Tag Archives: Lent

Mary of Bethany is Worth Knowing [OR Unrestrained Adoration Finds a Place] John 12:1-8

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 7, 2019 – Fifth Sunday in Lent

[sermon begins after Bible reading]

John 12:1-8 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

[sermon begins]

 

 

Mary of Bethany is gloriously unrestrained at Jesus’ feet.  Fragrance fills the room as oil pools on the floor. The senses are engaged – sight, sound, smell, and touch. She’s impossible to ignore. Being there must have been wild. Socially awkward, for sure. She was touching a man, lavishing him with adoration and oil in plain sight of everyone else at Lazarus’ back-from-the dead dinner. Just before the sensual ritual of anointing feet with hair and perfume, Mary’s brother Lazarus had died. She wept at Jesus’ feet at the edge town.[1]  When Jesus finally showed up, she ran to meet him and knelt on the ground – holding him accountable for not being there as Lazarus took his last breath.  Jesus cried with her.  And then he raised Lazarus from the dead. The Gospel of Luke describes yet another moment when Mary of Bethany was at Jesus’ feet.[2]  This time, though, her pose was scholarly as she listened to what he was saying.  In that moment in Luke, Jesus affirmed her spot on the floor as a good thing.

Mary of Bethany spent a lot of time at Jesus’ feet.  She learned at his feet.  She wept at his feet.  She oiled his feet in adoration, anointing him for death.  I’ve been wondering what Mary of Bethany’s adoration looks like for us today. There are things we do in worship that infer adoration.  We turn toward the cross as it is carried in and out of the Sanctuary.  Our praise-filled hymns and psalms raise a joyful noise of adoration.[3]  Some of us meditate on various crosses during worship while we sing, or commune, or confess the faith of the church.  Some of us kneel as we’re able to receive Jesus in the bread and wine of communion. Being in worship together is a moment to adore Jesus in ways as old as God has been worshipped.  Surrendering as Mary did to the unconditional grace of Jesus. Not solving the mystery of God in human form but entering into the mystery by faith.

It’s a wonder that Mary of Bethany doesn’t get more of our attention.  Scholarly, passionate, and unrestrained, she’s a gift to all of us who struggle to embody the liveliness of the faith within us.  I can make a few guesses as to why but it’s probably better to let Judas have a go at it.  Honestly, I don’t really want to give Judas the time of day in this sermon. He can take a hike as far as I’m concerned. It’s boo-and-hiss the moment Judas opens his mouth.  Information about betrayal and thievery stuck in those parentheses in the reading incite that reaction.  Judas’ words sound like a noble church leader guiding the flock to do-goodery on behalf of people living in poverty. But. Jesus. Knows. Better.  Jesus paraphrases a bit of Deuteronomy that talks about the people who will never cease to be in need and the Lord’s command to “open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”[4]  Then Jesus tells Judas to leave Mary alone.  We can comfortably point at Judas the way he was pointing at Mary.  But I want to spend a little time in Judas’ shoes.  Let’s wonder about the way he portrays righteousness to hide whatever is dark inside.

Whatever is dark inside takes cover in those parentheses.  Like those parts about Judas’ betrayal and his embezzlement from the common purse.  He has some pretty big things going on in those parentheses.  What I want us to consider is that we have parentheses of our own.  The dark inside ourselves that struggles to love God, love self, and love neighbor.  The dark place that kick starts its own agenda while looking pretty righteous on the outside.  The part that takes other people down because their unrestrained adoration is too much for us to bear.  Extravagant grace is often label as offensive or, at the very least, not normal.  Think back to last week and the father running with flying elbows and flapping robes toward his wayward son.  Undignified right through the massive hug and undeserved party including a main course of fatted calf.  Like Judas, we see an act of grace and define it as excessive.  This puts it far away from us in a category of giving we label as extreme.  As in, not part of how we see ourselves. Judas’ petty righteousness stands in stark contrast to Mary’s lavish devotion.[5]

Mary’s lavish devotion fills the room and the senses.  At the same time, she points us toward a death on cross that won’t smell near as pretty.  The Gospel of John repeats a similar logic of contrast from its opening verses to its ultimate message of Jesus lifted on a cross and drawing all people to himself.[6]  Bringing Lazarus back to life intensifies the pace to that cross as some are drawn to faith and others begin to plot Jesus’ death.  Today’s reading tells us that Passover, the night on which Jesus is betrayed, is only six days away.  The story is building to Jesus’ inglorious end that reveals his glory. Next Sunday we’ll hear about his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Then he’s just a foot-washing away from being taken into custody to stand trial.

