Tag Archives: Pentecost

I Can See No Way Out But Through** [OR Leviathan’s Lesson on Playfulness] John 14:15-17, 25-27, Acts 2:1-21, and Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

**Robert Frost’s poem “A Servant to Servants” (1915)

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church June 4, 2017 – Pentecost Sunday

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

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. 26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it. 27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season; 28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. 30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground. 31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works— 32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. 33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. 34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.
35b Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!

John 14:15-17, 25-27 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Acts 2:1-21 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

[sermon begins]

In the Bible reading today, Peter’s preaching is nothing short of extraordinary, not because of what he says but because he’s preaching at all. Let’s talk about Peter for a minute.  His story is ripe for a made-for-T.V. movie.  Or maybe even a Hollywood blockbuster if the casting and writing goes well.  A man of simple means, a fisherman, Peter is called into service by the itinerant preacher Jesus who used to be a carpenter.[1]  Traveling around Judea together with a few more men and women added to the mix, they preached as they healed, gathered and fed.  It doesn’t last. It ends in a mess of scattered betrayal, denial, and death on a cross.  Peter is a complicated person.  Many of us take great comfort from the way he blurts out wild ideas or tries to boss Jesus around.[2]  Some of us even take comfort from the way Peter denies knowing Jesus during his trial.[3]  Regardless, Peter is preaching on the rush of the Spirit at Pentecost. His preaching is immediately complicated by people’s perception of what’s happening and how people make sense of it.  Some people think he and his other preaching friends are drunk.  But, no, simply human.

It’s an interesting time to be a human in the world.  It’s also an interesting time to be a preacher. Many of my longer-tenured colleagues of various denominations talk and write regularly about this unprecedented moment in time.  There simply is no sweet spot between Jesus’ emphases of loving God, self, neighbor, and enemy and the current political rhetoric.  To ignore world and national events puts preaching in an artificial bubble that “separation of church and state” never intended. To incorporate said events into a sermon leads to contradictory feedback that it either didn’t go far enough or it went too far into political conversation.  It’s even become so tricky that to simply preach Biblical language is interpreted politically by listeners; think “welcoming the stranger” and current immigration issues.[4]

What is a preacher to do?  Keep preaching.  The prophet Isaiah writes that the word of the Lord goes out and accomplishes its purpose while the Lord’s thoughts are not our thoughts nor the Lord’s ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8-11).  I take comfort in the human limitation implied by Isaiah and God’s word succeeding despite a preacher’s well-intentioned bumbling.  As Robert Frost wrote in his poem, A Servant to Servants, “I can see no way out but through.”[5]

What’s a congregation to do?  Keep being the church lit up and winded by the Holy Spirit.  Baptize. Commune. Preach.  Pray.  Visit the sick and home-centered. Remind each other of God’s promises. And live the gospel freedom to sin boldly on behalf of God and neighbor.  Sinning boldly is not a free-for-all but rather a “freedom for” which unleashes Christians to work on behalf of our neighbors knowing that we will bumble through the work.  Web-search “Freedom of a Christian pdf” or visit Augustana’s library to read Luther’s no-nonsense take on this one.[6] In it, Luther lays down two propositions:

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.

A Christian is perfectly dutiful servant to all, subject to all.

Frost’s servant poem applies again, “I can see no way out but through.”

What’s Augustana to do specifically?  For today, there’s a couple things on my mind.  Welcoming new members is one of them. People and families for whom a variety of reasons accompanies the call of the Spirit to connect through this congregation.  The other thing on my mind today? Keep moving for hunger. Our congregation has a long history of supporting ELCA World Hunger accompanies people from poverty to self-sufficiency in the U.S. and around the world – from health clinics to microloans, water wells to animal husbandry, community meals to advocacy. ELCA World Hunger is something that has made sense over time to a lot of people in this congregation.

