Tag Archives: Peace

Jesus’ Side-Fives and Fury Are All of A Peace as Prairie Rose Seminole Encourages and Challenges Mark 9:38-50, James 5:13-20, and Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 30, 2018

[sermon begins after one Bible reading. The other two readings may be found at the end of the sermon]

Mark 9:38-50 John said to [Jesus], “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. 42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 44 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. , 46 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. 49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

[sermon begins]

Running. There are people who love running. The sound of shoed feet hitting the pavement. The sound of breath. The joy of movement. Then you have people like one of my gym friends who says that running makes him die a little inside. Or, like me, whose sprint looks suspiciously similar to jogging it out. Last week, we had a workout of the day that included a 400 meter run at the start of each of the four rounds. During the second run, a couple of the faster runners each threw out an encouraging word and a side five – you know, like a high-five but out to the side – as they ran past me on their way back to the gym. I felt so encouraged that I ran 100 meters past the turnaround point before realizing my snafu. I was joking after the workout that we should think about handing out side-fives at work and in grocery store aisles.  Like, “Good job with the eggs!”  Or, “Way to go scoring that broccoli!”  How good would THAT feel?!  You know, once you got past the weirdness of being high-fived in Produce.  A little encouragement at any point in the day goes a long way.

Encouragement is a common way that many people experience Jesus day-to-day. Jesus cheering us on. Jesus carrying us. Jesus suffering when we suffer. Those stories are compelling and accurate to scripture. Then there’s the Jesus we get in today’s Bible readings. He is mad.  Maybe better to say that he’s furious. He’s had it with his followers arguing with each other about who’s the greatest and completely losing track of the main things. And the main thing in the 9th chapter of Mark’s Gospel is the vulnerable child.

Jesus is still holding that kid preached about by Pastor Ann last week. The baby left by the side of the road by a family with too many mouths to feed. The one picked up by Jesus, planted in the middle of his followers, and then scooped up again in his arms saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”[1] Jesus still has a hold of that kid as he continues talking to them in the verses we hear today. Jesus’ words about the child are ringing in the air and what do the 12 followers do?  They change the subject.

They change the subject to other people. “But, Jesus, what about those other people, doing that other thing in your name?!”  Jesus responds with “these little ones” like the one in his arms.  Don’t “put a stumbling block before one of these little ones,” he says.  Jesus’ words make me think about Prairie Rose Seminole’s keynote talks at Synod Theological Conference two weeks ago.[2]  Ms. Seminole is Program Director of American Indian Alaskan Native Ministries for the ELCA.[3] She is an enrolled tribal member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, descendent of the Sahnish/Arikara, Northern Cheyenne and Lakota Nations through her Indian father and also of German Russian heritage through her white Lutheran mother.

Ms. Seminole talked about a lot things. She encouraged us toward conversation and actions that neither romanticize the American Indian experience nor idealize migrant Europeans looking for religious freedom at the expense of Indian lives nor immobilizes white folks in the ditch of guilt and shame.  Tough balance but if anyone could help us get there it’s people like her.  She also talked about her own experience of Indian Boarding Schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.[4]  Schools that first opened in the 1870s with the explicit goal of being a “solution to the Indian Problem…To “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”[5]

The Indian Boarding Schools were founded by Army officer Richard Pratt who designed them after the education he developed for Indian prisons.  The schools were still going strong through the early 1970s.  People my age have vivid memories of these schools – the corporal punishment, the labor, and the childhoods lived without parents.  Jesus’ words about putting “a stumbling block before one of these little ones” take on a different tone in light of Indian Boarding Schools.  And now, today, in light of migrating families separated at the border by federal officers.  Have we learned nothing?

I ate dinner with several friends last weekend who represent the spectrum of American politics.  We agreed that separating immigrant families is out of line regardless of when such a policy was put on paper and when it was acted on – as if any of that matters when children’s lives hang in the balance. Trauma, especially in childhood, often generates lifelong problems.  As people of the United States, we are responsible for acts committed in the name of our country.  So what is a person sitting in Sunday worship to do?  Fortunately, there’s not far to look.

