Tag Archives: Luther Seminary

Why I’m Grateful For Iliff [OR Multiple Theological Fluencies Rock]

Alumni Reflection for Iliff School of Theology Board of Trustees, Former and Current, on August 18, 2016

[full disclosure: this is an blend of my prepared remarks with the spontaneous ones that come in the moment of being with people]

I bring you greetings from the good people of Augustana Lutheran Church on East Alameda in Denver.

I’m going to begin at the beginning but, hang with me, it won’t take that long.  Born in Boston, raised in Pasadena, married a Nebraskan, and now in Denver for the past 23 years, I’ve covered a lot of ground…literally, personally, professionally, and theologically. A…lot…of…ground…

I worked as a Registered Nurse for 16 years in pediatric oncology and home hospice. During that time, I received a Master’s in Nursing from UCLA in pediatric oncology and pain management.  I loved nursing. Still do.  I carry a current R.N. license in my wallet because I promised my mother I would.  I knew I wanted to be a nurse when I was 13 years old and didn’t look back for almost 25 years. But something else was happening along the way, too.

Baptized through the Roman Catholic Church while living with my first father, then baptized again through the fundamentalist Christian tradition of my step-father, I spent about ten years as an adult religious refugee of sorts. I moved to Colorado and married Rob in 1995. When our two children were born, Rob’s unscathed Lutheran memories, and my fond memories of older church ladies, drew us into an ELCA Lutheran church…along with Rob’s mom asking us when we were going to baptize those babies.

I’d never heard anything like what I heard there – that there was nothing I could do to make God love me any more or any less. Turns out it’s much easier to love Jesus once I heard that Jesus actually does love me. About 5 years into it, 2002, my pastor invited me to preach.  After that, the people at church started pestering me with the idea of seminary.  Of course, I thought they were crazy.  My children only came up as high as my knees, so small.

Eventually, I got online and looked at what it meant to be pastor. A few months went by…truly, a few months…before I mustered up the courage to tell Rob that I thought I was supposed to be a pastor. It sounded absurd even to my own ears. When I did, he said without pause, “Of course you are.”

So, while starting the process with the ELCA, I also started seminary at Iliff adding required Lutheran classes taken in Minnesota at Luther Seminary for three summers and a Fall semester.  The Master’s of Divinity part of becoming a pastor took me four and a half years.  I graduated with that M. Div. from Iliff in 2011.

It was interesting attending two seminaries with such different assumptions. Yes, they both have them – some examined and some not.  Any institution can do a better job challenging their own assumptions, including Iliff.  But here’s why I’m grateful that Iliff was part of my seminary training.

It’s because I carry multiple theological fluencies in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t. This means I can hear the words people use and hear how they understand truth – gifts, inconsistencies, all of it. In large part this is because I was challenged to examine my own. The infamous process of deconstruction. That is a gift from Iliff. Is it a perfect gift? No, but that’s a conversation for a different day.

Here are a few paraphrased lessons from Iliff professors that stick with me:

Ted Vial: Every theological system plays a mystery card, it’s just a matter of where.

Jacob Kinnard:  Religions around the world blend together in ways that are very complex resulting in multiple forms within any single tradition. Think Christianities, plural.

Pam Eisenbaum: The Biblical writings of the Apostle Paul may not mean what you think they mean.

Edward Antonio: Colonization is oppressive, no question. But if we stop at blaming the colonizer then we further oppress people by robbing them of their own agency.

Cathie Kelsey: Most people have a tendency to compare the best of their own traditions with the worst of other people’s traditions.

Mark George: People put their religious views into a Bible story that simply aren’t in the text.

Katherine Turpin: Try experiencing an event without simultaneously critiquing it…hard to do, but so worth it.

And, lastly, Vincent Harding: [turning to colleague in a panel, naming him by first name and saying,] “Dr. _____, I am going to disagree with you in love.”

The list could go on and on and on. Whether or not I agree with a professor is beside the point. Learning their particular fluency became the point. Those lessons and fluencies stick.  And they make a difference when I’m part of a one-on-one conversation in a coffee shop or Sunday morning worship or community organizing.  Those are not theoretical examples.

On any given Sunday, the people in the pews are thinking as many different things as there are people. I don’t see it as my task to convince them otherwise. My task is preaching and living with integrity at multiple levels – from my commitment to a confessional denomination to my own individual confession of faith.

Being educated at Iliff has been a key to that integrity. Just as it’s been a key to pastoral care as well as justice work in the community. I’m grateful for it. Looking back, I might wish to alter some logistics of attending two seminaries. I would not change receiving my degree from Iliff.

