Tag Archives: Jesus

Matthew 11:2-11 Careful, You’re Wishing Your Life Away

Matthew 11:2-11  Careful, You’re Wishing Your Life Away

December 15, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Matthew 11:2-6  When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

 

 

My stepfather was always good for a pithy word of wisdom.  Responding to my teenage panic when I forgot to tip the waitress my first time into a restaurant on my own, Pops said, “You don’t get rich by tipping cheap.”  Or time and again when I was just about jumping out of my skin about something exciting on the calendar and would say things like, “I wish it were Saturday already,” Pops would say, “Careful, you’re wishing your life away.”  It’s that one especially that still catches me.  The whole thing about staying in the day, knowing full well there is something amazing ahead on the calendar.  “Careful, you’re wishing your life away.”

Christmas can be like that kind of waiting.  When you’re four, waiting to open that enormous box under the tree can feel like a lifetime.  When you’re fourteen, waiting to open what looks like it could be the new PlayStation4.  When you’re twenty-four, waiting to hear back about that job interview or whether you’ve been accepted to that graduate program.  When you’re sixty-four, waiting for your daughter’s flight to land or for the grandkids to show up for Christmas dinner.  When you’re ninety-four, waiting to be picked up for that dinner that includes four or five generations under one roof.  The things we wait for change but there is always waiting.

Some of us are better at waiting than others.  But, for most people, waiting often inspires curiosity.  What will whatever we’re waiting for actually be like?  John the Baptist’s question comes out of this kind of curiosity.  John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  And, typical of Jesus, he doesn’t actually answer the question.  He tells them to report back to John what they hear and see.  Although it’s funny that he tells them to report their observations and then he tells them what to say.  Regardless, Jesus responds to John’s question without really answering it.  Leaving John to wonder about the information he receives in light of the question he asked, “Is Jesus the Messiah?”

It’s a great question.  Many people at that time were awaiting the Messiah.  At the turn of the first century there were many people claiming to be the Messiah.  It was a confusing time, differently so than today.  Today, I don’t hear a lot of people wondering about Messiahs.  But I do hear people waiting.  People are looking and waiting for leaders to emerge as is evident in the Presidential elections.  People are looking and waiting for wins as the Broncos sew-up their regular season play and head toward the play-offs.  People are looking and waiting for a lot of things, good things, fine things, even fun things.  But are they looking and waiting for a Messiah?  A Savior?  The evidence would suggest not.

So the move we make in Advent as a church is a big one.  The move into preparation and waiting is not only to celebrate a birthday from long ago.  The people who are the church look toward a future with hope because there is a Messiah.  This promise is massively and widely counter-cultural.  This promise involves some Advent waiting.

Waiting in which some of us in the pews wonder if any of this even makes a difference?  Or wondering if Jesus is who he says he is?  Or who any faithful saint says Jesus is?  However, waiting is not a vacuum.  Waiting is time we don’t wish away.  Revealed in the waiting is need.  This may be some of what Jesus is getting at in his answer to John’s disciples.  There is real need that needs real solutions.  Jesus names hunger, illness, death, and poverty.  We can add to this list quickly by naming violence against family, friend, and neighbor that comes in many forms – gossip, slander, physical abuse, murder.

I would also add to the list the way we are prone to elevate and highlight certain kinds of dramatic violence as grief-worthy while relegating the daily violence that is happening in some people’s lives and communities to normalcy.  Our rapt attention to the spikes of violence deemed newsworthy and our failure to engage in the problem of daily violence that we’ve deemed normal violates our common humanity.  Deeming certain kinds of violence as normal adds, not insult to injury, but injury to injury.  In this way, we are not innocent bystanders.

The problems that Jesus names and the problems we add to the list are relational.  In the relational language of scripture we call each other neighbors; in the language of humanity we simply call each other people.  As people we are capable of fatally wounding each other in mind, body, and spirit…as people, the stark reality of our willingness to hurt each other, and our ignorance in even seeing that we hurt each other, makes obvious that we deeply need a Savior – a Savior who illuminates these stark realities and frees us into them to help our neighbor as well as being helped by them.  Some of us are made ready to do the hard work necessary to meet real needs and some of us are in the sometimes more difficult reality of asking for and receiving help when we have need.  Whichever end of the giving and receiving you find yourself, there is more to consider in this text.  This isn’t simply about helping each other and our neighbor out in the name of Jesus.

This is about being saved by the Messiah who reveals our need by calling us out on the way we damage each other and ourselves.  We, who are saint and sinner at the same time, are drawn to faith by the One who forgives us for the hurt we dole out and stands with us while we take on the consequences.  It is this one, this Messiah, who the kids in Simply Christmas point us toward this morning even as we still wonder if we’re really in need.  Only to hear that, yes, we are in need and cannot save ourselves.  But the one who is, who was, and who is to come, is the Savior.  A Savior worth the wait – a Savior for all of us, a Savior for you.

