Tag Archives: God

Matthew 5:1-12, Revelation 7:9-17, and 1 John 3:1-3 – For That Is What You Are

Matthew 5:1-12, Revelation 7:9-17, and 1 John 3:1-3 – For That Is What You Are

Caitlin Trussell on All Saints Sunday – November 2, 2014 at Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver

[sermon starts after these three Bible readings/paragraphs]

Matthew 5:1-13  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.

Revelation 7:9-17   After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

1 John 3:1-3   See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

 

[sermon begins]

Ahhhh, the Book of Revelation from which our first reading comes.  Such comfort, consolation, and encouragement to be found.  Seriously, though, it’s a shame we shy away from the Book of Revelation.  Granted, a lot of it is uninterpretable – although rapture theologians won’t let that stop themselves from trying to leave us behind.[1]  But the book itself is written to comfort people who have been through a “great ordeal.”  An ordeal that leaves them in need of a comfort only God can give.

And, oh, what a people.  The writer tells us that, “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…”   This text gives us no way to imagine a limitation because it is all inclusive – “be it geographic, ethnic, numeric, linguistic, economic, and on and on the list goes.” [2]

The last verses of the Revelation text reads, “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”   It is easy and tempting to try to minimize this promise of comfort.  I was leading a Bible Study at the women’s prison a few years ago.  There I stood, waxing on about different takes on heaven, when a woman from the back row raised her hand.  She told me it was all well and good that I had time to play with those ideas but she believed in a place and time when there would be no more hunger, no more thirst, and no more tears.  She counted on it.  She ended up being the preacher God put in our midst that day.   And she is definitely a saint.

The woman from the prison doesn’t fit the description of “saint” as it’s more commonly used to mean a “best-ever-super-great person.”   But she does fit into the saints who are part of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…”  She is a saint who defiantly bears hope in the face of all things to the contrary.

Speaking of contrary things, Lutheran Confessions was a class I had to take in seminary to become a pastor.  The class isn’t quite as racy as the title makes it out to be.  For that you would have to turn to The Confessions of St. Augustine.[3]  But there were some gems.  One of them was the professor.  He liked a good argument and found plenty of them.  His passion for arguing was matched by his passion for walking into any situation regardless of the discomfort involved – his or anyone else’s.  At one point he whipped off his pastor’s collar, waved it around in the air, and told us that with this collar we were able to walk into any situation, bearing hope, where many would fear to go.  Well, I’d argue with him on that – which of course he’d love.

I’d argue that it is by our baptism into Christ that we are able to walk into any situation, EVEN IF we are afraid to go.  It’s not the collar.  It’s the cross that bears all things, even death. The author of the reading from First John writes, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”

As children of God we are saints by baptism, not by our own action.  At the same time we are sinners, bearing the hope that has been put in us through the Jesus’ death on a cross.  This sainthood is Christ’s to give and it is given freely.  Through his gift, we defiantly bear hope and bring peace in the face of all things to the contrary.

What are these contrary things, these things that would defy hope?  Let’s try those verses in Matthew to answer that question.  Jesus tells the disciples that the kingdom is revealed into through a poor spirit, grief, hunger, thirst, persecution, and false accusations.  How do we bear hope?  We bear hope by being with people.  I hear these stories from you time and again.

You’ve sat in the hallway at a nursing home waiting to visit someone and take the time to hear another resident’s story because they need to tell it to somebody.

You’re the one who’s child died and you let someone sit with you while you felt everything and nothing all at once.

You’ve been with a friend who spouse has left them.

You’re the one whose “no” meant “yes” to someone who hurt you and then you needed to trust somebody else to help you heal.

You’ve been with the undocumented family who has no home.

You’re the victim of war who was caught in the crossfire and taken to safety in a new place with new people.

You’ve been with each other in places that seem the most forsaken by God because, if the cross means anything, it means God shows up in the worst possible places and situations.

Grief, poor spirits, all the contrary things, are not mentioned by Jesus as things to achieve and wear as a badge of honor.  These are the hard things that just happen in life.  Hard things that we get to bear with each other and for each other.  I get to show up for you, you get to show up for me, we get to show up bearing hope for each other in situations that seem utterly hopeless.  This is true when we don’t have words that fix it.  Perhaps it’s true especially when we don’t have words that fix it.  What’s most important is showing up for people regardless.  Showing up, bearing hope, does not imply that we’re not afraid.  It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to pay some kind of emotional or physical price for showing up.  Showing up, bearing the suffering and bearing a defiant hope, is a gift we give each other in the face of really hard times; because it is a gift first given to us.

See what love the Father has given you, children of God, for that is what you are…

Jesus shows up for the multitude, in the multitude, for you, and in you.

Children of God, for that is what you are, be at peace – the kingdom of heaven is yours.



[1] Rapture theology is a fairly recent historical development dating to the early 1800s.

