Tag Archives: non-violence

Waiting on Emmanuel, the Non-Violent One [A Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent ]Matthew 24:36-44, Isaiah 2:1-5

**sermon art:  http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54228

Title: Let Us Beat Our Swords into Plowshares
Notes: “The bronze sculpture “Let Us Beat Our Swords into Ploughshares,” was created by Soviet artist Evgeny Vuchetich, and presented to the United Nations on 4 December 1959, by the Government of the USSR. The sculpture, depicting the figure of a man holding a hammer aloft in one hand and a sword in the other, which he is making into a ploughshare, is meant to symbolize man’s desire to put an end to war, and to convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of mankind. It is located in the North Garden of the United Nations Headquarters. 1/Oct/2001. UN Photo/Andrea Brizzi.” — (from Flicker.com)
Date: 1959
Artist: Vuchetich, Evgeniy Viktorovich, 1908-1974

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on December 1, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Isaiah 2:1-5 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Matthew 24:36-44  “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

[sermon begins]

Wreath, check.

Candles, check.

Flickering candlelight, check.

Catchy Adventy tune, check.

One candle lit and we’re on our way OR, as our song went today, God’s kingdom is on its way, and, in fact, God’s kingdom is already here. Whew! Thank God! Because to hear our readings might give one pause to fear something terrible and rash is about to happen. Immersed in a culture that pivots around the idea that people get what they deserve – whether its wealth or punishment – it’s easy to become people who hope that other people get what they have coming to them.  Not us, though. Funny how that works. That wishing that other people get what they have coming never includes those of us who think those thoughts. Oh sure, grace is a good theory, but it’s not actually how the world works, we think to ourselves. Or perhaps that thought isn’t even conscious. Our unconscious thought is that grace doesn’t or can’t really function in the world.  With a gospel book like Matthew, that line of thinking may be understandable.

One of my favorite theologians is Rene Girard.[1] Originally an anthropologist and an atheist, he began to study the writings of major world religions for their practices of scapegoating. Scapegoating is the way groups identify someone in their midst who must be expelled for the group to survive. Group anxiety goes up. A source for that anxiety needs to be identified. Once identified, the source, the scapegoat, needs to be destroyed or at least kicked out of the group. Girard specialized on the topic through his study of apes and wanted to see how humans went about it.  Late in life, Girard concluded that Christianity was unique among world religions for its vehement rejection of scapegoating and the assertion that the human family was called to move beyond it – the parable of the Good Samaritan loving-neighbor-as-self is the case in point.[2] As Girard’s argument goes, Jesus was the ultimate and final scapegoat through his self-sacrifice on the cross. His nonviolent consent to his death subsumed the violence inflicted on him into himself and negated it. At the same time, Jesus’ death reveals our tendency to inflict violence and justify scapegoating.

We find ourselves scapegoating right down to our least favorite books of the Bible. Well, perhaps you don’t.  I’ll speak for myself.  I scapegoat right down to my least favorite books of the Bible.  The Gospel of Matthew falls in the top tier.  I find its focus on who’s in and who’s out a bit exhausting. No surprise, really, given how I was raised in a different denomination that preached the heck out of misguided rapture theology.  Recently, the Girardian Lectionary website encouraged readers to lean into the books of the Bible in which we struggle, the books we’re inclined to scapegoat. No time like the present given that today, December 1, begins a new church year centered by the Gospel of Matthew.  We’ll get a lot of Matthew over the next year. Happy New Year, people! Here’s the thing. Lutherans claim that the Holy Spirit shapes us through scripture, shattering our tightly held assumptions, and reforming us. This claim is true even in my hesitation about Matthew. I’d even go so far as to say it’s especially true about the Bible books we feel need not apply to our lives.

The Gospel of Matthew was likely written late in the first century, after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, fifty years after Jesus’ death. The Matthean community seems to have been primarily Jews who believed Jesus was their long-awaited savior. Initially a part of life in the synagogue, a conflict began with either other Jews, or with Roman authorities, or both, that escalated to the point of the Matthean group splitting off to form its own community.[3]  The book is deeply concerned about true and false belief and God as the final judge. The verses today are a good example of the divide as well as illuminates what we think we already know about these verses.  For instance, in this story, is it better to be taken or left behind?  The comparison with the people swept away by the flood in the Noah story indicates that being left behind might be the better outcome. If it’s the case that being left behind is the better option, it brings up another question. Who is doing the taking? The verses aren’t clear which opens the possibility that there’s a group, perhaps Roman agents, who is taking some people while others remain – not unheard of in the Roman Empire or modern empires for that matter.  If it’s possible that Rome is snatching people, why are we so quick to read it as divine judgment.