In the meantime, we witness Mary’s moment of adoration of Jesus right down to the tips of her hair. One way into adoration for us is poetry.  Psalms and hymns are poetry.  As are the haikus we’ve been invited to write leading up to Holy Week.  Haiku is short, non-rhyming verse made up of three lines – five syllables in the first, seven syllables in the second, back to five syllables in the third and last verse.  Those details are also in the worship announcement page, Friday’s e-mailed E-pistle, and the April Tower newsletter.[7]  Take a few moments this week to write a haiku in adoration of Jesus with whom we travel to and through the cross into new life.  Mary of Bethany’s excess also invites our own extravagance toward Jesus in this season.  Lent is a time of sacrificial giving and a time of adoration.  Both of which Mary exemplifies in her discipleship.

But her discipleship is not an end unto itself.  Through the curtain of hair and the dripping oil is the One who is worthy of adoration.  Jesus empties himself extravagantly to bring life through death – unconditional grace when the darkness inside of us is overwhelming.  Longing for his goodness, mercy, and peace we discover that Jesus already gives us all that and more.  Now we sing to Jesus and adore…

 

Hymn of the Day – sung after the sermon

Thee We Adore, O Savior ELW 476

Thee, we adore, O Savior, God most true,
thy glory clothed in bread and wine anew;
our hearts to thee in true devotion bow,
in humble awe, we hail thy presence now.

O true remembrance of Christ crucified,
the bread of life to us for whom he died;
lend us this life then; feed and east our mind,
be thou the sweetness we were meant to find.

Fountain of goodness, Jesus, Lord and God,
cleanse us, O Christ, with thy most cleansing blood:
increase our faith and love, that we may know
the hope and peace which from thy presence flow.

Jesus, by faith we see thee here below;
send us, we pray thee, what we thirst for so:
some-day to gaze upon thy face in light,
blest evermore with thy full glory’s sight.  Amen.

 

Holy Week Haiku
Submit a haiku or two about Holy Week anytime between Sunday, March 31 and Good Friday, April 19. Haiku is a 17-syllable verse form consisting of three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Haiku will be shared via Augustana’s printed and online publications.

Submit your haiku online here: http://www.augustanadenver.org/holy-week-haiku/

OR e-mail it to Lyn Goodrum (goodrum@augustanadenver.org).

 

Hark! It is finished!
Heard upon that wooden cross.
No! It’s just begun . . .
–Robert Herbst
 

__________________________________________________________________

[1] John 11:32

[2] Luke 10:38-42

[3] Psalm 100

[4] Deuteronomy 15:11

[5] Matthew Skinner. Commentary on John 12:1-8. March 21, 2010. Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=544

[6] John 12:32

[7] https://mailchi.mp/190dfe517438/augustana-e-pistle-april-5-2019?e=705114770e

Temptation: Setting the Terms of the Debate [First Sunday in Lent] – Luke 4:1-13

**sermon art: The Temptations of Christ, 12th century mosaic at St Mark s Basilica, Venice

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on March 10, 2019

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Luke 4:1-13 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.’ ” 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

[sermon begins]

How do you know that you’re losing an argument?  Perhaps you’re blood pressure goes up.  Maybe you start to cry.  Or yelling happens.  Or you go quiet, seething on the inside.  Or shut down and tune out.  There’s a lot of reactions to arguing but it’s rare that one person says to the other, “You know you’re right…it’s so clear to me now!”  If temptation could show up like an argument we wouldn’t have a problem with it. We could just say, “Sorry old chum, take your temptations and carry on.”  Except.  Except…temptation is like an argument.  Someone or something else sets the terms of the temptation debate, whether explicitly set or not, and there are factors that affect the argument such as hunger, anger, loneliness, or fatigue.[1]

Jesus, for instance, was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit after his baptism at the Jordan River.  He fasted for 40 days in the wilderness and was all by himself.  We can guess that he was likely some combination of hungry, lonely, and tired.  The questions being posed by the devil were about solving those very problems.  Hungry?  Turn stones to bread.  Lonely?  Have all the kingdoms of the world. Tired? Let the angels protect you.  Three easy steps to solve all Jesus’ problems. All three of these solutions for the price of worshiping something other than God.  The three temptations can be summed up as things, power, and safety.  There may be a better summary but let’s go with those for now…Jesus was offered things, power, and safety.  But Jesus, being Jesus of course, didn’t take the bait. Not only did he avoid the bait, he hardly entered the argument.  His response would suggest that he rejected the argument outright and reset the terms of the debate.  Being the Son of God and all might have helped just a tad.

