Tag Archives: love

Redemption: Vader, Peter…you?  John 21:1-19 and Acts 9:1-20

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 10, 2016

[sermon begins after two chunky Bible stories from John and Acts]

John 21:1-19 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Acts 9:1-20 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

[sermon begins]

Picture a dinner table.  My husband Rob and my almost 17-year-old daughter Taryn are eating and chatting.  I get to talking about how I’ve been thinking about redemption lately.  (I’m pretty fun at a dinner table, let me tell you.) I talk a little about wondering what redemption means today and what redemption stories make sense to people across groups.  And then I say, “So I’ve been thinking about Darth Vader.”[1]  Without even a pause to blink, Taryn turns to her dad and says, “I thought she was going to say something about Jesus.”  Much hilarity ensues.

But she wasn’t far off in her assumption.  I’d been pondering the upcoming Bible verses that we heard read in worship today.  I’ve known they’ve been coming for a few weeks.  Deciding what to preach on Good Friday from Jesus’ Passion came from looking ahead to see when this story about Peter and Jesus would be told.[2]  There it was, scheduled for today.

The Good Friday sermon just before Easter Sunday emphasized the part of the Passion story when Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.[3] Peter is one of the original twelve disciples. He knows Jesus very well. Peter’s pledge of allegiance to the death was still warm when he started telling people he didn’t know Jesus.[4] Peter’s denials happen in the dark of night, over a charcoal fire, during Jesus’ crucifixion trial.  He chooses camouflage over courage and saying the easy thing over the right thing.  His denials of Jesus are an epic fail.  And Peter knows it.

In the Bible verses today, there’s Jesus standing on the beach just after daybreak.  Having apparently worked up quite the appetite after his resurrection, he cooks breakfast over a charcoal fire.  He passes around loaves and fish.  Everyone eats.  Then Jesus and Peter have their moment that includes questions, love, and ways to make amends.

Three denials from Peter before the crucifixion. Three pledges of love following the resurrection.  And Jesus in between those denials and pledges.  Jesus opens up a moment of redemption for Peter.  Interesting that Peter didn’t instigate this moment.  He didn’t launch into explanation or confession or ask for forgiveness.  Interesting that he’s hurt when Jesus keeps asking about the love.  Although Jesus would have at least three reasons to doubt what a profession of love from Peter means on the ground.  And, still, redemption comes whether or not Peter instigates it or understands it.

Saul’s story from the Acts reading is also one of redemption.  This man known as Saul zealously guards the faith of his ancestors to the point of attending the stoning of Jesus followers.  He watches the coats of the witnesses during the stoning and approves of the killing.[5]  He was hunting “anyone who belong to the Way, men or women,” so that “he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”  Saul is frightening and poses real threat to people who don’t agree with him.  He is blinded on his way to do terrible things and Ananias is sent to him to heal him.

Ananias has no interest in being with the man who very recently was part of butchering Jesus followers.  Who can blame him?  But Ananias goes and does what is asked of him.  Saul immediately became a preacher.  Saul is “also known as Paul.”[6]  He ends up starting churches of Jesus followers and encouraging them with his visits and the letters we now read as part of the New Testament.  He is, in short, a man redeemed.

What is it about redemption?  People doing horrible things and seeming beyond all help.  Something happens.  And they are on a new course.  Relating differently to the people around them.  I wasn’t kidding when I said that I’d been thinking about Darth Vader.  The story of Star Wars is a long arc to Vader’s redemption.  (I’m not addressing the 7th film in this statement).  Audiences cheer it.  Fans argue about it.  There’s something about redemption that captures our imagination.

For Peter and Paul, and one could argue Vader, there are people involved in these redemption stories.  For Peter, there is Jesus in his resurrected body.  For Paul, there is Ananias who is fearful and faithful.  For Vader, there is Luke.  Bottom line: There are other people involved in the redemption.

As part of my work at the women’s prison, I met a woman we’ll call Jane.  During the Bible Study before Friday evening worship, the group of women and I were discussing the Ten Commandments found in the book of Exodus.[7]  Jane eventually raised her hand and said that she had broken every one of the commandments.  She looked at the Bible verses again, nodded, and said, “Yup, every one.”  She talked about Jesus’ love and the church in which she heard about it, not believing it could be for her.  Until, one day, she did.

I attended a parole hearing for Jane who was to serve a life sentence for murdering her lover’s wife.  The family of the woman who was murdered was outraged that the hearing was even happening.  Jane did not receive parole at that time.  She did eventually.  Jane’s story is not an easy one. There is carnage in her history.  Her redemption is messy, fragile, and uncomfortable – for her victim’s family and, therefore, for her.  You can’t pretty it up with a bow or a Hollywood movie or a sermon.

What about those of us who may not have as big of a story as Jane, Peter, or Paul?  What about redemption stories that simmer quietly and are still in their “before” moment?  Some of us know what I’m talking about.  Whether it’s quiet addictions that are slowly breaking relationships – a favored chemical or porn or incessant gaming.  Or behind-the-scenes behavior that can be masked in public – rage and abuse that is verbal or violent or sexual.  Or public behavior that is deemed acceptable but destroys people – jonesing after power by way of gossip or ridicule or racism.

Redemption doesn’t erase the reality or consequence of what we’ve done.  Redemption allows for a different way of living moving forward – consequences and all.  After Jane’s parole was denied, her reaction was disappointment and also some clarity that ministry does and will continue to happen in the prison.  Her conversion did not negate the reality of the murder she committed.  The woman she murdered is still dead and missed by her family.  Neither did Saul’s conversion negate what he did. Thomas, the Jesus follower, was still dead by stoning.