The 500 year anniversary of the Reformation ramps up our partnership as the Rocky Mountain Synod’s (ELCA) Hunger Network is challenging congregations to commemorate the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation with “500 Years On The Move For Hunger” that each congregation is able to construct from their particular gifts and personalities.  Augustana’s goal is to increase movement and raise a congregational total of $15,170 for ELCA World Hunger over 150 days – June 4 – October 29, Pentecost to Reformation Sunday.  Individuals or Teams are encouraged to “Move” physically by walking, biking, running, etc., or to “Move” spiritually by spending time volunteering for hunger organizations, praying for others, meditating, etc. (15 minutes = 1 mile). Participating individuals or teams will keep track of their “miles” and either give or raise money, based on their miles, toward ELCA World Hunger.

Naturally, with a serious issue such as hunger, we get so serious, so quickly. Or maybe it’s just me. But in serious times it’s easy to forget to laugh, to enjoy the gift of life, “to sport” in creation like the Leviathan in the psalm.[7]  “500 Years On The Move for Hunger” is a fun way to celebrate life while working towards life for all.  “I can see no way out but through.”

Most importantly, what’s Jesus to do?  Here’s the amazing thing. Jesus keeps doing what Jesus does – forgiving, strengthening, inspiring, leading, connecting, healing and loving.  Towards the end of the gospel of John, the risen Christ has a come-to-Jesus meeting with Simon Peter who had denied him three times during the crucifixion trial, the same Peter preaching at Pentecost.[8]  Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”[9]  …“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  …“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Each time, Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus responds, “Feed my sheep.”[10]  First and foremost, Peter experiences grace from Jesus after the pain and disappointment of his denials. Only then does Jesus put him to work.

In today’s gospel of John reading, Jesus is still alive, before the crucifixion.  He promises the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to his disciples BEFORE Peter’s bumbling denials and the other disciples’ abandonment during the crucifixion. His promise to them isn’t connected to points for good behavior.  First and foremost, they receive grace through a promise from Jesus. …“I can see no way out but through.”…Jesus doesn’t play the game of retributive justice. He isn’t out for revenge. His disciples receive grace through a promise. They receive the Holy Spirit as promised and so do we. Jesus’ promise to the disciples is also his promise to us:

“…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”[11]

Amen.

___________________________________________________________

[1] Luke 5:1-11 The story of Jesus calling Peter, James, and John to follow him.

[2] Matthew 16:21-23 (Get behind me satan), Luke 9:28-36 (Transfiguration)

[3] John 18:15-27

[4] Matthew 25:43-45, Hebrews 13:2, Exodus 22:21, etc.

[5] Robert Frost.  “A Servant to Servants” in the Complete Poems of Robert Frost. (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1949), 83.

[6] Martin Luther. Freedom of a Christian (1520) in Luther’s Works 31.: Eds. Harold J. Grimm and Helmutt T. Lehmann; online at http://www.spucc.org/sites/default/files/Luther%20Freedom.pdf

[7] Psalm 104:24-26 O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. 26There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it

[8] John 18:15-18, 25-27 – The story of Peter’s denials.

[9] John 21:15-21

[10] John 21:17

[11] John 14:26-27

Matthew 28:16-20 & 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 “Arrogance, Apathy, Anxiety – A Trinity of Our Own Design”

Matthew 28:16-20 & 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 “Arrogance, Apathy, Anxiety – A Trinity of Our Own Design”

Caitlin Trussell on June 15, 2014 at Augustana Lutheran Church

 

Matthew 28:16-20 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
13The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

 

Last Sunday’s worship was a doozy.  Between the festival of Pentecost and the celebration of Pastor Pederson’s ministry, along with his retirement, it might even be described as epic.  It held moments of poignant joy, of laughter through tears – that rare combination of ethos and pathos that sent many of us out on a high that was, dare we say, Pentecostal.

Saying a good “Goodbye” blesses the ones leaving and the ones left behind.  And we have said goodbye well.  But there is more to a farewell than parties, portraits, and parting words.  Farewells are work.  For starters, there is individual work of figuring out how this new farewell taps and stacks with the other farewells in our pasts.  The individual work is important so that we don’t inflict pain from out past goodbye’s to the present moment.  Then there is the congregational work of what Pastor Pederson’s retirement reveals about who we are without his leadership.  This work is important so that we can offer a good welcome a new pastor.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians helps us think about farewells.  “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”[1]

Along the lines of putting things in order, staff just met together and drafted out the church calendar for the next year; Personnel Committee is working toward the selection of an Interim Pastor; Stewardship Committee has made some first steps in teaching and leading us to think about the connection between faith, time, and money; and many other ministries are continuing their work within and outside of the congregation.  So, okay, maybe not as invigorating as a good festival but it’s the real stuff of real life where most of us live on most days.