[2] Eric Mathis, Professor of Music and Worship, Samford University.  Commentary on Revelation 7:9-17 for November 2, 2014 at WorkingPreacher.org.  https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2182

[3] Saint Augustine.  The Confessions of Saint Augustine.  (Project Gutenberg, eBook, June 2002) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3296/3296-h/3296-h.htm

Matthew 22:15-22 – On Alien Annihilation, Attack Ads, and Alternatives

Matthew 22:15-22 – On Alien Annihilation, Attack Ads, and Alternatives

Caitlin Trussell on October 19, 2014 with Augustana Lutheran Church

 

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

 

Nothing draws people together like a common enemy.  Some of my go-to movies are a prime example.  Independence Day is one of them – a film in which a really creepy, roach-like alien species drops in to annihilate the world.  They hope to chew up the planet’s resources, spit it out when they’re done, and move on to the next planet a few galaxies over.  But those nasty aliens didn’t count on Captain Steve Miller – plucky marine pilot, or David Levinson – brilliant computer systems analyst.  Even more, those aliens didn’t count on all the sworn enemies of the world uniting to work together to get rid them.  Once the aliens’ ships ignite, explode, and fall to the earth, the movie-goer shares in the vicarious thrill of victory – treated to scene-after-scene of people from all kinds of countries jumping up and down in shared celebration.

Similarly, but with fewer special effects, the Pharisees and the Herodians unite against the common enemy they find in Jesus.[1]  The Pharisees have had it with Rome and the tax that is at punishing levels.  The Herodians are Roman loyalists who support the tax and are snooping around for evidence of treason against the state so they can report it back to Rome.  Together the Pharisees and Herodians have concocted the perfect trap.  If Jesus speaks positively about the tax, he’s doomed; if Jesus speaks out against the tax, he’s doomed.[2]  We can almost hear the political attack ad, complete with the music of doom and the woman’s voice-over that sounds like the same person from ad to ad:

“Jesus, who is he really?  Why won’t he pick a side and stick to it?” [Dum-da-da-dum]

Jesus goes on to evade the trap and flip it back on the ones who laid it.   The Pharisees and the Herodians were quite smart about at least one thing.  The money conversation can easily be used a trap.  A trap that many of us get caught in whether it’s about taxes or spending or giving or receiving or something else about money entirely.

In the Metro East Pastors’ Text Study this week we talked about Jesus, Pharisees, and Herodians, and the trap.  Many of us hear Jesus’ stories about money.  We hear directions to sell everything then give it all to the poor, invest wisely, do not hoard money.  We hear these stories and feel trapped by these stories along with Pharisees and Herodians.  Hearing the stories invokes feelings of panic, disconnect, moral superiority, or utter inadequacy.   We find ourselves thinking we should be saving more and investing more and giving more. Looking closely at these stories of Jesus, one of the discoveries is that we are not so much trapped by them as we are named in them.

A Lutheran Christian might call these feelings being convicted by the “law”; meaning that there is no way to give or spend or invest money without sin showing up.  Whether conversations about money trap us in shame or superiority, the root of the problem is the same.  Money becomes the lens through which we think about ourselves and our lives.  But rather than deal with the sin, confess to it, meet it head-on, we look for the common enemy.   Sometimes that common enemy is the church.  Sometimes that common enemy is the state.  Sometimes that common enemy is a faraway place or a mistrusted people. Regardless of how the common enemy is identified, they are the ones who come between people and money.

Whether shame or superiority is the driving force behind finding a common enemy, we need the reminder of the gospel.  Last week’s sermon reminded us that Jesus, thrown onto a cross in a place of shame, frees us from shame.  Frees us from shame that immobilizes us.   Frees us into the gospel that enlivens us.  For some of us, this freedom means taking a money class here on Monday nights to study and talk frankly with each other about faith, life, and money.   For others of us, this freedom means confessing a secret pile of debt to a partner and getting some help to figure that out.  For others of us, this freedom means that the word “money” takes its place alongside other things we publicly talk about and act on.  As a people called the church, this means we also talk about giving money and act on it.

For some of us in the church, giving money is practical.  Money is part of the cost of doing ministry within the congregation of Augustana.  These costs can be broken down into money given to charitable organizations, international ministry efforts, youth ministry, music ministry, building maintenance, ministry staff salaries, to name but a few.  These are ALL good things!  Some people are faithful givers as a practicality; meaning that they are connected with the Augustana congregation and so they estimate their giving for the year and give consistently.

For others of us in the church, giving money is theological.  Some say with the Psalmist that, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live it…”[3]  If this is so, then money also belongs to God first before it belongs to any of us.  So then giving money becomes an act of praise and gratitude.

And still for others of in the church, giving money is relational.  People before us gave money as keepers of the faith, as stewards of God’s mysteries.  Therefore, some give money now as stewards of the faith so that the faith is available to future generations as it is to us right now.

None of these reasons to give money are mutually exclusive, nor is this an inclusive list for the all the reasons people give money to their congregation.  The point is that the Gospel promise holds even in our conversations about money.  The “law” convicts us in all kinds of ways including the ways we use money.  At the same time the gospel frees us – frees us to consider our underlying assumptions about money, giving, church, charity, stewardship, faith, all of it, as the gospel also frees us to give.  Thanks be to God.

 

 



[1] Lance Pape, Granville and Erline Walker Assistant Professor of Homiletics, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas.  Working Preacher Commentary on Matthew 22:15-22 for Sunday readings, October 19 2014. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2201

[2] Ibid.