How do you suppose Peter took the news that Jesus came back?  Given his denial of Jesus during the trial, Peter’s initial thoughts about resurrection likely included some fear.  But there was Jesus.  Offering redemption and a way to make amends.

Amends are often insufficient and suspect, especially for the people who are hurt by our behavior.  But there’s Jesus, giving Peter something to do in the face of what he has done.  Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus’ offer is on the table for you.  Even though you haven’t asked for it and maybe aren’t ready for it.  Do you think because you screwed up that you don’t deserve a second chance?[8] Forgiveness is the “gracious irritant” that leads to redemption.[9]  Notice again that redemption isn’t self-made and it doesn’t happen in the dark.  Other people are involved.  It happens in the light of day.  There is honesty.  There are consequences.  There is also freedom.

Amen and alleluia.

 

[1] George Lucas. Star Wars I-VI. http://lucasfilm.com/star-wars

[2] ELCA Lutherans, as a general rule, follow the Revised Common Lectionary that schedules scripture readings over a three year cycle. Read about the RCL at http://www.elca.org/Lectionary

[3] John 18:15-27

[4] John 13:37 Peter said to [Jesus], “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

[5] Acts 7: 558 and 8:1 “Then they dragged [Thomas] out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul…And Saul approved of their killing him.”

[6] Acts 13:9

[7] Exodus 20:1-17

[8] Diablo Cody. Ricki and the Flash. (Clinica Estetico, LStar Capital, and TriStar Pictures, 2015). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3623726/companycredits?ref_=tt_ql_dt_5

[9] L. Gregory Jones. Embodying Forgiveness. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1995), xvi.

For Berniece, A Celebration of Life at Her Funeral – 1 Corinthians 13 and John 14:1-4

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 5, 2016

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

1 Corinthians 13 1 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.

John 14:1-4  “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

[sermon begins]

The morning after Berniece died, Arvid and two of their four children – Karen and Eric – sat at the kitchen table covered in papers of all kinds.  Some of those papers included Bible verses and hymns that Berniece and Arvid had discussed and written down in preparation for the days when their funerals would come.  There was a readiness to finish the planning that would become part of the celebration of her life even in the shock of Berniece’s death less than 18 hours before. Her death was, and is, a shock.  She’d been feeling a little more tired than usual but not sick.  After 90 years of life and 63 ½ years of marriage, the loss catches us off guard.

Around that kitchen table, in their home of 45 years, there were also stories to tell.  Stories of Berniece in her single years deciding where to go next as she enjoyed her friends while teaching short-hand and bookkeeping in Bottineau.  Stories of meeting Arvid over a pair of shoes sold and a first date that came at the not-so-subtle encouragement of his brother.  Stories of football and popcorn leading to a full decade of marriage and children arriving in the ‘50s with the big move to Denver that followed the four births.  Story after story that unfolds Berniece’s life and the love shared with family and friends.

While her death is a shock, her scripture choices come as no surprise.  A woman who loved out of her strength would know the cost of love described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church.  This is a deep and abiding love.  As Karen put it, the kids knew that their mother “loved us no matter what stupid thing we did.”  Karen’s description of Berniece is a sermon-in-a-sentence of First Corinthians 13 in which Paul writes, “Love is patient; love is kind…it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…love never ends.”  Berniece “loved us no matter what stupid thing we did.”  Such a love.

Such a love comes out of not only strength but also the clarity of imperfection, the clarity of humility, the clarity of grace.  You see, clarity about one’s own imperfection opens up the possibility of grace for someone else’s imperfection.  Out of the clarity of imperfection, one might say out of the clarity of our own sin, comes a bit of awareness of how much God must love us.  The kind of love we share pales in comparison to so great a love.  As Paul puts it, “now we see through a mirror dimly but then we will see face-to-face.” Paul not only describes love between individuals.  Paul describes the behavior of love expected in the church.  The behavior of love that serves as a bridge across differences.  The behavior of love that comes in person.  The behavior of love that is asked of us but, first and foremost, in the in-person love of Jesus on a cross.

To describe looking through the dim side of a mirror, Christians will often refer to living on “this side of the cross.”  The resurrection-side of the cross is simply too much to fathom in a world in which we can so clearly see real problems.  In this way, the truth of the cross is closer to home than the resurrection. It’s a truth we get deep in our gut. The truth that being human involves real suffering and pain.  The truth of God’s self-sacrificing love. The truth that God would rather die than raise a hand in violence against the world that God so loves.  The truth that forgiveness comes from the cross as Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  The truth about the unflinching love of God in the face of our failures.  Those are hard truths but we can get at them from our own experiences of love, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, pain, suffering, and death.  We can get at them from this side of the cross.

Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John that Berniece chose are also from this side of the cross.  [Jesus says to the people with him,] “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”[1]  These words are a promise that we can understand only through a mirror dimly.  But these words are the promise today for Berniece who now knows God’s promise fully even as she is fully known by God.  She is taken fully into God and is at rest.  This is God’s promise for Berniece and this is God’s promise for you.

Amen and thanks be to God for new life.

[1] John 14:3

 

Worthiness Is Off The Table [OR Good Friday IS “Just About Love”] John 18:15-27

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on Good Friday – March 25, 2016

[sermon begins after Bible reading]

John 18:15-27   Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17 The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself. 19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

[sermon begins]

The cross tells the truth. The truth about living. The truth about dying. The truth about God.  And the truth that we can’t handle the truth.