Once the big Pentecostal energy subsides, life together in the church continues.  And, of course, the life of the congregation is not an end unto itself.  In this particular instance, the apostle Paul and the preacher John Pederson find easy agreement.  Just as Paul reminds the Corinthians that there is grace in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is love in God, and there is the communion of the Holy Spirit, so we heard last week that we might also “want to ring the gospel bell.”

Which brings us so nicely into the verses in Matthew where Jesus says to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  As 21st century Christians, 21st century Jesus-people, the disciples’ commissioning can seem too big.  There’s too much certainty in it.  There’s too much history between those words and our world today.

These verses in Matthew have a sordid past.  People often talk to me about the 13th century Crusades, the 16th century Spanish Inquisition, or the 20th century Native American boarding schools when they’re telling me why Christianity doesn’t work for them.  These atrocities wrought by the church in the world can turn us into ‘either/or’ people pretty quickly.  Either we reject the whole of Christianity outright deciding that we want no part of whatever leads to the Crusades.  Or we believe a life of faith looks like inspiring, festival joy without considering what the death of God in a body on a cross might mean in our lives.

Either end of this spectrum doesn’t quite get at anything.  People of all religious and non-religious types do all kinds of things good, bad, and ugly.  Christians might call the good things people do in terms of being “created in the image of God”; and Christians might call the bad and the ugly things that people do “sin.”   Neither the violence of forced conversions nor the 24/7 rejoicing gives us a footing to understand Jesus’ commissioning of disciples – then OR now.  The problem is that little word “understanding.”  This little word that can suddenly turn us into a group of people who think WE are the good news rather than a group of people brought together by a desperate hunger to feast on the good news.

Holy Trinity Sunday adds an extra dash of trouble because it ups the ante on understanding.  Suddenly we’re all trying to understand metaphor to understand Trinity rather than be claimed and secured by the good news of Jesus Christ.  Along this line, one of my new favorite voices is 20th century preacher Lesslie Newbigin.  He compiled and edited a lecture series called The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.  The gist of one lecture is that Western Christians are often so concerned about avoiding the label of arrogance that we become either apathetic and never talk about our faith or overly anxious about proving whatever it is we think is true about our faith.[2]  Once again, acting out of the assumption that we ourselves are the good news.

The correction to our assumptions is of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew:

16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus is leaving.  These words are his farewell.  Along the lines of a good farewell, Jesus reminds the disciples and us about putting things in good order.  And this order begins with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – not with us.  Not with us who worship, nor with us who doubt, but with God.

I like how Newbigin puts this:

It is an action of God, the triune God – of God the Father who is ceaselessly at work in all creation and in the hearts and minds of all human beings whether they acknowledge him or not, graciously guiding history toward it’s true end; of God the Son who has become part of this created history in the incarnation; and of God the Holy Spirit who is given as a foretaste of the end to empower and teach the Church and to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.  Before we think about our role, the role of our words and deeds in mission, we need to have firmly in the center of our thinking this action of God.[3]

On this Holy Trinity Sunday, may you be given confidence in Christ through your baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  As Christ reassures his disciples, may you also hear him clearly say to you, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”



[1] 1 Corinthians 13:11-13

[2] Lesslie Newbigin.  The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989), 243.

[3] Ibid, 135.

John 14:8-17, 25-27; Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17 A Sermon for Pentecost

John 14:8-17, 25-27; Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17  – A Sermon for Pentecost

 

John 14:8-17, 25-27  Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

 

Acts 2:1-21 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

Pentecost is today!  We get together for worship, some of us remembering to wear red to symbolize the Holy Spirit while others of us are trying to piece together exactly why, and away we go!  Pentecost is a church holiday that ratchets up our intensity just a bit – making the joyous a little more joyful and the reverent a little more respectful.  We in the church sing and celebrate and worship God the Holy Spirit on this day and, for the most part, we have a pretty good time at the party.

