Tag Archives: Jesus

John 20:1-2, 11-18 “Shootings and Name Calling”

John 20:1-2, 11-18 “Shootings and Name Calling”

July 22, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Feast Day of Mary Magdalene at Centennial Lutheran Church

 

John 20:1-2, 11-18  1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

While I am delighted to preach almost anywhere, and at any time, I am especially delighted to be here with you today, this 22nd day of July. Now, if you’re like me, you probably don’t have your calendar marked with anything special on this day except for maybe somebody’s birthday or your wedding anniversary.  But every year on July 22nd, Christians of various ilks around the world – including Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Lutherans – commonly celebrate the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene.  And today, this festival in her honor falls on a Sunday.  As a preacher and as a woman, it’s hard to top this lovely confluence of day and date.  And I had a sermon that was a high-energy celebration of Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles, confidently announcing, “I have seen the Lord!”

And then the shooting at the movie theater in Aurora happened in the dark hours of Friday morning.  So many people died and many more were wounded physically, spiritually and emotionally.  My festive mood deflated as quickly as a party balloon pricked by a pin when I remembered that a dear friend in East Denver was going to that showing.   It took some time to figure out if he had gone to that midnight show at that theater.  He hadn’t.  But in my relief for his well-being, I was also aware that many in the city didn’t receive that good news and my heart broke for them.

By mid-morning on Friday I became compelled to look at Mary’s story again – through eyes once again weary of the ways we inflict ourselves on each other and create such pain.  Mary has just been through the horror and violence of Jesus’ death on the cross and most likely her own life was in danger in the swirl of the social and political chaos that hung Jesus there.  But chaos is not new for Mary.  Scripture in Mark and Luke make reference to “Mary Magdalene, from whom [Jesus] had cast out seven demons.”[1]  Mary has a deep knowing of evil and its presence in her very being.

Undeterred by the realities of her own experience of evil and the evil played out in the crucifixion, Mary comes to the tomb to be near Jesus – following him as she has always done…and we follow her.  It is dark, really dark, midnight movie dark.  Mary’s eyes are dried out from crying, her mind moving slowly through that cloudy haze of grief, and her body exhausted by lack of sleep.  She must be wondering about what just happened to all that she thought she knew.  Because that’s how it goes, right?  The unthinkable happens, something that most of us cannot imagine, and it’s as if the world shifts off of its axis ever so slightly and alters time and space.

So Mary makes her way into the garden…only to be shocked once more.  Jesus is gone.  Not simply dead on a cross or in a tomb, but, literally, gone.  He’s not where he is supposed to be – similarly to how he wasn’t supposed to be dead on that cross.

In the aftermath of the movie theater shooting some of us wonder where Jesus is and, even more urgently, why he doesn’t seem to be showing up.  We wonder if the tears and fear in our own life will ever be brought to an end.  And, like clockwork, conversations about safety and preventing these kinds of murders take shape.

My sister who lives in Wisconsin called me yesterday.  She mentioned safety.  I told her that I’m not sure I believe in safety as the main thing.  Safety is a big thing.  I certainly want my kids to be able to sit through a midnight movie or a high-noon cafeteria lunch without the threat of death.  But there is another reality at work.  The garden we sit in today with Mary Magdalene echoes back into another garden story – a story “In the beginning” of the Bible that had a different gardener who ended up getting kicked out of the garden.  The Adam and Eve story is many things but for our purposes today it is one that names our sin and magnifies the real presence of evil in the world.  And standing between the garden in the beginning and the one in which we sit with Mary today is the cross.

The cross is a real-life example of our capacity to hurt each other in all kinds of shocking ways.  It is also one that calls out evil, names it for what it is and, in part by telling this truth, defeats it.

The murders that took place at the movie theatre in the dark hours of Friday morning were evil.  But if we imagine for a second that we do not also sit within the same darkness we only fool ourselves.  This is something that Mary knows.  She is drawn to the garden in the darkness, drawn toward the one who healed her and who knows her, only to find him gone.

Just when Mary didn’t think it was possible to cry even more tears, she begins to sob.  And this day, Mary’s hope to catch some peace in the garden, to take a breather after all that has happened, is shattered.  The despair seems never-ending because everything keeps going from bad to worse.  The stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty and Jesus is gone.  And she gets asked the question, TWICE, about why she’s crying – first by the angels and then by the one whom she thinks is the gardener…  Until, finally, she hears her name… “Mary.”  And…she…knows…

Mary now knows that Jesus is raised from the dead; she now knows that there is life after death and so there is hope in despair.  Healed of demons by Jesus, called by name by the risen Christ and sent to tell the story, Mary Magdalene the Apostle, sees the world through eyes that know the worst of evil…yet trusts in an ultimate outcome – that God “will reach into sin and death and pull out healing and life.”[2]  The risen Christ shatters her expectations in the aftermath of evil as he calls her name and sends her on her way to speak this Good News.