Here’s what I’ve been wondering about.  I’ve been wondering how it is that temptation presents itself to ordinary, non-Son-of-God humans.  I’m not talking about sweet treats or extra pairs of shoes we say that we’re tempted by.  I’m talking about honest to God temptation that draws us away from who God calls us to be into something else entirely.  Make no mistake, we ARE free to be honest about those things. As I said on Ash Wednesday, those ashes remind us at the beginning of Lent that God loves us “so much that we are free to wonder about our motivations and our actions without worrying about the love freely given to us.”[2]  No time like the first Sunday in Lent to take that promise out for test drive.

At the very least, we’re most susceptible to our temptations when we’re hungry, lonely, and tired.  The more isolated we become, the more lost-in-the-wilderness we can feel.  People who are recovered from the despair of addiction often describe their experience like, “I felt so lost and alone that I didn’t care who got hurt.”  This could be said by people lost in all sorts of addiction – alcohol, drugs, sex, social media, and food, to name a few.  Perhaps you’ve heard a friend or family member say this very thing.  Perhaps it’s a confession you yourself have made or know that you need to make.  Whatever your point of reference, the Anonymous groups are onto something essential for all of us.

Our recovered friends in the pews learn to reframe the debate using 12 steps that include looking beyond themselves to a higher power in addition to being in community with other people in recovery.[3]   The road is not traveled alone.  The isolation and loneliness that add fuel to the fire of temptation and addiction are thwarted by connection with God and other people.

In Adult Sunday School last week, I gave everyone a slip of paper and asked them to jot down responses to why they worship.  Before people started writing, I let them know that the papers would be gathered and redistributed so that they could be read out loud and anonymity of the writers guaranteed.  (Basically protecting the introverts who can occasionally get protective of their thoughts.)  There were a variety of answers as well as multiple answers per piece of paper. What struck me at the time, and then again while reading them as I wrote this sermon, is that the majority of people in class listed being connected with a community of faith as one of their reasons for being in worship.  This Lent there are extra opportunities to be together that are open to anyone who wants to come. One is the Lenten retreat led by the pastors here at Augustana this coming Saturday and the others are here on Wednesday evenings for soup supper and worship.[4]

Last Sunday Pastor Ann preached about how countercultural worship is “in a world that encourages us to worship things, power, money, and ourselves.”  I would add that it’s one of the few places in our society where we voluntarily get together over time and across a variety of differences like age, income level, and gender, to be reminded of our primary identity that reframes the debate against temptation – baptized child of God.

It seems there are as many takes on the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness as there are biblical commentators.  One that makes some sense connects Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness with his baptism.[5]  The Gospel reading from Luke reads, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan [River] and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil.”  The reading reminds us what just happened in the waters of the river Jordan when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus while a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, the Beloved.”[6]  Good ole Martin Luther, when the temptation to despair overwhelmed him, used to yell at the darkness, “I am a child of God, I am baptized!”[7]  It’s as if Luther had read this very part of the Gospel of Luke.  Hmmm….

The point is that we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Besides being called a congregation, we are alternately called the Body of Christ, defined and formed by being “baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  In the waters of baptism, we are given the Holy Spirit as our strength and our guide through the temptation to get lost in the wilderness of a world that sets the terms of the debate as power, money, and things – isolating us in our own muddled minds.  Over and against that temptation, the Holy Spirit gives us company as we work out who God is calling us to be. The company of Jesus, by way of our baptism, through our daily journey. And the company of each other as traveling companions on the road.

___________________________________________________________

[1] Dana Max, Psy.D., personal conversation. H.A.L.T. rule for pressing pause on an argument when you’re “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Intoxicated” and setting a time to revisit the contentious topic.

[2] You can find that sermon (“Beginning at the End, Ash Wednesday”) in which I unpack this concept here: http://caitlintrussell.org/2019/03/06/beginning-at-the-end-ash-wednesday-matthew-61-6-16-21-2-corinthians-520b-610-isaiah-581-12/

[3] The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Service Material from the General Service Office. (Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing, 1953, 1954, 1981).