I don’t mean truth as hypothesis-and-supporting-points true.  I mean truth as we know it in our guts true.  The truth that gets lived out in the day-to-day.  The kind of truth we know when we worry about the assassination of someone who puts themselves at risk in the world for the good of the world over what’s good for themselves.  The kind of truth that knows suffering is real over the false optimism that denies real pain.

A few months ago, a young man very dear to me was sitting in my kitchen telling me about God and church. He told me that, “It can’t just be about love.”  But here’s the thing…it can just be about love because it is the truth.  God would rather die than raise a hand in violence against the very people ready to crucify.  God would rather die than point an accusing finger at his friends caught in the kiss of betrayal and cowardice of denial.  Love of this kind is beyond comprehension.  The truth is that we can’t handle the truth.

Peter certainly can’t get his head around it.  A murder trial is in the works and Peter is a bestie of the accused.  Peter is so close to Jesus that he follows him to the trial.  He’s also so close to Jesus that he doesn’t want people to know the truth of how close.  When the bonds of friendship are tested, Peter fails. Epically.  Peter had just said to Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you.”  Peter’s pledge of allegiance to the death was still warm and then this happened:

The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”

[The slaves and the police standing around the charcoal fire with Peter] asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.”

One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

In John’s gospel, Peter’s denials are interrupted by Jesus’ testimony to Annas, the high priest.  Jesus is composed during the questioning.  He resists false accusations by the priest and protests excessive use of force by the police. [1]  Throughout the story of his passion, Jesus moves toward the cross with the courage that clarity brings.  The clarity of one who loves the world so much that death is preferable to raising a hand against it – a self-sacrificing love of the highest order.  You see, it CAN “just be about love” when it’s the truth about God’s love for the world.

Peter’s failure is written about in each of the four different gospels.  There are different twists each time but it’s in there four times. This story was very important to the early church.[2]  Why might that be so? In other Bible verses, Peter is described by Jesus as the one on whom the church will be built.  Peter’s failure is an important story because “heroic faith is not a requirement to be a disciple.”[3]

The cross is the natural end-point of Jesus being Jesus and us being ourselves.  When left to our own devices, we prioritize camouflage over courage and say the easy thing over the true thing.  Fortunately, Jesus’ death on the cross has no bearing on worthiness.  If it did, how would anyone know if they were ever worthy enough?  Worthiness is off the table…or off the cross, as the case may be. What’s left?  Jesus.  On a cross.  For you.

Jesus lives and dies the truth about the unflinching love of God in the face of our failures.  Your qualifications of worth are not on trial.

Do you leave Jesus hanging when you have a chance to confess him?  This love is for you.

Don’t think you love God enough to do the right thing for someone else?  This love is for you.

Not being honest about the doubt that plagues you?  This love is for you.

It IS “just about love.” The truth is that we are people who can’t handle the truth of God’s love.  The truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.[4]  Not even us. Because in the end, it’s about Jesus.  On a cross. For you.

 

 

[1] David Lose. John 18:24-27…in the Meantime. March 4, 2015. http://www.davidlose.net/2015/03/john-18-24-27/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Romans 8:35, 37-39  Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“I do not think it means what you think it means” (*) – Luke 4:1-13 and Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Pastor Caitlin with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, on February 14, 2016

[sermon begins after the Bible reading; the Deuteronomy reading is at the end of the sermon]

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

[sermon begins]

Last week the sermon began with the question, “What is it you seek?”  Someone suggested to me after worship that it may have been the wrong question to ask the same day as the Broncos were taking the field for the Super Bowl.  It’s possible some listeners drifted off to pondering whether or not the defense was really up to the challenge of Carolina’s offensive surge.  Now, a week later, we know the ending to that tale.

The Broncos’ celebration with a million fans coincided with Mardi Gras this year, the eve of Ash Wednesday.  Peyton Manning added one more career highlight to an already long list which leaves me wondering what data the NFL doesn’t collect. The flip-side is that Manning’s 39-year-old body is no longer as willing or able as his mind. The Broncos’ win really did take a team of “53” even though his leadership is included in that number.  Cam Newton’s smile and swagger, ordinarily contagious and larger than life, collapsed under disappointment.  The Carolina Panthers’ loss shrunk Newton into a shadow of himself. So much so that the criticism of his press conference behavior has become an intellectual sport.[1]

The fragility of Manning and the shadow of Newton in contrast with their accomplishments opened up Lent this year.  Opening up an honesty about ourselves that includes acknowledging our fragility and our brokenness.  I told my coach at the gym on Ash Wednesday morning that, “I love Ash Wednesday.”  She asked me, “Why?”  I told her that I like its honesty about so little I actually control, that it’s a break from striving.  The irony of being in the gym as I talked about this was not lost on me.  But it’s also not lost on me how much my 20-something gym friends are able to do over and above the 40-something me.

We enter Lent with honesty about our fragile bodies and brokenness.  In the Bible story today, Jesus enters the wilderness with his fragile body, eating nothing for forty days.  The translation we’re using says he’s “famished.” A more accurate description after forty days without food would be “wasting away.”  He must look pretty beat-up at that point – rail thin and bone weary.  The story doesn’t fill in all the temptations offered to Jesus. It’s more like game highlights of the red-zone plays.

The temptations are like a triumvirate – the big three of power, prestige, and prominence:[2]

Jesus, in his hunger, is tempted with the power to change stones to bread.

Jesus, in his weakness, is tempted with the prestige of authority over kingdoms.

Jesus, in his isolation, is tempted with the prominence of surviving death.