 

 

Matthew 24:36-44 A Future With Hope [or Enough With the Rapture Already]

Matthew 24:36-44 A Future With Hope [or Enough With the Rapture Already]

December 1, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

 

For one long summer, I was a day-camp counselor.  Not the super-fun-guitar-strumming kind – just kick that little bit of counselor stereotype right on outta here.  Oh no, I was the 17-year-old-in-charge-of-a-large-group-of-5-year-old-girls kind of counselor.  I was more the protector-against-mortal-peril kind of counselor – think mother hen.  Our location was cool but slightly tricky for herding 12 little girls.  It was a dried out river arroyo near Pasadena, California.  Water hadn’t run through it in eons and it was full of scrub oak and draught-resistant trees and the constant threat of poison oak.  We built a group fort and created a group flag which means that there was fort raiding and flag stealing going on.  It was utter triumph to show up at the end of the day flag ceremony with another group’s flag – a sign of a successful raid.

Victory and shame were the two-sides of that stolen flag event.  The ultimate in victory was to show up at the flag ceremony with another groups’ kid – but for the counselor with the missing kid, it was the ultimate shame.  Any of you want to guess who one of those shamed camp counselors was at the end of the day?  Yup, yours truly.  Oh, the ultimate shame…knowing your kid was taken and knowing the return would be anything but a triumph.  After all, even in this fairly innocent form, being taken was not a good thing…

Being taken is rarely a good thing.  In fact, our gospel writer seems to have a strong bias against being taken, a problem so big that no one would ever knowingly opt into it.  Revisiting the flood story reveals this negative bias.  The people swept away in the flood story, the ones not on the ark, were leading their normal lives until they suddenly were not.  Through the story of those lost in the flood, the gospel writer is setting up the negative lens of being taken.

The negative lens of being taken is the set up to read the next verses.  There are two workers in the field, one taken the other not; and the two women grinding meal together, one taken and one left.  Through the lens of the flood story, being taken out of the field or away from the grinding are big problems in this text.  And of course that’s problematic!  Who would want to be living life in one moment and only to be taken out of it the next?!

In the context of the gospel of Matthew, being taken is a bad deal.  At the time of its writing, chaos was in full force.  The Roman occupation left the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem destroyed, there were wars and rumors of wars, and many people were suddenly being taken away, kidnapped either to be killed or enslaved.[1]  In this text being taken is a bad deal.  For people curious about or hurt by rapture theology, this begs a critical question? [2] If being taken is a bad deal, might the gospel be suggesting that being left behind is the better deal?

For some of us long told otherwise about being left behind, just asking this question of scripture can be good news indeed.  And, for some of us, it may be the only good news needed today.  However, in the interest of full disclosure on the Bible text today, there’s more…you just have to wait for it – which is appropriate because Advent is a time of waiting.

As Advent begins, the first Sunday is filled with the image of actively waiting and keeping watch.  This scripture argues for watchfulness in the midst of life being lived.  Notice that the list of activities of those washed away in the flood were simply normal activities, not tied to judgment – “they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”  The workers in the field and the women grinding meal are doing the work of daily living.  So, by their example, we are also encouraged to be living and working and taking care of the things of daily life even, and maybe especially, in the midst of the chaos of the times.

This is part of the reassurance of this text.  There is a lot that cannot be controlled.  But there is still life to live.  And into the chaos, the wars, the kidnappings, and just as equally into the work, the life, the events of the day, comes the Son of Man.  The Son of Man is also called “the Son” as well as “Lord” in these verses.  All of these labels mean Jesus.  Jesus is the Son; Jesus is Lord; and Jesus is the Son of Man.  It’s important to spell this out because there seems to be a temptation to disconnect the Son of Man in this passage in Matthew from the Jesus revealed in the gospels as a whole.  As if somehow Jesus lived, loved, healed, and died, and then resurrected in a seriously bad mood ready to wield some divine wrath upon a fallen humanity.

It is not so difficult to fathom how idea of the Son of Man became disconnected from the Jesus who died on the cross.  It is the same disconnect made by the criminal on the cross from our gospel reading last week, hanging next to Jesus who was also on a cross and challenging him to save them both if he was the actually Messiah.  Regardless, the one who hung on the cross is also called the Son of Man.  And this is a word of comfort and hope to Jesus followers during the confusing times of the first century and the equally if not more confusing times of the 21st century.

Because, as Pastor Pederson reminded us yesterday at Nina Forgo’s memorial service, Christian people model life not on one particular morality or philosophy or piety.  In relation to this text today, I would add that Christian people do not model life on panic or fear either.

Rather, Christian people’s lives hinge on promise, God’s promise.

God’s promise that insists there is more to the human story and God’s own story than that which has been experienced already.

God’s promise that the Son of Man, for whom we wait and stay watchful this Advent, is the Christ who walked the earth as healer of those in need and died on a cross for all.[3]

God’s promise that draws us into the fullness of the future, a future with hope.[4]



[1] Barbara R. Rossing.  The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 178-181.

[2] Ibid.  Rapture theology is a 19th century construct.

[3] Arland Hultgren.  Commentary on Matthew 24:36-44 on WorkingPreacher.com. [http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1912

[4] Jeremiah 29:11 – For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

Luke 17:5-10 What Faith is Not [or Holding God to God’s Promises]

Luke 17:5-10 What Faith Is Not [or Holding God to God’s Promises]

October 6, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 17:5-10  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”   The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

 

Some of us make this faith thing really hard.  And pretty much by “some of us”, I mean at least me and maybe some of you too.  Those of us who make faith hard complicate it with a lot of stuff that makes no sense in the conversation about faith.  Take the disciples in our story who demand that Jesus increase their faith.  What does that even mean?!  “Increase our faith!”  It’s kind of a desperate request, isn’t it?  It sounds like they think they don’t have enough for what this life has in store.