[3] Psalm 24:1

Matthew 15:21-28 “When Stalin and Mother Teresa Agree on a Point”

Matthew 15:21-28 “When Stalin and Mother Teresa Agree on a Point”[1]

Caitlin Trussell on August 17, 2014 at Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver

 

Matthew 15:21-28  Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

 

 

 

Each of us grew up somewhere.  Some of us grew up on farms in the Midwest, others in cities, some in the South, a few of us in other countries.  Myself, I grew up on the East and West coasts – I like to say I’m bicoastal.  My husband grew up in a mid-sized Nebraskan town.  My kids are growing up as Colorado natives.  Some of you are likely 3rd, 4th, or 5th, generation Coloradans.

The point is, we all grew up somewhere.  This means our childhoods have a somewhere, a location, a place.  Chances are good that our place also has people.  Whether these people were good to us or not, our childhood places have people.   These people birthed us, taught us, fed us…formed us.  You get the idea.  As children, we grow up in the places of our people.  They become our people the minute we’re born into them.

Flipping it around, the minute someone is born they are born into us.  We become their people.  This happens at a lot of different levels all at once.  The child is born into a family, into a neighborhood, into a region.  On any given day, you might hear me say something like, “My people are heading over to a swim meet;” or “My people are going to lay low this weekend.”   However we acknowledge it, however much we like or dislike our people. Our people are there – intentionally and unintentionally forming us and us forming them.

In the previous stories to ours today, Jesus is moving between deserted places with the people he was born into, in his country of birth.  In the story today, Jesus is in a new place, the district of Tyre and Sidon, with a new people, the Canaanites.  And, oh, this Canaanite woman.  She wastes no time in getting Jesus’ attention.  The exchange that follows is shocking.  Did Jesus just call her a “dog?”  Biblical scholars wrangle with this text early and often.

In our wrangling with this text, we can see that the disciples want no part of this woman as they ask Jesus to send her away.  “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”  Jesus doesn’t send her away but tells her that he is, “sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”  His place, his people.  Did he say this to voice what everyone else was thinking?  Might that also be why he made that “dog” comment?  After all, the Canaanite people are the people of mixed marriages and conflated religious practices.  They are not to be trusted nor visited.  They are unclean, impure.  Pick a nasty label and insert it here.  There is bad blood between Jesus’ people and the Canaanite people.

The Canaanite woman knows all these things – bad blood included.  And still, this mother shouts after Jesus and the disciples.  She demands their attention.  Not on her own behalf but on behalf of her child.  She and her child do not live in a vacuum – meaning they do not live only as two people disconnected from other people.  Oh no, this woman’s shouting has bigger implications for the whole people.

On a small scale, and maybe with less shouting, this congregation similarly brings children the necessary care they need.  Through the baptismal font, children are baptized in what can easily be interpreted or dismissed as a sentimental moment.  But it is oh so much bigger than that.  Through the waters of baptism is a demand that God keep God’s promises to this child.  Through worship, children are in the mix with their sounds, voices, and bodies included right along with the whole people of God here.   Through the Children & Family Ministry, children have Sunday School, Squiggle Time, Youth Groups and more to meet them where they are developmentally so that they may find words for their faith.   Through the Music Ministry, children sing and make music all the while connecting with God, each other, and tradition.  Through the Augustana Early Learning Center, children receive care and instruction Monday through Friday – some on full scholarship, some on subsidized tuition.  Through Augustana Arts’ City Strings program, neighborhood children receive violin and music instruction regardless of inability to pay.

As a congregation, we are similar to the Canaanite woman.  There are children in our care and we make every effort to do right by them which sometimes means doing the hard thing not the easy thing.  But what else might the story of her faith hold for us?  We do violence to this woman’s story if we simply rip her from the page and guilt everyone into advocacy.  Advocacy being the act of lending your voice to those who cannot advocate for themselves.  I think if we have any chance of seeing our story in her story we need to take a detour.

For this brief detour, I invite Oswald Bayer into our conversation.  Bayer is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen in Germany as well as an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg.[2]  Stated very simply, Bayer’s argument for a Christian ethic goes something that goes like this:[3]

Everything we have is gift – from the basics of food and water to help in times of sickness and imprisonment.   The quintessential act of our dependence is over a meal; a meal of fellowship “where separation, isolations, and loneliness are overcome.”  We are truly dependent creatures – dependent on God and each other for everything.  In this dependence, we are able to see our “own fellow human beings simply as those who find themselves in the same situation.”  I especially like how Pastor Bayer puts this next part, “Thus the least of our brothers and sisters (Matt. 25.40) will not just be the others, strangers, with whom we are called to show solidarity…Rather, from the very outset we are those people…We are the same as them, for we too are in fundamental need.”[4]  In other words, those people are our people!

Jesus sits across the table from the woman who demands a place at it for herself and her child.  In Bayer’s words, this is a meal of fellowship that overcomes separation, isolation, and loneliness.  By extension, Jesus sits us at a table that overcomes separation, isolation, and loneliness.  And we are given a voice at this meal on behalf of our children.

Make no mistake, prioritizing children is not sentimental, nor is it easy.  This means that when our plans and systems fail children, we are free to launch into those conversations to help those children.  These conversations might happen in our neighborhoods, in our congregation, in our country.  These conversations are real, right now, as we talk congregationally about improving security in the Early Learning Center or group dynamics in Confirmation.  These conversations are real as we talk nationally and globally about children at the border, children in Ferguson (Missouri), children in Palestine, children in Liberia.

