Tag Archives: love

God’s Love in a Body Means Something for Black, Brown, and White Bodies [OR Jesus’ Farewell Commands Us to Love] John 14:15-21

**photograph: Ahmaud Arbery and his mother Wanda Cooper Jones. KSLA News on May 7, 2020. ksla.com/2020/05/07

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 17, 2020

[sermon begins after Bible reading]

John 14:15-21  [Jesus said to his disciples] “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

[sermon begins]

“Be safe, have fun, use your power for good.” My poor kids and their friends heard me say goodbye this way countless times. It is short, to the point, and includes the main things. It is a fond farewell. The Gospel of John reading today is a continuation from last Sunday and it too is part of a fond farewell. So much so that chapters 14 through 17 are called Jesus’ Farwell Discourse. Jesus doesn’t quite boil it down with my motherly efficiency but it’s possible that he has a little more on his mind. In chapter 13, he wrapped up the last meal that he would eat with his friends before his trial and death. Jesus washed the feet of the friend who would betray him, the feet of another one who would deny knowing him, and the feet of the rest of his friends who would desert him as he’s executed.

Jesus explained their clean feet by telling them, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.”[1] In Jesus’ Farwell Discourse, he continued to explain it to them. Because when you say goodbye, it’s important to cover the main things. The main things in our reading today being Jesus’ commandments that will be kept in love by his followers AND that another Advocate besides Jesus will be given to them while they keep the commandments. Remember that the commandment Jesus gave them was to love each other as Jesus loved them. Remember that Jesus loved the betrayer, the denier, and the deserters as he washed their feet.

Their clean feet are an important preface to the reading today. Jesus’ commandments aren’t easy-peasy virtue points. Jesus’ example of love is what led to his execution. Thank God we’re given the Holy Spirit as an Advocate on our way or we’d never even get close to what Jesus demands of us. Because Jesus’ demand comes with a lot of grace that we’re not going to get it right even as we take the next right step. Grace allows us to be in motion when we’re not sure what’s being asked of us. The reminder of grace in our regular worship in the form of confession and forgiveness has been missing these last few weeks of distancing. Those beautiful moments of honesty at the beginning of worship when we speak the truth of who we are as fragile, failed creatures and hear a word of God’s good forgiveness and grace in reply. The Spirit helps us in our weakness to acknowledge our failures and to strengthen us for the love demanded of us.

Failures that we call sin are both individual and societal. There are moments when our solitary action or inaction creates real pain for someone nearby – a family member or a friend or a stranger in the store. Those kinds of sins are sometimes easy to identify. Remember the betrayer, the denier, and the deserters? We can give them names – Judas, Peter, and the other disciples. We know what they did. They know what they did. None of it’s a secret.

Identifying societal sins is more difficult because we set up camps that justify our self-righteous behavior. The louder that one side rants about the other is heard as validation. We might be right, goes the distorted logic, if that other group we hate is screaming at us about how wrong we are being. A contradictory validation but one that is alive and well at the moment. Let’s go back in time a bit. Oh, I don’t know, say, 66 years.  66 years ago today, on May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional even if they happened to be equal in every other way. This landmark decision is known as Brown vs. Board of Education.[2] Some of you lived this history. Segregation was normal, agreed upon by society, until suddenly it wasn’t normal.

Segregation was systemic sin getting named for its failure. A few years later, white adults on the news were screaming at black teenagers as they entered school under the protection of the National Guard.[3] This is a scene that many Americans look back on in horror. Personally, I can’t imagine my education in Pasadena, California, without my school friends and teachers who covered the spectrum of race and skin color from the whitest white to the blackest black. Here’s where the murkiness starts though. The self-righteousness as we justify our own moment and behavior as acceptable without seeing the systemic sin that survives alive and well inside ourselves creating norms in society at large.

Fast-forward to Ahmaud Arbery’s killing this past February. He was a black man. The men who shot him were white. Arguments abound about who was right and wrong. It’s exhausting. But, once again, we can look to that case and call it a problem between individuals. Frankly, that’s too easy. We live in a country where living while black can be a death sentence no matter what black people are doing; a country where black and brown folks are dying from COVID-19 at a much higher rate then their percentage of the population.[4] We have some explaining to do.

And I don’t mean explaining it away by blaming the people who are dying. I mean looking at the unconscious and conscious agreements we make as a society to protect white bodies and sacrifice black and brown bodies to essential tasks with higher risks for COVID-19 exposure. This is where Christian language of sin and evil is important because we can do something about it when we give it a name.

Naming sin and evil as sin and evil is especially vital when it’s systemic and deeply embedded in our day-to-day lives. We know something is seriously wrong when I as a white mother can say something simple to my kids – be safe, have fun, and use your power for good – while my friends who are black mothers say something entirely different about safety to their children when they leave the house – keep your hands visible when you’re pulled over and follow the police officer’s directions. Ask your black friends in your town about getting pulled over. Another exhausting part of this whole thing is that we white folks play a part in racism even if we think we’re doing really well. We explain it away rather than confessing and confronting the racism in our own behavior and the public policies we support on education, healthcare, criminal justice, housing, and infrastructure.

When Martin Luther explains the Fifth Commandment, Thou Shall Not Kill, he says we’re not only guilty of breaking this commandment when we do evil to our neighbor but we break it when we fail to defend, protect, and prevent their bodily harm. [5] Along this line, we let white friends get away with racism in our casual conversations about certain neighborhoods, or immigrant cultures, or how certain people of color dress or cut their hair. As if any of that is available to our interpretation and something we can weigh in on; as if any of that adds no societal harm to black and brown bodies.

Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” His command to love was first embedded in his own body – the body that was the Word made flesh, the body that washed feet and forgave, the body that died on a cross, and the body that was raised to new life on the first Easter morning. Jesus also says to his followers, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live…I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” God’s love had body.[6] We too have bodies in which Jesus promises to live as the Advocate of the Holy Spirit strengthens us to keep Jesus’ commandment to love each other as he first loved us. As he first loved us when we were betrayers, deniers, and deserters, and as he continues to love us just the same.

Beloved bodies of God, go in peace to love and serve your neighbor. You won’t be safe, you might have fun, and the Spirit’s power will be used for good. Thanks be to God. And amen.

 

And now receive this blessing adapted from the worship Confession and Forgiveness…

Blessed be the holy Trinity, ☩ one God,

Who forgives sin and brings life from death.

May Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse your hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit.

May God forgive your sins, known and unknown, things you have done and failed to do.

May you be turned again to God, upheld by the Spirit,

So that you may live and serve God in newness of life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God, who is rich in mercy, loved us even when we were dead in sin, and made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved. In the name of ☩ Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven. Almighty God strengthen you with power through the Holy Spirit, that Christ may live in your hearts through faith. Amen.

________________________________________________________________

[1] John 13:34

[2] Joy J. Moore, Associate Professor of Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary. Sermon Brainwave Podcast for the Sixth Sunday of Easter posted May 9, 2020. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1262

[3] Little Rock Nine, 1957, in Little Rock, Arkansas. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/central-high-school-integration

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups.” https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/racial-ethnic-minorities.html

[5] The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church. The Fifth Commandment [189]. http://bookofconcord.org/lc-3-tencommandments.php

[6] Ibid., Moore.