It’s curious that we’re more inclined to believe in divine punishment than mercy. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we’re cool if that punishment applies to someone else. Out of that desire for retribution, even if we know better than to say it out loud, we can see how it’s possible to create God in our own violent image. But the birth we celebrate on Christmas and the return we actively wait for both hinge on the cross of the Savior who would rather die than raise a hand in violence against the world beloved by God. Isaiah envisions a Peaceable Kingdom with these words – “…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”  No more learning war.  Perhaps John Lennon’s song “Imagine” had a bit of Biblical influence imagining a future in which non-violence becomes possible.  For Matthew’s Gospel it was difficult to imagine even though Jewish scriptures run throughout the whole thing. This Gospel is deeply connected to the Jewish covenants through Abraham and following.[4]  When you get a chance, read Jesus’ genealogy in the first chapter of Matthew. Web search those names to find their story in the Old Testament. The genealogy is more legal than biological as Matthew goes on to tell Jesus’ birth story. But among the stalwart patriarchs in the list of names are surprising characters, including five women, that become part of God’s story through unexpected or unconventional ways.[5]  Actually, don’t stop at the genealogy, read the whole book of Matthew as we begin our year within its chapters. Underline things you like. Jot a question mark by things that are confusing or troubling. The gospel of Matthew was written in a community that experienced polarization and tension about their Jesus claims with other groups.

Those tensions between the groups play out in some big language and rhetoric. But other, deeper tensions are also playing out in Matthew’s story of Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us – “between the expected and unexpected, between the old and the new, between sternness and mercy, and between respectability and scandal.”[6]  Through these stories, the Holy Spirit brings new life to fragile faith and heals soul deep wounds. The whispers of hope have begun this Advent during which we’ll hear the promise to Mary – that she’ll conceive and bear a son, name him Emmanuel which means “God is with us.”[7] Hope arriving through the baby we’ll celebrate and the return of Emmanuel who showed us the natural end of our violent scapegoating while showing us a different, peace-filled way forward as we stay awake and watchful.  Thanks be to God and Amen.

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[1] Read more about Rene Girard and his work at girardianlectionary.net

[2] Luke 10:25-37 (Matthew 22:34-40 gives the greatest and second commandment on which hang the law and prophets.)

[3] Matthew L. Skinner. The New Testament: The Gospels and Acts. “The Gospel of Matthew.” (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2017), 114-115.

[4] Matthew 1:1-17 see Jesus’ genealogy and note both the stalwart and surprising players in the list.

[5] Skinner, 109-111 regarding Jesus’ genealogy.

[6] Ibid, 111.

[7] Matthew 1:23

Sinner-Saints, Non-Violence, and God’s Promises [OR All Saints Sunday Sermon] Luke 6:20-31 and Ephesians 1:11-23

**sermon art: “Golden Rule” by Norman Rockwell, 1960. Original at Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on All Saints Sunday – November 3, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings – hang in there]

Luke 6:20-31 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Ephesians 1:11-23  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

[sermon begins]

T: “Mama, God must have a special skin machine.”

Me: “What do you mean, T?  What for?”

T: “For after we die and when we get to heaven and get our new bodies. We’re going to need skin.”

This is a bedtime conversation that my daughter Taryn and I had when she was little.  Turned out that she’d been giving some thought to the “resurrection of the body” part of the worship service in the Apostle’s Creed.  She was trying to understand how God might make that work. That’s not so different than so many of us who are curious about what happens next for us or for the people we love when we’re done with this material body.  For some of us there’s a lot of wondering and for others of us it’s easier to let it go into the category of things we don’t control.  But this question of material bodies, of something physical happening, taps into the reading from Luke this morning.  Jesus goes right for our material concerns with the Blessed and Woe statements.  These kinds of statements aren’t anything new in the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus flips the script from Mary’s Magnificat in chapter 1.  The Blessed and Woe statements are a continuation of the good news of Jesus’ birth that lifts the lowly, fills the hungry, and sends the rich away empty.[1]

Especially in the Woe statements, we’re left to wonder what the warning is about.  That’s one way to think about this use of “woe” here.  It’s more like someone yelling, “Look out!”  It’s a not so subtle warning about the material things in our lives, about the power of material things to lull us into complacency and away from needing God.  Being lulled into complacency in the reading today means that our vision is clouded with certainty when really the material things we crave and hang onto are illusory – whether those material things are food, finances, or fellowship of admiring friends.  We can let the material things define us when Jesus is talking about something else here.