[4] Lasting Hope, A Lenten Retreat, Saturday, March 16, 9:30am-1:30pm; and Wednesday in Lent, Soup 6-7pm and Worship 7-7:30pm. Both the Saturday retreat and Lenten worship take place at Augustana.

[5] Arland J. Hultgren, Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Commentary on Luke 4:1-13 for February 21, 2010. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=508

[6] Luke 3:2

[7] Wes Brendenhof, Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. “Luther: Baptizatus sum (I am baptized)” on January 26, 2017. https://yinkahdinay.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/luther-baptizatus-sum-i-am-baptized/

Called Good (Friday) for a Reason [OR Radical Inclusion is the Religious Freedom of the Cross] – John 18-19

Called Good (Friday) for a Reason – John 18-19

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church for Good Friday on April 3, 2015

 

[sermon begins after the two Bible readings excerpted from John 18-19]

John 18:15-18, 25b-27   Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17 The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

John 19:16-18, 25b-30, 40-42 Then [Pontius Pilate] handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; 17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.

25b Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

40 [Joseph of Arimathea] took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

 

[sermon begins]

 

We began Lent on Ash Wednesday confronted with our own mortality.  Ashes are smeared on our foreheads in the sign of the cross and we are told, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  A glaring reminder that life on the planet, our baptismal journey, ends in death.

Death leaves us longing for the spiritual. But in the meantime, we are stunned by its lack.  There is no heartbeat, no breath.  All is quiet.  From where we sit on this side of death there is no dressing it up.  At the bedside or roadside or war-side, wherever we encounter death, it is stark, austere, and unnerving in its lack of immediate meaning.  Death is simply absence.  Gone.  On this side of death, it is nothing more.

We begin Lent faced with our own mortality and a sign of the cross.  At the end of Lent this Good Friday, we are confronted by the cross itself.  Longing for the spiritual, we are stunned by its lack.  There is no heartbeat, no breath.  All is quiet after the betrayal, denial, ridicule, and execution.  The adrenalin fades.  The frantic hype is gone.  “It is finished.”  Jesus’ last words.  Finished.  All that’s left is to put him in a tomb and leave him there.

But the quiet of death breeds disquiet. Unnerved by the immediate lack of meaning the attempts to make meaning begin immediately.  Centuries of Christian thought have produced atonement theory after atonement theory.  Some more satisfactory than others.  Regardless, Gerhard Forde argues that all of these theories hold us “in a false relation to God,” most often reducing Jesus’ death to an unsatisfactory commercial transaction.[1]

Time and again in the New Testament, Jesus’ death is explained simply as “for us”.[2]  That is all.  “For us.”  Which necessarily means that Jesus died “for you.”  Jesus died for you.

Jesus died for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Because isn’t that what Jesus did in his life here on earth?  With the authority of God, he announced forgiveness time and again, and time and again, until finally he was killed for it.  Forgiveness, already available, already announced by Jesus, was that for which Jesus was killed.  He spoke a word of forgiveness until he hung on a cross for it.  For you.

The hands of the betrayer, the hands of the denier, the hands of the ridiculer, the hands of the executioner.  Those hands are ours hands in all the ways we take things into our own hands.  Determined to put conditions on what God’s gives to us unconditionally, we cannot hear this word of forgiveness.  We can’t hear it for other people.  And we can’t hear it for ourselves.

The cross is God’s answer to the re-imagining of God that we do. That re-imagining that leaves us separate from God.  Oh, so you think you know who God is?  Well, what about a God who hangs dead on a cross and gets buried in a tomb rather than use divine power over and against the very creatures whom God loves. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.”  Jesus on the cross simultaneously reveals the scope of divine power poured out to reveal the depth of divine love as we are drawn toward God.  When the self-sacrificing love of God, given fully, is made known to you, when this message of divine love gets through to you, you are drawn by God back into relationship. [3]

With great intention, Jesus hangs on the cross.  And, in one of his final acts while still breathing, does something radical.  Jesus turns to his own mother and then to the beloved disciple and redefines their relationship with the cross in between them.  “‘Woman, here is your son…then he says to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’”