The trick with the Big 3 temptations is that they are hard to confront in ourselves because there are cultural aspirations that support those temptations.  My older teenaged children are marinating in those cultural aspirations as they figure out their next right steps.  Mother Theresa’s words are an antidote.  She said, “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.”[3]  Faithful, not successful.  Her words are good for us as celebrity and specialness seem to be the epitome of success.  I’m not sure which part of endless opportunity in the pursuit of happiness was once true.  But it was truer in recent history than it is now.  And right now in the story, we see Jesus who cannot be tempted at his weakest and most isolated.

Jesus is isolated.  But is he alone?  Jurgen Moltmann, renowned systematic theologian, would say most definitely not.  Moltmann’s faith came to him as an adult. He was a German soldier in a Belgian prisoner of war (POW) camp in 1945.  Raised in a non-religious home, he started reading the New Testament and Psalms out of boredom as a POW.  Faith hooked him.  After the war, he received his doctorate in theology, becoming a pastor and a professor.[4]

Moltmann argues that Jesus’ temptations are “not levelled at his human weakness…they are aimed at his relationship to God.” This challenge comes in the opening statement of the temptations: “If you are the Son of God then…”[5]  More importantly, Moltmann notes that, “…if the Spirit ‘leads’ Jesus, then the Spirit accompanies him as well…and if the Spirit accompanies him, then it is drawn up into his sufferings, and becomes his companion in suffering.”[6]  Why does this matter?  Because Jesus has the Spirit with him in the wilderness as well as through his suffering on the cross.  Isolated, not alone.  We are baptized by the power of the same Spirit into Jesus’ death. This same Spirit accompanies us as we encounter temptations that are ultimately the temptation to forget that God is in relationship with us.

What does Jesus do when he’s tempted?  He skips the argument and confesses scripture.  By confessing in this way, he claims his dependence on God and their relationship.  Something similar happens in the Deuteronomy story.  While Moses coaches the Israelites on their giving, he also instructs them on their confession.  When they take their gifts to the priest, they align with the powerless. They confess their ancestors’ affliction, oppression, and tears along with God’s redemption.[7]  They confess God’s relationship with them even at their weakest.

In the face of temptation, Jesus remembers God.  Jesus confesses God. Ironically, the things offered to him already belong to him.  But there’s a big difference between the temptation to power, prestige, and prominence versus God’s freedom.  As Moltmann puts it:

“True dominion does not consist of enslaving others but in becoming a servant of others; not in the exercise of power, but in the exercise of love; not in being served but in freely serving; not in sacrificing the subjugated but in self-sacrifice.”[8]

Jesus freely serves in self-sacrificing love.  This is the Jesus into whose life and death we are baptized.  And by the power of the Spirit, the Jesus through whom our lives become ever more Christ-shaped.  As baptized people we worship and remind each other about God’s promises and, in turn, are able to confess the love of God in Jesus.  It’s simple.  It’s weird.  It’s faithful.  It’s freedom.

The sober addicts in the room know this freedom.  The freedom that comes through our dependence on a higher power much bigger than ourselves to resist temptation.  Last week I started with the question, “What is it you seek?”  This week I end with the opposite question. What is it that seeks you?  In other words, what comes up in your life that tempts you to forget that God is in relationship with you?  It certainly could be power, prestige, and prominence.  It could also be something else.  You know what it is.  And it may isolate you.  Know this, you are not alone.  As people of God, we confess Jesus is the Lord.  We confess this together as the church and remind each other when we are tempted to forget.  In our fragility and brokenness, Jesus is with us and for you by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen and thanks be to God.

 

(*) Rob Reiner, screenwriter. The Princess Bride: Quote from character Inigo Montoya. (Iver Heath, UK: Pinewood Studios, 1987).

[1] Dr. Kimberly D. Manning. “Mom: Be Careful with Your Cam Newton Narrative.” Weekend Express: February 10, 2016. http://www.hlntv.com/shows/weekend-express/articles/2016/02/09/op-ed-how-to-talk-about-cam-newton-with-your-kids

[2] Another way to think about these three temptations are: control (power), respect (prestige), and celebrity (prominence).

[3] Mother Theresa. http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/329513-god-does-not-require-that-we-be-successful-only-that

[4] Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology: Jurgen Moltmann. http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/moltmann.htm

[5] Jurgen Moltmann. The Spirit of Life. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1992), 61.

[6] Ibid., 62.

[7] William Yarchin. Commentary: Deuteronomy 26:1-11. Working Preacher for February 14, 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2761

[8] Jurgen Moltmann.  The Church in the Power of the Spirit. (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1977),103.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5 you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7 we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

 

 

A Funeral Homily for Bob – Mark 2:1-5

A Funeral Homily for Bob – Mark 2:1-5

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 29, 2015

 

Bob was one of the first people I met when I arrived at Augustana.  His quiet way, his one-liners, his love for Carol, and his pride and gratitude for his children were common topics through our conversations both in his home and before and after worship here in this sanctuary.

Most of you here this morning have stories with Bob that go back much longer in time.  Through many of you, I’ve heard details of his history including his service in the Pacific during World War II and his long-standing work as a Petroleum Engineer after graduating from the Colorado School of Mines.  You’ve also talked about the fun he had tinkering and creating as well as the joy he took in volunteering with his church including reading to the kids in Augustana’s Early Learning Center.

Through these details of history, there is much about Bob that came through as well.  These are the intangibles – the things that thread together over time.  Bob’s kindness, his humor, his love of the outdoors, and his willingness to lend a hand no matter how small or large the problem.