 

What I want to ask is, “Why?”  Why do we do this strange celebration of Pentecost?  The first reading from the book of Acts takes us back to remembering the earliest days of the church.  The roaring sound of a violent wind, the flames that settle over the heads of the faithful, God the Holy Spirit pouring out and over those gathered people, creating church from those gathered people, a grand spectacle to be sure – amazing to behold by those who received a spirit of adoption on that day.  But thinking about that day, so far back in time, can feel a little slippery to some of us.  What was that sound of wind; was it actual wind?  What about those tongues of flame; did they shimmer like personal, red northern lights?  Or were the flames more like real fire but not actual fire that would have burned the people?  Was the writer indulging in poetic metaphor?  If so, in which direction does the metaphor point?  All great questions that are utterly and frustratingly unanswerable.

 

Celebrating Pentecost year after year does indeed take us back to that noisy, flaming day in the church when the church was instigated and inspired to get moving by God the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost helps us remember those earliest believers in that mysterious event and reminds us of our connection through time to those earliest believers.  Perhaps more importantly, remembering the first Pentecost helps us remember God’s presence in the midst of the church.  So remembering is good.  And it is right.  And it is…tame.  Remembering implies that what happened is in the past and stays in the past.  It is easy to remember; it is much harder to see and to claim that very same Spirit of God here, now, today.  So let’s see what might be revealed if we poke around and through the symbols of the day.

 

The Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly happened a few weeks ago.  Church goers, Pastors, Diaconal Ministers, Youth Ministers, and Associates in Ministry from 176 churches in Wyoming, Utah, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, met together along with the ministers and bishop from the Bishop’s office.  There were highs, lows, snoozes and surprises as there was God to be worshipped, business to be done, friends to be greeted, and gleanings to be learned.  And then there was this thing, this moment that simply stole my breath away.

 

Saturday morning the Assembly was in its 37th hour.  We were seated around our tables, with tables next to tables throughout the large hotel ballroom.  Bishop Gonia was up front at a podium with two huge, wall-mounted, projection screens on either side of the speaker’s platform.  He told us that very shortly we would be connected via Skype to the Malagasy Lutheran Church in Madagascar, Africa, with whom our synod has shared a long and thriving history of accompaniment as some people from our synod have been there and some of their people have spent time here.  The technological process – which I’ve been told stops just this side of being a minor miracle – progressed in fits and starts.  Bishop Gonia exchanged lengthy, formal greetings with his Malagasy counterpart in the Malagasy language as he translated it for the rest of us so that we could understand what was being said.  During the breaks in the connection, other people would give their reports from the podium.  A disjointed flow that came to another pause just after their choir sang us a beautiful song in their language and our clapping for them.

 

What was supposed to happen next was a download of previously taped singing from our very own Rocky Mountain Synod people who will be headed to Madagascar together in a few months.   Something happened to that download and suddenly the bishop was inviting us all to stand and sing Amazing Grace, via Skype, for the people representing the Malagasy Lutheran Church.  We sang two verses from memory while their faces watched us from the two large projection screens.  As we were singing, a couple of things hit me.  There we were, an eclectic mix of people to be sure but predominantly white Americans, singing Amazing Grace, a song written in the 18th century by a former slave trader turned Christian minister, to a predominantly black group of Malagasy people.[1]  The magnitude of it hit me like a ton of bricks during their clapping for us.  While it did not feel surprising that the Malagasy people sang to us, our impromptu singing and its levels of meaning felt full of surprise to me.

 

Perhaps this surprising moment is a small taste of what Paul means in verse 16 of the Romans letter that was read a few minutes ago when he says, “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”[2]  This is not to say that every surprising moment with the element of ironic cool thrown in is of the Spirit – although the Spirit can be ironic and is definitely cool.  It is to say that the Spirit who moves in us reverses even our most sincere efforts to do a good thing and often ends up doing something else entirely.

 

The reading from John may help us out here.  Jesus says, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works… the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”[3]  These works that Jesus is talking about are as intricately connected to the dwelling of the Father in the person of Jesus as they are to the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  And, as such, these works take us beyond the ironic and the cool.  God the Holy Spirit participates in the movement of the whole Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – abiding as One with each other even as the Holy Spirit abides in us.