Mark 1:14-20 – A Divine Dare [OR When Good Plans Bite The Dust]

Mark 1:14-20; Jonah 3:1-5,10 –  A Divine Dare [OR When Good Plans Bite The Dust]

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 25, 2015


[sermon begins after this Bible story]

Mark 1:14-20 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.


[sermon begins]

Living with a couple of teenagers, there are these things that happen in my home loosely called “homework parties.”  Sometimes they’re more party than homework although homework seems to get done somehow.  They happen on various days throughout the week around the dinner table.  There’s the requisite books, pencils, calculators that I’ve come to think of as homework camo.  There’s typically food involved – sometimes dinner, sometimes snacks, but always food.  Often I’m in the kitchen/family room either reading, writing, or watching TV.  An occasional teenager will migrate through on a quest for more food and we’ll have a bit of a chat.  Since some of these teenagers are high school seniors, the chats include tidbits about what’s next after high school.  The answers vary.  Some will continue onto college, some will find work, some aren’t sure yet.

What seems to be consistent, though, is this growing sense of urgency to figure it out.  That makes sense.  We’ve cruised through the beginning of the New Year and graduation is only part of a semester away.  Sometimes, if one of the kids seems to be lingering and the chat keeps going, I’ll share a bit of my own first try at the post-high school life.

I had just turned 17 that August before heading out the door to college.  The short of it is that it didn’t go well.  Friends were far more interesting than physics.  In June, at the end of the school year, I was still 17.  My parents came out to my college town, took me to lunch, and told me that the last 9 months had been “a poor return on their investment.”  I was invited home where the offer was to get a job and hit the books at the City College to finish my nursing degree there.  At the time, I was devastated.  Ten years later, I could see my culpability and had a vague appreciation that they had done what they thought was best.  Now as a parent of a high-school senior, I have some sense of their frustration that led to the courage it took on their part to do what they did.

When I tell this story to the teens who move in and out of my kitchen, it ends with something like this, “Remember, there are a lot of ways through this life.”  Some ways are created by our choices and some ways we figure out as things happen to us out of the blue.  Regardless, there are a lot of ways through this life.

Today’s Bible story is triggered by a trauma.  John the Baptist has just been arrested.  Prior to his arrest, John was baptizing a lot of people, including Jesus. John’s arrest starts the action.  John and Jesus are known to each other and also to the Galileans – Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Matt Skinner suggests that the four fishers had likely grown up around each other.  They had probably heard John and Jesus teaching as well as simply known each other as locals.[1]  So the action that John’s arrest instigates is connected backwards into history and relationship even as it moves forward.  And forward it does.

Jesus walks by the sea, calling the fishers off of their boats.  There’s no explanation in the text for it really.  It’s the shortest persuasive street preaching outside of Jonah’s eight word sermon to the people of Ninevah.[2]  Too bad Jonah isn’t available for some preaching here with us today.  For all intents and purposes, Jesus tells the fishers that the time is now and the kingdom of God is brushing by them – meaning, God is present.  The fishers’ are immediately inspired to leave their nets and their boats and follow.[3]  They are one more example of the many ways through this life as a Jesus follower.

Today at worship we are installing the newly elected and called members of our Congregational Council who help lead the congregation somewhat like a Board of Directors might.  A few months ago, we installed the called members of our Transition Team.  These people are collecting information from all of us in the congregation so that we might be able to describe Augustana as we are now, while trying to describe a future as we go through a call process for the next Senior Pastor.  There is some attention to detail needed while leading a congregation or calling a new pastor.  In the midst of those details, there are also things that require immediate action.  The trick for Jesus followers is figuring out a direction through the many ways our life together could go while keeping the main thing, the main thing.  The main thing being what Jesus calls “the good news of God”.  Sometimes we also call it the “gospel”.

It is the good news of God that sustains a lot of us as we figure out our way through this life.  For some of us, this may mean simply muddling through today.  There is something reassuring to me about the immediacy of Jesus-following along the lines of the Galilean fishers who likely started out with a different plan for their day that didn’t include leaving behind nets, boats, and father to follow Jesus.  How many times have you started out your day, your week, or your year with a plan?  You have a good, doable plan only to have it subverted by an entirely new thing that seems neither good nor doable?