In the last few years of his life, it was Bob who needed your hands.  Always ready to help, he now needed help.  And you rose to the occasion. While this was difficult for Bob, he talked a lot with me about how grateful he was that his children and his friends did what they could, when they could, to make life a little easier even as it became more difficult.

Hear these words from the Bible as they speak into the tears of love and grief in this time to celebrate Bob’s life and to mourn his death; from the 2nd Chapter of the Gospel of Mark:

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3Then some people* came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’

 

What a scene! These friends are true problem solvers. Their paralyzed friend needs help and they head toward Jesus.  There were so many people that they couldn’t get in the house. So they head up to the roof and tear it open to lower their friend down to Jesus.  That is determination infused with deep love for their friend.  As you all shared story after story with me about Bob, this Bible story just shouted to be told.  I can imagine Bob up on that roof.  Quietly figuring out the physics of the friend on the mat, the ropes, the hole in the roof, and Jesus’ location.  Working with the other friends to figure out how to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus’ attention.

On the flip-side, I can also see Bob as the friend on the mat.  The one who desperately needs care from other people and also needs the attention Jesus.  In my conversations with Bob, he was acutely aware of his imperfections – the limits of how far his humanity could get him.  And this is where his testimony as a Christian is so powerful.  He worshiped Sunday after Sunday with the awareness and humility of the paralyzed friend on the mat who can’t help but capture Jesus’ attention and hear Jesus’ promise of forgiveness of sins.

This begs a question to the opposite.  And that is, how might God go about getting our attention?  What are the means by which that may have been possible?  God, at some point, needs to grab our focus in ways that we might have some shot at understanding.  God needs to speak in human terms – much like the friends risking their own lives and limbs to lower their friend to Jesus.

Think about it this way: What are our first thoughts when we hear of someone who dives into a raging river to save someone from drowning, saves that person but succumbs and dies in the flood waters themselves?  What kinds of things do we say to honor the soldier who returns again and again to the firefight to save fallen friends?  Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  After all, how much more can be given?[1]  Jesus was tried, crucified, dead and buried.  In every way that the cross could be offensive, it is.

It’s offensive to think that the cross, and Jesus hanging there, was necessary or effective in any way.  That we even need saving is offensive.  That this appalling execution can change anything about real life seems at worst a massive deception and at best an utter folly.  And yet, alarmingly, and quite surprisingly, it does.  Jesus death on the cross changes everything because Jesus is God and God is Jesus.  And God’s self-sacrificing death on a cross means that God would rather die than lift a hand in violence against us.  This is the God that Bob counted on and this is the God that shows up for Bob.

Jesus is focused on the goal of bringing people back into relationship with God.  That is what the language of forgiveness means.  God is not irresistible. But God always takes us back. The self-sacrificing love of God, given fully on the cross, draws us back into relationship with God. [2]  God has already opened up whatever we perceive the barriers to be between us and God.

The love of God in Christ Jesus moves from God to us – we don’t create its momentum or its arrival, God’s love is simply given.  The love of God in Christ Jesus moves from God to Bob.  And because it is God’s movement to us, God’s movement to Bob, God gives us a future with hope as God also brings Bob into a future with God.  Amen.

 

 

 

[1] Craig Koester, class notes, Luther Seminary: Gospel of John class: John’s Theology of the Cross.  December 1, 2010.  I am sincerely grateful for Dr. Koester’s faithful witness as a master of holding aspects of Jesus Christ’s life and work in formative tension.  His work is beautiful, articulate, and draws me more deeply into faith and love of Jesus.

[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).

 

 

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

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

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

 

[sermon begins after the Bible reading from Isaiah]

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

[sermon begins]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Mark 13:24-37; Isaiah 64:1-9 – The God For Whom We Wait With Longing

Mark 13:24-37; Isaiah 64:1-9 – The God for Whom We Wait With Longing

Caitlin Trussell on November 30, 2014 with Augustana Lutheran Church

 

[sermon begins after these two Bible readings]

Mark 13:24-37  “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Isaiah 64:1-9 “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence– 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”

 

 

During sermon-writing for this Sunday, I felt a strong need for a few laughs and lighter moments.  Especially given all the weeping and gnashing of teeth that we’ve been treated to out of the Gospel of Matthew these last several weeks.  Today we turn the page into a new church year on this first Sunday of Advent.  At the same time, we turn the page into the Gospel of Mark.  With all of this page-turning, we land again where?  Sploosh, right into Mark’s version of the end of time as we know it.  And we begin our Advent waiting with a snap-shot of the beginning of the end.

Jesus is on his way out of the temple from teaching there.  One of his followers strikes up a conversation with him.  They head over to the Mount of Olives, across from the temple, and take a seat.  Once there, Jesus begins a private conversation with a few more people from his inner circle Peter, James, John, and Andrew.[1]  We are listening in on their conversation that takes places just before the events of Jesus death on a cross in Chapters 14 and 15, just before the beginning of the end for Jesus.

Jesus says to his friends, “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Jesus is telling time.  He is telling time in the language of his day.  He is telling his friends both that they are not in charge of time and that there is a master who IS in charge of time.

Not only is he telling his friends who is in charge of time, but he is telling them about something that will happen in time. Listen to his words to his friends.