How is the risen Christ speaking your name and drawing you through the darkness to himself?  Is his voice breaking through your despair and desperation, challenging you to a new reality through the scriptures?  Are our ancestors in the faith, and our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ today, calling you to be in relationship with each other and with him?   Are the waters of baptism murmuring your name even as your sin is washed clean in the water?  Does Christ’s presence at his meal beckon you to love and forgiveness unknown except through him?  Yes, yes, yes and yes – Christ calls your name in all of those ways and more.  And he calls you into God’s new creation – a new garden – using your name, knowing all that you are so that you might know Christ for his sake, for your sake and for the sake of the world.

And on this day we join Mary in being claimed by hope – a hope that invades deeply into the despair knowing that despair does not have the last word – the last word belongs to Jesus who reaches into sin and death and pulls out healing and new life.

 

 



[1] Mark 16:9 (also see Luke 8:1-2)

[2] Pastor Meghan Johnston Aelabouni on Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-meghan-johnston-aelabouni/an-open-letter-to-all-who_b_1691553.html

John 10:11-18 “A Good God is a Dead One?!”

John 10:11-18 “A Good God is a Dead One?!”

April 29, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

House for All Sinners and Saints as well as Lutheran Church of the Master

John 10:11-18  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

 

 

I have this memory of an image from childhood.  I’m not sure where it comes from or how old it is.  You may know the kind.  It’s a little hazy around the edges and slightly out-of-focus but a couple of things come through in crisp outline and color.  It pops into my head of its own accord when I hear Jesus talking about being the Good Shepherd.  In this image, Jesus is laughing in a group of children who are also laughing and he is holding a little lamb.  And, after my initial freak-out about overly-sentimentalized religion that would domesticate God, this image rings true for me as I think about the story a friend of mine tells about his Hebrew Bible professor tucking in her children at night.[1]  When she tucks them in she asks them, “Who are you?”  And they reply, “I am Jesus’ little lamb” – a sweet image of mothering and bedtime as she sends her children into the shadows of sleep.  And it rings true for me when I sit with families during funeral planning and they choose Psalm 23 time and time again.  I can hear the psalmist crying out through the families’ tears and from their broken hearts, “The Lord is my shepherd…”

 

And, for some of us, there are times when it is enough and sometimes quite necessary to allow those texts to wrap around us in the sweet, simple comfort of being cherished and celebrated as Jesus cradles us in light.  But what else might these texts have to say to us?

 

Wondering about Jesus’ claim of being a Good Shepherd is a good place to begin.  Psalm 23 gives us a glimpse into one of early Judaism’s understandings of God as shepherd.  And the words of Jesus echo deeply from within this tradition as he says, “I AM the good shepherd.”  The ante is upped as Jesus also says the words, “I AM”.  The “I AM” at the beginning of his words is the same “I AM” used in the divine claim by God, by Yahweh, in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Jesus statement is infused with so much divinity it simply spills out all over. In fact, it is THE claim that sets the cross in motion.  The bottom line for us today?  God is made known in Christ.[2]  But how so according to John?

 

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep.”   Jesus is the good shepherd who died.  There’s a leadership model that would climb the bestseller list today.  A good leader is a dead one?  Why is this?  How is this a good thing?  How is the good shepherd the one who would lay his life down?  Why does the church call the day of Jesus’ crucifixion “Good Friday” anyway?  I know, that last question seems a bit out of order in this exuberant season of Easter resurrection but I will take the liberty of asking it anyway.  How is any of this good?  It is good because God in Jesus, dead on the cross, reveals the depths of God’s love and the lengths to which God will go to wrap us into God.  Belonging to a crucified God doesn’t mean that God is dead but that death is now captured up in the living God.

 

Jesus tells the story of the good shepherd not in an idyllic, cozy, safe location as my determined memory of the smiling image of Jesus from childhood would suggest.  In this story, there is howling that warns of threat and danger and hired hands who run away in fear, leaving the sheep to the wolf, leaving the sheep to death.  Ultimately the wolf means death in this story.  This infuses quite a different urgency into the mother tucking in her child at night and asking, “Who are you?”  And the child saying, “I am Jesus’ little lamb.”  The sweet image of mothering at bedtime, as she sends her children into the shadows of sleep, reverbs within a fiercer promise of love and protection.  And the wolf’s howl intensifies the prayers of a family and a community as they pray the words of Psalm 23 together during a funeral – “yea, though I walk through the darkest valley, (through the valley of the shadow of death), I will fear no evil.”

 

One of the things that I am privileged to do with my time over the last year while awaiting a call to a congregation is funerals – lots of them.  All excepting one have been the kind where I receive the call from the funeral director that a family is asking for a Christian minister to be the officiant for their loved one’s funeral within the following three to five days.  Either they or the person they have lost to death are often long unaffiliated with or never been part of any faith community and the element of having a Christian minister seems important.

 

One could argue lots of things – that there request for a minister is simply an example of a family hedging their bets or covering their bases or whatever might work as a metaphor for thinking their motivations shallow.  Or it could be that it is something that is a supposed-to-be-done.  In some of the stories these lines of thinking might be true.

 

But as I speak with these families, often torn open by their person’s death and their own grief, there is something more going on.  That something more has to do with the ways in which meaning in their lives had been suddenly shattered into a million pieces.  What had once made sense from the sum of their experiences and gave life meaning, no longer does.  Something more is needed.  This “something more” that is needed is a word that comes from outside of their own experience.  The story of the good shepherd offers meaning not crafted from within ourselves.  Rather it comes from beyond our experience – gifted to us from outside of ourselves through the cross of the one who laid his life down.

