Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 23, 2017
[sermon begins after two Bible readings]
Acts 2:14a, 22-32 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.
22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says concerning him, “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ 29 “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, “He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.
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.
In Genesis 1, the first account of creation, God’s spirit moved over the waters and created humankind in the image of God. In Genesis 2, another account of creation, the Lord God breathed the breath of life into the first human. In the 18th book of the Hebrew Bible, Job writes, “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Eleven books later, in the book of Joel, “…the Lord said: …I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, [and] your old men shall dream dreams…” In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus breathes on the disciples and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And in the Acts reading we just heard, Peter preaches on the breath of the Spirit just received on Pentecost. That’s so much Spirit in one sermon-opening it would be easy to think your pastor was ordained by Pentecostals! Although I’m guessing some of you may still be back at “the first account of creation” and “another account of creation.”
These creation stories caught me in seminary. First semester, first assignment in Hebrew Bible we had to read Genesis 1 and 2 and write a brief exegesis. Not once in the prior 38 years had it occurred to me that these are two accounts. Needless to say, my exegetical commentary didn’t go over very well with the professor. It was a rude awakening for me on several levels, letter grade notwithstanding. The gift in it was a new experience of the Bible. 66 books written over many thousands of years by faithful people trying to understand God, their faith, and each other. Recently I gave a Lutheran Study Bible to a new friend along with a brief introduction to what’s in it and an invitation to come back around with any questions that come up. I also said, “It’s a weird book, sometimes the people writing it disagree amongst themselves.” Internal disagreement is one of the things I love about the Bible as it echoes conversations about faith we have right up through today. Although, discovering these biblical wrinkles can be one of the things that shakes up faith. Faith can also be shaken by challenges of modernity, by confrontations with other religions, or by suffering we see and experience ourselves. Just ask Thomas.
Thomas experienced trauma through the suffering and death of Jesus. He missed the first sighting of Jesus with the other disciples so they’re in a different place of faith than Thomas is himself. Jesus arrives and starts showing off his resurrected wounds in a way that reminds me of the scar scene from the movie Jaws, mesmerizing yet gruesome. Some of us crave a similar moment of certainty with Jesus, an unequivocal, supernatural revelation that proves faith once and for all time. Most of us experience Jesus differently, the power of the Spirit moving slowly and methodically like water on stone. The gospel of John calls this movement of the Spirit, “Word,” – “…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.” The Word proclaimed by John is continuous with the breath of God at creation, continuous with the Word made flesh in the earthly ministry of Jesus ending in glory on a cross, continuous with Peter’s sermon inspiring the early church, and continuous with the Word we hear and speak today. Therein lies the question. How does the Word find us today? As Genesis tells it, the whole world is enlivened by the breath of the spirit. The assertion makes all people spiritual by definition, if not by confession. This aligns with nursing science that describes well-being as physical, emotional, and spiritual. It also aligns with people who self-describe as “spiritual but not religious.” But what about those of us who are religious? How is the religious understood in continuity with the spiritual? Just ask Thomas, and maybe Peter too.
Thomas is caught. His friends are talking about something he hasn’t experienced first-hand. These people are his people but he’s on the outside even though he’s in the same room with them. It makes me think of the conversation that I have with new and continuing visitors – that there are as many different reasons for being here together as there are people here. Gathered by the Holy Spirit into this time and place, we receive faith through Word and sacrament and we practice faith through worship with other people. Continuous with the faith of the early church enlivened by the Spirit and proclaimed by Peter. Religious Christianity involves a people and a practice that proclaims something about Jesus, something lively, something universal for the world, and something particular for each person. For all and for you.
Religious Christian practice necessarily involves people’s stories about faith and life like Thomas and Peter’s stories. How else do people come to faith otherwise? This struck me again recently during Lenten worship on Thursdays. Different people each week chose Bible verses and talked about why they chose them related to their life of faith. Hearing about their faith and experience was powerful. Along this line, I recently invited a few people to be interviewed for a video about this congregation. The questions were simple. What drew them here and what keeps them here? Now, of course, as a pastor I believe the Holy Spirit ultimately draws us all together. But the Spirit draws us by how we hear God’s voice. I’ve made the comment to visitors and members alike to listen for the ways they hear God’s voice during worship and time with a congregation. I also tell them that I know good colleagues and good congregations elsewhere if they’re still working on figuring that out.
In the video interviews, we hear people who worship as part of this congregation reflect on how being a part of this religious people and practice enlivens their faith. Again, hearing from each one of them talk about their faith and experience is powerful. At one point, Nick makes the comment that being part of this congregation allows he and his family to talk about faith and “the time that it’s challenged, and the time that it’s raised up, the time that it’s evident, and the time that it’s absent.” Thomas and Peter both could speak to this fluidity of faith. Thomas, trying to figure out faith in the aftermath of trauma. Peter, a denier of Jesus during his trial in one moment and a public preacher in the next. On any given day, in any given minute, our faith can be challenged or raised up or evident or absent. Jesus meets us by the power of the Spirit in any and all of those moments.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” In large part, the faith we are called to share deals not in what we see but what we experience in our lives of faith. Jesus encounters us through the practices of bread, wine, water, Word, and each other as God’s voice is heard through people’s flawed and faithful stories. As God enlivens all things by the breath of the Spirit, may God enliven you by faith, joining in the prayer of the Apostle Paul:
“I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
 Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 2:7
 Job 33:4
 Joel 2:28
 John 20:22
 Acts 2:1-13
 Pentecostal [def] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Pentecostal
 Peter Enns, Abram S. Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies, Eastern University. The Sin of Certainty. (Harper Collins Publisher: New York, 2016), 150.
 Jaws Movie CLIP HD – Scars (Zanuck/Brown Productions and Universal Pictures, 1975). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLjNzwEULG8
 John 1:14
 John 1:1
 John 13:31-31 and John 17:4-5
 Nick Massie, Ibid. Video: “Why Augustana?”
 Ephesians 3:14-19