Not only does Jesus draw us into relationship with God through the cross but Jesus redefines our relationship with each other at the foot of the cross – standing with the cross between us, Jesus intervenes.  Drawn back into the relationship with God our Father, Jesus the Christ turns us towards each other in a new way.  And God knows the world needs us to be with each other differently than we are at the moment.  Look as close as the cranky person next door or exclusion laws masquerading as religious freedom in several of these United States.  And look as far away as murder by plane crash in the French Alps or execution across religious differences at the Garissa University in Kenya.  We need every bit of help we can get to stand down and stand with each other.  As Anne Lamott writes, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”[4]

At the cross, love is freely taken up for us and for the sake of the people next to us.  In the same moment, we have everything to do with what happened at the cross and we have nothing to do with it.  We are culpable AND we are passive spectators who are being handed a stark realization of our common powerlessness.  In this way, the cross cannot be used as a method to live life.  The cross is the way we experience life.  Longing for the spiritual, we are often stunned by its lack.  Yes, the cross is the way we experience life.  Humbled by our participation in a death on a cross, made confident through the self-sacrificing love of God.  The cross is radically inclusive of all people which necessarily includes you.

Jesus says, “It is finished.”  Can you hear the whisper?  Finished.  His final moment. All that’s left is to put him in a tomb and leave him there.[5]

 



[1] Gerhard O. Forde.  A More Radical Gospel: Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement, and Ecumenism (Eerdmans Publishing: Grand Rapids, 2004), 221.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Koester, course notes, 12/1/2010.  For further study see: Craig R. Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

[4] Anne Lamott.  Traveling Mercies (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999).

[5] On Good Friday, cross and tomb are the focal point so that hope is reflected out of suffering that is real rather than as false optimism denying painful realities.

Go Ahead, Laugh…A Lot! [OR Laughter Is A Lenten Discipline] Mark 8:31-38 and Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17[1]

Go Ahead, Laugh…A Lot!  [OR Laughter Is A Lenten Discipline]  Mark 8:31-38 and Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17[1]

Caitlin Trussell with New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility on February 27, 2015

 

[sermons begins after the two Bible readings]

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a aman who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

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.”

 

What kinds of things make you laugh?  Really, truly laugh.  The whole breathless, belly, can’t breathe, let go kind of laughter.  For me it’s often the general silliness that comes along with being a human on the planet.  Think Kim Wayans, Jimmy Fallon, Lucille Ball, Cheech and Chong bust-a-gut silly.  A good friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) was recently in a grocery store the day before the big snow of a few weeks ago.  Some were calling it Snowmageddon, some were rolling their eyes, some hunkered down to wait and see.  Many were in the grocery store.  It was packed with slow-moving carts, people pondering produce, precipitation, panic, and Lord only knows what else.

My friend left her cart over by the bakery so that she would take up less room in the busy bacon section.  When she came back to her cart, someone else’s cart was in its place.  She stood there, likely looking confused.  The woman in the bakery came out and asked her if something was wrong and if she needed help.  My friend explained the cart-napping.  The bakery woman then made a store-wide announcement sounding something like this, “With so many people in the store today, please take a minute to look down and make sure you have your cart and not someone else’s.”

In the meantime, a man came up to my friend, and told her that he thought she had his cart.  In those split seconds between the overhead announcement and the man’s cart-confusion, it dawned on my friend that she was the one who had stolen someone else’s cart.  After many apologies, she looped back and found her abandoned cart waiting peacefully among the fruits and veggies.  She called to tell me the story and we both laughed ourselves breathless.  For me, the overhead announcement was the punchline.  Even as I write this I can feel the laughter start to bubble up in my chest.  For her, laughing at herself was the punchline.

And then there’s Abraham in the Bible story from Genesis.  His big moment with the Lord.  During which God makes a promise, a promise so huge that it’s given the name of covenant.  When God makes a covenant with people it is an ‘unbreakable vow’ of sorts.[2]  A promise of epic proportions that affects generations of people.  Such is the case with Abraham.  Abraham knows this and his response is to fall on his face.

In the Hebrew Bible, falling on your face is no slap-stick move.  Rather it is a position of obedience.[3]  Abraham is aligning himself with the covenant.  Just a few sentences later in the story, Abraham falls on his face again, this time while laughing.  The Lord has just told him that he and his very old wife are going to have a baby.  Abraham makes the obedient move with his body, by falling on his face, but his mind hasn’t caught up, he laughs at the silliness of the plan, God’s plan.[4]  For Abraham, laughing at God is the punchline.  That’s Abraham, mind you, a paragon of faith who can’t keep his amused confusion bottled up.