 

As the conversation about the funeral continues with the family, two things quickly become important as the life story about person who died takes shape – having the body or the ashes at the funeral and the commendation at the end of it.  Having the body there speaks a truth about the death that has happened, just as Jesus and the commendation speaks a promise of new life directly into the heart of that truth.  The commendation is a prayer that acknowledges God’s welcome of the person who died.  The prayer of commendation sounds like this…

“Into your hands, O merciful God, we commend your child. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.”

 

When I pray this prayer on behalf of the one who has died, I take quite seriously in our text today, when Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

 

In the Gospel of John we hear over and over and over again how Jesus came for sake of the world.  In day-to-day living, many, many realities are born out of Jesus’ gift on behalf of the world.  And in the day of dying there is one more.

 

So hear this gift, the promise of the good shepherd for you this day of Easter resurrection…

By the power of the Holy Spirit of the risen one who first laid his life down,  Jesus draws you through the cross of Christ into faith, into meaning, into new life.

Jesus, the good shepherd, laid down his life and took it up again for you.

Death is now caught up into God, for you.

New life is here and now, in you and for you, by the power of the risen Christ!

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Justin Nickel, personal conversation, April, 24, 2012.

[2] Craig Koester. Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel.  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 297.

John 20:1-18 “Oh, How Long the Travel to This Day!”

John 20:1-18 “Oh, How Long the Travel to This Day!”

April 8, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

John 20:1-18 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

Oh how long the travel to this day!  This day and, in our story, this garden.  In real time, it was about 33 years.  In the time of the church year, our travel began with Jesus’ birth at Christmas, wandered with him through his life’s ministry and followed him when he turned toward Jerusalem, toward his death.  Some of us in the church have spent the last 6 weeks of Lent walking the journey to the cross with Jesus – listening as everyone who knew Jesus, drifted away from him in denial and fear.  Listening to those stories became reminders that those who left Jesus to face his death alone and those who killed him could have easily been us and, if truth be told, are us.

Oh how long the travel to this day!  And this day, we enter the garden with Mary Magdalene – her eyes dried out from crying, her mind moving slowly through that cloudy haze of grief, and her body exhausted by lack of sleep – and the wondering continues about what just happened to all that we thought we knew…only to be shocked once more.  Jesus is gone.  Not simply dead on a cross or in a tomb, but, literally, gone.  He’s not where he was supposed to be – similarly to how he wasn’t supposed to be dead on that cross.  And Mary, as she realizes that Jesus isn’t there, runs to tell other disciples, who rush it to see the same thing, and confirm that, indeed, Jesus is not there.  One of them even sees and believes.  But, take note, the story tells us that seeing and believing did not bring understanding of the scriptures to this disciple – a most peculiar point to make in a most peculiar story.

Oh how long the travel to this day!  Just when Mary didn’t think it was possible to cry even more tears, she begins to sob.  And this day, Mary’s hope to catch some peace in the garden, to take a breather after all that has happened, is shattered.  The despair is never-ending because everything seems to keep going from bad to worse.  The stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty and Jesus is gone.  And she gets asked the question, TWICE, about why she’s crying.  Until, finally, she hears her name… “Mary.”  And…she…knows…

Oh how long the travel to this day!  As Mary now knows that Jesus is raised from the dead, she now knows that there is life after death and hope in despair.  Called her name by the risen Christ and sent to tell the story, Mary the Apostle, sees the world through eyes that know the worst…yet trust in an ultimate outcome – the ultimate outcome of life defeating death.

Oh how long our travel to this day!  Even as we gather here this Easter day, we bring our own despair to the garden.  We wonder where Jesus is and who has hidden him.  We wonder if the tears and fear in our own life will ever be brought to an end.  And on this day, when we proclaim that “Christ is Risen Indeed,” we join Mary in being claimed by hope – a hope that invades deeply into the despair knowing that despair does not have the last word.  Jesus has the last word.

Oh how long our travel to this day!  The risen Christ names and claims Mary in the garden in an act that echoes into the baptisms of some here today.  Through baptism, Christ calls the name of the baptized and then gives the hope of the deeper name of “Child of God.”  Through baptism, Christ gives the baptized the gift of his Holy Spirit, the gift of new birth, the gift of forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.  Through baptism, Christ joins us to his death and raises us with him into new life.

Oh how long our travel to this day!

This day when Christ invades our despair.

This day into which Christ infuses hope anew.

This day when Christ calls your name.

 

Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John 2:13-22 “Using God and Loving Things”

John 2:13-22 “Using God and Loving Things”

March 9, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

John 2:13-22 – The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

 

A long, long time ago, in the year 350, there lived a man named…Augustine.  He tells his story in a book titled The Confessions – he simply pours it all out, the good, the bad, and the ugly…saint and sinner…all of it…and how God met him in the middle of it.  Fast-forwarding sixteen hundred years to this past Sunday, I was preaching at a congregation that I had preached at one other time, one year ago.  A woman came up to me before worship began and told me that she needed to speak with me.  So we arranged to meet back up after the service.   We sat together in the back of sanctuary, the worship space.  This was her 3rd time visiting this congregation and she told me that had spent very little time in church throughout her 60 years.  In the span of just a few minutes and speaking quickly, she spoke of the sin in her life, some of which had happened over 30 years ago.  She then told me that she was too much of a sinner to be in church and then she fell quiet.