Jesus tells his followers to watch out when they’re wealthy, fed, and admired, because those are not the blessings that society believes them to be.  In our time, the word blessing is often synonymous with those very things – being wealthy, fed, light-hearted, and admired.  But here, blessings are not the material things.  What are the non-material blessings that Jesus lays out?  Jesus begins to list them: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…; and he wraps us the list by saying, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  These verses have been used wrongly over time to justify abuse.  There’s plenty of Jesus’ teachings here and elsewhere through which we know that these are not words meant to compel victims of violence into staying with people who hurt them.  Rather, his words give us pause to consider what the blessings of God’s kingdom look like, to consider an alternative way of living with each other.

Much violence is done in the name of protecting material things – whether that violence be large-scale like governments fighting over borders or small-scale like a family fighting over Grandma’s wedding ring after her death.  Both these large-and-small scale examples get tied up in the concept of inheritance and what we believe is ours over and against someone else.  But Jesus’ words are intriguing.  Material things like food and money are instrumental for people who are hungry and poor but hazardous for those who are fed and wealthy.  So hazardous that Jesus goes on to say that the most important thing is non-violence.  He said don’t retaliate.  Be non-violent.

There’s a group of American Christian denominations crossing theological and political divides who are taking these words of Jesus to heart. ELCA Lutherans, American Baptist Churches USA, National Latino Evangelical Association, the United States’ Conference of Catholic Bishops, and more, have launched an initiative called “Golden Rule 2020: A Call for Dignity and Respect in Politics.”[2]  Not meant to mute simultaneous calls for justice, the idea is to speak respectfully with and about each other across our differences. There’s even a place online for people to sign on to the initiative. A noble goal, to be sure, and one that certainly can’t hurt.  After all, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Another way to think about it is to not become the very people who cause suffering even in the midst of your own.

In fact, claimed by Jesus, those early followers watched him do just that.  He died on a cross rather than raise a hand in violence against the people who killed him.  It was through his self-sacrificing death by violence that he conquered the very power of death by non-violence.  And through Christ’s death, raised by God into resurrected life, as Paul writes in our reading from Ephesians.

Paul calls this our inheritance in Christ.  And, while there may indeed by a skin-machine of some kind, we don’t know what the promise of resurrected life looks like for us and our loved ones.  We hope by faith and we see in part now what we will someday see face-to-face.[3]  We experience life on this side of the cross and trust in the communion of saints in light on the other side. When I pray out loud with families before walking them into the funeral of a loved one, I often say a prayer of thanksgiving for the way God shows God’s love for us through other people. In some ways, I think this is how we often think about the “saints” among us. Someone whose list of virtues includes a loving nature among all the other virtues we can name about them.  We give them the label of saint to show our appreciation for who they were in our lives. We then call the person who died a “good person” which does some violence to who they were as a whole sinner-saint person.

The thing that I think goes awry with a virtue list is that it somehow becomes a way to position the person who died in right relationship with God. The list becomes like Santa’s naughty and nice tally. But here’s the thing, Jesus does NOT tally. If his death on the cross means anything, it means that God is not in the sin accounting business. Another way to say it is that it’s not about what we’re doing, it is all about what Jesus does for us – God’s promise through Jesus that there is nothing we can do or not do to make God love us any more or any less.  The promise is a non-violent, non-material inheritance for sinner-saints, for us. An inheritance that pours through the waters of baptism. Here’s the way the funeral liturgy gives thanks for baptism.

“When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a resurrection like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”[4]

The baptismal promise is one that sinner-saints trust as a promise of life now.  Christ’s promises new life that is an alternative to living in the woes of material illusions and violence over and against each other. Christ’s promise of living in the blessings of loving our enemies and doing to others as you would have them do to you.  And Christ promises that we can indeed celebrate as we complete our baptismal journeys through death here on earth.  Not fearing but actually trusting a God of non-violence to receive us into holy rest, to bring us into peace – a promise of joining the company of all the saints in light as we gather at the river…

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Song After the Sermon

ELW 423: Shall We Gather at the River

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?

Refrain: Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.[Refrain]

Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.[Refrain]

Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace. [Refrain]

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[1] Luke 1:52-53

[2] Emily McFarlan Miller. “One Year Before Election, Christian Leaders Cross Divides to Call for Respect.” Religion News Service, October 31, 2019.  https://religionnews.com/2019/10/31/one-year-before-election-christian-leaders-cross-divides-to-call-for-dignity-and respect/?fbclid=IwAR2jhFCdKhxNRQCietvp8GcfGozvpsTzubWidV8PAxgrgShveIHJ7NheH-w

[3] 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

[4] Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Life Passages: Funeral. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 280.