Praise the Sweet Baby Jesus! Luke 2:1-20 and Isaiah 9:2-7

**sermon art: John Giuliani, Guatemalan Nativity, 1990s

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on December 24, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Isaiah 9:2-7 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Luke 2:1-20 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

[sermon begins]

Praise the Sweet Baby Jesus! I’ve been known to blurt this out in a mix of people and places. Most of the time, it’s because someone has shared some good news. Praise-the-sweet-baby-Jesus is not a phrase my family used, nor was it ever said even one time during my ten years away from church. But somewhere along the way, someone said it and it wove into my praise and prayer. I don’t remember when it started happening that people would respond with raised eyebrows and outright laughter to praise-the-sweet-baby-Jesus, and then mention a movie they saw and assume that’s where I picked it up. It wasn’t. But as this Christmas Eve sermon started percolating and the phrase came to mind, it made sense to check out that movie scene before preaching it.[1] Turns out, it’s NOT the exact same phrase. The scene is a family argument that erupts over the table prayers during Christmas dinner. As the dad prays repeatedly to the baby Jesus, the mom stops the prayer and they argue about whether or not it’s okay for him to be praying to the baby Jesus. To this, the dad replies that she’s welcome to pray to whichever Jesus she likes – grown-up, teen-aged, or bearded Jesus – but that he likes “the Christmas Jesus best.”  The scene is waaay over the top but it gets something right theologically when it comes to this evening’s Bible readings.

The Luke reading announces the birth among farm animals as the child is wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in the manger that feeds those animals. Angels herald the baby as Savior, Messiah, and Lord, while sending the shepherds to the manger-side praising God. Bible verses before our reading announce the child as “Son of the Most High” and “Son of God.”[2] The Bible verse that follows our reading announces that the baby’s name is Jesus.[3] In the Isaiah reading, there are other names given to “a child born for us, a son given to us” – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.[4]  One tiny newborn, so many names; and so many more names to come as he grows up and out of that manger – prophet, teacher, friend, and king.  We can ponder in our hearts why there are so many names for one divine human being.  Perhaps it’s possible to treasure ALL these names as we ponder and wonder and wander through the 12 days of Christmas. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s one name for Jesus that you like best.

When the many names for Jesus come up, disagreement CAN happen about which name is more applicable, or which name is the right name, or which name we should use when we’re being the most faithful, or which name gets at the authentic Jesus the best.  Seems like a moot argument.  All the names listed in the scripture have value in the fullness of Jesus.  Here’s one way to think about it.  I’m a wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter, weightlifter, community organizer, preacher, pastor, and more.  Am I any one of those things in negation of the other? No.

You may be a peacemaker, student, activist, friend, athlete, gamer, employee, reader, dancer, singer, and more.  Are you any one of those things in negation of the other? No. Are you sometimes more of one of those things than another?  Most likely, depending on the moment.  Are you still ALL YOU in any given moment?  Of course.  Who we are in any one of our roles adds to the breadth of our human experience and the depth of our humanity.  Similarly, so goes the divine humanity of Jesus.

The beauty of specifically celebrating the baby Jesus at Christmas is that we’re reminded just how much God loves us first.  Meaning that before we ever had an inkling that there might even be a God, God arrived physically in the world to be present with us in the most vulnerable way possible – as a squishy, squeaky newborn. For some of us, that’s more than enough because maybe you need the sweet baby Jesus as the Christmas gift, meeting you beyond the overfull inn where everyone inside seems cozy and snug while you’re on the outside looking in.

But others may be in a different space this evening.

Maybe you need the Wonderful Counselor Jesus who calms the troubled mind.

Or maybe Prince of Peace Jesus who calms a troubled world.

Maybe you need the prophet Jesus who challenges the status quo promising liberation.

Maybe you need the suffering Jesus on a cross who reassures you that God suffers with us in the darkest moments of life.

Or maybe you need the Savior Jesus who promises new life out of the hot mess you’ve made of yours.

Maybe you need the Easter Jesus, shining and shimmering with life eternal, sharing your moment of joy as you shout “Hallelujah.”

Or perhaps you need that other Easter Jesus who holds your fragile moment of faith and doubt, reassuring you that there is nothing you can do or not do to make God love you any more or any less.

Regardless of which name for Jesus calls to you, the fullness of Jesus is present with you even if you’re holding onto Jesus by the barest thread with only your fingernails. Because the reality is that Jesus holds onto YOU. In fragile, unexpected places like tonight in the manger of communion bread and wine, Jesus’ presence is promised to you as a gift of grace this Christmas. We imperfectly cradle his presence with our hands as we receive communion and inside ourselves as we eat. However, the perfect presence of Jesus remains despite our flaws or, just maybe, because of them. For this and for all that God is doing right now and right here, we can say Merry Christmas and praise the sweet baby Jesus!

_________________________________________________________

[1] Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Scene: Dear Lord Baby Jesus. (Columbia Pictures, 2006: PG-13).

[2] Luke 1:32 and 35

[3] Luke 2:21

[4] Isaiah 9:6

Uncle Larry’s Miracles – A Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve [OR Check Pockets Before Washing] John 6:3-14, Genesis 50:15-21, and Philippians 4:4-9

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on November 27, 2019 at 7:00 p.m.

[sermon begins after 3 oh-so-worth-reading Bible stories]

John 6:3-14 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

Genesis 50:15-21  Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Philippians 4:4-9  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

[sermon begins]

Yesterday was not my finest moment.  I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  Tried to snow shovel my bad mood away to minimal effect.  Pulled my worship robe a.k.a. alb out of the wash only to discover dark blue spots of ink across its whiteness because I’d left a pen in my pocket.  Borrowed bleach from a neighbor.  Had a meltdown during ink blotting with rubbing alcohol because my in-laws gave me the alb when I was ordained.  The same in-laws who completed their baptismal journeys in the last year and are now at rest in the company of the saints in light.  The same in-laws who spent Thanksgivings with us every year for over 20 years.  The same mother-in-law who was my go-to spot and stain advisor.  That woman could get any kind of stain out of any kind of thing breaking all the stain-blasting rules while she did it. She was like a stain miracle worker.  Which brings up the topic of miracles, my planned Thanksgiving Eve sermon theme.

The reason miracles have been on my mind is because of my Uncle Larry.  Rob and I recently visited him during a journey through Massachusetts.  My good uncle feels deeply and thinks broadly.  He’s funny and intense and full of love.  And he has this thing he does when he tells a story.  As an opener, he lists the number of miracles involved.  He told one particular story in which the lead comment was this, “There were FIVE miracles!” (hand held up, five fingers out).  I was so enamored with the way he unpacked his tale around these five miracles.  “First miracle,” he said with corroborating details.  “Second miracle,” he said.  More details.  Finally, the fifth miracle rolled around.  The story rich with feeling and color commentary.  I loved it so much that I called him last Saturday to ask him if I could talk about the way he talks about miracles.  We discussed my intentions.  He said, “Yes.”  And then we talked for almost an hour about miracles and so much more.

We could have a theologians’ argument about what constitutes a miracle…supernatural events that defy scientific explanations, et cetera, et cetera…and what doesn’t constitute a miracle.  But what appeals to me about my uncle’s story telling is the gratitude that pours through his miracle stories. Gratitude for the surprising turn of events that lead to the good and unexpected ending.  Our Bible stories from Genesis and the Gospel of John both include surprising turns of events leading to good and unexpected endings.  The culmination of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers years before becomes what we hear this evening as his brothers ask for his forgiveness.  If Joseph were here with us, how many miracles would he name in the same way Uncle Larry might?  How many moments added up to that singular moment of his brother’s forgiveness?  And the disciples’ consternation about how to feed all those people is solved unexpectedly by Jesus with a boy’s sack lunch.  How would the disciples name the miracles leading up to the big miracle of 5,000 meals plus leftovers?  How many fingers would they hold up as they listed them?

Pointing to miracles is different than saying that everything happens for a reason.  Sometimes the reasons things happen is because of our sin.  Joseph’s brothers had jealousy, anger, and sin on their minds when they sold him into slavery.  God brought good from their evil intentions for Joseph but it’s an injustice to name God as the agent of the brother’s sin.  Pointing to miracles is also different than saying that our material goods are blessings.  Miracles, as in the Gospel of John, are signs that reveal the love of God through Jesus.

In that light, and the awareness of my own imperfections in this regard, I’d like to suggest a bit of miracle-telling.  Not a crowd-share time, but a moment of remembering the miracles in a story.  Here’s my example. Please listen with a bit of grace.