Jesus’ answer is great.  He basically tells them that they have enough.  After all, who actually needs to make a mulberry bush jump in the ocean?   (I imagine him telling them this while secretly wishing he could send them into the sea along with the mulberry bush.)

After Jesus tells them that they have enough faith, he launches into the slavery comparison to tell them that they have all the faith they need to simply show up and do what needs to be done.[1]  A lot of us are just trying to make it through the day.   Our lives move along in ordinary ways – work and play, highs and lows, are all the stuff of our mostly ordinary lives.  And we are given enough faith to make it through the days.

Which begs the question of what is expected of faith?  The disciples are worried because Jesus has been talking about things like forgiveness, giving money to the poor, and picking up crosses and following him.  This is a big to-do list that seems to require some big help to get through.  It’s no wonder the disciples were asking for an extra sprinkle or two of faith.  How could they possibly have enough to get it all done?  And if they think they don’t have enough faith with Jesus right in front of them, how could we?

One of the wrinkles in this text is that faith doesn’t seem to be a measurable thing.  And yet we tend to think that faith equals agreement to each point on a checklist about God.  Like if we intellectually agree 100% with each statement of the Apostle’s Creed then we have a lot.  As if faith can be boiled down to some kind of mathematical proof that has form and measure and only then we can trust in it.  The problem comes when we try to explain how this all adds up to enough faith in the right things.  The problem comes when we think we can measure it at all.

Last week I had a chance to hang out with the 9th graders who are participating in the ritual of Confirmation in a few weeks.  I asked them to explain the scientific method to me.  They did this as easy as 1-2-3.  First you make a hypothesis about something being true, then you set out to collect the data to prove your hypothesis, and you make a conclusion that proves or disproves the truth of your hypothesis.  I then told them that we are not teaching them to argue the faith by way of the scientific method.  We are not making statements about Jesus and proving them.  Rather, the ritual of Confirmation is yet one more point in the baptized life where we are able to pause and take stock of what faith means in our everyday lives.  This is the place where our brains show up.  After all, we don’t leave our minds at the church door.  Plenty of brilliant scientists and gifted minds spend their lifetimes figuring out how to talk about the faith, the meaning and the mystery of it, in their own lives.

Like Timothy, in the second reading, whose faith moves through his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice to him, the Christian faith lives, in part, through what our ancestors of the faith have been moved to confess about God.  It is a confessing faith that is both in tension with the ordinary things of our ordinary days and woven through them.  Like Paul writing to Timothy, faith rests in trusting God to be God “in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”[2]  This confession of faith allows us to hold God accountable to God’s promises made in baptism.

God’s promises in baptism are this…[3]

God promises in baptism to be in relationship with you.  God’s presence is true even, and maybe especially, if you don’t think it is or feel like it is.  And because God is the God of today, tomorrow, and forever, these promises are eternal.  And so, trusting God to keep God’s promises, we confess the life everlasting.

God promises in baptism to always be reconciled with you, always open to your return to God.  And so, trusting God to keep God’s promises, we confess the forgiveness of sins.

God promises in baptism to draw you into a deeper relationship with God, into discipleship.  And so, trusting God to keep God’s promises, we confess the holy catholic church and the communion of saints – the community of people in which our lives as disciples are nurtured.

 

The disciples have one thing right.  Faith does come from Jesus.  This is a faith that rests on the promises of God made to us in our baptism; a faith that moves within our lives no matter what the outcome or how we think it gets measured.

May Christ Jesus gift you faith for today, tomorrow, and all of your days.  Amen.

 



[1] David Lose in “Dear Working Preacher…” on WorkingPreacher.com for Sunday, October 6, 2013. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2773

[2] 2 Timothy 1:12-13.

[3] John Pederson, personal conversation about the promises of baptism.

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!

 

 

Luke 14:1, 7-14 “Jesus Stole the Table”

Luke 14:1, 7-14  “Jesus Stole the Table”

September 1, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 14:1, 7-14  On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

 

 

Picture this with me…you’re in a school cafeteria… … …do you have that picture?  Picture the other kids.  Who are they?  Where are they sitting?  More importantly, where are you going to sit?  You have your tray or your brown bag or your lunchbox and you’re standing there, trying to act chill but you’re not feeling chill at all.  Picture it…where are you going to sit?  You see a few open seats at one table but you’re not friends with them.  You see another seat but the person sitting next to it kind of scares you or intimidates you.  You see another open seat next to a kid you talk to sometimes in History class.  You’ve been standing awhile now and so you bee-line over to that seat, plunk down and start eating.

Now you know and I know that finding a seat in a busy cafeteria full of other kids is tricky.  It’s about who you know, who you don’t know, who you don’t want others to know that you know…it’s tricky.  It’s also about strategy.  If you’re headed toward more popularity, you sit in those seats.  Less popular, sit in those.  See?  Still tricky.

Let’s make it trickier.  I was talking with some kids recently who were talking about teenage jobs and which ones were cool and which ones weren’t.  When I asked how this all gets figured out and why even talk about it, one of them said to me, “Well, grown-ups are the same way about jobs.”  This led me to thinking about jobs, meetings and this TED video I watched recently about who gets a place at the table, literally, when important decisions are being made.[1]  Are you starting to get an idea about how my brain works?