Jesus says, “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Jesus begins his description of time at “evening.”  Might this “evening” he is describing be sooner than later, in a garden maybe, praying desperately, betrayed by a friend, arrested, hopeless.  [2]

“…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  “Midnight”…cross-examined by the high priest, in the cross-fire of false testimony, accused as a blasphemer, hopeless. [3]

“…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Cockcrow, denied three times by a friend, hopeless.[4]

“…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  And dawn, condemned by Pontius Pilate, convicted by the crowd, a dead man walking, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”[5]

Jesus says, “…the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”  This sunless time that Jesus links with suffering, where does this echo in scripture for us?  Just two chapters past our text, Jesus hangs on the cross, hopelessness personified in the light of day and then we are told in the Gospel of Mark, “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.”[6]  Jesus, the Word made flesh, the son of God, God from God, light from light, hung in darkness, nakedness, hopelessness…dead.  The sun was darkened…and the moon gave no light.

The cross is so many things all at once.  In this instance, the cross is apocalyptic revelation.  Jesus’ death on a cross says something about the God of the much anticipated new heaven and a new earth.  The depth of love revealed and poured out on the cross is the same depth of love that accompanies Christ’s return.  Perhaps any apocalyptic doom and gloom on our part says more about what we think we deserve and very little about who God is revealed to be through the cross.

God is the one who dies on the cross in Jesus; God’s the one who returns in Jesus.  If God’s the one orchestrating the redemption, then what are WE doing?  We are waiting.  It’s an odd, enforced passivity.  Like waiting for someone we dearly love to show up.[7]  We can’t control when that loved one gets to us.  We wait.  There is anticipation, suspense, longing.  Isaiah’s words from the reading today sum up the longing…“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”

But this longing, this waiting, is not complacency.  No “whatevers” or “when-evers” from this crowd.  No!  Jesus tells us that we are each with our work (v. 34).  Part of this work is the good news that we share.  We sing, “Lord, have mercy…Kyrie Eleison” because we know God is merciful.  We rehearse the mercy of God in here because so many people need to hear it out there.

From time-to-time, people ask me if I think God is mad at them.  Or someone will wonder with me if God will be mad at them because of something they have done or because of a difficult decision they need to make.  The heartbreaking part of these questions is the worry that somehow God’s mercy only goes so far and no further.  That the wrath of God will ultimately decide the day.  Yet from the cross, we know the love of God has gone through the worst that humanity can inflict and prevailed over death with love blazing; from the cross we learn that God does not raise a hand in anger against us.  This is the God we worship, this is the God of our waiting.

God who comes in skin and solidarity is our Advent hope.  This Advent, we join in the longing of Isaiah and call out to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”



[1] Mark 13:1-3

[2] Mark 14:32-52

[3] Mark 14:53-65

[4] Mark 14:66-72

[5] Mark 15:1-20

[6] Mark 15:33 (Jesus’ crucifixion, death on the cross, and burial: Mark 15:21-47)

[7] Mark Allan Powell, Commentary on Mark 13:24-37 at Working Preacher.org. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2265


John 18:1-19:42 “Think Again” [a sermon for Good Friday]

John 18:1-19:42 “Think Again”

March 29, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Pick a spot, any spot, in Jesus’ crucifixion.  There are many places to sit, stand or lie down.  We can betray, deny, judge, rant, abandon or despair.  Go ahead, pick a spot, because those characters are us.  Those characters who run amok and rail against Jesus, ridicule him, or despair in his death are us.  The irony of being a part of this cast of characters is that the person who hangs on the cross is the precisely the one who saves us.  Jesus was tried, crucified, dead and buried.  In every way that the cross could be offensive, it does indeed offend.

 

It offends the sophisticated thought of modern people to think that the cross, and Jesus hanging there, was necessary or effective in any way.  That we even need saving offends our enlightened sensibilities.  That this appalling execution can change anything about real life seems at worst a massive deception and at best an utter folly.  And yet, alarmingly, and quite surprisingly, it does.  Jesus death on the cross changes everything.  Jesus insists, time and again in the gospel, that God and Jesus are one.  Jesus is in God and God is in Jesus.

 

Think on this for a moment.  How might God go about getting our attention?  What are all the ways in which that may have been possible?  God, at some point, needs to grab us in ways that we might have some shot at understanding.  God needs to speak in human terms.  When we hear of someone who dives into a raging river to save someone from drowning, saves that person but succumbs and dies in the flood waters, what are our first thoughts?  What kinds of things do we say to honor the soldier who returns again and again to the firefight to save fallen friends?  Wow!  Spectacular save!  How selfless!  And on and on goes the praise and adoration.  Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  After all, how much more can be given?[1]

 

In the Gospel of John as a whole, and in this reading from John on this Good Friday, Jesus is aware and focused on the goal of bringing people back into relationship with God.  Somewhere along the way, as human creatures we lost our way.  Rather than living into the image of God we became much more interested in placing ourselves in the center of things and holding God to the outskirts, leaving us free to make God into whatever image we choose – distorting God.[2]  It is in that re-creation of God that we are separate from God, powerless to repair what has happened.  This separateness, this breach, this distance between us and God is called sin.  Out of that separateness, that breach, that distance, that sin, comes all the ways in which we hurt each other and ourselves; inflicting sins against each other, ourselves, and God.

 

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

 

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

 

Not only does Jesus draw us into relationship with God through the cross but Jesus redefines our relationship with each other at the foot of the cross – standing with the cross between us, Jesus intercedes for us on each other’s behalf.  Drawn back into the relationship with God our Father, Jesus the Christ turns us towards each other in new ways.  Here, at the cross, love is freely taken up for us and for the sake of the people standing next to us.  In the same moment we have everything to do with what happened at the cross and we have nothing to do with it.