As Abraham busts a gut, his obedience is still in play.  What plays out of it?  Well, Sarah and Abraham deny themselves a life that is safe, autonomous, secure, a life that is only about the two of them.[5]  They deny themselves that life, and are drawn into a life of big relationship with God, each other, their children, their children’s children…you get the picture.  A life uncontained is a life that necessarily gets messy – that messes with your self-ness, maybe even your alone-ness.

Might this be some of what Jesus means in his rant to the crowd about denying self.  Self-denial is a common catch-phrase for the pre-Easter season of Lent.  For Abraham and Sarah, self-denial carried with it a new relationship with God and a bunch of other people.  For the crowd and disciples listening to Jesus, self-denial means taking up crosses and following Jesus, getting drawn into God’s ludicrous plan with a bunch of other people who are following Jesus too.

Self-denial and taking up crosses looks a lot like what Karoline Lewis describes as “God choosing human relationships.”[6]  This shapes out first as God choosing human relationship with us through the humanity of Jesus.  Then it shapes out as we’re thrown against each other as people in the world, compelled to reconsider what the priorities are in those relationships.

In the Bible Story from Mark’s book, Peter gets protective.  Call it worry, care, concern.  Call it whatever you want.  But Peter gets protective of Jesus.  Jesus is talking foolishness about his upcoming death and Peter can’t take it.  So, he does what any good friend would do.  He tells Jesus he’s wrong.  No belly laughs here as Jesus then calls Peter “Satan”, tells him to step aside, and then tells everyone there to get on board the self-denial train and depart toward the cross.

This moment for Peter and Jesus is like so many of our moments.  Things are going along pretty well, and then?  They’re not.  Peter’s is driven by protectiveness likely complicated by a dash of worry and a pinch of disagreement about the plan.  After all, what might it mean for Peter if Jesus’ suffering and execution actually happen.  Peter seems to want to save Jesus from his inevitable end.  But how much of Peter’s drive comes from wanting to save himself by saving his own ideas, his own timing, his own way.

How often do we do these kinds of things in our own relationships?  Resenting another person’s infringement on our ideas, our timing, our way by throwing a wrench into them with their own.  Suddenly this other person intrudes and requires negotiation, time, and an adjustment to our own plan.

You’ll hear me talk about the cross from time-to-time as something that pushes against our own ideas of the world and shatters them, as something that pushes against us and puts things to death in us so that other things have room to live.  This doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  It’s not something that I can do all by myself.  Being pushed comes from being in relationships with other people.  Some of those we get to choose – like partners, best friends, counselors.  Others, we don’t get to choose – children, co-workers, church people, total strangers.  All of these people infringe on the notion that we get to do things our way.  There are moments when these people unravel us in utter frustration, not a punchline in sight.

Then there are other moments, those rare moments, those cross moments, when something in us simply crumbles, something dies.  Any investment we had in a particular outcome at the expense of a relationship is pushed into oblivion.   The recognition dawns that, more often than not, we’re with someone who is simply trying to be human just like we’re simply trying to be human.  The laughter coming a little more easily.

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.”[7]  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 to the new thing, the new life.  The cross invites honesty about what is dying and curiosity about what new life will look like.  So much so that it then becomes possible to stay in relationship with God and with other people.  Staying in relationship with the people closest to us rather than lashing out in fear or frustration and destroying those relationships.  With maybe even the freedom to laugh at ourselves as the punchline.

 

As we try to make some sense of the cross this Lenten season…

May grace run wild through Jesus’ life-death-life and through other people to shine light in your own dark places making space for new life.

 

And may Abraham’s laughter through obedience mirror your own as your mind is blown by the foolishness of the cross.[8]  Amen.

 



[1] This adds verse 17 to the Revised Common Lectionary verses for this week…because Abraham laughs, of course.

[2] A nod to the Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling.  An Unbreakable Vow is a binding spell sealing an oath so that they both parties die if the oath is broken.

[3] Cameron B.R. Howard.  Commentary on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17 for March 1, 2015 at WorkingPreacher.org. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2384

[4] Ibid.

[5] Karoline Lewis. Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary texts for March 1, 2015 at WorkingPreacher.org. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3542

[6] Ibid.