 

“First,” I said, “you need to know that God forgives you all your sins.”  She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and began to tear up and said, “Oh, that feels good.”  After a few moments of quiet, the second thing I said to her was that, “One of the things I love about being in Lutheran-land is that we all come before God as sinners, all of us are level with each other at the foot of the cross…so, as a sinner, you’re in the right place.”

 

So, you may be asking yourself, what do St. Augustine and this woman have in common – across time, gender and life situation? St. Augustine wrote, all those many years ago, that sin can be described as what comes from the mixing up of what God has given us to use and what God has given us to love.  His argument is that God means for us to love God and use things but somewhere along the way we use God and love things…we use God and love things.  We have mixed up use and love.

 

Today’s scene in the temple started me wondering about this mix up between what we use and what we love.  Jesus is furious.  The temple has become a marketplace, a place where God is being used and everyone is part of using everyone else as a commodity, as currency, as cash.  Relationship has been transaction.

 

If we’re not very careful in this story, we end up standing behind Jesus, cheering him on, placing ourselves on his side, comfortable that our opinions about God and Jesus are the blameless ones.  I wonder, though, if our rightful place in this story is in the position of the sellers – the ones who use God and love things so much so that in our use of God we end up using each other in such as way that our relationships are transactions.  We see this time and again, right?  The ways in which we use each other, and the ways others use us, create deep pain.  Let’s be clear, while we’re at it, that this is not only a problem magnified within these walls, this is a problem within this world, inside all of us!  And it is into the mixed up mess of use and love that Jesus comes crashing in to clean house.

 

Jesus cleans house by first taking the problem into his own body.  In the Bible story for today, Jesus says that his body is the temple which will be destroyed – hung on a cross – and that he will raise it again three days later.  There is hope after all because Jesus does what we cannot do when left on our own – first in his body and then in ours.  Jesus fights this fight in us daily by virtue of our baptism.  Jesus attacks our sin and sends it packing, right out the door like the sheep and the cattle of the temple.

In his clearing of the temple, Jesus challenges us to look at the way in which we use and the way we love.

In his dying on the cross, Jesus destroys the power of sin and its death dealing way.

And in his rising again, Jesus heals us into new life.

In the name of Jesus Christ, may you be strengthened and filled with God’s grace, that you may know the healing power of the Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

March 4, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Cross of Glory Lutheran Church

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 



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

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

Mark 9:2-9 “Death and Dazzle”

Mark 9:2-9 “Death and Dazzle”

February19, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Mark 9:2-9 – Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

 

 

I love the way the church marks time – around the life of Jesus and around the life of the Christian community.  I spent my early childhood in a Christian tradition that marked time in this churchy way but then grew up in one that didn’t and as a result now I’m very aware of being in time differently than many of my friends and family.  It took me awhile to get used to the liturgical year but I developed a love of this alternative way of moving through the world and moving through time.

The church year begins oh-so-softly with the flicker of candles in Advent, moves into the huge fanfare of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, of Emmanuel “God with Us”, followed by the festive 12 days of Christmas and then floods us these last seven weeks of Epiphany with all that Light, Light and more Light of Jesus’ life until we find ourselves here, at his Transfiguration, as Jesus’ very being dazzles on a mountaintop.

Jesus takes us with him and leads us up the mountain with Peter, James and John until we’re by ourselves and he is transfigured before our eyes, becoming dazzling white.  And, not only are we with Jesus, we’re with the heavy hitters of the past – Moses and Elijah who are, by their very being, challenging our ways of loving God and loving each other.  In the midst of all this, what has become of Peter, James and John?  Being there has terrified them because, well, who wouldn’t at least be on edge in this razzle-dazzle, time mash-up, supernatural Light show?

But Peter is reacting in this moment at a deeper level of terror too.  He is an observant Jew who celebrates the Feast of Booths, one of the three biblically mandated festivals in the Hebrew Scriptures that he himself celebrates year after year.[1]  He is also a good church historian one who is aware of the Jewish expectation laid out in Zechariah.  He remembers the temple talk about this “festival that was considered a possible time for God’s taking control of God’s creation and beginning the age of shalom.”[2]

Put more bluntly, Peter is sure that Moses and Elijah being there is a sign of the end of the world as he knows it.  A world that God is now going to reclaim fully and completely in one massive, redeeming fell swoop.  On top of this mountain, Peter has caught the cosmic shift, and Peter is, quite respectfully, not going to let Moses and Elijah build their own booths for the big event – even if he is terrified!

Listen to what Peter says when he doesn’t know what to say because of his terror, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.”  I imagine Peter thinking that it’s good to be with Jesus, Moses and Elijah at the same time that it is good to be witnesses to this great cosmic moment in God’s time.  I can imagine him thinking that, “it is good to be me in this place with these people because I’ve been prepared to know what’s happening and I know what to do.”  I can imagine this because I have felt that clarity of being in the right place at the right time.  And I have also felt the longing of wanting to be there.  And then I began to wonder how much of Peter’s clarity about it being good to be there is born of Peter’s longing to be in the right place at the right time.  And then I began to wonder about how good it is for Peter to be up there on the mountain with the big three of Moses, Elijah and Jesus.  Peter, named by Jesus as the Rock upon whom Jesus would build his church, up there on that mountain in terror and this was good?  Peter, the Rock of the Church, terrified.