 

The Holy Spirit, abiding in us, brings us into that same participation with the Trinity.  This participation is so tempting to tame down into soft light and warm feelings without drawing out any particular specificity.  But there are specifics to our participation in the Trinity – the power of God the Holy Spirit hands us over to Christ who renders us to a loving God.[4]  Again, this is to say that the Spirit who moves in us reverses even our most sincere efforts to do a good thing and often ends up doing something else entirely.

 

The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ makes us, as Paul says, “…heirs of Christ.”  Or, more simply put, makes us the church, making us One with Christ our Lord while allowing for the differences of language, voice, and gifts as it did that first moments of Pentecost.

 

The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ, means that we, the church, stand under the cross of Christ which reveals our need for Jesus even as that same Spirit picks us up, dusts us off and sends us out of our sheltered comfort for Kingdom work of which we may never see the import or outcome.

 

The Holy Spirit, handing us over to Christ, means that we, the church, participate in the power of God – this very same power that stood on the side of truth for you and the side of love for you even to death on the cross so that you might know the depth and magnitude of God’s love, and be drawn to faith, so that on this day, as on your last day, you are handed by the Holy Spirit over to Christ who renders you to a loving God.



[2] Romans 8:10

[3] John 14:10b, 12

[4] Justin Nickel, Pastor of Centenniel Lutheran Church, personal conversation, May 16, 2013.

 

Luke 3:7-18 “God’s Righteous Wrath Rocks On”

Luke 3:7-18 “God’s Righteous Wrath Rocks On”

December 16, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

Luke 3:7-18   John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

 

I’m going to skip right over the question about how many of you even knew there was a prophet named Zephaniah and whether or not you knew there is a book in the Bible with his name on it.  Not one of our more commonly referenced prophets, the book is only three chapters long and filled with fierce, angry, wrath of God type stuff.  Somewhere along the way, this God who gets angry fell out of favor and not often discussed.  Because really, who’s in favor of being on the receiving end of anyone’s anger, much less God’s? [1]

So this brings me to a question – one that you could answer easily, unlike the Zephaniah Bible quiz.  Have you ever had someone stand beside you and get angry on your behalf?  You’ve been down and out through no fault of your own or cheated or bullied and someone stands with you railing against the injustice of it all.  Your friend is angry for you and maybe even with you.  Well, this is a small scale way of appreciating the wrath of God message of the prophets – an historic tradition of people who call attention to injustices perpetrated by people against each other and against God.  There is a temptation we need to be careful to avoid as we compare our friend’s righteous anger and God’s righteous anger.  The temptation is that we often view ourselves on the side of God over and against whatever is happening that we may dislike – as opposed to standing apart from God along with everyone else.

I, for one, want a God who gets angry – a God who gets angry about the horror in Newtown, Connecticut rather than being absent or apathetic.  Because a God who died on a cross is there in these crises.  Where else would God be but with those who are suffering and dying at the hands of an evil act?  And now, likewise, with those who are suffering and grieving in its aftermath.  A God who gets angry shows up in defiant compassion and righteous truth.

Zephaniah’s words of hope come at the very end of a two and a half chapter prophetic rant.  And it includes a beautiful promise about God.  Zephaniah says, “He will renew you in his love.” Hear this again, please… “He will renew you in his love.”  How easy would it be view this promise through the soft, filtered light of a dewy, spring morning?  Too easy, if you ask me.   Too quickly, we are inclined to move to a sentimental notion of renewal that leaves the power of God dull and lifeless in our own minds.  And has us saying things like, “I’m not sure I like that Old Testament God.”  Or, “The Old Testament God came out for war and the New Testament God came out for a game of golf.”  In the desire to distance ourselves from the anger, we disconnect God’s story into two distinct pieces rather than appreciating the continuity of  God from the Hebrew Scriptures into the good news of the Gospel.  And sometimes I wonder if we’re not leaving out the better part.

Well, John the Baptist didn’t get the memo.  Listen to him! “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come?”  John’s words reveal him to be part of the continuity between what happened as described by the prophets of old and what is happening now to the crowds who are swarming out to meet him.[2]  Although, after John’s greeting, I would guess that a few of them were wondering why they made the trip.