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

[8] Referencing 1 Corinthians 1:25 – “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom…”

An Ash Wednesday sermon from the Hebrew Bible in Isaiah 58:1-12

A Sermon for Ash Wednesday from the Hebrew Bible in Isaiah 58:1-12

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on February 18, 2015

 

[sermon begins after the Bible reading from Isaiah]

Isaiah 58:1-12 Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. 3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

[sermon begins]

In the Bible reading this past Sunday, Jesus’ disciples asked each other the question, “What could this rising from the dead mean?”[1]  They asked this amongst themselves after Jesus told them that he was going to be killed and that he was going to rise again.  The question for us today on Ash Wednesday, and for the next 40 days of Lent, isn’t so much about rising from the dead – although certainly the end of the story is reassuring.  We will get to the resurrection soon enough in the Easter season.  The question for us today on Ash Wednesday, and for the next 40 days of Lent, is much more about the first part of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples about him being killed.  The question for us becomes, “What could this Jesus dying on a cross mean?”  Lent opens up space and time to ask that question.  Ash Wednesday is a moment when we begin to ask it in earnest.

Rabbi Harold Kushner talks about the desire to be taken seriously and how that plays out in our lives.  He writes, “We want to be judged because to be judged is to be taken seriously, and not to be judged is to be ignored…But at the same time we are afraid of being judged and found flawed, less than perfect, because our minds translate ‘imperfect’ to mean ‘unacceptable, not worth loving’.”[2]

The language of judgment has fallen out of favor.  You might read in an article or hear someone say, “I’m just describing that situation for now without putting a judgment on it.”  Or, after you get done telling someone about something you’ve done, the person listening to you might say, “Just sit with it for a while without judging it.”  These are often wise words that create some room around a volatile situation, ramping it down a notch or two so that necessary decisions can be made or so that a relationship might be salvaged.

However, being brought back around to something you have done or are still doing that hurts other people or yourself is exactly the kind of judgment that’s about being taken seriously.  Not taken seriously by just anyone, but taken seriously by God.  So that when you encounter sin from which you finally can’t escape, there is the hope of being taken seriously by God.

The Bible reading from Isaiah teases us with our seeming desire for God’s righteous judgment and delighting in drawing near to God.  Then Isaiah flags the ways we play this out as self-serving, losing sight of God in the process.  Isaiah begs the question, “If you’re wondering where God is in your life, is it possible that you’re pursuing the wrong things?”[3]   Ash Wednesday and Lent offer us a time when we’re able to ask this question together, accompanying each other as our flawed priorities and our very selves are marked with ash and called out as flimsy and fragile.

As you and your priorities are marked with ash, consider beginning a Lenten practice that signals a different priority.  Isaiah gives us some things to choose from including letting the oppressed go free… sharing bread with the hungry, cover the naked, not hiding yourself from your own family…removing the yoke from among you by not pointing fingers or speaking evil and meeting the needs of the afflicted.  Other options to add as a Lenten practice could include praying for others at Chapel Prayer here on Mondays mornings or Tuesdays evenings; praying for other people as a link on the Prayer Chain who receive the weekly prayer requests by e-mail; or showing up for the Making Sense of Scripture class on Tuesday mornings or Thursday evenings.  There are many more practices across the Christian tradition that could serve as a reordering of priorities during Lent.

In the meantime, like the flawed people to whom Isaiah is writing, we come together before the God who says, “Here I am.”[4]  In God’s presence there is a holy judgment.  A holy judgment that takes you seriously because you are so worth loving even, and maybe especially, when you least believe you are worth loving.  You are so worth loving that God steps into the mix to show you just how much you are worth loving.  God’s love frees us to ask the question in love, “What could this Jesus dying on a cross mean?”  Let’s spend some time over the next few weeks asking it together.



[1] Mark 9:10 – So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

[2] Harold Kushner.  How Good Do We Have To Be? A New Understanding of Love and Forgiveness. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1996).  http://www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/howgood.html

[3] Matt Skinner on Sermon Brainwave for Ash Wednesday on February 18, 2015 at workingpreacher.org. http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=594

[4] Isaiah 58:9 “…you shall cry for help, and [God] will say, Here I am.”