Jesus’ rhetorical one-two punch about it being better to drown, or to lose a hand, a foot, or an eye rather than put a stumbling block before a little one, is a good place to start.  We’re as attached to our body parts as we’re attached to our self-absorbed sins.  We take both for granted and barely give them a second thought until we’re made aware of them.  If history teaches us anything, it’s that we often act on self-interest, camouflaged as caution, and end up hurting a bunch of people in the process.  The better angels of our nature occasionally prevail but they often hit obstacles.[6]  The first obstacle is the idea of ourselves as “good people.”  It’s tough to uncover sin camouflaged by self-described “good people.”

I’ve thought about this notion of “good people” in my families’ history of owning slaves.  My family justified slavery as “good people” and Christians. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was justified as necessary caution by self-described “good people.”  Although then the script was flipped.  It was lone Colorado Governor Ralph Carr of the Republicans speaking out against President Roosevelt and the Democrats.[7]  Here’s a shocker. No political party has a corner on the market of inflicting pain.  Why is that?  Because there are people involved.

Lutheran Christians have pretty low expectations when it comes to people. Especially when those same people are arguing about being the greatest like Jesus’ followers were. Especially when those same people create institutions in which accountability is tossed around like a hot potato rather than naming it and confessing sin. Confessing sin opens up the possibility for something different to happen.  It would be cool if we could get ahead of the curve and prevent some of our country’s institutional sins.  Alas, it is sadly rare.  So, we are left today with Jesus’ fury, and an invitation to confession.

Today’s reading from the book of James urges our confession with these words, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.”  This means that first we have to see our sin for what it is.  That’s a painful process for self-described “good people” but not nearly as painful as the sin we inflict on other people or, even worse, the sin we inflict on children.

Remember that gym encouragement I talked at the beginning of this sermon?  It was more than a way into these scripture readings.  When we confess together and hear absolution, we also puzzle through how to better care for our neighbors – especially these last couple weeks when the scripture lifts up vulnerable children.  A few months ago this meant that you all gave $3,500 dollars to the reunification ministry of Lutheran Family Services and ELCA congregations in El Paso, Texas.  This reunification ministry houses and feeds parents and children for brief periods as they’re reunited by the federal government. 35 families were touched by your gifts. Way to go on that ministry (side-five)!

Encouraging each other to connect and help people in pain is something we do as the communion of sinners and saints.  When we’re the ones causing the pain, the encouragement we give each other to confess and to listen to people affected by our sin is critical. Sharing the peace during worship represents connecting, listening and acting to make things right. Sharing the peace is a bit like those side-fives at the gym – helping us connect as bodies through our separation, through the limits we create.

If today’s readings from the books of Mark, James, and Numbers have anything in common, it’s that God reserves the right to break through the limits we create. God reserves the right to work through people who mystify us – whether those people prophecy outside proper channels in Numbers, or deeds of power done by people outside the authorized structure in Mark, or sinners who wander in James. It is good news that God through Jesus is constantly pushing us toward concern for other people, especially today for children, through very surprising sources. Seasoning the planet with people outside of our own experience to challenge us to notice and care for vulnerable children, and as Jesus says, to “be at peace with one another.”[8] Thanks be to God!

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[1] Mark 9:33-37 Then they came to Capernaum; and when [Jesus] was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

[2] Prairie Rose Seminole, Biography. https://www.montanasynod.org/uploads/3/0/9/6/30961995/prairie_rose_seminole.pdf

[3] The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.7 million members in more than 9,300 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God’s work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes God’s grace in Jesus Christ and service in the world. The ELCA’s roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.

[4] Prairie Rose Seminole. “FM Area Foundation Bruch comments.” April 6, 2013.    http://www.prairieroseseminole.com/?p=90

[5] Charla Bear. “American Indian Schools Haunt Many.”  National Public Radio on May 12, 2008. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865

[6] Gene Griessman. “The Better Angels of Our Nature” How Charles Dickens Influenced Abraham Lincoln.  How to Say It Right on February 12, 2018.  http://whatyousay.com/a-quotation-you-can-use-in-writing-charles-dickens-and-abraham-lincoln/

[7] Jesse Paul. “In Gov. Ralph Carr, Colorado has a shining light in the painful history of Japanese internment.” The Denver Post on December 6, 2016. https://www.denverpost.com/2016/12/06/ralph-carr-colorado-japanese-internment/

[8] Mark 9:50 ends with Jesus’ challenge and blessing to “be at peace with one another.”