There were FIVE miracles.  First miracle, my in-laws gave me an alb that I wore without incident for almost seven years as a pastor.  Second miracle, their love and pride of my work meant that they readily incorporated my parish commitments into our family traditions. Third miracle, and maybe the most important, my mother-in-law wrote down her pumpkin pie recipe and baked it with me many times so now I’m able to bake it for our family dinner. Fourth miracle, my husband and our daughter were able to reach through my ink-blotting meltdown to give their encouragement and love.  Fifth miracle, that there are tears of love to cry in grief for in-laws. Five miracles, a lot of love, and ultimately love in the form of other people on the planet who give us the tiniest glimpse of how much God loves us.

Jesus was deeply concerned with feeding people, freeing prisoners, loving enemies, healing the sick, serving the vulnerable, disrupting the comfortable, and so much more. In the forefront of the gospel is that it is “good news of great joy for all the people.”[1] It’s why we do things like  donate to ELCA World Hunger and the Chili Challenge for Metro Caring and George Washington High School’s food pantries. It’s also why I would never want to minimize or short-change the love of Jesus to the exclusion of anyone else or to the pain that is real and present in the world.  But Jesus also loves us personally.  For my part, in this year of firsts without Rob’s parents, there are miracles that reveal God’s love in the story of their lives and ours.  If you’re in need of such moments, by all means frame your story – meltdowns and all – on the miracles woven through them that reveal God’s love.  As the encouragement goes in the letter to the Philippians, “if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.”  Happy Thanksgiving and amen.

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[1] Luke 2:8-11 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Division is Not a Call to Hate [OR When Jesus Said ‘Love Your Enemies,’ I’m Pretty Sure He Didn’t Mean Kill Them] Luke 12:48b-56 and Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 18, 2019

[sermon begins after Bible readings from Luke and Hebrews]

Luke 12:48b-56  From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. 49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain'; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Hebrews 11:29-12:2 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace. 32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

[sermon begins]

Way back in January, I received a text asking if I could preach at New Beginnings at the women’s prison on August 16th. Pastor Terry is the called pastor of that church and she was planning her sabbatical for this summer.  Chaplain Nicole was going to be covering the sabbatical and knew she was going to be gone this weekend so they were getting things dialed in early to be sure all was well eight months later.  I agreed to the date and put it on my calendar.  Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago. I e-mailed Chaplain Nicole confirming my schedule with New Beginnings on August 16. Her reply included the news that she was not going to be away after all but she’d like for me to go ahead and preach as planned.  There’s another twist in this short tale.  Holly, an Augustana member, has been volunteering with New Beginnings and set up a four dates a year for other Augustana people to join her as worshiping visitors.  Providentially, August 16 was one of those dates.

When Holly shared the dates, my plan was to proceed with preaching the 16th regardless. Who could have known that I’d be preaching on a day that Holly picked arbitrarily?  When Nicole told me that she was going to be in town after all, and we knew there would be Augustana people in worship with the women, I asked if she’d be willing to preach and I could help in worship in other ways.  I figure you all get plenty of my preaching and it would be cool to hear someone else.  To make an already long story shorter, Nicole came up with the idea that we could preach together by having a dialogue of sorts.  The women of New Beginnings could hear me and the Augustana people could hear Nicole. A win-win, so to speak.  It ended up working out!  Nicole and I figured out some talking points ahead of time so that we’d actually wring some good news out of these freaky verses in Luke which, at the beginning of the week, felt like no small task.  What follows in my sermon is my best solo attempt at what was really a two person job.  So, shout out to Nicole Garcia and the women of New Beginnings – check!

Jesus talks to his disciples about fire and division among families before turning to the crowd, calling them hypocrites, and asking them why they can’t read the present time.  These are really tough verses in Luke.  It’s impossible to read them as a stand-alone story.  They at least deserve to be connected to the larger story in the Gospel of Luke.  Otherwise there’s a danger of turning Jesus into a fire and brimstone preacher when that doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is talking about here.  So let’s talk about that fire.

Jesus says, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”  In Luke 3:16, John the Baptist says something about fire.  John was out in the wilderness baptizing people and they were wondering if he was the Messiah.  John answered them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”[1]  This is language about purification and refining by the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that shows up in the book of Acts as tongues of fire resting on each Jesus follower of the day of Pentecost.[2]  Earlier in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 9, Jesus’ disciples wanted to rain fire down on some inhospitable Samaritans and Jesus rebuked those misguided disciples before they all left for another village.[3]  No fire of retaliation, Jesus reminds his people.

There’s another thing about fire in scripture. It’s a sign of God’s presence. Back in the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Exodus, God calls Moses through a burning bush.  What happens to that bush?  Not a darn thing.  The bush isn’t consumed.[4]  The fire signifies to Moses that he’s in the presence of God. And again, as Moses and the Israelites wander in the wilderness after fleeing Egypt, “the Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night.”[5]

In the fire is the presence of God and in the fire is the refining power of the Holy Spirit – also God.  When we look at the fire as good news, it’s like the preacher in our Hebrews reading says when we look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, the one we look to shake loose “the sin that clings so closely” so that we can “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.[6]  The presence and power of God revealed in cross and in resurrection, in suffering and in victory over death.[7]  All those people listed by the preacher in Hebrews were of the great cloud of witnesses whose imperfection was part of how God was revealed by all that God did for, in and through them which loops us back into the Gospel of Luke and the division that Jesus is causing.  The division revealed by following Jesus because it’s a natural by-product of Jesus’ ministry of confronting the status quo – the status quo of sin that clings to us individually and collectively.  And stuff happens when the status quo is pushed.  Division happens.

The division isn’t a sudden turn or call into hatred.  Too easily we forget what Jesus said earlier in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount in chapter six. “Love you enemies…if you love those who love you what credit is that to you?…Love your enemies.”[8]  Jesus says it twice!  Preaching unconditional love and grace rankles people. Jesus was ultimately executed for it.  The message of God’s kingdom brings unbearable tension but the natural by-product of division should not be construed as a call to hatred.  Rather it is a call to be in the tension that comes with calling out sin.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr wrote a letter from jail and in it he talked about tension.  He said, “A negative peace is the absence of tension, a positive peace is the presence of justice.”[9]  In particular, Reverend King was calling out the sin of racism which created a heck of a lot of tension. He was assassinated in the midst of that tension too. And still, in the midst of that tension, he continued to preach non-violence saying that “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” in a sermon about loving your enemies.[10]

I fear that we’re confused about this distinction between division and hatred. The entertainment value of feuds and hatred in reality T.V. is a case in point.  The sharper and snarkier the comments about the people you disagree with lands you higher in the hierarchies of entertainment and politics – fanning the flames of hatred across the country.  This IS true on all the sides.  We start to believe in the righteousness of our hateful words that lead to hateful action – creating false separations between us.

But a different leader claims us in baptism, my friends – One who arrived in humble beginnings and died in humiliation; One who preached love for the outcast and the poor while loving the whole world that God so loves.[11]  The One named Jesus, who knows a thing or two about shame and darkness, also knows a thing or two about the shame and darkness that clings closely to us as sin. But Jesus also endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and now is seated at the right hand of God.[12]  The same Jesus who flows through us as the refining fire of the Holy Spirit bestowed on us in baptism. It isn’t comfortable and it isn’t easy but it prepares us to walk into a wounded world and tell the truth about ourselves and the world that surrounds us – living into the division caused by the tension of God’s kingdom – not with hatred but with love.  Amen and thanks be to God!

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[1] Luke 3:16

[2] Acts 2:3 – the books of Acts picks up where the Gospel of Luke left off.  Same authorship.

[3] Luke 9:51-56

[4] Exodus 3:3

[5] Exodus 13:21-22

[6] Hebrews 12:1-2

[7] Hebrews 12:2

[8] Luke 6:27, 32, and 35.

[9] https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

[10] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Loving Your Enemies” in Strength to Love: A Book of Sermons (New York: Harper & Row Pocket Books, 1968).