Some of us may believe that helpful action should happen locally and some may believe that it makes sense to focus helpful action globally.  However, local and global concerns are not mutually exclusive but part of the whole.  So simply pick a place to start and start helping.  We can so quickly fall silent when the children who need help begin to number in the hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands.  Along with falling silent, it’s a quick slip into inaction.

Dr. Keith Payne studies the collapse of compassion in the face of fear.[5]  In his work, he is triggered by similar comments from both Stalin and Mother Teresa.  Stalin reputedly said that the death of one person is a tragedy; the death of a million is a statistic; and Mother Theresa said, “If I look at the mass I will never act.” In Dr. Payne’s words, “When Stalin and Mother Teresa agree on a point, I sit up and pay attention.”[6]  The point is that in the face of great numbers of people suffering we end up doing nothing because of our own fear. We fear that we can’t possibly help them all so we end up helping none.  We fear that taking on so much pain crumbles our shaky hold on our own emotions so we shut them down and focus someplace else.  Stalin counted on it.  Mother Teresa acted in spite of it.  Most of us are neither Stalin nor Mother Teresa.  Regardless, pick a place to start helping children and go for it.

The Canaanite woman shouted at Jesus across cultural boundaries on behalf of her child.  In part, these are real boundaries of culture and race that take care and respect to navigate successfully across our differences.  But in total, these boundaries collapse under the weight of the cross.  What Jesus Christ does for you, Jesus Christ does for all.  The people you think of as your people who come from your places is an artificial category of location.

Christ’s death on the cross makes all people your people.

Because Jesus died on a cross for all people, including you.

 

 

Responding to the sermon, the congregation sings this Hymn of the Day:

Lord Jesus You Shall Be My Song As I Journey[7]

Lord Jesus you shall be my song as I journey
I’ll tell everybody about you wherever I go
You alone are our life and our peace and our love
Lord Jesus you shall be my song as I journey

Lord Jesus, I’ll praise you as long as I journey
May all of my joy be a faithful reflection of you
May the earth and the sea and the sky join my song
Lord Jesus, I’ll praise you as long as I journey

As long as I live, Jesus, make me your servant
To carry your cross and to share all your burdens and tears
For you saved me by giving your body and blood
As long as I live, Jesus, make me your servant

I fear in the dark and the doubt of my journey
But courage will come with the sound of your steps by my side
And with all of the family you saved by your love
We’ll sing to the dawn at the end of our journey

Les Petites Souers de Jésus and L’Arche community, 1961; Translation by Stephen Somerville, 1970



[1] Read about Mother Teresa at http://www.motherteresa.org/.

Read about Joseph Stalin at http://www.biography.com/people/joseph-stalin-9491723.

[2] Oswald Bayer. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oswald_Bayer

[3] Oswald Bayer.  Freedom in Response: Lutheran Ethics: Sources and Controversies (Oxford: University Press, 2007), 19-20.  In these two pages, Dr. Bayer offers a succinct argument for categorical gift over and above Kant’s categorical imperative. I recommend them to you if you, like me, are into that sort of mind candy.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Keith Payne. “Why is the Death of One Million a Statistic?” Psychology Today blog: Life on Autopilot on March 14, 2010.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Evangelical Book of Worship, Hymn 808.  (lyrics reprinted under OneLicense.net A-705796.)

Matthew 28:16-20 & 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 “Arrogance, Apathy, Anxiety – A Trinity of Our Own Design”

Matthew 28:16-20 & 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 “Arrogance, Apathy, Anxiety – A Trinity of Our Own Design”

Caitlin Trussell on June 15, 2014 at Augustana Lutheran Church

 

Matthew 28:16-20 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
13The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

 

Last Sunday’s worship was a doozy.  Between the festival of Pentecost and the celebration of Pastor Pederson’s ministry, along with his retirement, it might even be described as epic.  It held moments of poignant joy, of laughter through tears – that rare combination of ethos and pathos that sent many of us out on a high that was, dare we say, Pentecostal.

Saying a good “Goodbye” blesses the ones leaving and the ones left behind.  And we have said goodbye well.  But there is more to a farewell than parties, portraits, and parting words.  Farewells are work.  For starters, there is individual work of figuring out how this new farewell taps and stacks with the other farewells in our pasts.  The individual work is important so that we don’t inflict pain from out past goodbye’s to the present moment.  Then there is the congregational work of what Pastor Pederson’s retirement reveals about who we are without his leadership.  This work is important so that we can offer a good welcome a new pastor.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians helps us think about farewells.  “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”[1]

Along the lines of putting things in order, staff just met together and drafted out the church calendar for the next year; Personnel Committee is working toward the selection of an Interim Pastor; Stewardship Committee has made some first steps in teaching and leading us to think about the connection between faith, time, and money; and many other ministries are continuing their work within and outside of the congregation.  So, okay, maybe not as invigorating as a good festival but it’s the real stuff of real life where most of us live on most days.

Once the big Pentecostal energy subsides, life together in the church continues.  And, of course, the life of the congregation is not an end unto itself.  In this particular instance, the apostle Paul and the preacher John Pederson find easy agreement.  Just as Paul reminds the Corinthians that there is grace in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is love in God, and there is the communion of the Holy Spirit, so we heard last week that we might also “want to ring the gospel bell.”