This Transfiguration story, especially Peter’s terrified role in it, has me wondering about the church in our time.  There’s a six-minute video making the rounds on Facebook this week of Diana Butler Bass’ perspective on the church in our uncertain age.[3]  She studied and taught American Religious History for many years and has been thinking a lot about being church in the 21st century.  The point that I carried away from her interview is that there are many outside of the church that still want to connect with God and still love the tradition of the church in some way but are not finding the connection.  She argues that faith is in the longing of everyone around us – us being the church.  While I think she and I would have a wonderful conversation about the origin of faith, more importantly in this moment, I want to suggest that we in the church long as well – perhaps similarly to Peter on that mountaintop.

We long for God to fulfill God’s promises – or at least our understanding of them – and we want the traditions of our ancestors to point us in the right direction.

We long for the task at hand to be straightforward and doable.  Like Peter, right? – Age of Shalom, Festival of Booths, let’s build some booths!

I hear this longing from pastors about the upcoming bishop election for this synod – that we need to elect someone who can imagine us into a new future for the church and tell us how to get there in a straightforward and doable way.

Let’s check back in on the mountaintop.  After Peter’s moment of brilliant clarity, while the terror is still a fresh, metallic taste on his tongue and his words about the good of “being here” hang in awkward silence, the cloud overshadows them – clouding out the vision, the light and Peter’s words – shrouding the small band on the mountain.  A cloud with supernatural sound effects no less, as the voice says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  And the terror continues as they look around and see only Jesus.

So, like Peter, some in the church are made aware of God’s ultimate freedom to act in ways that dazzle the senses whether on a mountaintop or otherwise.  And, like Peter, some in the church are looking around and seeing only Jesus.  Jesus, who leads them down from the mountain to a very different hill – one loaded with crosses, and to a very different kind of terror – one loaded with death.   And, as church, we join Peter in this tension, caught between God’s dazzling power and God’s death on a cross, wondering what it is that we’re supposed to do now.

And it is right here, smack dab in the middle of that tension, that the Spirit gifts us in the scripture.  Jesus is the one who takes Peter, James and John and leads them up the mountain and back down again.  And Jesus is the one who tells them they can tell the story only after he has risen from the dead.  Jesus’ caution to the disciple teases us with resurrection of Easter but the trip down the mountain also “reminds us that the way to Easter is through the cross.”[4]  The way to new life is through the cross.  I had a preaching professor who would boil down this Christian good news in her glorious southern accent by saying, “It’s all about Liiife-Death-Liiife.”  And she would flash her hands opened and closed as she said it just like that, “Liiife-Death-Liiife.”   The cross is the way through.  Peter is right.  It IS good for us to be here both tethered by tradition and set free…because Jesus is Lord and he unleashes freedom through the cross.  Jesus gifts freedom and the Spirit’s inspiration to imagine what might be next for you and for the church including the freedom to fail along the way.

Jesus, God with us full of life and light, stood on a holy precipice, a point of no return on his way to a death that reveals God who relinquished that life so that new life is possible.

Jesus, God with us, reassures us that we do not stand alone when staring downhill at the crosses that would claim us – whether they are ones upon which the church or we ourselves hang.

 

Jesus’ dazzles when he hangs with us in our terror,

shedding light in our darkest nights,

comforting us when we fall,

revealing the truth of our weakness, and

illuminating our need so that, when the cloud lifts,

we see only Jesus.

 

 

 



[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukkot

[2] Sarah Heinrich on Working Preacher 2012 for Mark 9:2-9. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=2/19/2012

[3] Diana Butler Bass on Day1http://day1.org/3655-does_the_church_have_a_future__diana_butler_bass

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

 

Mark 9:9-13; Ezekiel 2:8-3:11; Ephesians 2:4-10 “Crossing the Beams”

Mark 9:9-13; Ezekiel 2:8-3:11; Ephesians 2:4-10 “Crossing the Beams”

September 21, 2011 (The Feast Day of St. Matthew) – Caitlin Trussell

Bishop’s Retreat for Metro South Conference, Rocky Mountain Synod

 

Mark 9:9-13 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

 

The life that has taken shape for me out of seminary and not yet ordained has filled with unexpected and random connections with clergy types of various denominational and confessional stripes.  Not too long ago I had a meeting scheduled with one such person that I thought had a pretty clear and tame agenda.  When we met together, not one of those agenda items made it into the conversation.  This pastor was in such despair over the pastoral call, over the reason for it, for any of it.  The clear and repeated question was, “How is it that I am still called when I no longer feel confident about what I’m doing?”  And, of course, internship was all that was needed for me to respond perfectly…

Regardless of the qualifications of the listener, the pain and doubt about call spilling out of this pastor to a yet untried one speaks to how muffled the voice of God, the voice of call, can become in the static and blur of congregational life and in the wider life of the culture in which we sit.  So, it is fitting that we gather as colleagues and holy friends late in evening on the feast day of St. Matthew.  And listen in as a tax collector at a table was called by Jesus.