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James 5:13-20 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, “Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15 If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.” 16 So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.

24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. 26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

 

Self-Sacrificing Love: Gives, Confronts, Connects – John 13:1-17, 31b-35; Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on Maundy Thursday – April 13, 2017

**Sermon graphic: Ikebana Communion by Ben Morales-Correa

[sermon begins after the Bible reading; the Exodus and 1 Corinthian readings follow the sermon]

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

31 Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

[sermon begins]

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  These words in John are sandwiched by two stories that are not part of what we just heard read out loud.  The glaring gap of verses in the middle of the reading is when Jesus foretells Judas’ betrayal.  Just following his command for us to love one another, he foretells Peter’s denial.  Jesus’ call to love is surrounded by betrayal and denial.  And, as if that’s not enough, the betrayal and denial come from his closest friends.

Footwashing begins Jesus’ last words and teachings to his disciples, Jesus’ farewell before his arrest and crucifixion.  His farewell opens with a fierce act of love that anticipates laying down his life.[1]  Footwashing is something that a slave does, not a host.  It is an act of utter devotion.[2] While washing the feet of his friends anticipates his death on the cross, it is also a culmination of the love that he’s already accomplished in the Gospel of John – showing up in Word made flesh, turning water into wine at a wedding celebration, meeting in the dark of night with the religious leader Nicodemus, surprising the Samaritan woman at the well, healing the man born blind, feeding the five thousand, walking on water as peace in the storm, and raising Lazarus from the dead.[3]  Each act of love connects to what comes before and what lies ahead.[4]  This is also true of the command to love one another.

Jesus’s command to love is not new.  Leviticus is the ancient Hebrew book of law still read today as part of the Torah by our Jewish cousins in the faith and read by Christians as part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.[5]  Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 18, reads, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”  The original command is to love neighbor as self.  The new commandment expands from the original to love as Jesus loves.[6]  Embodying the new commandment in footwashing, Jesus spends considerably more time revealing his own heart than the hearts of the betrayer and the denier.[7]  His love is both giving and confrontational, devoting himself to his disciples while turning the table on evil by an act of love – rejecting evil’s terms through his act of service.[8]  Jesus washes Judas’ and Peter’s feet along with everyone else’s feet.  No foot is left unclean.

The footwashing and Farewell Discourse anticipate the fullness of God’s glory at the cross, of life emptying out to fill us all through the self-sacrificing love of the One who lays his life down.  The self-sacrificing love that brings us to the Communion table.  The Communion students who will receive communion during this evening’s worship heard the story of the Passover a few weeks ago as part of their instruction.  We hear it again today.

Passover was celebrated this same week by our Jewish cousins in the faith. The Passover that led their Hebrew ancestors from slavery into freedom by the blood of a lamb.  As Jesus expanded the Levitical law into the new commandment of love for all, so Jesus expanded the Passover remembrance into a meal of life for all.  It’s important to note that God’s covenants with Jews through Abraham and Moses are not superseded by Jesus.[9]  The covenants are expanded to all, and therefore to us, through Jesus.[10]  This is important because God’s covenant expanded to include us non-Jews rejects any violence committed against our Jewish cousins in the faith, calling us to atonement and reconciliation with each other.

Reconciliation is a re-connection with each other and with God brought to us by Jesus through the cross.  It’s neither sentimental nor an echo-chamber of agreement.[11]  It’s the reality of community that contains betrayers like Judas and deniers like Peter.  It’s the reality of community that contains us.  Paul’s letter to the Corinthians challenges them through the reconciliation won by Christ on the cross. Their divisions across social standing is unacceptable.  Into their divisions, Paul shares the words of Jesus that we know as the Words of Institution said at the Communion table:

“…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”[12]

When we “share the peace” before we receive communion we are enacting the love that is first commanded in Leviticus and then commanded while embodied by Jesus.[13]  We embody the reality of community that contains us betrayers and deniers, us social dividers. Sinners the lot of us. All. At the same time, we embody the reality of community that contains beloved children of God.  All of us.