Which brings us so nicely into the verses in Matthew where Jesus says to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  As 21st century Christians, 21st century Jesus-people, the disciples’ commissioning can seem too big.  There’s too much certainty in it.  There’s too much history between those words and our world today.

These verses in Matthew have a sordid past.  People often talk to me about the 13th century Crusades, the 16th century Spanish Inquisition, or the 20th century Native American boarding schools when they’re telling me why Christianity doesn’t work for them.  These atrocities wrought by the church in the world can turn us into ‘either/or’ people pretty quickly.  Either we reject the whole of Christianity outright deciding that we want no part of whatever leads to the Crusades.  Or we believe a life of faith looks like inspiring, festival joy without considering what the death of God in a body on a cross might mean in our lives.

Either end of this spectrum doesn’t quite get at anything.  People of all religious and non-religious types do all kinds of things good, bad, and ugly.  Christians might call the good things people do in terms of being “created in the image of God”; and Christians might call the bad and the ugly things that people do “sin.”   Neither the violence of forced conversions nor the 24/7 rejoicing gives us a footing to understand Jesus’ commissioning of disciples – then OR now.  The problem is that little word “understanding.”  This little word that can suddenly turn us into a group of people who think WE are the good news rather than a group of people brought together by a desperate hunger to feast on the good news.

Holy Trinity Sunday adds an extra dash of trouble because it ups the ante on understanding.  Suddenly we’re all trying to understand metaphor to understand Trinity rather than be claimed and secured by the good news of Jesus Christ.  Along this line, one of my new favorite voices is 20th century preacher Lesslie Newbigin.  He compiled and edited a lecture series called The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.  The gist of one lecture is that Western Christians are often so concerned about avoiding the label of arrogance that we become either apathetic and never talk about our faith or overly anxious about proving whatever it is we think is true about our faith.[2]  Once again, acting out of the assumption that we ourselves are the good news.

The correction to our assumptions is of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew:

16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus is leaving.  These words are his farewell.  Along the lines of a good farewell, Jesus reminds the disciples and us about putting things in good order.  And this order begins with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – not with us.  Not with us who worship, nor with us who doubt, but with God.

I like how Newbigin puts this:

It is an action of God, the triune God – of God the Father who is ceaselessly at work in all creation and in the hearts and minds of all human beings whether they acknowledge him or not, graciously guiding history toward it’s true end; of God the Son who has become part of this created history in the incarnation; and of God the Holy Spirit who is given as a foretaste of the end to empower and teach the Church and to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.  Before we think about our role, the role of our words and deeds in mission, we need to have firmly in the center of our thinking this action of God.[3]

On this Holy Trinity Sunday, may you be given confidence in Christ through your baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  As Christ reassures his disciples, may you also hear him clearly say to you, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”



[1] 1 Corinthians 13:11-13

[2] Lesslie Newbigin.  The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989), 243.

[3] Ibid, 135.

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

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

Caitlin Trussell – April 27, 2014

Augstana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 



[1] 1 Peter 1:5

[2] Revelation 21:4

 

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

 

Psalm 16

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

 

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

Psalm 32; Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11 “Sinner” as Endearment

Psalm 32; Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11  “Sinner” as Endearment[1]

March 9, 2014 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

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

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

 

Let’s talk about sin.  Yup, okay, right on schedule, I can feel your collective joy surging at the idea of this conversation.   Regardless, let’s push on, shall we?  The general complaint I most often hear when it comes to using the word “sin” is that it’s off-putting.  It’s out of touch with the times.  People don’t generally like being made aware of their shortcomings or flaws.  And, I agree, it stinks.  That’s one of the problems with the way conversations about sin typically go.  Someone offers me a laundry list of my sins, or maybe just one big one, to which I may or may not agree and off we go into the maze of moral reckoning.

There’s an alternative to entering that maze…and that is by entering the garden.  In this garden, God was at the center of all things.  The man and the woman reflected the image of God.[2]  Seduced by the serpent, they replaced God with themselves in the center of things.  They set themselves up to be “like God” and ended up breaking up with God. [3]  This break is sin – singular, not plural.  It’s been labeled “Original.” But calling it Original Sin has become distracting due to theologians who sexualized this main break with God.  I’m well aware that, by mentioning it, I just lost some of you down that rabbit hole now.

Rather than label it, let’s just call it sin – singular, not plural.  Sin puts the man and the woman right in the center of things where God should be; with no way of fixing the broken relationship with God on their own. [4]  Broken away from God’s image, the self becomes a fix-it project.  It is from this break with God that comes all of our relational sins against God, each other, and our selves.

Sin leaves the creatures that God so loves in need of atonement.  Atonement simply means “reconciling [the] parties that have been separated.” [5]   We are in need of what only God can do – something we cannot do for ourselves.[6]

So God takes action.  In skin and solidarity, God moved into the world in Jesus and ended up hung on a cross.  Paul, in our reading from Romans this morning, uses all kinds of words to describe God’s movement in Jesus Christ – free gift, grace, justification, made righteous.  One of my favorite things to do is sit around and talk about what all these words mean.  Suffice it to say for the moment that they mean the burden is on God to mend the break, to atone on our behalf.