[11] John 3:16-17

[12] Hebrews 12:2

 

 

Keshia Thomas, Anthony Ray Hinton, and You [OR Imago Dei, Real Image-of-God Type Stuff and The Good Samaritan] Luke 10:25-37

**photo credit: Keshia Thomas, 18 years old, by Mark Brunner (1996)

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 14, 2019

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Luke 10:25-37  Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

[sermon begins]

Anthony Ray Hinton went to prison for a crime that he did not commit and sat on death row for 30 years. When he first went to prison, he was so angry and tired of not being believed that he stopped talking.  He wrote down his answers to the guards’ questions.  Going into his fourth year in prison, he heard a man crying in the cell next to his.  Mr. Hinton says that his mother’s compassion moved him to speak. Before long he was joking with the man.  After that night, Mr. Hinton spent the next 26 years trying to focus on other people’s problems.  He said he realized that the other inmates had not had the unconditional love that his mother had given him.  Family was created between the inmates.  54 people walked down the hallway by his cell on their way to be executed.  Mr. Hinton started the ritual with the other inmates to bang on the bars 5 minutes before the execution, letting them know that love walked with them.  Stories like Mr. Hinton’s are often lifted up as examples of the resiliency of the human spirit.  Very few of us will ever be put in a situation as dire as his to know how we would respond.  Regardless, his story has elements worth considering.  He was in a place of despair, angry and alone.  He was facing death.  But, he found meaning in sharing love and compassion that he himself had received from his mother.[1]

Mr. Hinton sharing compassion he himself received is why his story resonates with today’s Bible reading.  Verse 33 tells us that the Samaritan saw the naked, beaten, half-dead man on the side of the road and was “moved with pity.” This word “pity” is from a Greek word that is also translated as compassion elsewhere in Luke.  Luke uses this word only three times in the Gospel.[2]  In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke it’s used 12 times and used specifically to either describe Jesus’ compassion or used by Jesus in parables to describe a major characters’ response.[3]  You may be asking why this translation gem gets a shout out.  It’s because this kind of compassion as it shows up in the gospels is quite specific.  More than a moral claim, one could say it’s almost holy.  One could even say it’s divine.  But if it’s divine, isn’t it out of reach for the common person?  I’m going to say no, it’s not.

In our tradition, we understand ourselves to be created in the image of God.[4]  Imago dei. Our humanity imprinted by God. One of the reasons we worship weekly is to remind ourselves of what we are and to whom we belong.  When we are reminded of what we are in the story of the Good Samaritan, we hear the parable in its rightful place.  Not as a moral action for the to-do list, rather as a divine reaction inspiring us across the road like the Samaritan.  Our bodies are created by divine compassion and also for divine compassion.  When we act compassionately, endorphins are released in our brains making us feel good.  When we act compassionately, the hormone oxytocin is released.  Oxytocin has health benefits like reducing inflammation in our hearts and circulatory systems.[5]  Additionally, compassion is contagious.  Social scientists have found that there’s a ripple effect.  If you are kind and compassionate, your friends, your friends’ friends, and your friends’ friends’ friends have a greater inclination towards compassion.  Our bodies’ systems are wired to react positively to compassion and our community systems are wired to react positively to compassion.  This is one of those moments when faith and science come together like the thumb and index finger – between them we can grasp so much.

In the parable, Jesus reveals the compassion of the neighbor, the compassion that Jesus first and foremost reveals in himself as his own compassion is stirred by the people around him and ultimately his own compassion poured out at the cross.  Jesus’ compassion that is highlighted by Luke in Jesus himself and in the parables about Jesus is compassion stirred by death.  Compassion stirred by the death of the widow of Nain’s son in chapter 7, by the man left half-dead at the side of the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and by the prodigal son showing up after he was assumed dead.  In each of these instances, the compassion of Jesus transforms the ones who are dead, half-dead, or assumed dead.   We could say that the compassion of Jesus, the deathless one, draws him toward death because there is nothing left to fear.

I had a seminary professor who tapped his clergy collar during class and said that the collar would take us boldly into situations where no one else would dare to go. It was a daunting thing to hear.  In hindsight, that seems toplofty to me.  Instead, I would say that it is our baptism that takes us boldly into situations where no one else dares to go.  Our baptism that brings us alive together with Christ, aligning us with the image of God in ourselves and in other people.

Mr. Hinton was released from prison in 2015 after his case was picked up by the Equal Justice Initiative and it was discovered that the evidence against him did not match the crime scene evidence.[6]  His 30 years in prison transformed the experience for himself and the people around him.  First, his mother’s unconditional love and compassion touched his mind and then he was able share it with those around him.  The lawyer questioning Jesus gives the right answer about the law, the Torah – love God and love neighbor as self.  These are the main things, and Jesus agrees with him.  The parable of the Good Samaritan highlights the main things in a way that speaks to us because we’ve see the hesitation of the priest and the Levite rear up in ourselves when confronted by difference and need.  Perhaps the hesitation to cross the road has good logic.  On the other hand, perhaps it’s flawed logic that is primarily fear settling in for an extended stay.

Experiencing compassion ourselves might make us more inclined to cross the road in compassion. Even witnessing acts of compassion makes us more inclined to cross the road in compassion – especially across difference as the Samaritan did.  There’s an image that often comes to mind as an example.  Keshia Thomas was a young black teenage woman protecting a white supremacist middle-aged man from being beaten at a protest.[7]  She’s kneeling on the ground next to him, arms thrown out over him, ready to take the blows herself.  Turns out she’d be on the receiving end of violence in her young life and wishes someone had stood up for her.  She says her faith also played a part in protecting him. The man’s son approached her a few months later and thanked her.  The man remains anonymous.  Both the photographer, Mark Brunner, and another woman, Teri Gunderson, report that Keshia’s action affects them even today.  Ms. Gunderson keeps the picture of Keisha on her wall.

Keshia Thomas and Anthony Ray Hinton are compelling modern examples of compassion.  I would argue that they are contagious examples of compassion inspiring us to cross that road of difference and stare death in the eye like the Samaritan did.  Inspiring us to the compassion that is also in us as the image of God empowered by our baptism into the death and life of Jesus.  Remember that the compassion extended by Jesus includes you too.  Because we’re linear creatures it can be difficult to see love of God, neighbor, and self as all three of those things happening at once.  We’re tempted to say that we have to love ourselves before we can love our neighbor.  Or we have to love God before we can rightly understand love of self.  The actual experience is messier – more like football than baseball if you’ll allow the sports analogy.  A lot is happening at once.  Here’s one suggestion to begin breaking it down.  Take your worship bulletin home this week. Fold it open to this Bible reading. Take a couple minutes to read it as you start your day.  Wonder about it. Ask questions of it.  Pray over it.  Let it remind you.

Crossing the road in compassion breaks the cycle of shame and judgment that we inflict on ourselves and other people.  However compassion comes to you and through you, for today, know that the savior who claims us crosses the road into whatever ditch you currently find yourself in, pulls you out, tends your wounds, and reminds you who you are and to whom you belong.  Alleluia and amen.

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[1] Anthony Ray Hinton’s story can easily be found on any web search.  I encountered his story in the following:

Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. (New York: Avery, 2016), 261-262.  Mr. Hinton tells his own story in The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row (2018).  It’s now on my list of books to read.

[2] Luke 7:13 – Jesus was moved with compassion for the widow of Nain and her dead son; Luke 15:20 – the prodigal son’s father is moved with compassion when he see that his son has returned.

[3] Girardian Lectionary (Proper 10, Year C, Ordinary 15) on Luke 10:25-37, Exegetical Note #5 re Luke 10:33 (2013).

[4] Genesis 1:26-27

[5] The Book of Joy, 258.