 

We are, first and foremost, passive spectators who are being handed a radical realization of our powerlessness.  As people in and around the story of the crucifixion, we think we know what’s happening and that the power is ours to create the story.  It is our turn on this day to hear God say, “Think again.”

 


[1] Craig Koester, class notes, Luther Seminary: Gospel of John class: John’s Theology of the Cross.  December 1, 2010.  I am sincerely grateful for Dr. Koester’s faithful witness as a master of holding aspects of Jesus Christ’s life and work in formative tension.  His work is beautiful, articulate, and draws me more deeply into faith and love of Jesus.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 113.  This is a great text for deepening into the theological reflection on the “The Fall” that breached God’s intention for the creature as imago dei, in the image of God.

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

 

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 “In the Father’s Voice”

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 “In the Father’s Voice”

March 10, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.   2  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”   3  So he told them this parable:
11  “There was a man who had two sons.   12  The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.   13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.   14  When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.   15  So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.   16  He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.   17 But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!   18  I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;   19  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”  20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.   21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”   22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  23  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;   24  for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.   25  “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.   26  He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.   27 He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’   28  Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.   29 But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.   30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’   31  Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.   32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”

Luke 15:1-2, 11b-32: A sermon for the fourth Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2013

Caitlin Trussell, Augustana Lutheran Church

 

My son left.  MY SON LEFT!  He told me he wished I were dead, asked for his inheritance and took off.  I don’t know if he meant it but it doesn’t much matter one way or the other.  His heart was set on leaving and maybe giving him the money meant he would at least get what he needed to live.

 

He’s always been so tough, so stubborn.  Sometimes that worked for him and our household and sometimes it didn’t.  And he was never sure if I loved him as much as his older brother.  What is it with these kids that my love for them is the constant question?  Well, I suppose once he left, walked away as if I were dead to him, that question was no longer the question.

 

It ate me up at night, imagining all the things that could happen to him and not knowing if any or all of them were true.  Night after night I’d flop into bed, exhausted by the day’s work only to lay flat and be exhausted by the tossing and turning and wondering about my son.

 

I’m not sure how it happened but I must have slept because in the morning I’d wake up – scratchy-eyed and cotton-headed, but I’d wake up.  I’d wake up, head to breakfast and be met by sheer joy as I sat with my other son who stayed and worked beside me day in and day out; so faithful and so good.  He keeps the commandments faithfully and works hard as the head of the household.  You see, when I figured out the inheritance, I divided it between them.  Each of them received what I would have given them if I were dead.  My friends thought I was out of my mind.  It’s a little out of the ordinary but it works for us.  I still work where and when I can but he figures out what happens next for our household.  I love working side-by-side with him, living in the day-to-day with him.  Laughing at the old jokes, praying the prayers of our ancestors, disagreeing about who should do what, working up a good sweat, arguing about plans for planting and harvesting, walking down to the river at the end of a long day – all of it wonderful.  His faithfulness blesses me day-after-day-after-day.

 

He mentioned his brother from time-to-time.  Wondered where he was, and wondered why he didn’t want to live here.  I used to wonder why he didn’t go find his brother.  I told him stories to try to clue him in.  Like the time when David, our shepherd, went missing and then turned up a few days later with a wild story about finding one of his sheep he thought he’d never see again.  I think he even kicked up his heels a time or two before he could settle down.  Or the time when my sister, his Aunt Miriam, looked and looked and looked, practically turning the house upside-down, until she found the coin that she had lost.  It took her days to find it and days to put the house back together after the looking.  Truth-be-told we thought she was more than a little nutty at the time but we celebrated her find with her anyway.  I told him these stories and more; and still, he wondered and worked and wondered.

 

Not too many days ago, I was coming back outside after taking a break from the heat, and I saw someone walking up the road.  It was one of those moments, maybe you know the kind, where my heart knew but my head couldn’t catch up fast enough so I just stood there, frozen, wondering if it was true.  But I knew, I knew his shape, I knew his walk, I knew HIM!  Before I could think any more about it, I was off like a shot!  I only remember running as fast as I could; I think maybe I was yelling.  I’m sure I was a sight – eyes wild, robes and dust flying all around, chickens scattering and squawking, I just simply couldn’t move fast enough.  I practically knocked us both to the ground when I caught him up in my arms.  I know he tried to tell me something but my pounding heart must have blocked my hearing it.  I just knew we had to celebrate.  That very moment became celebration and that celebration became a party – fatted calf and all!  He wasn’t quite ready but we partied around him anyway.  I think he was in shock.  He was so hesitant, so timid.  I still only know what happened to him in the bits and pieces he has been willing to share.  I hope I hear more as he feels he can share it.

 

His brother is also in shock.  He couldn’t bring himself to be at the party that night.  I went out to talk with him and he actually said something about, “This son of yours…”  As if he had no connection to his brother at all!  I did my best to reassure him of my love for him and explain the party for his brother.  I told him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.   32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”  This wasn’t optional partying; this was HAD-TO partying.

 

In the aftermath of all that has happened, here is what I hope my children know – deep down to their very toe-nails.  I love them.  I love them when they’re close and when they’re far away.  I love them in their faithfulness and in their humiliation.  I love them in their daily work and in their return.  As inheritors of all that is mine, including my love, they are ambassadors of this household – finding whoever is lost from this house and bringing them to life again.  For all of this and for more than there are words, I say again and again, thanks be to God!!!