However we name humanity’s inherent flaw, and its cause, it is on God to atone, to bring together, to reconcile, that which is broken between us and God.  The short-form of this Christian code is what we often call “God’s promises.”  In a few moments, Althea will receive those promises in her baptism.  Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, she will be baptized into the body of Christ in the form of this congregation.   Over time, we will remind her and she will remind us of God’s action on our behalf.

Rather than off-putting, I invite us to consider the language of sin as a kindness to ourselves and each other.[7]   A kindness that gives us relief from the self-perfection project.  A kindness that creates space for forgiving other people of their non-perfection and forgiving ourselves for our own.[8]

Sinners need something that God can give – and God gives it…

“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” [Psalm 32:1]

 

Sinners, through the cross, are given a way to tell the truth about falling short…

“Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” [Psalm 32:2]

 

Sinners know that not telling this truth about themselves is exhausting…

“While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”  [Psalm 32:3-4]

 

Sinners talk to God…trusting in God’s forgiveness…

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” [Psalm 32:5]

 

Sinners encourage each other to talk to God…

“Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you.” [Psalm 32:6]

 

And through it all, sinners get together to remind each other of God’s promises…

“Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” [Psalm 32:11].

 

Here’s a homework assignment.  Picture someone you’re close with, perhaps a good friend, family member, or spouse.  The very next time they disappoint you, I invite you to silently think, “Sinner.”  Now, don’t yell this or say it out loud because it could go very badly for all involved.  Just think it as a silent endearment, almost a prayer, “Sinner.”  The endearment begs its response…forgiveness.  It may take awhile for you to get there.  But in all that time that it takes you, God has already forgiven that person, and God has already forgiven you.

 

 

 

Matthew 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted  forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

 

Romans 5:12-19 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

 



[1] Nadia Bolz-Weber on Sarcastic Lutheran at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2012/02/why-i-love-ash-wednesday-and-lent-part-1-sin/

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

[3] Theological reflection on the cause of “The Fall” that breached God’s intention for the creature as imago dei is beyond the scope of this paper.  For in depth treatment of this topic, see preceding Bonhoeffer citation.

[4] Luke 23:39-43

[5] Craig R. Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 114.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Giles Fraser, “Secular Lent is a Pale Imitation of the Real Thing…I Want Nothing to Do With It.”  The Guardian on March 7, 2014.  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2014/mar/07/secular-lent-pale-imitation-real-thing?CMP=twt_gu

[8] Ibid.  Giles Fraser quoting: Marilynne Robison in The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (New York: Mariner Books, 1998), 156.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 Ash Wednesday Greeting Card [Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17]

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 Ash Wednesday Greeting Card [Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17]

March 5, 2014 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10  We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

 

Matthew writes, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[1]

In Joel, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing.”

The psalmist writes, “The sacrifice that is acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

For all this talk of hearts, Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent couldn’t be less sentimental. Imagine a greeting card:   “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, treasures consumed by moth and rust…”  It just doesn’t work.  Lent doesn’t translate into simple sentimentality.  Oh how glad I am that it doesn’t.   Because who among us hasn’t felt like the psalmist who offers God a broken spirit.  It’s something that we may not confess as readily as the psalmist but many of us have been there or are there right now.

Broken spirits come from being acted upon.  This is a tough one for a lot of us.  That we are in bondage to something, anything, can be insufferable – and in fact often is insufferable.  A spirit broken open is the opposite of self-control or self-determination; and it’s not the same thing as lack of self-esteem.

Some of us have brushed by a thin place that breaks our spirits open.  It can happen in a flash, and suddenly it seems as though everything around us has shifted just ever so slightly while the light in the room has changed.  Breaking open can happen in a living room when a dear friend blurts out they have cancer and it’s not treatable.  It can happen when a child becomes so beloved that the parent realizes they are watching a piece of their heart walk around on the outside of themselves.  It can happen looking up at the night sky, in the millisecond of awareness in which we feel our actual size.  There are a lot of us in the room right now and, for as many of us as are here, there are hundreds and thousands of ways that this looks in our lives.

These events and people and moments that break us open have a way of reminding us of our fragility.  Ash Wednesday is also such a moment.  As ashes are placed on our foreheads, we are acted upon once again and brush by the thin place.  It is not to dangle us over an abyss of perverse self-deprecation.  But rather to uncover that which is already made known in our lives – our inability to save ourselves from ourselves…and God’s ability to do so.

And it is God who is being made known.  Not in the abstract but in the particular person of Jesus.  This is what Paul is getting at in Second Corinthians when he writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Our spirits are broken open and are a mercy seat for Christ.

Paul helps us get at this as he writes, “…be reconciled to God.”   Another, less churchy, way to say this is, “Be forgiven.”  Paul is talking about Christ’s action that makes God’s presence real before any action on our part.  God is not irresistible.  We can certainly run away.  Being reconciled simply means that God is at your heels.  God is there because Christ has already done the work of reconciliation, of bringing us back into God.

Paul’s laundry list of activities, after his comment about reconciliation, isn’t what brings the reconciliation.  His and others actions simply come from life on the planet.  Life as it’s lived in paradox – amid seemingly opposite things that are true at the same time.  Paraphrasing Paul, we ARE living while we’re dying; we ARE rejoicing while sad.  This list of paradoxes reveals the gifts of the reconciliation that are made known to us in the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

The people of this congregation that interviewed me before I came here asked me a great question.  They asked me many but this is one stands out in my memory.  “What would you fight for?”  My answer?  “I would fight for the gospel.”   The message that God takes our broken spirits, all we actually have to offer God, and brings us back into God through Christ.