[6] EJI. “Anthony Ray Hinton Exonerated After 30 Years on Death Row.” https://eji.org/anthony-ray-hinton-exonerated-from-alabama-death-row

[7] Catherine Wynne. “The teenager who saved the man with the SS tattoo.” BBC News Online on October 29, 2013. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24653643

I’m Kinda Over Mean People [OR Jesus Isn’t Kinda Over Anyone, Even You] John 13:1-17, 31b-34; Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14 for Maundy Thursday, Holy Week

**sermon art: Luke Allsbrook, Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet (2018) oil on canvas

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver on  April 18, 2019 – Maundy Thursday, Holy Week

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

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

Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14   The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell 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. 4 If 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.
11 This 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. 12 For 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. 13 The 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. 14 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.

[sermon begins]

I’m kinda over mean people.  I’m so over mean people that I finally took Facebook up on its constant reminder to update my page and made it my bio line – I’m kinda over mean people.  I’m tired that meanness is celebrated as courage to speak truth.  That critique is venerated as intelligence.  That judgment is lauded as insight.  When I was in seminary, I made what I thought was an insightful comment about an author’s work.  The moment stays with me when my professor looked me in the eye and quietly invited me to immerse into the author’s thought and intent while reserving judgment on the author’s work, reserving judgment on what wasn’t there to be able to see what was there.  Because, of course, no person’s work – no person for that matter – can say all the things, hold all the things, and be all the things, we would wish them to say, hold, and be.  To be clear, there are times when critique is necessary and, as a society, we’re in the thick of deciding big moments in history without the benefit of future sight.  What I’m talking about, though, is meanness for meanness sake, meanness for power’s sake, meanness for our own sake.

Our young people who will be communing together with their families this evening, some for the first time, just went through Communion Instruction with the pastors.  They each received a book that tells the story of Jesus’s life in ministry along with his command to eat bread and wine while remembering him.[1] From just about the first page of the book, there are these crabby people that follow Jesus around.  Crabby, mean people who judge Jesus for eating with sinners who embezzle tax money, for healing people who don’t deserve it, for feeding people who are hungry, for, well, the list is endless for what these crabby, mean people are crabby about.  Ultimately, they’re crabby that Jesus threatens their power. How can they continue to hold onto power when Jesus keeps undermining their power with all that love stuff?  No wonder they were crabby and mean.  It’s tough to fight the power of love.  Weapons don’t work.  Even name-calling has a hard time against the power of love.

In the gospel reading from John, Jesus is all about the power of love. Make no mistake about the power he’s displaying in this foot washing scene. Power on display in his actions and how he moves.  He strips down much like a soldier did for battle in the first century.[2]  So similar were Jesus’ moves to that of a soldier: he stood up from the table to ready himself; took off his outer robe; and tied a towel around himself – girding himself around the waist with a cloth in same manner of a soldier of his time would do in preparation for battle.  However, he makes these power moves at the dinner table. So weird.  And, point of note, not a crabby person in sight.  Let’s take a look at who is in sight.  Judas and Peter are there.  Judas showing up with the other disciples, ready for dinner.  To all appearances, a good disciple and friend to Jesus. And Peter. Peter, faithfully enthusiastic, he says some kooky things and finally lets Jesus wash his feet. So do all the others. Including Judas the betrayer.

In the unseen verses around today’s reading, Jesus predicts Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial just before and after Jesus lays down the new commandment.  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.”  If this section of scripture could be described as a sandwich, Jesus lays down the hummus and veggies of his love commandment in between the flat bread that is Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.  Now we add betrayers and deniers to the list with the crabby, mean people, who stack up against Jesus.  We could try to say that we’re kinda over mean people, we’re kinda over betraying people, we’re kinda over denying people.  In the end, could we then say that we’re kinda over ourselves?  That’s where I am anyway.  Kinda over the ways I can be mean and critical, kinda over the ways that what I do and leave undone betrays other people to their fate, and kinda over my denials that exclude people from life.  So over it that today’s good news of Jesus lands right in the center of it.

To get at that center, sometimes we need to go to the edge.  In the edge of our view we can see Passover begins tomorrow for our Jewish cousins in the faith.  The reading from Exodus is the heart of the Passover story just before the Hebrews’ infamous hike through the Dead Sea on dry ground, from slavery in Egypt into freedom in the desert.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus washes the feet of his friends before the festival of the Passover.[3]  This week, 21 centuries later, we line up with that timing.

When we see only the crabby, mean people in Jesus’ story, we often decide they are not us.  We can make the mistake of scapegoating them to their fate which is dreadfully similar to denying and betraying them to death.  Rather than seeing what Jesus did as an expansion of the covenant given to God’s people through Moses, we can see ourselves as taking over the covenant and leaving the original covenant holders in the dust, or even worse, grinding them into the dust.  Holy Week has a violent history of Christians against Jews when it is really through the Jews, through Jesus the Jew, by which he expanded the original covenant into the new covenant in his love so that we can now celebrate at Holy Communion. [4]

During communion instruction with the families and young people who will commune this evening, I invited everyone to stand in a circle facing each other, putting one arm out in from of them.  Then I asked us to walk forward until our hands all touched in the middle of the circle (it got super cozy) as one example of Jesus connecting us with each other as we commune.  Connecting us with the people around us now, the people who will commune in the future, and the people who communed in the past but also connects us to those earliest ancestors, our Jewish cousins in the faith.

The good news is that Jesus isn’t kinda over anyone – not mean people, not crabby people, not deniers, not betrayers, not you.  Jesus gave the new commandment to love one another as he loved – smack in the middle of crabby, mean people who were out to execute him and his friends who denied and betrayed him to that fate.  When we commune together, this is the love we receive, the love of Jesus Christ who shows no partiality, the love of Jesus Christ that is for the world God so loves, and for you.

__________________________________________________________________

[1] Daniel Erlander. A Place for You: My Holy Communion Book (Daniel Erlander Publications, 1999).

[2] Craig Koester, Professor and Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament. Course lecture: Fall 2010.

[3] John 13:1

[4] Krister Stendahl’s concise and elegant interpretation of Paul is a helpful read in this regard. Final Account: Paul’s Letter to the Romans (1993)

 

Personal and Prophetic Grace. Yes, it’s both. – Luke 4:21-30, 1 Corinthians 13

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, on February 3, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings; see end of sermon for last week’s reading from Luke that is the first part of Jesus’ sermon here]

Luke 4:21-30 Then [Jesus] began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, “Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

{sermon begins]

Oh, Jesus! Really?!! Upsetting your listeners again? How quickly things go downhill too.  Just before he’s nearly hurled off the cliff, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”  If only Jesus had stopped with his gracious remarks before he launches with prophetic grace.  “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em,” Jesus. Timing is everything and Jesus’ timing with the people hearing his sermon was way off.  We hear the end of the story today begun in the Luke reading last Sunday.  Jesus “went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom.”[1]  Of course it was his custom, being a first century Jew and all.  Jesus was Jewish through and through.  He stood to read from the scroll of Isaiah and sat to teach.  His named great prophets of Israel, Elijah and Elisha, alongside the widow at Zarephath in Sidon and Naaman the Syrian.  Naaman and the widow were outsiders.  By telling those stories from Jewish history, Jesus pushes his home-town people hard on the outsider message.  A message long embraced by Jews about Elijah and Elisha who also summoned prophetic grace for outsiders.[2]  This was not a new message, although it was apparently an infuriating filled one.

Prophetic grace is not neutral.  There’s usually some kind of reaction.  People love it or people hate it.  Either way, prophetic grace often pushes people which means that people will often push back.  A couple weeks ago, I marched in the Marade celebrating the work and birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  As Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith leaders prayed about loving our neighbors by taking action; as politicians spoke with different perspectives on equality and freedom; and as I looked around at people of all ages and skin colors, I wondered if I would have had the courage to march with Dr. King over 60 years ago.[3]  Many white people thought he wanted too much, too fast, for black people and that his rhetoric was too risky for everyone.  Many moderate whites who were on his side in theory, couldn’t bring themselves to show up with him in actuality, although some did.[4] The same could be said of Harriet Tubman. She was a former slave, political activist, and conductor of the Underground Railroad that rescued slaves before the Civil War.[5]  It’s ironic that her image will grace the $20 dollar bill given that Ms. Tubman lived at a time when the economy depended on black slave labor who received none of the financial reward.  Both Ms. Tubman and the good Reverend King acted from deep faith.