Mark 10:17-31 “Truth-Telling in Love”

Mark 10:17-31 “Truth-Telling in Love”

October 14, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

Mark 10:17-31 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

 

 

I wonder about this man – this random guy who, out of nowhere, races up to Jesus and kneels at his feet, interrupting his journey.  This kind of movement and interruption is so common.  How many of us, at one time or another, have raced up to someone else hoping to catch them just in time before they have to leave?  Whether it’s our teacher’s classroom at the end of the day or a government office that’s just about to close or a boss that’s getting ready to be away for a week, there are times in our lives where we are urgently in need of an answer and the someone with the answer is just about head out.  Flying by the seat of our pants, we race toward our goal, trying to beat the clock and we…just…make…it…trying to collect our thoughts, maybe even a little out of breath from making the mad dash, and out spills the question.  No time for, “Hi, how are you?”  Not even an, “Oh, good, you’re still here!”  The question just pops out.

 

And this man’s question is a doozy.  “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus doesn’t answer his question but simple tells the man that only God is good and then lists some of the Ten Commandments.  The man feels confident that he’s lived a good life in good ways which means he has loved God, at least as much as is humanly possible, and hasn’t inflicted himself on his neighbors, at least as little as is humanly possible.  In our own ways, these are common thoughts for us.  We love God as much as is humanly possible and we inflict ourselves on our neighbors as little as is humanly possible.  In an earnest, faith-filled way there is a confidence in living how God asks us to live.  How could there not be?

 

So I read this man as quite sincere.  Living a faithful life, doing what he thinks God has asked him to do, the man wants to be even more faithful, more confident that he’s doing all of it.  He’s ready to do some serious listening to God so that he can take the next step.  The man has done all he knows so he’s asking for more and from where he sits he is a good person and simply wants to be a better one.  He has a big, fat “A” on his report card and he’s going for the A+.  How many of us long for the same?  So he turns to Jesus asking, “What must I do…?”

 

And, Jesus drops the bomb, a big one, right on the man, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

 

And the whispers in our minds begin, “…Oh, Jesus is talking to that deluded Jewish man who thinks the commandments are going to save him…no, he must be saying that that man lacks faith and has set his money up as an idol…what Jesus really wants is for the man to have faith and follow him…what’s this business about eternal life anyway…maybe this all means something else other than what it says – the Bible has layers of meaning…this is about the man, not about me…”

 

Okay, so some of the whispers in our head may or may not have merit.  But let’s sit with this.  Jesus’ words to the rich man are mind-blowing, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  And the man went away – grieving, mind-blown.

 

Jesus looks around at his disciples and says, “”How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  Now the disciples’ minds are blown.  They had left everything they had, are following Jesus, and can’t get what he is saying.  Jesus says, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

 

And the whispers in our minds begin again, “…well, Jesus must mean idolatrous wealth and I’m not tied to my money that way…I’m doing what I have to do, this is about being independent…this is about the rich man, not me…what is the kingdom of God anyway…who needs saving…what does saving even mean?”

 

One of my professors at seminary is a man named Vincent Harding.  He is a compatriot of Martin Luther King Jr., occasionally his speech writer, and also his friend.  When my fellow students and I talk about Dr. Harding, it has that slightly whispered quality of reverence and maybe a little sigh thrown in for good measure.  I was sitting in a class taught by someone else who brought in a few other professors including Dr. Harding.  They sat up front, panel-style, and were asked questions – proceeding to answer them in ways that revealed obvious areas of agreement and also exposed the fault lines among them.  At one point, Dr. Harding turned to one of his colleagues, spoke his name in his usual quiet way, softness around his solid core, and said, “I’m going to disagree with you in love.”

 

“I’m going to disagree with you in love.”  Who says stuff like that?!  Who even stops to think it before they dive into a disagreement?!  In v21, “Jesus, looking at [the man], loved him.”  Before Jesus says the truly mind-blowing words about wealth, he looks at the man, and loved him.  One of the only times the Bible refers to Jesus loving any one particular person and his love is for this man.  Jesus loves this man who wants a formula to translate into God saving him just as much as the disciples do.  The rich man kept all the commandments and the disciples dropped everything in their lives to follow Jesus.  And it is into this desire, the desire for saving, the desire to be good enough for God, to do enough for God, that Jesus says, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

 

The reading from Hebrews says, “…the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  This is a promise.  This is a promise because, like the rich man, our whole selves are known – the success, the stress and the shame – all of it, all of us, are known.  Like the rich man, our whole selves are loved – the success, the stress and the shame – all of it, all of us, are loved.

 

And, like the rich man, Jesus works to set us free from the energy conserving concern for ourselves to the energy unleashing concern for our neighbor.  Those commandments that kept the rich man and keep us so busy are merely protective.  They protect our neighbor from us.   “Thou shalt NOT…” Right?  They do not take us the extra step toward our neighbor.  Jesus does.  Jesus stands between us and our neighbor and tells us that God is good, God is the One and that these commandments have merit on behalf of our neighbor but no merit on behalf of ourselves.

 

And Jesus disagrees with us in love.  He right-sizes us into our mortal, human bodies, reassuring us that our soul-saving shenanigans are impossible for us but totally possible for God.  Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  This last and first business is only possible in the shape of a circle where the first and last form together so that it is impossible to see who is first and last because we’re all in it together.

 

So this morning, we are wrapped together in a circle of truth-telling in love.  We are pulled together around a table.  On this table is bread and wine – perishable, fragile things that make incredible things happen.  Incredible things like the love that shows up in forgiveness for you, in you and through you.  Forgiveness in love from the One who pours himself out from a cross through you as a sure and everlasting hope for His sake, for your sake and for the sake of the world.