Along this line, I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for videos that pop up on social media.  One in particular keeps coming to mind as I think about Jesus’ commandment to love and then his own self-sacrificing love.  It’s a recorded video of three-year old Leah and her mom.[14]  Leah is three, has a life-threatening illness and a feeding tube in place.  Her mom is asking her a bunch of questions. Favorite color? Pink. Favorite food? Yogurt. What is your favorite animal? Tigers.  What are you scared of? Tigers. Question-after-question, and then this one, “What does love mean?”  God. [mother pauses] What? God.  I watch something like that, someone like Leah and her mother, and it catches me.  There’s incomprehensible suffering alongside the naming of love and it doesn’t compute.

Fortunately, God’s love isn’t dependent on my or anyone else’s computational skills. God’s love empties through Jesus’ death on a cross to us through the communion table of mercy, through wine and bread.  Sharing this meal together proclaims Jesus’ death and contains his self-sacrificing loves just as it has in all times and places.[15]  Jesus’ meal is at the center of God naming us Beloved across whatever sin we dish out on our own including the lines we draw to divide ourselves.  Jesus’ meal re-connects us with God and each other. Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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[1] Craig Koester. The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008), 194.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Gospel of John, chapters 1-12.  There’s more there than the abbreviated version above. It’s no secret that John is my favorite Gospel.

[4] Karoline Lewis, Associate Professor of Preacher and Marbury E. Anderson Chair of Biblical Preaching. Luther Seminary.  Sermon Brainwave podcast for Maundy Thursday scripture readings on April 13, 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=867

[5] Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

[6] Ibid., Koester.

[7] Robert Hoch, Commentary on John 13:1-17, 31b-35 for April 13, 2017 at WorkingPreacher.org. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3204

[8] Ibid., Koester.

[9] Supersessionism is the theory that Jesus fulfills, replaces, and therefore negates God’s covenant with Jews.  The explicit assertion in this sermon is the counter-argument to supersessionism.

[10] Krister Stendahl. Final Account: Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995).

[11] Ibid., Koester, 195.

[12] 1 Corinthians 11:23b-26

[13] A worship leader says, “The peace of Christ be with you always.” The people respond, “And also with you.” Then everyone shares a sign of Christ’s peace with each other by shaking each other’s hands.

[14] Video of Leah interviewed by her mother at https://www.facebook.com/Break/videos/10155078881787792/

[15] Matthew Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary. Sermon Brainwave podcast for Maundy Thursday scripture readings on April 13, 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=867

Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.

11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

1 Corinthians 11:23-36 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

 

Kierkegaard, Reason and Peace – John 20:19-31 and 1 John 1:1-2:2

John 20:19-31 and 1 John 1:1-2:2 – Kierkegaard, Reason and Peace [1]

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 12, 2015

 

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

John 20:19-31 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.

1 John 1:1-2:2 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

 

[sermon begins]

Christian churches all over the world do things so differently from each other.  I have friends that worship with huge screens and rock bands.  I have friends who sit and contemplate in silence.  I have friends that sit in front of gilded altar gates and gold rimmed icon paintings, the smell of incense filling the space.  Worship among my Christian friends runs the gamut.  I’ve said it time and again to people who visit here and people who ask me about churches in general, “I hope you find a congregation through which you can hear God’s voice.”  Hearing God’s voice may have to do with worship form, or theology, or music.  It may have to do with the connection between life and scripture.  It may have to do with your family worshiping together in a congregation for generations.  But, mainly, I hope you hear God’s voice.

In the John reading today, God’s voice comes in the person Jesus.  Alive and well and peaceful.  Talking with his friends who are locked in a room, afraid.  They go into hiding not knowing which way to turn after Jesus has been killed.  But then he shows up.  After he’s killed on a cross.  Dead for three days.  He turns up.  In a room.  Among his scared and shuttered friends.  And he says to them, “Peace be with you.”  He says it again for Thomas a week later.  Lord only knows what Thomas has been getting into while his friends were hiding in that room.  “Peace be with you,” Thomas is told by the risen Christ.