If Harriet Tubman and Dr. King are too much prophetic grace to contemplate, let’s try Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Pastor Bonhoeffer is often lifted up by Lutherans as an exemplar of prophetic grace.  He lived and died in Nazi Germany working to overthrow Hitler first by speaking out against him and then by trying to assassinate him.  He was executed days before the Allies liberated his concentration camp.  The good Reverend Bonhoeffer is obviously inspiring for what he was willing to risk and the faith that was his strength.  Similarly to my thoughts about Dr. King and Harriet Tubman though, I wonder how I would have responded to Pastor Bonhoeffer had I been a German Lutheran of his day.[6]

I wonder because of their inspiring lives that they risked daily.  I also wonder because of Jesus’ reading from the prophet Isaiah in the verses 18 and 19 from last Sunday.  When Jesus unrolled that scroll in the synagogue, and stood to read, here’s what is quoted from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

Because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind,

To let the oppressed go free,

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus’ reading from Isaiah, echoes the Spirit filled words of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon earlier in Luke.  People will argue about whether Jesus’ words are meant personally or prophetically.  Aren’t we all on some level poor in spirit, blind to truth, captive to sin, and oppressed by shame?  We talk about those experiences regularly and I often preach Jesus’ promises for all people as a direct word of grace.  For God’s sake (literally), I experience comfort in Jesus’ personal grace myself for all those reasons.  But it’s difficult for me to imagine that Jesus only meant these words on a personal, spiritual level. If he did, what do we make of the likes of King, Tubman, and Bonhoeffer whose deep faith shapes actions on behalf of people who are actually poor, captive, and oppressed? One of the things I find fascinating about reviewing history is how it can help with perspective today.  Which leads to the other question I’ve been noodling. Who are the voices of prophetic grace are right now? Your homework this week is in the form of a question.  Who are the people you think give voice to prophetic grace even though it’s a tough message?  Perhaps it’s a message that rankles and gets under your skin, makes you uncomfortable and antsy for some cliff hurling.  Let me know who you come up with and why.  Here’s the question again.  Who are the people you think give voice to prophetic grace even though it’s a tough message. Before we get too far on that homework, I’d like us to add to the mix of prophetic grace the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 about speaking with love. To paraphrase Paul, speaking without love ends up being a whole lot of noise for a whole lot of nothing.

Some of us have tasted this love that Paul is talking about.  We’ve experienced the grace of the gospel in the unconditional love of Jesus that means there’s nothing we can do or not do to make God love us any more or any less.  It’s deeply personal and it’s transformed our lives.  I first heard this gospel when I was 28 years old. As it fell into my ears week after week, I would sit in that sanctuary and wonder what the people around me were hearing. The gospel, my husband, and my congregation at the time, started nudging me to seminary.  Six years ago yesterday, I was ordained and installed here, with you, as a pastor.  You just never know what the gospel is going to do with you once it’s had its way transforming hearts with love that bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things.  This is true whatever your vocation. Gospel love is a personal grace.

Gospel love is also prophetic grace. There are moments when other people say hard things but we’ve still experienced this gospel love.  It’s harder to hear the love through a tough message but it’s in there.  We question motives and meaning before we even realize we’re doing it.  Consistently, Jesus’ voice of prophetic grace is for the outsider because all people are included in the love of God – even that person you wouldn’t mind hurling off a cliff – prophetic or not.  Jesus’ voice of prophetic grace is for the outsider because Jesus loves the world, everything and everyone in it.  This means that grace in the form of unconditional, gospel love is personal for you and prophetic for everyone else.  For this, and for all that God is doing, we can say hallelujah…and amen.

_____________________________________________________

[1] Luke 4:16

[2] David Schnasa Jacobsen, Professor of the Practice of Homiletics and the Homiletical Theology Project, Boston University School of Theology. Commentary on Luke 4:21-30 for February 3, 2019 on Working Preacher, Luther Seminary. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3955

[3] Saja Hindi. “Martin Luther King Jr. Day Marade Sends Thousands Through Denver.” The Denver Post, January 21, 2019. https://www.denverpost.com/2019/01/21/martin-luther-king-day-marade-denver/

[4] Audio and Document to Letter From Birmingham Jail by Dr. King. Have a listen: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/letter-birmingham-jail

[5] Harriet Tubman. History. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/harriet-tubman

[6] Victoria Barnett. “Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”  United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  https://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/special-focus/dietrich-bonhoeffer

___________________________________________________________________

Luke 4:14-21 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Subjects of Christ the King – Nope, Nothing Weird About That [OR Pick Your Word for the Church Year] John 18:33-37 (and 38a) and Revelation 1:4b-8]

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on Christ the King Sunday, November 25, 2018

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

John 18:33-37 (and 38a) Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

Revelation 1:4b-8 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

[sermon begins]

Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate in court.  They’re debating truth in weird slow-motion at a time when the stakes couldn’t be higher.  It matters who Jesus says he is because there are people, especially religious leaders, who have had it with him and simply want him to go away, squashed like a bug underfoot.  Here’s a sampling of the accusations against him…

There’s the Jesus who goes to weddings and gets frustrated with his mom but does what she says anyway – turning water into wine.

…the Jesus who wields a whip, clearing the temple of vendors who swindle the poor.

…the Jesus who talks new life with a fearful Pharisee in the middle of the night.

…the Jesus who meets a shady woman in the light of the noonday sun.

…the Jesus who heals and who feeds; who walks on water and who’s described alternately as being the word made flesh, the lamb of God, the Son of God, the King of Israel, the bread of life, the good shepherd, the light of the world, and the truth.

…the Jesus who quietly forgives and saves the woman caught in adultery from being executed, sending her on her way.

… the Jesus who cries with his friends Mary and Martha and who raises Lazarus from the dead.

…the Jesus whose feet are anointed with perfume in adoration.

…the Jesus who rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, strips down to his skivvies to wash his friends’ feet, and prays for his disciples,

…the Jesus who is criminalized for all of these things and finds himself standing in front Pontius Pilate arguing about truth before he is sentenced to death as the King of the Jews.

There are a number problems with Jesus being and doing any one of these things much less all of them. The time has come to face the music.  He’s in front of Pilate. Pilate is on the emperor’s payroll. He’s not much interested in the petty, internal squabbles of the Jewish religious leaders. He is, however, very interested in keeping the peace.  Uprisings are costly for the emperor and Pilate would pay the piper for upsetting the emperor.  It’s a lesser of the evils in his book and his self-interest is staying alive, thank you very much.  What does it matter that the truth is standing right in front of Pilate as he asks, “What is truth?”

We tend to think of truth as telling a story accurately.  We don’t tend to think of it as the story itself.  We rarely think of truth in terms of a person.  I’m curious about this line of digging.  The archaeology of it.  If each of us IS a “truth” claim, then what is that truth?  In other words, each moment of my life reveals what I think is important in terms of other people, myself, time, money, and God.  What would that archaeological dig look like?  What could you learn about the truth that is me or the truth that is you?  We’re all invested in different things.  We could even say we’re ruled by different things, justifying our choices until we make some kind of sense to ourselves.  An archaeological dig of this kind reveals what runs and rules our lives, revealing our actual king.

I’d like to pause and point out what just happened here because I think it happens a lot.  We start out talking about Jesus and we end up talking about ourselves.  The sermon began with parts of Jesus’ story from the Gospel of John and how he ended up in front of Pilate.  Talking about Pilate, turns us toward the topic of self.  Naturally, it would.  Pilate is such a great human example of what not to do in the name of self-interest.  It’s hard to resist distancing ourselves from him even as we ask the same question about truth.  But why is it so hard to shift ourselves to look at Jesus?  Much less to adore Jesus?