It didn’t make sense for the Galilean fishers to follow Jesus.  Frankly, it may not make much sense for us either.  There may be ways in which our plans are being challenged and destabilized – plans that are biting the dust either by our own fault, somebody else’s fault, or merely by happenstance. Jesus dares us to trust in God’s presence regardless, in the kingdom of God coming near no matter what else comes.

Jesus calls us to follow regardless of our plans today or tomorrow.  We can’t follow perfectly in this world.  Not even those Galilean fishers can pull it off when the going gets tough around the cross.   The time is now and the kingdom of God is brushing by you, meaning God IS present.  That’s why the call to follow is connected to the good news of Jesus.   We know now what the Galilean fishers did not know then, this does end well. Thanks be to God.

[1] Matt Skinner.  Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.  Mark 1:14-20, Sermon Brainwave on WorkingPreacher.org for Sunday, January 25, 2015.

[2] Jonah 3:4

[3] Again from Matt Skinner [see footnote 1]: Following Jesus is one of the main messages in the Gospel of Mark.  In Mark, Jesus wants followers. In contrast with John’s gospel in which Jesus wants witnesses and in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is after disciples.


Matthew 14: 22-33; Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 “The Logic of Hatred”

Matthew 14: 22-33; Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 “The Logic of Hatred”

Caitlin Trussell on August 3, 2014 at Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver


[sermon follows the Bible readings of Genesis and Matthew]

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2This is the story of the family of Jacob.  Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3Now Israel [aka Jacob] loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. 4But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
12Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13And Israel [aka Jacob] said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” 14So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, 15and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16“I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.'” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” — that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. 23So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
25Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. 28When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.


Matthew 14:22-33    Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
[sermon starts here]

A few years ago, before I started seminary, a friend of mine and I thought it would be fun to teach a class in Lent.   We picked a book and spread it out over the Wednesdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter.  It was John Ortberg’s book, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.”[1]  It worked because it was set up to teach over six weeks.  That right there was have the curriculum battle already won.  It also worked because Lent is a time of reflection.  The gist of the book is to consider how to take faith out for a spin, or a walk on water if-you-will, and see what Jesus will reveal about you and your faith in the midst of it all.  A good time was had by some.

In the 10 or so years since then, I’ve continued to think about faith and life and the idea of taking faith out for a spin. You can see how this metaphor works in combination with the Gospel text.  Peter climbs out of the boat during a storm, panics, starts to sink, and Jesus reaches out and pulls him up from the water.

This story of Christ’s command, Peter’s response, and his failed attempt at water-walking without Jesus is one that lends itself quickly to the metaphor spun out by Pastor Ortberg.  But I’d like to throw a line under the metaphor a bit and fish out one of the assumptions at work.  Specifically hooking an assumption about how we read the text as preparation for metaphorical water walking.  This assumption has to do with agency.

Agency is one way of thinking about whether a person is able to assert themselves into a situation and act in the world.[2]   Peter is living out of what tends to be interpreted as his own agency.  Meaning that he sees Jesus walking on the water, he wants to join Jesus on the water, so he asks Jesus to command him onto the water.  Peter’s agency results in action in the world.

In the West, agency is a big deal because it often means that we have choices and can make decisions that affect our lives.[3]  It is common to hear assumptions of agency in the language that we use in the West.

Joseph’s story is a counter-example to the popular reading of Peter.  Joseph’s brothers strip him of his agency as they strip his coat off of his shoulders.  The brothers’ frustration and jealousy boil over into a plan that first hopes to leave Joseph for dead, then switches to leave him in a pit, and finally ends up with Joseph sold into slavery and on his way to Egypt.  There is no choice, no action, no chance for Joseph to exercise agency in this situation.

If we look closely at the verse numbers we heard today, we can also see that there are verses in the middle of the story that we don’t get to read or hear.   Old Testament scholar Cameron Howard points out that these missing verses, “highlight the escalating animosity between Joseph and his brothers.”[4]  Three times the brothers hate Joseph – first because:

Jacob loves him the most; then they hate Joseph “even more” because he has special dreams, and yet again they hate Joseph “even more because of his dreams and his words”. He predicts his whole family will one day bow to him, and he is obnoxiously delighted to report that information. Even Jacob takes Joseph to task for this hubris.[5]

In the missing verses, Howard highlights, “Joseph’s culpability in the growing rift in his relationship with his brothers; the dysfunction in Joseph’s family stems not from any one source, but rather from the brokenness of all parties.”[6]

It’s the “brokenness of all parties” in Dr. Howard’s comments that caught my attention.  In part I’m thinking about the “brokenness of all parties” because there is a lot going on in the world that begs not only our attention but begs us to be part of constructive conversation and action – not the least of which is the current war in Israel and Palestine.  A crisis where there is a lot of talk about who’s right and who’s wrong; a lot of hatred disguised as logic – and children, CHILDREN, are being put in and caught in the crosshairs.  I’m thinking of “brokenness of all parties” because this kind of language is part of public rhetoric when we want to neutralize culpability, when we want to level the playing field in such a way so we don’t have to decide who might really be in the wrong.  We use the statement that “we’re all broken” and suddenly we excuse ourselves from taking a stand.