Anyway, one would think that the metaphor of the table and the actual table itself would be completely cleared of all helpful meaning but evidently we’re not tired of talking about it or sitting around it. This table thing is here, there, and everywhere.  21st century?  1st century?  Doesn’t matter.  People love to talk about the table and, more specifically, who gets to sit where.

Dinner at a leader of the Pharisee’s home sounds much like the tables in the school cafeteria.   The seating ranges from not-so-good (read: humble), good, better, and the best.  Jesus sees the situation for what it is and begins to talk about it almost as if to say that to find the best seat, look for the least appealing seat and sit there.  Which of course, when you’re involved in seat-shifting shenanigans only serves to flip them in the opposite direction, creating a whole other kind of seating hierarchy but a hierarchy nonetheless.  So the labor for a good seat continues, only now the question becomes one of identifying as the most humble among us all which, ironically, is just the other side of the pride coin.  There is nowhere to sit and nowhere to hide.  So what in heaven’s name did Jesus just do?

Well, on this Labor Day weekend, I’d like to suggest that Jesus just ran away with the table, the seats, and our labor to make sense of ourselves in the way we stack up over and against, or under and against other people. This is Jesus as his prankster finest.  Ashton Kutcher’s efforts pale in comparison to what Jesus has up his sleeve.[2]

My own life as a prankster was cut short in kindergarten.  I thought it would be really funny to pull the chair out from under someone as they were sitting down and it was straight to the principal’s office for me.  A failed attempt at replicating the old pepper-in-the-face gag to make my little sister sneeze ended even more miserably – for her and for me when my mother caught wind of it. Still today, my discomfort with pranks is so high that I’m often moving fast away from the one organizing the prank.  What I’m trying to say, albeit not very well, is that it sometimes takes a prankster to spot one.

And in this story, I spot Jesus pulling a prank as he gives us nowhere to sit at the table without consciously thinking, “Is this humble enough?  How about this?  Or this, is this humble enough?”  And as we stand there wondering where to sit, we catch sight of ourselves in the mirror hanging on the wall… …  Caught again…

Caught again in our own labor to create meaning by stacking ourselves over and against our fellow humans in whatever way our seat assignment at the table defines our rank and defines our selves.   Without the table there, we see ourselves and each other in this mirror.  If we’re not really careful, this exposure to our own shenanigans and each other’s shenanigans can lead us to an easy cynicism about other people’s motives.  Seeing them clearly, so trusting no one.

All we had to do to see this cynicism in action this week was open a newspaper, news website or your favorite blog to check out the latest on Miley Cyrus.  Everyone’s taking sides, mostly in critique of her although there are a few writers who come to the table dance with a bit of compassion.

However the conversations go, the table, the chairs and the seating chart are in place and we think we see the shenanigans fully revealed.  If there’s anything to be learned after the week’s news about Syria was overshadowed by the week’s news about Cyrus, it’s that the move to easy cynicism has become a chair in which many find themselves seated.

But the prank that Jesus pulls by removing the table isn’t his final move.  It’s not simply about mischief making that exposes our humanity.   It is about God entering humanity in Jesus and replacing the tables of our own making with one of his own.  Replacing the table through that same humanity. [3]

It is this table, brought to us by Jesus’ decent into death from the cross, which levels the seating.  We tend to picture the mighty falling and being replaced with the humble at the seat of honor, which would be the way we might see if it were our table.  But this table exalts the humble even as the lofty are humbled so that no one can claim to be above the line or push anyone else below it.  This is the table from which we can see the cafeteria game for what it is.  It is also the table the beloved Reverend King marched from with a multi-ethnic, multi-religious band of people to declare our common humanity.  Some table!

Jesus shakes up the way we labor over our seating and gives us each a place so that we all may come to his table at communion and hear that Jesus is “for you.”  Jesus replaces the tables of our own making – seating shenanigans and all – with one of his own and says, “All are welcome…including you.”

 



[1] Sheryl Sandberg, TED Talk: “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.” December 2010. http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

[2] Ashton Kutcher, Punk’d on MTV.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punk’d

[3] For those of your reading this, I move from the preaching spot to stand at the communion table.

Luke 11:1-13 “…and yet, I pray”

Luke 11:1-13 “…and Yet, I Pray”

July 28, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 11:1-13 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

 

As an adult, I spent a several years outside the church before being captured by grace through the Lutheran tradition.  There’s a lot I can say about that time but one of the most curious things to me is that I continued to pray.  Specifically, this means that I said a lot of quick things to God – flash prayers if you will.  Things like, “Please!” and “Seriously?!”  Occasionally these prayers were simply crying or sometimes I would laugh at God ala the likes of Sarah in the book of Genesis.[1]  I find this all very curious because, at the time, I wasn’t even sure who God was.  But how I prayed, and what I prayed, spoke volumes.  How we pray gives us a lot of information about who we think God is and how we think God moves in the world.  Maybe even more curiously, how we pray and whether we pray gives us a lot of information about how we see ourselves in relationship with God.