Ash Wednesday lays this good news bare.  Lent creates space and time for the magnitude of the gospel, the good news, to reflect off the darkness of the cross, off of the crucified One.  This is a paradox of faith.  Come with your broken spirit and be filled with hope.



[1] All Bible passages are from the New Revised Standard Version.

 

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21  “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.

12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?’ ”

Psalm 51:1-17 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. 5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. 6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. 17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

 

 

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.

 

Luke 2:1-20 “Christmas Hope: Personal, Authentic, and Messy”

Luke 2:1-20  “Christmas Hope: Personal, Authentic, and Messy”

December 24, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 2:1-20 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The music of Christmas is widely known.  A lot of people can hear a medley of carols and know several of them.  At the very least, they may know the Christmas carols enough to hum along in a store.  Or maybe know them well enough to belt out the familiar words in the car on a road trip.  Maybe they even fill in for words they don’t know, play catch up on rhythms, generally letting it all hang out.  People know this music enough to be comfortable with it, to play with it, to give voice to it.  This caroling is imperfect and joyous.  These imperfect carols somehow offer a balance to the technique of Auto-Tuning that perfects the singing we hear on the radio.  In contrast to Auto-Tune, these spontaneous carols that we sing are personal, authentic, and messy.

And these carols tell a story.  A story that gathers us together late on Christmas Eve night.  A story that had its first tellers long ago.  Tellers for whom the story is personal, authentic, and messy.

The shepherds in the field who heard the angels sing are shady characters.  They are nothing close to the tidy shepherds in the manger scenes that sit in our homes.  These shepherds in Luke aren’t dressed in wrinkle-free, tan burlap with white corded belts.  They are the dirty ones.  The closest we might come to these men in the 21st century would be to call to mind the people who camp under bridges and call it home.  Some of us want to claim a respect for these voices from the margin but most of us struggle to figure out how to actually do it.

These are the shepherds for whom the angels sing.  They are given first dibs on the story by the angel who tells them – “to you is born this day…a Savior…a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”[1]  They head out fast to go see this baby, this Savior.  After all, they clearly need one.  When they get to the manger, they talk about what’s been told to them.  Imagine for a moment the way they tell the story.  At best, they tell it in a way that’s personal, authentic, and messy; at best, they tell the story because it’s first and foremost for them.  The shepherds need a Savior; it’s obvious that they need one – a Savior definitely for them.

So, because the Savior is for them, the shepherds tell Mary and Joseph, and apparently anyone else who will listen, because, “…all who heard it were amazed.”[2]  What amazes them?  The story the shepherds tell?  That the shepherds are the ones telling it?  That a Savior is born?  That angels came, spoke, AND sang?  It’s pretty much all amazing.  The amazing part to me is that Mary heard the shepherds out.  The scripture makes a distinction here in verse 19: “All who heard it were amazed but Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”[3]  She’s just had a baby in a barn, laid the baby in a manger that by day functions as a feeding trough, and she’s treasuring the words of these wild, shady shepherds in her heart.  Who does that?!  For Mary, this story delivered by the shepherds somehow delivered a message that made sense.  At best, perhaps because she heard it in a way that’s personal, authentic, and messy; at best, because…just maybe…it’s first and foremost for her too.  Perhaps Mary needs a Savior, a Savior definitely for her.

Time and again in the Bible, we are given story after story about deeply flawed people, authentic and messy people – people who are regularly either hurting other people or hurting themselves.  But it doesn’t take a 2,000 year old look back in time to see this play out.  Just look, peek around at each other in the pews, or in the shops at the mall, or in your kids’ sports teams, or in the dysfunction in your own families.  In all of these situations it is easy to see deeply flawed people, authentic and messy people – people who are regularly either hurting each other or hurting themselves.   Similarly to the travelers in the car who sing carols off-key and off-rhythm, so is…well…pretty much everyone who sings without the doctoring of Auto-Tune…which pretty much means you too.

Our lives reveal a truth that we don’t often share with ourselves and try to avoid sharing with anyone else.  Here’s the truth…we aren’t living lives that are 100% patient, loving and grace-giving 100% of the time.  We don’t even have to open a newspaper to see this mess play out.  We see it at work, at home, at church, on the road…you get the picture.  Despite our best intentions to “do better next time,” despite the reassurances that we give ourselves about being “good people,” the truth remains: anywhere people show up, so too does the mess.

It is into this very mess, where we spend time hurting each other and hurting ourselves, that God shows up.  God shows up, of all places, in a manger.  A manger that has a splinter here and a cracked peg there – a manger that is personal, authentic, and messy, a manger that cradles and reveals God showing up in Christ the Savior.  The manger reveals the Savior who came under a star in skin and solidarity, into a fragile humanity, to show up in the flawed, personal mess that is our lives.  No longer is it self-help, it is God-help; because if history is any indication, we are unable to save ourselves from each other or for that matter, save ourselves even from ourselves.