But John gives more than accusation and threat.  He says to them, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” It is good to pause here to remember all that is embedded in repentance.  Repentance assumes that God’s mercy is available.  Repentance assumes that God’s grace will come.  Repentance then also assumes our need for both of those things.  What good is repentance if God is not merciful?  What good is repentance if God’s grace is unpredictable and easily or capriciously withheld?

Another way to think about repentance is through this lens of being renewed in God’s love, being revealed in all that we are in the fullness of the good, the bad and the ugly.  The crowd, tax collectors and soldiers ask, “What then should we do?”  The crowd is apparently hanging onto more than they need, the tax collectors are collecting for Rome but lining their own pockets by overcharging, and the soldiers of the time are bullies, extorting money from the people.  In short, John tells them to share, play fair, and be kind.  This is not rocket science.  This is renewal that stands you with your neighbor rather than against them.

We can so easily stand apart from the crowd, the tax collectors, and the soldiers, feeling grateful that those aren’t our particular sins.  However, I see us smack in the middle of this crowd wondering why we came in today only to hear John’s words push against us, too.  After all, it’s difficult to fully celebrate the arrival of a savior if you don’t see much need for one from the start.

But then John lobs out a power-filled promise of God’s renewal and I’m left breathing deeply and overflowing with hope:

“16 John answered them all by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”

The power of Pentecost is on fire just under the surface of this Advent text.[3]  The Holy Spirit, at work in Mary’s pregnancy, has more in mind than the gentle quiet of a nativity scene.  The Holy Spirit has us in mind, my friends.

John’s proclamation that “the one who is coming…will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit,” is indeed good news.  One of the ways John’s words help us today is by working us toward an understanding of this wild promise.   This begins with the distinction he makes between the wheat and chaff.  I see each of us here today as one of those grains – a grain sitting all warm and cozy within the chaff that surrounds it.  We get used to our chaff.  Some might even argue that we’ve made peace too easily with our chaff, our sinful selves.  But part of the promise is that our repentance, our surrender to the one who has the power to renew us, is that the sin gets called out in truth, gets forgiven and gets worked with.  And once that happens, look out!  This kind of renewal is more than a spa day – it is a salvation day in the here and now.

There are all kinds of ways God’s renewal in God’s love by the power of the Holy Spirit looks in people’s lives.  It can look utterly dramatic on the outside – like the woman with whom I’ve worshiped who killed her lover’s wife and has been incarcerated in Denver Women’s Correctional Facility for the past 20 years.  This woman sits in a Bible Study about the 10 commandments and confesses to breaking all of them.  She has a powerful ministry within the walls, reaching out in faith to other offenders –taking responsibility for her crime and living with the consequence as she sings of Christ’s freedom at Friday evening worship.  Renewal for her is being freed into a new future; one not defined by her past or the perception of those around her or even her location.

God’s renewal in God’s love by the power of the Holy Spirit can also look more subtle.  It can look like people who rage, gossip, gloat, hoard, cheat and bully, in both clever and unaware ways, and those same people walking up to bread and wine, surrendering to the Holy Spirit’s power to renew us in forgiveness and hope.   In short, it looks like people in need of a Savior, people who may or may not see or understand this need, and who celebrate his birth.

We are a people who need a Savior and who, very soon, will celebrate our Savior’s arrival.  Because we do not have a God who uses power to do us harm out of anger.  Rather, we have a God who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, came among us in skin and solidarity under star and comes among us now in Word, water, bread and wine – forgiving us and refining us by the power of the same Spirit.  We are prepared to receive our Savior in this Advent time by “the one who is and who was and who is to come.”[4]

Amen and Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Abram Heschel, “The Meaning and Mystery of Wrath” in The Prophets (New York: Harper &Row, 1962), 358-382.

[2] Rolf Jacobson, WorkingPreacher.com, “Sermon Brainwave #267 – Lectionary Texts for December 16, 2012.”

[3] Karoline Lewis, WorkingPreacher.com, “Sermon Brainwave #267 – Lectionary Texts for December 16, 2012.”

[4] Revelation 1:8