Theologians and church-types love to talk about what happens when we pray.  Dissecting it into parts and giving us theories on how prayer works and how it doesn’t work and how God works in the midst of prayer.  Out of all of those theories, some which come from tangling with our text in Luke today, I haven’t found one that is intellectually satisfying.  I have prayed desperate prayers and silly prayers and everything in between to all kinds of outcomes.  So the outcome of prayer is simply a mystery to me.   The mystery of prayer is especially true when my or someone else’s world is torn apart by loss.  And yet…and yet…I pray.  I continue to pray desperate prayers and silly prayers and everything in between.

My prayers have been added to in both content and form from the flash prayers – although I still use those too.  But much more importantly, I simply became comfortable praying.  So much so that now guess what happens at the start of a church meeting or meal…yup, you guessed it – “Pastor, will you pray for us?”

What happens at a church meeting or meal or gathering when the pastor says, “Would anyone like to pray for us?”  … … … … …  Exactly!  Crickets.  Because of this response, I hear the disciples’ demanding, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and Jesus’ answer to them, as good news.  They demand to be taught and he teaches them.  Notice that when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray he doesn’t launch into a three-point didactic instruction with power-point.  He doesn’t say things like, “Well, first you have to have a good theological understanding of the intersection between God and faith and the world.  None of that!  He simply prays.  What might this mean?  Perhaps that prayer can be learned.  Not as technical proficiency but, much more importantly, disciples can simply become comfortable praying through the practice of prayer.  So when someone says that they can’t pray there is a possibility that it could feel differently for them.   I have a good friend who said to me a long time ago that praying out loud is like chewing rocks. Now my friend is a lay assisting minister in her congregation and is praying the Prayers of Intercession…out loud!

The prayer that Jesus teaches the disciples is the prayer we pray together as “The Lord’s Prayer” during worship.  It is a corporate prayer; meaning that all of us, the whole body of Christ, pray this prayer together and on each other’s behalf.  Some of us widen the net a bit with this prayer and pray it in the morning before we get out of bed or on airplanes when the weather is bad.  This is a go-to prayer.  This is a prayer that has served the faithful for over 2,000 years and will continue to serve the faithful long after we’re gone.  We pray this prayer with our ancestors and with those yet to come.  This is THE most persistent prayer of the body of Christ.

During worship we also pray with the worship leader who prepares and prays the Prayers of Intercession when we “pray for the church, those in need, and all of God’s creation.”  This is a prayer for yesterday, today, and tomorrow – the concerns of now, this week.  The person who leads us in this prayer names names and gives voice to individual and community worries, wonderings, events, gratitude, praise, and so much more.  Week after week, like Abraham, we approach God in humble determination with petitions of prayer, holding God accountable to be God.[2]  Our prayers offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ just as we’re encouraged to do by Augustana’s mission statement.[3]

The point is that we already are praying and we pray well together.  So I’ve been wondering what it could look like if we, as the body of Christ, turned toward each other and continued praying on the foundation of our Sunday prayers and beyond.  In essence, turning toward Jesus and saying, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  And rather than a prayer tutorial, we simply begin praying more.  We practice.  I’m so curious about what this could look like that I’ve invited a team of Augustana people to wonder about this with me as part of something called Augustana Praying Project; so named because we are actively praying as well as working on different ways to pray – some that will work in our lives together and some that won’t.  Augustana Praying Project will take shape over time and change shape over time responding to the different needs people have and the different ways people pray.

I also wonder how much our practice of prayer, as David Lose suggests, “attunes ourselves to God and to our shared life.”[4]  In all that we bring to God in prayer, we are essentially putting our lives through the filter of faith.  Prayer as a connecting point between our lives of faith and our daily life gives us language for both.  So, at the very least, perhaps prayer creates fluid connections between the faith we claim as Christian people on Sundays and our lives as Christian people throughout the week.[5]

The disciples demand, “Lord, teach us to pray…”  When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, his prayer attunes them with God our Father and with each other and “our” needs.  Prayer, as Jesus instructs it, is highly relational even as it’s spoken by a single person.  We are set free into this prayer as our Lord Jesus teaches us to pray by praying.  We are also set free to pray our daily concerns so that our prayer reflects this life we live connected with this God in whom we have our being.

Thanks be to God!



[1] Genesis 18:1-15 – Hebrew Bible lectionary reading for July 21, 2013.

[2] Genesis 18:20-32 – Hebrew Bible lectionary reading for today, July 28, 2013.

[3] Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO.  Mission Statement: Guided by the Holy Spirit we gather in Christian community, reach out and invite, offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ, and walk humbly with God.

[4] David Lose.  “What is Prayer?” Blog: …In the Meantime, February 2013.

Find full post at:http://www.davidlose.net/2013/02/what-is-prayer/

[5] Ibid.

Luke 10:38-42 “Taste of Forever”

Luke 10:38-42 “Taste of Forever”

July 19, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

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

SIT AT YOUR FEET – Oil on Board

Bryn Gillette (artbybryn.com)

Used with permission.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!

Luke 10:25-37 “Enemy-Neighbors Who Save [aka The Good Samaritan]”

Luke 10:25-37 – “Enemy-Neighbors Who Save Us [aka The Good Samaritan]”

July 14, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver CO

 

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

It was Christmas Eve 2002 and my Pops, my step-dad who raised me, had entered his final days of life out in Palm Springs, California.  We lived here – Quinn was five years old and Taryn was three.  My in-laws were coming in for the holiday.  It was a perfect storm of events that immobilized me.  I stayed in touch by phone.  Pops rallied on Christmas morning but by Christmas night was no longer responding.  His fast decline shook me loose from my indecision and I flew out early as early as I could on the 26th to join my mom and a mix of my siblings and step-siblings.