We can read between the lines here too.  Of course Matthew, being called from his current field of tax work, also spoke fluently in 5 languages, had his double-major undergrad in philosophy and comparative literature, an MBA, a Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling, doctorates in hermeneutics, leadership, political science and international studies and an MDiv just to round it all out and be super ready to work for Jesus.  This sounds as ridiculous as it felt to write it.  But how much of the wild expectations that are placed on pastors and that pastors place on themselves emerge from more subtle, but just as ridiculous, expectations.  Expectations that are disembodied from the cross of Christ, disconnected from the call of the gospel, that wear away the sense of call like water on stone until the heart of the stone is washed away.

I’d like to do dangerous thing here and cross the beams of Ezekiel and Matthew.  (You can chew me out later.)  Ezekiel was called by God into the social-political chaos of Babylonian invasion and relocation.  Matthew was called by Jesus into the social-political dust kicked up by Roman occupation.  Ezekiel eats a scroll from the Lord that is as sweet as honey and then speaks a word from the Lord.  Matthew sits and eats in his own house with Jesus and then follows Jesus.  Ezekiel is called to speak a word.  Matthew is called to follow and eat.

These calls from the Lord to our ancestors in the faith echo into this room, into this time and place, into the socio-political chaos of our changing world and emerge out of socio-political dust kicked up by both people and nature from small to grand scale.  The calls leave us with questions like, “Why us?  Why are these barriers in the call seem so great, so painful?  Why me?  Why now?”  While the calls may be different, they are also not so much different.  God still calls for some to speak and God still calls for some to set the table.  Calling with a word and sending with the Word – placing us in sacred space with holy friends who can hold our despair and our joy, our deaths and our lives, our crosses into new life.

And through all these, what remains at the end of the day, at the end of today, is this…the call of the Gospel revealed in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, the call that releases you from death into life, through which all other calls to vocation are revealed, nurtured and strengthened… “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 “Freedom: Not a Free-For-All”

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 “Freedom: Not a Free-For-All”

July 4, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

Risen Lord Lutheran Church, Conifer, CO

 

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon'; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

I’m going to ask a super fashionable question.  I’m going to ask one of those questions that lands preachers right on top of the popularity scale and gets us invited to all the best parties.  Now I’m not looking for an out loud answer – don’t panic – just keep your answer quietly and privately in your head.  Ready?  What is that thing you do that you do not want to do?  What is that thing you do that you hate?  …………While thinking about Paul’s words in Romans, my own answer to that question keeps bubbling up in my head without me even having to ask the question.  It is as if regret and shame are ready and willing to set up shop at a moment’s notice.  Listen to Paul’s words of confession, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  He is so immersed in this idea that he writes it again with a bit of a tweak, a few verses later, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

But along with the regret and shame there is something else that sets up shop inside of me too.  Something powerful that competes against regret and shame – there is a powerful relief.  Relief that I, and my life, get named – get called out so that, even if for just a moment, the pretending that takes so much energy goes away.  Thank God Paul names his humanity in Romans 7.  So that even if just for a bit of time we can see our situation named too.  “I do not do what I want but I do the very thing that I hate.”

For Paul, this sin is not a morality tale.  Yes, sin has effect and consequence but for Paul it is so much bigger than the language we so often use of “right and wrong” or “good and bad.”  There is simply that which kills and that which brings life.  If I accuse you of immorality or bad theology or not-really-being-a-Christian-or-a patriot-or-a-good-person, then I elevate myself while lowering you, in a sense while killing that which you hold dear.

Matthew’s gospel gives us a perfect example of the critique that happens when others aren’t doing what we think they should do, when people aren’t living up to our standards.  [Jesus said] “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,   17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’   I hear Jesus chastising those who would superimpose their standards of right religion, of acceptable living, onto others.   After all, it is so much easier to accuse you of not doing what I want you to do than to hold up the mirror of Paul’s words to our own lives – “I do not do what I want but I do the very thing that I hate.”

In part for this reason of naming the reality of sin, we began today’s Service of the Word in confession together.  But naming sin is not the ultimate reason we confess together.  In Matthew Jesus also says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.   29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

These are lovely words –“Come to me, you that are weary…I will give you rest.”  Even saying them I get that they are full of promise.  Yoking to Jesus is poetic language to be sure but what might it mean?  Even Paul, who gives this litany of powerlessness to sin, ends his speech with “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Why does he do that?!  Why do any of us do that?

First off, a yoke tutorial seems in order.  While first century listeners would make immediate sense of this, we do not.  Although some of you may have grown up on a farm or currently farm so let’s just say you’re probably light years ahead of me on being able to explain this one but please bear with me.  Yoking means placing two animals together under a long, formed piece of word designed for the purpose of being able to move animals in a particular direction but also to allow the more experienced, seasoned animal to guide the younger, less able one.  Yoking was a method that made the work happen and taught the animals how to do what they are meant to do.