On the First Christmas, God showed up as a baby bringing hope.  “…hope [that] rests not in what we have done, nor can do, but in all that God is,” has done and is doing.[4]  And we cling to the promise of Christ’s hope – the hope of all that God is yesterday in a living baby, today in a living Christ and tomorrow in an eternal God – the eternal God who turns a cross into resurrection and a baby in a manger into salvation for the world.

God shows up and says, “Not so fast…I’ve been there too …I who came in the form of a baby, who lived and walked the earth, who was put to death and who conquered death in rising again…I am God and I have the last word.” This last word of God is grace.  Grace brought by the Savior who draws us back into God.  And out of this grace, this new found tie back into God, emerges a sustainable hope – a hope that is personal, authentic, and messy as we live into it and talk about it in real time in our real lives.

This is the hope first shared with the shepherds, and now shared among us, as the angel says, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior…”  So, good news…for All…  This means that this Savior is for the people around you and this Savior is for you.   Merry Christmas!


[1] Luke 2:11-12

[2] Luke 2:18

[3] Luke 2:19

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

Luke 16:1-13 “Seriously? Be Like That Guy?!”

Luke 16:1-13    “Seriously? Be Like That Guy?!”

September 22, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?’ He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

Here’s a conversation that came up in our house:

Kid: Mom, how much money do you make?

Me: That’s not really something I want to share with you.

Kid:  Why?

Me:  Well, you don’t have a frame of reference for what that means, where it all goes.

Kid:  Well, do you and Dad make more than six figures combined?

Me:  Again, this is not something I’m comfortable sharing with you right now.

Kid:  Why? How do you expect me to learn about real life when you won’t talk about it?

 

My daughter has a way of cutting to the chase.  She can see through our conversations to the problem.  Not always but certainly more often than is fun for me.

 

Here’s the conversation as I hear it in Luke:

Rich Man:  I just heard that my property manager is doing a terrible job.  If it’s true, he’s so fired.

Manager (to himself):  I can’t dig or beg…I have to figure this out!  I know, I’ll cancel some debts for people who owe my master so they’ll treat me well later.

 

So the manager goes and does just that – cutting one debt by 50% and another debt by 20%.  Here comes the mind-bender…the master praises the shrewd, dishonest manager and Jesus is telling his disciples they should be more like that guy.

What can be made of Jesus’ directive?  Just for fun, next time you have a few minutes, web search this passage in Luke and see what comes up.  There are all kinds of interpretations of this text that leave the reader wondering why it’s sitting in scripture and maybe even wishing some sly scribe would have edited it out centuries ago.

In the midst of those feelings, here’s why I’m grateful for this parable.  No matter how you look at it, the manager seems to have one thing right.  He understands that money, and how it is used, is ultimately relational.  The way money is gained and how it is spent affects life for people and between people.   We know who treated last for lunch and we know the neighborhood we live in compared with other neighborhoods.  We notice all kinds of things that define our relationships in terms of money.   This is all publicly traded information based on all kinds of assumptions.  We can see it.  It is visible.  And yet, we make the quick almost automatic move to stop conversations about money because money is personal.

A piece of the good news in this text is that money is put into the public conversation of the church by Jesus.  This means that we, as people of faith, can talk about the nuances of money and how we put it to use in our lives.  This is a lesson for the disciples that they may not have understood as a possibility because money can be seen as everything but a spiritual concern.  Just as some of us can be inclined to see the body as not as spiritual as the mind, others of us can be inclined to see money as not spiritual, period.

We think of money as having no spiritual value for a couple of reasons.  In part, it’s because of Bible stories like this one.  In stories like these we are warned about serving God versus serving money.  They set us up for a mental dance around the subject and we want to separate ourselves as fast and as far as possible away from the idolatry of money.  The separation of church and state does a number on our thinking as well.  And religious hucksterism in churches through the centuries seems to ice the cake of all the excuses and makes us twitchy when money comes up in the church.

But we are not above the fray because money is spiritually suspect and we are somehow spiritually superior because of faith.  Rather, we are in the fray with money and each other because we are people on the planet affected by money and each other.  The shrewd manager knows this and so does Jesus.  It is not money that is suspect.  It is us.  Our use of money, our assumptions about money, and our desire not to let any critique of our use or assumptions about it are all suspect.

One of the reasons I love the confession and forgiveness at the beginning of the worship service is because it shows me my limits as a person – as much as I might want to imagine it otherwise or behave otherwise in the day-to-day.  At the same time, I love the paradox that is set up in the confession and forgiveness as I’m reminded that I’m in the hands of a limitless God.  The paradox is this:  When I feel limitless, God reminds me of my limits; when I set up a false limit, God says look in the other direction and reminds me of my freedom.

In the parable today, Jesus challenges the disciples, and their assumptions about money, by telling them that the dishonest manager has something to teach them.  We are just as dumbfounded as they are in the face of this challenge – caught by the sin that affects our relationship with money and each other.

Here’s the good news.  As church, Jesus frees us into honesty about being saints and sinners at the same time.  This is one of the gifts of the cross to the whole church.  This means that our lives of faith are our whole lives…our 24/7 lives.  As such, we are free to think and talk about our 24/7 lives in church.  This includes talking about money – the way we gain, lose it, and spend it – and the way all that gaining, losing, and spending affects our own lives and each others lives.  Thanks be to God!