The number of people in the house and the emotions of grief created their own kind of chaos.  Pops died just two days later.  Rob and I decided that I would stay put in Palm Springs with my mom through the funeral scheduled for a week later.  Somewhere in those next days, a friend from church called me.  I was on the phone in my parents’ kitchen.  She told me that she had rallied some meals and also a child-care schedule so that my husband could continue to work.  Her carefully constructed plan knocked me over, almost literally, as I sat down on the kitchen step-stool in a bit of shock that she had figured it all out.  She didn’t ask, she just did the kinds of things a really good friend does when trouble stirs itself into the mix.

Jesus asks the lawyer, ““Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  To which the lawyer responds, “The one who showed him mercy.”   This is a bit of a twist to the way many of us hear the story.  After all, the lawyer was the one who asked, “Who is my neighbor?”  To which Jesus responds by telling the story of the Samaritan.  Interestingly enough, the Samaritan ends up the one with the label of neighbor.

Samaritans are the villains in the story.  Samaritans were Jewish people long ago who intermarried with people who were not Jewish and therefore ritually “unclean”.  A few weeks ago, just two stories before our story today in the book of Luke, we found the disciples asking to rain fire down on the Samaritan village that did not receive Jesus – certainly not a neighborly reaction to the people of the town.  The shock of the first century Jewish listener to Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan would have been enormous.  Because, unlike my friend who helped me and my family around Pops’ death, the Samaritan felt compassion for the man left half-dead by the side of the road – a man likely to have been his enemy on any other regular, not half-dead, day.

Who is that guy in the ditch?  We know that he was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho.  And we know that he is in no position to help himself after being beaten half-dead by the robbers.   Indeed, he is completely at the mercy of everyone else passing by him on the road.  We can infer from the story that he was likely Jewish given how shocked we are supposed to be about the priest and the Levite not helping him.  Whoever he is, we can be clear that he is someone in need of help and no one on the road is willing to help him until the Samaritan walks by.

So here’s a kicker of a question.  Does part of loving your neighbor as yourself mean that you let someone be a neighbor to you?  Might there be something to learn about loving yourself in letting your neighbor help you?  To take it a step further, might the person you would least like help from be the very one who can show you how to love yourself?  We tend to think of this in the opposite direction – that I am being a good neighbor when I take care of someone that I don’t really like or don’t approve of.  If it was that hard for me to let my friend help me, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to receive help from someone that I don’t like.

The help my unlikeable neighbor gives me can indeed be of the wound-tending kind.  But the help can also come in other ways.  It can take the form of a mirror being held up to me that confronts my privilege and my prejudice – two things that turn my neighbor into my enemy by my own slight-of-hand.  The George Zimmerman trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin is one obvious mirror.  A tense stand-off between neighbors leaves one young man all the way dead and another young man accused of murder.  The death and the killing and the color of these young men hold a mirror up to an entire country of people and have us asking some very difficult questions about race, privilege and prejudice – difficult, painful but important questions that expose important truths that, in the end, can also save lives.

The guy in the ditch needs some pretty serious saving of, at the very least, the wound-tending kind.  He is half-dead and likely headed toward mostly dead unless there is a dramatic turn-around.  The Samaritan gives him that chance.

When I read this story this past week, one of my first thoughts is that we are the half-dead guy in the ditch and Jesus is the Samaritan.  I love a good allegory that stacks up tidily.  After all, we cannot save ourselves much like the guy in the ditch can’t save himself.  And placing Jesus in the position of the one who saves doesn’t really get much more theologically clean….except that it isn’t that tidy or clean – either as an allegory or a theological truth.  In this reading, we lay in the dirt on the side of the road and our enemy, the One from whom we are naturally inclined to turn away, walks over to save us – saving us by bringing us into relationship with the eternal God today, here, now.  He walks over to save us because we cannot in any literal, figurative, allegorical way, save ourselves.  He walks over to save us out of compassion for us.

There are two other places in Luke where the Greek word for “pity”, sometimes translated “compassion”, in our story shows up.  It is used to describe Jesus’ reaction to a grieving mother and then also used to describe the emotions of the Prodigal Father when his son returns home from self-imposed exile.[1]  This divine compassion is boundless, healing and unfathomable in scope.  Being moved towards others, towards our neighbors as neighbors ourselves, by the compassion of Jesus has roots in Jesus’ compassion for us.  Because Jesus Christ is the one who saves, his boundless compassion is gifted to us in our baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit.  And once we are unbound through divine neighborly compassion there is no telling which self-imposed, enemy-limited boundaries might come tumbling down next…and who might get to live because of it…

Thanks be to God!

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 “What if the Means ARE the End?!”

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 – “What if the means ARE the end?”

July 7, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

 

I am immediately curious when a story begins with, “After this…”  My first question is often, “After what?”  So I want to back up.  Not too far; simply to a story that is told right before our story this morning.  In that story from Luke, chapter 9, Jesus had just “set his face toward Jerusalem” for the first time.  This is Lucan code that Jesus’ journey to the cross has begun.  Jesus and his disciples had entered a Samaritan village.  The Samaritans do not receive Jesus and the disciples’ response to this is to ask Jesus whether or not they should rain fire down from heaven and consume the village.  Let that one sink it for a minute…  Since when did it become an option for them to rain fire down from heaven?!