Those of us who have struggled with attempting to control our own sin, and who have hit bottom in such a way that we don’t even recognize ourselves, understand that trying harder on our own doesn’t work.  Thinking that if we just dig deeper or start over tomorrow or the next day or the day after that….we’ve realized that there are just not enough days to exert the kind of control we think we have that changes the situation for the long term.  Paul would call this being yoked to sin.  And that a sinner recognizes this yoke of sin for what it is and that this is the very place where grace meets us.

One of the things that Jesus has done and is doing is freeing us from this false idea of complete and utter independence from God and from each another.  This freedom is not a free-for-all but it is a yoked freedom.  We are not set free into a bunch of new rules – into a new morality of good and bad.  We are liberated by the yoke of Christ into new relationship with God and with each other.  This allows us to be in community with each other not as a community of mediocre people whom some call hypocrites.  But rather draws us into a living body as a community of sinners who say that transformation is possible although it is not I but Christ who lives in me – utterly dependent on God to work in us and through us and also to forgive us whenever we hurt ourselves or each other

Audacious freedom is bestowed to you by the Holy Spirit through the waters of baptism and sustained by that same Spirit. Drawn into relationship with Jesus who saves us from ourselves and says, “I see you and I intend something quite different than you may intend for yourself.  I intend for you to be as you’ve been created to be – a new creation.  And now you are forgiven, now you are freed from having to do it all and having to be it all.  Welcome home.”

And together with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

John 10:1-10 “Gate: Cross and Promise”

John 10:1-10 “Gate: Cross and Promise”

May 13th – New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, Denver, CO

May 14th – Women of the ELCA, RMS Boulder Cluster Gathering, Wheatridge, CO

May 15th – Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

 

John 10:1-10 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 

So which one is it?!  Is Jesus the gate or is Jesus the shepherd?  So which one is it?! Are we the sheep?   Or are we the thieves, bandits and strangers?  This text is saturated to overflowing with imagery as Jesus tries to communicate who he is with his disciples.  But today, I really want you to hear Jesus’ gift to us as he says, “I am the gate.”  He says it twice.  “I am the gate.”

Think for a moment about gates that you come across in your day-to-day.  Picture the gate in your mind and who controls the gate and whether the gate stands opened or closed.  Think about what the gate is for and who is allowed to go in and go out of that gate and what it costs to move in and out of the gate.

Now, picture another gate.  And picture this gate welded open. There is freedom of movement as it stands open.  The gate cannot be closed or manipulated in any way.  It simply…stands…open… this is the gate I would like you to have in mind for the next few minutes.  A gate that stands open.

Every so often a text from the Bible is such that it really helps us if we know what comes right before it in the story.  This is true of so many things.  If we learn just a little more of the context of what someone is trying to say, then we have a better shot at understanding at least a little of what is going on.   This story of Jesus is the gate is one such story.  Right before our verses today is the story of the man born blind to whom Jesus gives sight.  The man born blind, who can now see because of Jesus, is asked all kinds of questions by the religious leaders of the temple and they ultimately drive him out of the temple when their questions aren’t answered to their expectations.  And Jesus receives that man.

How many times in each of our lives has a new experience led us to new questions and then to new answers that challenge how we think about life and how we think about God?  Not God changing but us changing.  Time and time again as children our minds stretch and grow to absorb all the new stuff we see and do and hear.  Time and time again in our adolescence and, hopefully, if we’re lucky, time and time again as adults, we are challenged to either understand something new or take on something new in the face of new information that arrives on the scene.  It is the way of life.  And for Jesus followers, it is a way of faith as we try to figure out what in the name of God…literally…we’re talking about when we talk about loving to tell the story Jesus.

But it is also the way of life to not let all the possibilities and information in.  It is also the way of life to be overwhelmed by it.  It is also the way of life to be knocked down by the sheer quantity of information and experience that blow our minds and leave our expectations in tatters.  And it is the way of life to close ourselves off and create our own sheepfolds and set ourselves and our beliefs about Jesus as the gate so that we might feel some small glimmer of hope that our right faith keeps us safe from that which would harm us or destroy us.  And, very quickly, we fall to the same temptation as the religious leaders did with the man born blind and we drive people out as if we are the ones who are the gate.

During the Apostles’ Creed, the traditional line spoken throughout the centuries is “I believe in the holy catholic church.”  This can be incredibly confusing for people since a large part of the world worships in the Roman Catholic tradition.  So, we often change the traditional language to say, “I believe in the holy Christian church.”  My kids will tell you that on any given Sunday, they’re not sure exactly what will come out of my mouth during this part of the Creed.  In whispers, you might even hear them say, “You said it again Mom.”  And here’s the truth of it for me.  I love the word catholic.  I love that it means universal.  I love that our ancestors in the church applied the word that means universal to the church.  I love pondering what the God of the universe, which includes us sitting in our teeny-tiny corner of it, thinks about how we’re doing in our teeny-tiny part of the church catholic as we divide, and divide again, and divide again – driving people out of sheepfold, after sheepfold, as if we were the gate.

And then I like to take a big breath as Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the gate.”  Because Jesus as the open gate in this passage is very, very different then Jesus as the faith-ticket-taker.  You know, like I have my ticket of faith which gives me entrance to the right church and then, at the just the right time, I hand my ticket of faith over to Jesus so that all will be well, so that I will be well.