Joseph’s brothers hate Joseph because he is arrogant and obnoxious.  Their hate fuels a plan to commit murder that is then downgraded by an enterprising brother into the lesser charge of human trafficking…wait…what?!  It is a “brokenness of both parties” that culminates in an 11 against 1 forced trip to Egypt?   The danger here is that pretty soon someone is going to say that Joseph deserves it.  Many of us will look the other way as the caravan moves on down the road, believing that Joseph is a free agent who played his agency right into his own enslavement.

It is fair to say that our hatreds get tangled into our thinking.  The danger is when we start justifying our hatred as reasonable.  Hatred hides itself inside of something we now call logic.  It’s likely that our own hatreds disguised as logic aren’t as obvious as Joseph’s brothers.  But the effects of justifying our logical hatred can be just as devastating – in our own families and half-way around the world.

Peter has a moment in that boat when he wants to join Jesus on the water.  His reasons are not given.  Peter’s reasons are often imagined by Biblical readers as noble – just look how much Peter wants to be close to Jesus. But Peter’s reasons could just as easily be fueled by arrogance or showmanship.  He says to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”   Peter ties his own water-walking ambition to a word of faith and he sinks like a stone.

The word of faith we proclaim can so quickly attach itself to our own plans, ambitions, and hatreds.  Effectively twisting faith to justify our own ends.  It is a common enough occurrence that many people on the outside of faith want no part of it.  Thankfully, time-and-again, Jesus continues to reach through the storm, dragging us toward life as we flail around to find footing.  Jesus secures us through a community of the cross, a group of people who in various ways cry out with Peter, “Lord, save me!”   And, across the spectrum of our faith and doubt, Jesus saves…

[1] John Ortberg. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).  http://www.johnortberg.com/books/if-you-want-to-walk-on-water-youve-got-to-get-out-of-the-boat-participants-guide-with-dvd/

[2] Please note that this is a loose definition complicated by all the concepts hanging around the edges of agency such as automony, free-will, theological anthropology, ontology, bondage of the will, etc.

[3] The concept of agency holds whether it means Western thought of the 21st century or the Wild, Wild, American West.

[4] Cameron B.R. Howard.  Commentary on Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 at Luther Seminary’s WorkingPreacher.org for August, 3, 2014.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2167

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

John 20:19-31 “Doubt in Community”

John 20:19-31 “Doubt in Community”

April 7, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO


When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  21  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  22  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  24  But Thomas (who was called the Twin  ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”  28  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  30  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  31  But these are written so that you may come to believe  that Jesus is the Messiah,  the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


Very, very few people have been able see and touch the wounds of the Risen Christ as he is standing in the living room.  So, for those very few people, I celebrate what faith must look like and feel like beyond the shadow of a doubt.  There are a few more people who have told me that they have never struggled with their faith in Jesus – it just has simply always been there for them and remains with them as pure gift.  I have to imagine that this group is more widely represented in churches around the world than the first group.  Again, I celebrate the fullness of their faith with them and am grateful for the ways in which those people of great faith have impacted my own faith.

Then there’s a third group of people for whom the Gospel of John was expressly written.  Check out verse 31 again, it says that, “these [signs] are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  If the number of people in the pews of the church around the world is any indication, this is by far the largest group.  While conversations and theories abound as to why this is so, the Gospel of John presumes this is so.  There are people who believe and there are people who don’t.  Just as there are today.

At Luther Seminary, I took a course called ‘Jesus the Savior and the Triune God.’  Our first reading assignment was a named Doubt: A Parable.[1]  As a class, we had a lively discussion about doubt and its place in conversations about faith.  The various opinions about whether doubt or skepticism should be part of faith conversations are missing the point.  The reality is that most conversations about Christian faith in the western world are fraught with questions and skepticism pretty much since about the 17th century and the Enlightenment.