John 13:1-17, 31-35b and Exodus 12:1-14 “Confusion and Mystery” [Or A Sermon for Maundy Thursday]

John 13:1-17, 31-35b and Exodus 12:1-14 “Confusion and Mystery” [Or A Sermon for Maundy Thursday]

Caitlin Trussell on April 17, 2014 for Augustana Lutheran Church

 

John 13:1-17, 31-35b Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

[Read Exodus text at end of sermon]

 

Here we are beginning what’s been come to be called the Three Days.  Lent is drawing to close and inasmuch as Lent is a deepening, the Three Days begins with this evening of Maundy Thursday and takes us deeper yet.  There are many people who don’t take the Lenten elevator down to these levels. They become darker and more confusing.

We start with the Exodus story of Passover.  The Hebrews are gearing up to leave Egypt, their home and their enslavement going back hundreds of years.  They have to pack fast and be ready to move fast.  Pharaoh will not be happy.  It’s probably safe to say that he and many other Egyptians will grieve deeply well beyond the Hebrews departure.  After all, the slaves will be gone and their first born boys will be dead.  The Hebrew people take the unleavened bread, the fast-food of their time, and get out of Egypt with nothing but turmoil behind them; turmoil that will close in fast on their heels as they head out into exile.

This time of disorientation, this time of freedom, is then to be remembered for all time.  The last verse of the reading today says, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”  In the ensuing centuries, Jewish people all over the world remember God’s act of freeing their ancestors from slavery in the celebration of Passover.  The time of confusion organized into a ritual of remembrance.  Remembering what God has done, leaving the door open for what God will do next.

From the Exodus we fast-forward to the first century.  Jesus is in a room with some friends…and an enemy.  And Jesus does something startling.  He takes off his robe and puts a towel around his waist.  These actions of disrobing and girding are the not-so-subtle movements of a warrior preparing for battle.[1]  But then Jesus takes a knee in a position of surrender.  He begins to wash feet in a way that no ordinary host, and certainly no warrior, ever would.  This is, after all, a dirty task ordinarily taken on by the slaves of the household.  Interesting, isn’t it?  That we just talked about freedom from slavery and here Jesus is willingly taking on the work of a slave.  Note that everyone gets their feet washed.  Everyone gets clean feet including Judas.  Judas who will end up betraying Jesus not too much later in the story and Peter who will deny that he ever knew Jesus.

The same Peter who does not want Jesus doing the work of a slave by washing his feet suddenly becomes the Peter who wants Jesus to wash his whole body.  Peter is insistent in two different directions.   Peter seems to be trying to figure out this latest twist in the action and how to respond.  His effort to keep up with Jesus’ meaning leaves his head spinning and, once again, has him saying things that make no sense.  Although we can’t blame him really – Jesus takes first prize for saying confusing things.

Just before the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, he makes a speech to his disciples that includes him saying, “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.”[2]  Jesus washing the feet of his disciples gives us a hint of what this light in the darkness looks like, what God in the world looks like.  Like a warrior, girded for battle, who takes a knee in surrender and empties himself for those around him.

From there, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”[3]  And with this, the disciples’ confusion hits a new level.  Jesus’ command, his mandatum from which we get the term Maundy Thursday, precedes his death on the cross but includes his death on the cross.[4]  The mystery of what Jesus is doing during the foot-washing and what Jesus will do on the cross is utterly confusing to everyone involved.  This may partly explain why many people don’t take the Lenten elevator down to these levels.  After all, how are we to engage in the mystery of these Three Days that begin with a foot-washing and end in a tomb?

The short answer is that we don’t.  We don’t engage the mystery.  The mystery engages us.

At Christ’s command, he organizes our confusion into a ritual of remembrance.  “Do this in remembrance of me,” he says.  But it is not only ritual and it is not only memory.

Christ is untamed by the tidiness of the table and the reverence with which we approach him.  This is Jesus after all – in bread and wine given and shed for you.  In this meal, the self-sacrificing love of God is poured out and through us with the fierceness of a warrior poured out in surrender – drawing us deeper into the mystery of the cross and claiming us in God’s name.

 

Exodus 12:1-14  The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. 12For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

 

 

 



[1] Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, lecture content from the course: Gospel and Epistles of John in Fall Semester 2010.

[2] John 12:44-46

[3] John 13:34

[4] Living Lutheran (online), “The Three Days: Traditions of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.”  http://www.elca.org/en/Living-Lutheran/Ask-a-Pastor/2013/10/~/link.aspx?_id=8A91118FE3E341839E13E7444A33CBF6&_z=z

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#