I’m pretty sure a ticket of faith in Jesus does not purchase protective outerwear that deflects the worst kind of pain – perhaps to confirm this we could check in with a few of our most faithful brothers and sisters in the nearest ICU or hospice.

And I’m pretty sure that a ticket of faith in Jesus does not unleash a cash windfall – perhaps we could check in with some of our poorest and most faithful brothers and sisters, numbering in the millions across the planet, who wonder where their next meal is coming from.

In fact, what these faithful brothers and sisters experience, indeed, what we experience as we experience life and others at their worst, is faith living in the shadow of the cross while clinging to the promise of the Easter resurrection.  And we don’t have to look very far within ourselves, our own families and our circle of friends to see and feel its shadow too.  In this season of Easter, we do live on this side of the resurrection although we see it in a hazy kind of way because the realities of the cross are real even today.  Jesus does not describe a world free of bandits and thieves.  Jesus names the bandits as real, the powers that rob us of life and health.[1]

So then, Jesus is the gate to the abundance of what?  He says, “I came so that you may have LIFE and have it abundantly.”  That he says this through the specter of the cross is critical.  Jesus lives a truth about the mess of human reality on the cross; Jesus overcomes that reality not by ignoring it but by dying on it, lighting it up so that our vulnerability cannot be ignored and we can stop pretending that we know enough and are strong enough to be our own gates, our own gods.  Jesus promises an abundant life that is the power of the love of God in the midst of real threats, in the middle of thieves and bandits.

Jesus is the gate and sees and speaks the truth of the whole you – the image of God in you and worst of the brokenness in you.

Jesus is the gate who pours out forgiveness for you when you bring your worst.

Jesus is the gate who stands open by the grace of God for you – nothing you do opens it and nothing you do can close it.

And Jesus is the gate who promises that death, when it comes, may win the moment but does not win the day when you breathe your last in this body and Jesus welcomes you into the arms of the eternal God.



[1] Craig Koester, Gospel of John, Course Lecture at Luther Seminary, October, 13, 2010.

John 20:19-31 “Locked by Fear; Sent in Peace”

John 20:19-31 “Locked by Fear; Sent in Peace”

April 29, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

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.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So 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.” 26 A 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.” 27 Then 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But 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.

 

 

Think for a second about fear.  Fear as you’ve experienced it in your own life.  What does it feel like to be afraid?  What does it smell like to be afraid?   What does it taste like?

Let’s recap the last three days of the disciples’ lives to this point.  One of their own, their friend and fellow disciple Judas, sold out Jesus to the religious leaders and then to the Roman police.  Peter lies about knowing Jesus, betrays him three times, to save his own skin.  The rest of them are nowhere to be found as Jesus dies by execution on a cross.  The air is so thick with the smell of fear for their own lives over the last three days that their stomachs are tight and turning over with nausea, leaving a sour taste in their mouths and no appetite for food.  Their shame over their desertion of their friend and leader keeps them up at night, leaving them totally wiped out and with hands that constantly have the shakes.  They are in bad shape.  And now, afraid that their deaths are next, they are locked in a room – locked in a room in fear, locked up tight in shame.

Fear rules this whole story of Jesus ending up on the cross.  The religious leaders were afraid of all that wild life-giving that Jesus was doing – giving sight to the man born blind, raising Lazarus from the dead.  The Roman government was afraid of all that wild freedom that Jesus was going on and on about.  Everyone so afraid of what Jesus was doing that they thought killing him would solve the problem of Jesus.

And fear lands the followers of Jesus in a locked room.  “…and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear.”

And Jesus shows up.  After all that’s happened, after the weakness of the disciples and the torture on the cross, Jesus shows up.  Take note, it is NOT their faithfulness that lures Jesus to them.  And not only does he show up, he shows up with the wounds inflicted by the fear, anger and fragile egos of everyone else.

Jesus doesn’t criticize their fear and doubt but he meets it with himself.  He gets it.  He just died through it.  And death did not have the last word.  Jesus shows up in his wounded, resurrected body offering words of peace – “Peace be with you” he says.  And he doesn’t say this in a touchy-feely, stars and flowers kind of way.  He says this after the ordeal of the cross.  He knows what’s possible in the face of fear.  And he brings this peace to the disciples who are sent from that room to enter the same reality that they were hiding from.  The world around them has not magically changed since Jesus visited.  So what did?

Jesus is not blind.  Jesus sees who we are, the fear that controls our being, and Jesus moves to where we are just as Jesus went into that locked room with the disciples.  We do not surprise Jesus with our actions and, more importantly, our actions, with or without faith, do not determine Jesus’ love for us.

The wounds from cross are where Jesus connects into our own lives – in the fearful, hurt and dark places where crosses stab us, cause pain and bring death.  And then, in the midst of all that, Jesus says, “Not so fast – death and pain do not have the last word…by my life-giving life, by my death on the cross and by the Spirit’s power that raised me to life again, God connects you back into God.”

Today, here and now, that is the promise that is for you.  God’s love and God’s amazing grace are unleashed through the Spirit of the risen and wounded Jesus and God’s love, God’s amazing grace, meets you where you are, forgives you of all your sins and sends you out in peace.