Fortunately for all involved, Jesus rebuked them (I like to imagine that he also rolls his eyes and gives himself a slap on the forehead) and they continued on their way in a mysterious conversation about foxes and birds.

After he rebukes his disciples’ raining fire plan, Jesus appoints seventy disciples to go into the towns ahead of him.  He must figure they need some guidance as they announce that “the kingdom of God has come near” because he gives them some basic instruction about how to be a good guest.  I like to imagine Jesus this way, “OK, tempers were running a little hot in that last town so here’s the game plan on visiting the towns – stick together, greet the people in peace, eat what they give you, and stay put – no trading up if you get a better offer.”

Perhaps more importantly, given the disciples penchant for retribution, Jesus instructs them on what to do if they are not welcome after they greet the town in peace.  Jesus tells them to dust off their feet in protest (read: no need for fire) and still to tell them that that “the kingdom of God has come near.”

Jesus gave them a job to do and the means to get it done.  The kicker is that the job Jesus gives them is still their job regardless of the townspeople’s’ response – an outcome they have no control over.

In the last few years, some faithful leaders of Augustana spent some time praying, reading scripture, talking, listening and working on a mission statement.  Mission statements are one way for congregations to organize their life together – taking advantage of the diversity and gifts given to that congregation by the Holy Spirit.    At their best, mission statements prioritize ministry decisions and mobilize a diverse congregation into action for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Similarly to what Jesus does by sending out the 70 disciples in different directions for the common mission of telling people that the kingdom of God has come near.

If you would, please take your worship bulletin and find Augustana’s mission statement on the back cover in the upper right hand corner.  Are we all there?  Please read it out loud with me. “Guided by the Holy Spirit we gather in Christian community, reach out and invite, offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ, and walk humbly with God.”  It’s lovely in its simplicity.  And from my perspective, earns extra points for getting the Trinity in there as the guide.

Augustana’s mission statement is something I read and thought about during the pastoral call process.  And it is mentioned occasionally in meetings here as a reference point when various decisions are being made or the future of Augustana is being discussed.  By my way of thinking about this mission statement, Jesus has given Augustana a job to do and the means to get it done.  The kicker is that the job Jesus gives us is still our job regardless of people’s response to us – an outcome we have no control over.

You may have heard the expression, “The end justifies the means.”  People use this expression to justify doing anything and everything that they feel is necessary to achieve their goal, their intended end. Yet,this gospel story is all about the means.  Jesus tells the disciples what to do and how to do it – the outcome, the end, the way people respond, isn’t within the disciples’ control.  It makes me wonder if the means ARE the end – for the disciples and possibly for us.

Augustana’s mission statement is all about the means.  Here’s what we are to do and how we are to do it, at least in general terms.  The outcome, the end, the way people respond, isn’t within our control.  Again, it makes me wonder if the means ARE the end.  This is to say more explicitly that the means ARE the end for us, not for God.  Because God’s going to do what God’s going to do as far as the end is concerned.  We don’t control the outcome, God does.  And I hear this as the very best of the good news.

While we’re on the subject of means, some of you may have heard the expression “means of grace.”  Lutheran Christians use this means-of-grace language to describe the ways in which God comes to us, meeting us on our level.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) website offers a quick explanation of the means of grace.  It goes like this…

“Jesus Christ is the living and abiding Word of God. By the power of the Spirit, this very Word of God, which is Jesus Christ, is read in the Scriptures, proclaimed in preaching, announced in the forgiveness of sins, eaten and drunk in the Holy Communion, and encountered in the bodily presence of the Christian community.  By the power of the Spirit active in the Holy Baptism, this Word washes a people to be Christ’s own Body in the world.  We have called this gift of Word and Sacrament by the name ‘the means of grace.’  The living heart of all these means is the presence of Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit as the gift of the Father.”[1]

Jesus directs the disciples into the towns, giving them the means through which they are to proclaim the kingdom of God coming near.

The Holy Spirit guides this congregation by our mission statement, giving us the means through which our life together takes action.

And Christ the Savior commands us to make available the means of grace and to avail ourselves of the means of grace, giving us the means through which God forgives and sustains us in faith.

In these three situations the logic of the incarnation, of God coming to us, of the means as the end, is real.  In these three situations the actual end, the consequence, the outcome is on God.  For us creatures, who time again pressure ourselves and each other to bigger and better success stories, this is good news indeed.  Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

John 14:8-17, 25-27; Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17 A Sermon for Pentecost

John 14:8-17, 25-27; Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17  – A Sermon for Pentecost

 

John 14:8-17, 25-27  Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

 

Acts 2:1-21 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

Pentecost is today!  We get together for worship, some of us remembering to wear red to symbolize the Holy Spirit while others of us are trying to piece together exactly why, and away we go!  Pentecost is a church holiday that ratchets up our intensity just a bit – making the joyous a little more joyful and the reverent a little more respectful.  We in the church sing and celebrate and worship God the Holy Spirit on this day and, for the most part, we have a pretty good time at the party.