Many of the conversations people have with me about their own faith are on the very topic of doubt – as if faith and doubt are mutually exclusive, as if faith cannot exist while doubt exists or vice versa.  But they aren’t mutually exclusive, they are connected.  It’s right here that I need to give a shout-out to something called a dialectic.   A dialectic is when you take two ideas that seem in complete opposition to other but yet they are connected.  Today, the dialectic in this sermon is faith and doubt.  One of Martin Luther’s favorite dialectics is Law and Gospel.  Rather than saying that one cannot exist while the other does, a dialectic connection acknowledges their coexistence and allows the tension between them to reveal meaning.

In the Gospel reading for today, Thomas is on the outside of faith looking in at the disciples who have seen the risen Christ.   I wonder if he’s listening to all of that excited faith-filled testimony of the rest of the group and feeling left out, feeling frustrated that he missed out and wondering if he could ever trust as they seem to trust, could ever be comforted as they seem to be comforted.  Or maybe it’s something else entirely.  Maybe Thomas thinks the disciples have truly lost it.  The trauma of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion was simply too much and they were under the power of some kind of group delusion.

Regardless of his motive and tone, we can learn from Thomas.  Not only does he own his skepticism, he talks freely about it with his friends, his community.  He struggles, wondering about the truth of the risen Christ, and the people who know him best make space and hold his doubt.  That first day in the locked house, Jesus appears to the disciples but not to Thomas and when Thomas shows up later that same day he makes his big speech about what it would take for him to believe.  Then we are told that it’s a week later, the disciples are still in the house and Thomas is still with them.  He is still with them!  He responded to the disciples with skepticism but he is still there in the house…with the disciples.

So, yes, we can learn from Thomas.  But I think today we also learn from those disciples, those disciples who hold the space for Thomas even as they hold to their witness of the resurrected Jesus.  They are true to the story as they received it without ridding their group of one who stands resolutely against what they say they saw.

A few weeks ago in the Gospel of John class, I asked everyone to break into twos or threes and talk about something that they had heard or learned.  Two people from the same pair then shared their thoughts with the larger group.  I asked them if they agreed with each other or did they agree to disagree because at that moment it was unclear.  The conversation moved on without an answer but then a hand from the pair went up after they chatted a bit more and realized that they were, indeed, in disagreement on a particular point.  Their capacity to discuss and hold this disagreement is a powerful example to us all.

When I begin teaching a class, one of the things that I like to say is that, “Jesus is Jesus; what we say about Jesus, sing about Jesus or construct about Jesus is not Jesus.”  It is so tempting, so unbearably tempting, to hold up what we say about Jesus and slip into believing that whatever it is that we say is actually Jesus.  Listen to Thomas again.  He says, “My Lord and my God.”  This claim and confession of “My Lord and My God” is the starting point.  And in saying this with Thomas, we are freed into the conversations about Jesus that deepen our faith and expand our witness of Jesus in the here and now by the power of the Spirit.

Thomas is not an example of meek acceptance of the status quo.   He stands in the middle of that house and makes a demand – a demand that allows for the possibility of faith.  And who is able to respond to Thomas’ request?  It is the risen Christ Himself.  As Thomas stands in the presence of his friends who faithfully witness to the risen Christ, it is Christ who yields to Thomas’ demand.

The story of Thomas gets at some of the most daunting dimensions of faith because it’s clear that faith is not self-generated, nor can we generate it in others.  Faith can only be generated by God in Jesus through the Spirit working through the witness that people hear.[2]  As readers of the Gospel, we are the ones who have not seen the risen Christ, we receive only the witness about Jesus.  This means that seeing is not a precondition for faith as it was for Thomas but rather “faith is evoked by words from and about Jesus…through the work of the Spirit in whom the risen Christ is present and active.”[3]

By the work of the Spirit, the risen Christ is revealing his wounds and birthing faith.  He holds out his wounded hand as he challenges us to a new reality through the scriptures.  He turns and offers love from His side as He forgives, strengthens and renews the Body of Christ, His church, to make space for faithful testimony as well as doubt.  He immerses with us into the waters of baptism as He washes through our sin and brokenness to reveal the power of His resurrecting grace.  Christ beckons us through His meal as His wounded and resurrected presence offers love and forgiveness unknown except through Him.

May God grant that you be born out of Christ’s wounded side,

and be drawn to faith in Him.



[1] John Patrick Stanley, Doubt: A Parable (2005).

[2] Craig R. Koester, Class lecture, NT3211 “The Gospel and Epistles of John” (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary), December 18, 2010.

[3] Craig R. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 73.