosmic God up close and personal in the person of Jesus.  So that when we celebrate Emmanuel (God with us) we celebrate the hope that is given to us as we are born children of God.  To this and to all God is doing we can say, “Merry Christmas!”

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Genesis is the first book of the Bible’s 66 books. Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…”

[2] David Lose on Working Preacher, December 25, 2010.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=857

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

John 6:56-69 “How Do We Know What We Know?”

John 6:56-69 “How Do We Know What We Know?”

August 26, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

 

John 6:56-69 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

 

 

I have read this text out loud, several times over the last few weeks and, each time I get to the end, I find myself taking a long, deep breath.  As if the text itself is infusing something into me.  I think I even said, “Yum,” once.  So good I could almost taste it.  What’s up with that?  What is it about being in this fifth week of the 6th chapter of John that is so simply delicious?  Oh, and by-the-by, this is indeed the last in this series that are sometimes called the “bread texts.”  So infamous are they among pastors that some choose to preach out of alternate texts during these five weeks in Year B of the Lectionary.  I, however, am grateful that we have had this bread as a steady diet these last weeks and now find ourselves nibbling into the last course of the feast.

And, on this day, some of the disciples say, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”  Just before they pose this question, Jesus says that, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.”  Is this the difficult teaching?  Or how about the part where Jesus says, “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”  Is that the difficult teaching?  While we’re at it, is the whole of Chapter 6, which begins with the feeding of the 5,000, the difficult teaching?  Or do we go back to the very first verse of John, Chapter 1?  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Greek of “Word” here is “logos.”

John also uses the Greek “logos” in verse 60 of our text today, which many Bibles translate into “teaching.”  It makes me curious that the disciples are struggling with “logos” here – the logos, the Word, who was in the beginning and is now standing in front of them as Jesus, who continues to make a divine claim.  And it gives me even greater pause to think about struggle to accept.  “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”  And the way I ultimately hear this question is, “You say you’re God…really?!”

In response to this question, Jesus asks, “Does this offend you?”  Then he proceeds to heap a bunch more on the pile – more difficult to accept teaching added to the already difficult to accept teaching he just spent so much time on.  “Does this offend you?”  And “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

Jesus turns, looks at those still standing there, and asks, “Do you also wish to go away?”  I imagine this moment as really quiet, no one wants to be the first one to speak.  Peter responds with this beautiful question, “Lord to whom can we go?”  It’s curious to note that there is no “yes” or “no” answer here in the text.  “Do you also wish to go away?”  Answered with, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

I want to ask a question of my own.  “How do I know what I know?”  Think about this for a minute.  “How do you know what you know?”  Some might answer, “I know what I know through logic or reason.”  Some might say, “I know it in my gut.”  Others might say, “I know because it feels right.”  Some might even answer, “I know because it matches my experience.”  I’m at a point in my life where it would be cool if a couple of someones, who shall remain nameless, would answer that question by saying, “I know because my Mom said so.”   Hey, a gal can dream.

Peter says, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  How do belief and knowing happen?  How do I know what I know?  Heart? Head? Gut? Experience?  How do I know what I know?  Here’s another thought…the Holy Spirit helps us to believe and know.  There’s a wild part of our Sunday worship that we all speak together called the Apostle’s Creed.  In the 3rd part, sometimes called the 3rd article, we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”  Martin Luther explains this part of the Apostle’s Creed this way, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel.”  This belief and knowing through the Holy Spirit isn’t something we’re super good at explaining or talking about.  And most of us move through the world strongly preferring those other ways of knowing without considering the Spirit’s involvement in how we know what we know.

The Spirit’s gift of belief is simply a gift.  Jesus asks the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”  Peter doesn’t answer “yes” or “no” to Jesus question.  But rather says, “Lord to whom can we go?”  The verse that we’re not privy to in our reading today is v70 in which Jesus says, “Did I not choose you, the twelve?”  … “Did I not choose you, the twelve?”

Belief in Jesus is not a logic problem.  It is difficult to argue exactly what it is.  But, along with Peter and the apostles who ultimately abandoned Jesus in the events of the cross that follow our story today, faith seems not to be something we dredge up in ourselves.  It…is…placed…there.  It is a kind of knowing for which we do not own good language.

And it is why we commune, why Jesus feeds us at his table, where we are given wine to drink and bread to chew.  When Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them,” this isn’t simply a poetic spiritual notion.  This is an earthy, intimate one in bread and in wine.  One of my professors says that, “This is the love of God in Christ that wishes to preach to your small intestine.”[1]

Hear these words again from our text today…

“Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

 

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them on the last day.”

“Does this offend you?”

“The one who eats this bread will live forever.”

“Do you also wish to go away?”

 

“Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

“Did I not choose you?”

 

 

 



[1] Steve Paulson, professor, Luther Seminary.