 

What I want to ask is, “Why?”  Why do we do this strange celebration of Pentecost?  The first reading from the book of Acts takes us back to remembering the earliest days of the church.  The roaring sound of a violent wind, the flames that settle over the heads of the faithful, God the Holy Spirit pouring out and over those gathered people, creating church from those gathered people, a grand spectacle to be sure – amazing to behold by those who received a spirit of adoption on that day.  But thinking about that day, so far back in time, can feel a little slippery to some of us.  What was that sound of wind; was it actual wind?  What about those tongues of flame; did they shimmer like personal, red northern lights?  Or were the flames more like real fire but not actual fire that would have burned the people?  Was the writer indulging in poetic metaphor?  If so, in which direction does the metaphor point?  All great questions that are utterly and frustratingly unanswerable.

 

Celebrating Pentecost year after year does indeed take us back to that noisy, flaming day in the church when the church was instigated and inspired to get moving by God the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost helps us remember those earliest believers in that mysterious event and reminds us of our connection through time to those earliest believers.  Perhaps more importantly, remembering the first Pentecost helps us remember God’s presence in the midst of the church.  So remembering is good.  And it is right.  And it is…tame.  Remembering implies that what happened is in the past and stays in the past.  It is easy to remember; it is much harder to see and to claim that very same Spirit of God here, now, today.  So let’s see what might be revealed if we poke around and through the symbols of the day.

 

The Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly happened a few weeks ago.  Church goers, Pastors, Diaconal Ministers, Youth Ministers, and Associates in Ministry from 176 churches in Wyoming, Utah, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, met together along with the ministers and bishop from the Bishop’s office.  There were highs, lows, snoozes and surprises as there was God to be worshipped, business to be done, friends to be greeted, and gleanings to be learned.  And then there was this thing, this moment that simply stole my breath away.

 

Saturday morning the Assembly was in its 37th hour.  We were seated around our tables, with tables next to tables throughout the large hotel ballroom.  Bishop Gonia was up front at a podium with two huge, wall-mounted, projection screens on either side of the speaker’s platform.  He told us that very shortly we would be connected via Skype to the Malagasy Lutheran Church in Madagascar, Africa, with whom our synod has shared a long and thriving history of accompaniment as some people from our synod have been there and some of their people have spent time here.  The technological process – which I’ve been told stops just this side of being a minor miracle – progressed in fits and starts.  Bishop Gonia exchanged lengthy, formal greetings with his Malagasy counterpart in the Malagasy language as he translated it for the rest of us so that we could understand what was being said.  During the breaks in the connection, other people would give their reports from the podium.  A disjointed flow that came to another pause just after their choir sang us a beautiful song in their language and our clapping for them.

 

What was supposed to happen next was a download of previously taped singing from our very own Rocky Mountain Synod people who will be headed to Madagascar together in a few months.   Something happened to that download and suddenly the bishop was inviting us all to stand and sing Amazing Grace, via Skype, for the people representing the Malagasy Lutheran Church.  We sang two verses from memory while their faces watched us from the two large projection screens.  As we were singing, a couple of things hit me.  There we were, an eclectic mix of people to be sure but predominantly white Americans, singing Amazing Grace, a song written in the 18th century by a former slave trader turned Christian minister, to a predominantly black group of Malagasy people.[1]  The magnitude of it hit me like a ton of bricks during their clapping for us.  While it did not feel surprising that the Malagasy people sang to us, our impromptu singing and its levels of meaning felt full of surprise to me.

 

Perhaps this surprising moment is a small taste of what Paul means in verse 16 of the Romans letter that was read a few minutes ago when he says, “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”[2]  This is not to say that every surprising moment with the element of ironic cool thrown in is of the Spirit – although the Spirit can be ironic and is definitely cool.  It is to say that the Spirit who moves in us reverses even our most sincere efforts to do a good thing and often ends up doing something else entirely.

 

The reading from John may help us out here.  Jesus says, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works… the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”[3]  These works that Jesus is talking about are as intricately connected to the dwelling of the Father in the person of Jesus as they are to the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  And, as such, these works take us beyond the ironic and the cool.  God the Holy Spirit participates in the movement of the whole Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – abiding as One with each other even as the Holy Spirit abides in us.

 

The Holy Spirit, abiding in us, brings us into that same participation with the Trinity.  This participation is so tempting to tame down into soft light and warm feelings without drawing out any particular specificity.  But there are specifics to our participation in the Trinity – the power of God the Holy Spirit hands us over to Christ who renders us to a loving God.[4]  Again, this is to say that the Spirit who moves in us reverses even our most sincere efforts to do a good thing and often ends up doing something else entirely.

 

The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ makes us, as Paul says, “…heirs of Christ.”  Or, more simply put, makes us the church, making us One with Christ our Lord while allowing for the differences of language, voice, and gifts as it did that first moments of Pentecost.

 

The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ, means that we, the church, stand under the cross of Christ which reveals our need for Jesus even as that same Spirit picks us up, dusts us off and sends us out of our sheltered comfort for Kingdom work of which we may never see the import or outcome.

 

The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ, means that we, the church, participate in the power of God – this very same power that stood on the side of truth for you and the side of love for you even to death on the cross so that you might know the depth and magnitude of God’s love, and be drawn to faith, so that on this day, as on your last day, you are handed by the Holy Spirit over to Christ who renders you to a loving God.



[2] Romans 8:10

[3] John 14:10b, 12

[4] Justin Nickel, Pastor of Centenniel Lutheran Church, personal conversation, May 16, 2013.