There is a unity among the disciples in this story from John today.  Even through Thomas had missed the first visit from Jesus and demanded a sighting to believe with the same information, the other disciples continued to include him in the group.  He then has his own visit with the risen Jesus.  All is well.

A few generations later, when the book of First John was written, a disagreement has happened. There has been a split in the community that Thomas and some of the disciples began.  Some of the people have left to form a new one of their own.  Raymond Brown summarizes the fight between the two groups as being over “their ideas about Jesus, about the Christian life, about eschatology, and about the Spirit.”[2]  Along the same line, this past week I had a chance to speak with a woman who attended a funeral here with Augustana.  She was telling me about her church both in terms of its worship and its denomination as compared to a few of the splits from within the denomination.  It just seems to be the nature of people to disagree and separate.  There is certainly a parallel from the earliest Johannine communities to the denominations of today.

These splits in community give us pause to circle back around to original fear of the disciples in the closed up room.  More specifically, Thomas’ fear.  He wasn’t in the first locked room the week before.   Perhaps he isn’t afraid of the political climate that threatens his life like the other disciples seem to be.  Perhaps he is more motivated by the fear of missing out.  His friends had an experience that he didn’t have and now he wasn’t sure about anything.

Soren Kierkagaard, a 19th century Danish philosopher and Christian, is known today as a great thinker.  One of the ways we know he was a great thinker is because he was a prolific writer before his death at the age of 42.  Kierkegaard seemed to write, at least initially, to work things out in his own mind.  He, like Thomas, wasn’t sure about anything.  The timing makes sense.  His birth in 1813 followed closely after the deaths of Enlightenment thinkers David Hume and Immanuel Kant.

In his early journals, Kierkegaard had a thing or two to say about fear.   He wrote about the doubt, trouble, and anguish that he, “wanted to forget in order to achieve a view of life.”[3]  But, to his mind, the ways in which he was trying ignore certain details to achieve a full view of life, showed themselves to be distractions.  Distractions that came out of the fear that Kierkegaard would falsely give a result to himself that he didn’t believe in.  As he says it himself in his early journals, “…out of fear that I should have falsely ascribe a result to myself.”[4]  There, in that sentence, is one of the gifts and curses of the Enlightenment.  The fear that I would inadvertently say I believe in something that maybe I’m not 100% sure about.  Or maybe even worse, that I would participate in something and give a wrong impression of what I believe.

In addition to encouraging people to find a congregation through which they hear God’s voice, I also tell people that, on any given Sunday, there are people in the pews for all kinds of reasons and thinking all kinds of things.  Like Thomas in that upper room with the disciples, our experiences and ideas don’t line up in tidy parallels or categories.  But also like Thomas and the disciples, we hold space for each other to experience and work through whatever it is we’re working through by way of faith.

Part of the way we hold that space for each other is worshiping together.  We begin worship with a confession that broken places exist in us but that God has our back and will not let go of us.  Like Thomas, we explore the Word, digging deeply into scripture, wounds, and possibility.  Like Thomas, we confess a faith so much bigger than ourselves and our ability to understand completely.  And, like Thomas, we share in Christ’s peace given to us by the risen Christ.

Today’s readings from Gospel of John and the book of First John, as well as Soren Kierkegaard’s works, all contain the writer’s reasons for writing them.  We are in worship together with our various reasons for being here and ideas about what is happening here.  Into all of that reasoning, walks the risen Christ greeting you with a word of peace.  “Peace be with you.”  As you share a word of peace with each other later in worship, this is the good word you continue to preach to each other.  “Peace be with you.”

Christ shares his peace with you and you are immediately captured up into something bigger than you.  You are part of the church, the body of Christ, people of the cross and resurrection given new life in the waters of baptism and new life in each other.   “Peace be with you.”




[1] No Oxford comma because Kierkegaard reflects the coexistence of reason and peace through his experience of faith.

[2] Raymond E. Brown. The Epistles of John (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1982), xi.

[3] Soren Kierkegaard.  The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard: 1834-1854 (Great Britain: Fontana Books, 1938), 41.

[4] 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.