Adoration is part of Christ the King Sunday but it’s not the whole story.  The Feast of Christ the King is young in the church calendar.  Begun in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, its purpose is to compel our hearts, minds, and lives into the reign of God on earth over and above the pull of power in the world.[1]  Not a bad idea given the political disasters and brief pause between world wars in the 1920s.  Not a bad idea given the timeless appeal of trading grace for power. Christ the King Sunday is to the church calendar a bit like New Year’s Eve is to the Common Era Gregorian calendar that we use every day.

Next Sunday begins a new church year with the first Sunday in Advent.  Last year during Advent, I told you about my friend and colleague’s Advent discipline of choosing a word to help her focus on God during life’s hubbub. Step 1, she chooses one word from scripture at the start of Advent.  Step 2, she keeps the word on her radar for the whole year.  She talks about listening for the word in her scripture study and also in her life.  The word serves to keep God on her radar.  This year, I’m giving you a jump on choosing your word for the new church year.  Here’s your homework. Find a Bible reading and think through whether any of the words are worth choosing as your word for this church year.   Let me know what word you pick – e-mail it to me or post it to the sermon post.  A word that could become part of your discipleship, keeping faith front and center, and reminding you that you’re a subject of the realm of Christ’s kingship.  Yes, weird language but good for challenging for our democracy-trained brains.  Subjects of the realm, subjects of Christ’s realm – challenged by language that is other than how we’d ordinarily describe something.

Thanks again to Pope Pius the XI, the church year culminates as our thinking is challenged by the trial of Jesus.  Like Pilate, we are challenged by the question of Jesus’ kingship while he awaits judgment.  Let’s assume for the moment that we’re all cool with the idea of Jesus as king, as Christ the King.  By his admission to Pilate, Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world.  It’s not about signs of spectacular power or prestige.  It’s a kingship that’s obedient as he listens to his mother at a wedding; it’s a kingship that’s grace-full as he hangs out with the shady woman at high noon; it’s a kingship that forgives unforgiveable human failing; it’s a kingship that cries with compassion at the pain of loss; it’s a kingship that’s non-violent through trial and execution, raising not one hand in violence against the people who inflict it; and, ultimately, it’s a kingship emptied out in self-sacrifice on a cross revealing the breadth of divine power in the depth of divine love.[2]

Our devotion, adoration, and praise are for this king revealed in the person of Jesus. In the words from Revelation, we praise this God who is and who was and and who is to come through Jesus who loves us and frees us.  In our little corner of God’s whole church, we tend to do adoration with a reserved, earnest reverence.  Feeling it on the inside while the hymns keep things dignified. Leaving external exuberance to other siblings in Christ – well, unless you count being a super-fan of your favorite band or musical.  Maybe, though, that’s a hint of what some of us feel for Christ the King.  The love and gratitude for what is happening through Christ in kingdom moments breaking through on earth.  Christ’s kingdom of obedience to the command to love our neighbors as ourselves when it doesn’t serve our own self-interest. Christ’s kingdom of being loved by friends, family, and enemies…and even God…when we’re at our worst and don’t deserve it, even if that love is the tough kind that demands we face the pain we cause as individuals or groups.  Christ’s Kingdom is truth in the person of Jesus Christ who loves us. Love that inspires our praise and draws us into deeper love and faith.

We love you Jesus, Christ the King.  Help us love you more…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Lucy Lind Hogan, Hugh Latimer Elderdice Professor of Preaching and Worship, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington D.C.  Commentary on John 18:33-37 for November 25, 2018.   https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3885

[2] 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).

 

Provoking Love [OR Little Red Corvette, Mondegreens, and Biblical Misinterpretation] Mark 13:1-8 and Hebrews 10:11-25

**sermon art:  1973 Red Corvette Stingray by Candace Nalepa

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on November 18, 2018

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Mark 13:1-8 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

Hebrews 10:11-25 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” 17 he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

[sermon begins]

My family razzes me from time-to-time for singing the wrong lyrics to songs.  You’re all familiar with Prince’s 1983 hit, “Little Red Corvette?”[1]  Yours truly, hair-sprayed bangs and all, sang it wrong for much too long as “Cigarette Collect.” [sing “Cigarette Collect” to tune of “Little Red Corvette”].  See, it works in a weird sort of way but it sadly makes no sense whatsoever.  I’m a master at mishearing lyrics and singing them with gusto.  Try this question in a group of people, “What is a lyric you’ve sung wrong or the funniest lyric fail you’ve heard?”  The fails are epic and hilarious – a fun way to laugh at ourselves and each other that’s pretty harmless.  I looked up lyric fails this week and cracked up all over again reading them.  Except, they’re not called lyric fails.  They’re called Mondegreens.[2]  Mondegreens come from a 1950s mondegreen made by American writer Sylvia Wright listening to her mother read a favorite poem:

Her favorite verse began with the lines, “Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands/ Oh, where hae ye been?  They hae slain the Earl Amurray, / And Lady Mondegreen.”[3]

Sylvia heard her mother say Lady Mondegreen when the actual poetry was that they had taken the Earl and Laid-Him-On-The-Green.  Similarly, some children think God’s name is Hal and begin their nightly prayers this way, “Our Father who art in heaven, Hal would (hallowed) be thy name…”  The possibilities for mondegreens are endless.

Mondegreens happen because our brains are quickly filling in blanks while processing information.  We hear sounds and combine them with context and knowledge.  This may partly explain why my young brain heard “cigarette collect” out of “little red corvette” – no context and limited knowledge.  Let’s go with that, shall we?  Regardless, something similar happens with scripture.  We hear the Bible’s words, slot them into our context and knowledge and poof(!) – interpretation and life application.  The resulting thought and behavior range from the hilarious to the glorious to the horrific.  Thank you, Martin Luther.  One of his great achievements was translating the Bible into the common language so that everyday people could read it and the priests could no longer control it – 16th century Power to the People.  Alongside this achievement, we can also lay Luther’s misguided anger with Jews based on how he misinterpreted the Bible and his anti-Semitic writings used by Hitler.  Hitler’s use of Luther’s work during the Holocaust led to the ELCA’s 1994 repudiation of Luther’s anti-Jewish writings, expressing deep regret for their consequences, and reclaiming the desire to live in “love and respect for Jewish people.”[4]  Luther’s misinterpretation was no harmless mondegreen.

Mondegreen lyric fails are one thing.  Misinterpretation of scripture, armed for bear with our biases, is quite another – bringing us to the gospel reading from Mark. People read about these “wars, and rumors of wars…earthquakes…and famines” taking place and unconsciously connect them with Hollywood’s version of apocalypse.[5]  Some Christians even go so far as to see their task as bringing about this end-time blaze of glory.  This mission is not solely housed in fringe groups.  It shows up in political saber rattling and environmental apathy.  Think about it – if end times equal the end of the planet then everything is disposable.  Blaze-of-glory thinking makes faithful, thoughtful interpretation about this kind of scripture so critical. And makes Jesus’ closing words in verse 8 something to notice.  Jesus says, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”[6]  Birth pangs.  Birth is a word of hope. Birth means something new is coming.  Something is being born.  Christian scripture sends a message of radical healing of creation – a new heaven and a new earth “brought together in a lasting embrace.”[7]  This New Testament message sees salvation “in terms of God’s promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share that new and gloriously embodied reality.” Jesus’ talks about birth pangs with his disciples which focuses this lens.

The gospel of Mark was first written to Jesus followers who lived through the actual destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Rome was on the rampage, annihilating Jews and the earliest Jewish Christians.  It’s truly a wonder that the early church lived through Rome’s campaign against them.  Jesus’ words of hope give his followers something to hang on to during confusing and terrifying times without falling into despair.  Jesus’s words of hope also give us, his followers today, something to hang on to during challenging times without falling into despair.  The preacher in the Hebrews reading makes suggestions for the Jesus follower during challenging times as well. Listen once more to these verses:

“Approach [God] with a true heart in assurance of faith;

Hold fast to the confession of our hope;

And provoke one another to love.”[8]

Hmmm….faith, hope, and love…we might suspect that the preacher of Hebrews knew about 1 Corinthians 13.

Listen to this last bit of 1 Corinthians 13:

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”[9]

In Hebrews, faith in what God is doing on our behalf, on behalf of all creation, opens up our approach to God with confidence won through Jesus Christ.  This is not an invitation to meek humility.  We’re invited into bold confidence that Christ’s victory over sin allows our approach to God.  Not that sin is removed from our experience.  Rather, Christ allows for the possibility that sin could be removed from our experience.  This is a faith focused on God, the object of our faith, the means by which we catch glimpses of God as God draws us ever closer.[10]

These glimpses of God through the window of Christ inspire us to what the Hebrews preacher calls a confession of hope.  The Christ whose self-sacrificing death begins the birth pangs signaling God’s radical healing of creation.  Our confession of hope is not certainty. Our confession of hope is that God’s last word is life – life for you, me, everyone else, and all of creation.

If “our faith is what God has done; [and] our hope is what we confess,” so what of love? [11]  We hear in 1 Corinthians that out of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love.  The writer of Hebrews tells us to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.”  Provoke love.  That’s not very flowery or prettied up for a wedding.  The love in 1 Corinthians 13 is patient and kind; not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, or resentful; does not insist on its own way; does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in truth.  This love bears, believes, endures, and hopes all the things. How do we understand this love in tension with provoking one another to love?  This is one example that is ripe for the type of misinterpretation that’s no mondegreen when we read our context and knowledge into the text rather than hearing Jesus out of the text.

Last week’s gospel reading from Mark had Jesus taking the religious leaders to task for exploiting poverty stricken widows, leaving them homeless. He stood to the side and directed his disciples to notice the widow giving “all she had to live on.”[12]  Was he provoking them to love?  What makes you feel provoked to love?  What kind of provocation to love wears you out when you hear it one more time?  Perhaps it’s the plight of coal workers whose jobs are gone or threatened by the new energy economy.  Perhaps it’s when someone raises the issue of income inequality as the wealthy get wealthier around the world while the poor get poorer as they’re paid non-living wages.  Perhaps it’s the desperation of farmers who can’t figure out how to get affordable food to your table while paying themselves and their migrant workers.  Perhaps it’s the issue of racial diversity, equality, and acceptance, around issues like corporate hiring or college admissions.  Or maybe it’s altogether closer to home – a spouse who asks for love from you only to be ignored; or a child who really just needs you to put away your phone and hang out for the evening.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to think about when you’re provoked to love and why that message bugs you so much.  Press pause on considering the problems with the message or the messenger who is provoking you.  Instead, ask what misinterpretations of this provocation to love might you be making? We’re all reading the Bible – the possibilities for misinterpretation are endless.  If we only read 1 Corinthians 13 and occasionally hear it at weddings, we may not know that the preacher in Hebrews is simultaneously urging us to provoke each other to love and good deeds.  We also tend to assign ourselves the role of provocateur when we think about provoking love.  We generally like to be the sender rather than the receiver who is provoked to love.

Here’s the deal though, the preacher of Hebrews is asking us to regularly meet together, encouraging each other through the difficulties and joys of faithful living in difficult times.  It’s easy to misinterpret scripture and, by extension, the One ultimately provoking us to love.  But our confession of hope points to the One who brings the radical healing of creation.  Our confession of hope is a gift to each other and a gift we bring the world in difficult times while we provoke each other to love.

Thanks be to God.  And Amen.

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[1] Prince. Little Red Corvette. Album: 1999.

[2] Mondegreens, pronunciation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0FIISNVR7U

[3] Maria Konnikova. “Excuse Me While I Kiss This Guy.”  The New Yorker, December 10, 2014. https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/science-misheard-lyrics-mondegreens

[4] ELCA Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations. Online Resources: Interfaith Resources. www.elca.org/Faith/Ecumenical-and-Inter-Religious-Relations/Inter-Religious-Relations/Online-Resources

[5] Mark 13:7-8

[6] Also Mark 18 verse 8.

[7] N.T. Wright. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), 19, 122, 142-144, 197

[8] Hebrews 10:22-24

[9] 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

[10] Douglas John Hall. Thinking the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 248-254.

[11] Katherine A. Shaner, Asst. Professor of New Testament, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, N.C. Commentary on Hebrews 10:11-25 for November 18, 2018.  https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3909

[12] Mark 12:38-44

Memorial to Victims of Violence [Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh]

**sermon art is Star of David by Ram Coenca, arcrylic on canvas, coenca-art.com

Caitlin Trussell with the residents of Kavod Senior Life in Denver and other faith leaders by invitation of Rabbi Stephen Booth-Nadav, on October 30, 2018

[Rabbi Steve invited our remarks and prayers to reflect unity in diversity as well as to offer comfort to residents of each faith leader’s tradition. He notes that the deaths in Pittsburgh hit Kavod’s residents in “some unique ways, including: Most of the victims in Pittsburg were over 60 as are our residents; a little under half of our residents are Jewish; our non-Jewish residents feel a special closeness, and vulnerability, with our Jewish community.”]

[Remarks begin]

I am Pastor Caitlin Trussell and I bring you greetings from my colleague Pastor Ann Hultquist, who is traveling, and the good people of Augustana Lutheran Church, your neighbors one mile to the east.

Over lunch on Tuesday a week ago, a rabbi friend of mine talked about his fear about being a Jew in America [2]. Then Saturday came and, with it, the murder of Jews in Pittsburgh. Twenty-four years ago my brother married a lovely Jewish woman. They raised their children at Congregation Or Ami in California.  My brother converted to Judaism more recently.  When I heard about the shootings, weighing heavily on my heart and mind were those who died, their friends and family, my Jewish friends and colleagues, as well as my brother, his family, and their Jewish congregation.

In Christian scripture, the Gospel of John, the 14th chapter, Jesus says to his disciples:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

I suppose that’s easy for Jesus to say.  Not so easy for us.  We can get lost in the details of Jesus’ words because, in the aftermath of Saturday’s killings of our Jewish cousins in faith, we see all too clearly how the world gives, which troubles our hearts and makes us afraid. Christians sometimes refer to our life here on earth as living on “this side of the cross” – meaning that we live in a world in which we so clearly see and experience suffering.

It’s a truth we understand deep in our gut. The truth that being human involves real suffering and pain. However, Christians see along with that truth that the cross means that God would rather die than raise a hand in violence against the world that God loves unconditionally.  Not only that, the cross also reveals the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer, revealing life in the midst of that suffering through the love we share with each other; and through the love and solidarity we share with people of no faith and people of all faiths in our collective determination and actions to prevent future suffering.

It is in the spirit of love and solidarity that I offer this prayer from my faith tradition…

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, you have brought us this far along the way.

In times of bitterness you did not abandon us, but guided us into the path of love and light.

In every age you sent prophets to make known your loving will for all humanity.

The cry of the suffering has become your own cry; our hunger and thirst for justice for all people is your own desire.

You entered our sorrows in Jesus our brother. He was born among the poor, he lived under oppression, he wept over the city. With infinite love, he meets us in our suffering.

O God most merciful, our comfort and our hope, graciously tend those who mourn, that, casting all their sorrow on you, they may know the consolation of your love.

O God most majestic, you are breath and fire, our strength and our song, you show us a vision of a tree of life with fruits for all and leaves that heal the nations.

Grant us such a life as you make us instruments of your peace.[1]

Amen.

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[1] The prayer above is modified from Prayers for Worship VIII and X as well as the Funeral Prayer of the Day in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Hymnal).  (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), 67, 69, and 281.

[2] This same rabbi friend encourages the use of the word Jew acknowledging that non-Jews are squeamish about it given the pejorative use in history up through today.