Tag Archives: questions

John 10:1-10 “Ticket-Takers and Open Gates”

John 10:1-10  “Ticket-Takers and Open Gates”

Caitlin Trussell on May 11, 2014 at Augustana Lutheran Church

 

John 10:1-10 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 

So which one is it?!  Is Jesus the gate or is Jesus the shepherd?  So which one is it?! Are we the sheep?   Or are we the thieves, bandits and strangers?  This text is loaded with imagery as Jesus tries to communicate who he is with his disciples.  No wonder the disciples are confused.   To give us a place to focus, I really want you to hear Jesus’ gift to us as he says, “I am the gate.”  He says it twice.  “I am the gate.”

Think for a moment about gates that you come across in your day-to-day.  Picture the gate in your mind and who controls the gate and whether the gate stands opened or closed.  Think about what the gate is for, who is allowed to go in and go out of that gate and what it costs to move in and out of the gate.

Now, picture another gate.  It’s made of iron, as sturdy as a gate can be made.  This gate is open, wide open.  It’s so open that it’s welded open. There is freedom of movement as it stands open.  The gate cannot be closed or manipulated in any way.  It simply…stands…open… this is the gate I would like you to have in mind for the next few minutes.  A gate that stands open.

A few weeks ago, Pastor Pederson preached to us about the story that comes right before our verses today about Jesus is the gate.  About the story of the man born blind to whom Jesus gives sight.  The man born blind, who can now see because of Jesus, is asked all kinds of questions by the religious leaders of the temple and they ultimately drive him out of the temple when their questions aren’t answered to their expectations.  And Jesus receives that man who had once been blind.  The experience of the man born blind being given his sight by Jesus which launches the man into a maelstrom of questions asked by the community is the entry point to Jesus naming himself as the gate.

How many times has a new experience led us to new questions?  And those new questions to new answers?  Answers that challenge how we think about life and how we think about God.  Time and time again as children our minds stretch and grow to absorb all the new stuff we see and do and hear.  Time and time again as teenagers and, hopefully, if we’re lucky, time and time again as adults.  We are challenged to either understand something new or take on something new in the face of new information that arrives on the scene.  It is the way of life.  And for Jesus followers, it is a way of faith as we try to figure out what in the name of God…literally, in the name of God…we’re talking about when we talk about Jesus.

But it is also the way of life to not let in all the possibilities and information.  It is also the way of life to be overwhelmed by it.  It is also the way of life to be knocked down by the sheer quantity of information and experience that blow our minds and leave our expectations in tatters.  And it is the way of life to close ourselves off and create our own sheepfolds – sheepfolds that set-up our own beliefs about Jesus as the gate.  We set up a gate so that we might feel some small glimmer of hope that our right faith keeps us safe from that which would harm us or destroy us.  And, very quickly, we fall to the same temptation as the religious leaders did with the man born blind and we drive people out as if we ourselves are the gate.

And then I like to take a big breath as Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the gate.”  Because Jesus as the open gate in this passage is very, very different than thinking about Jesus as the faith-ticket-taker.  You know, like I have my ticket of faith which gives me entrance to the right church and then, at the just the right time, I hand my ticket of faith over to Jesus so that all will be well, so that I will be well.

I’m pretty sure there are no tickets of faith-in-Jesus that purchase protective outerwear for deflecting the worst kind of pain.  Perhaps to confirm this we could check in with a few of our most faithful brothers and sisters in the nearest ICU or hospice.

And I’m pretty sure that there is no ticket-of-faith in Jesus that unleashes a cash windfall – perhaps we could check in with some of our poorest and most faithful brothers and sisters, numbering in the millions across the planet, who wonder where their next meal is coming from.

In fact, what these faithful brothers and sisters all over the world experience is what we experience. We all experience some moments in life and other people at their worst.  We experience faith living in the shadow of the cross while clinging to the promise of the Easter resurrection.  In the season of Easter, we live on this side of the resurrection although we see it through a glass darkly.[1]  The realities of the cross are real even today.  Jesus does not describe a world free of bandits and thieves.  Jesus names the bandits as real, as the powers that rob us of life and health.[2]

So then, Jesus is the gate to the abundance of what?  He says, “I came so that you may have LIFE and have it abundantly.”  That he says this through the specter of the cross is key.  Jesus lives a truth about the mess of human reality on the cross. Jesus overcomes that reality not by ignoring it but by dying on it.  Lighting up our vulnerability through his own – vulnerability that cannot be ignored.  So then we can stop pretending that we know enough and are strong enough to be our own gates, our own gods.  Jesus promises an abundant life that is the power of the love of God in the midst of real threats, in the middle of thieves and bandits who kill and destroy, who show up in the valley of the shadow of death.

Jesus is the gate through whose death and resurrection we enter and emerge into life abundant.

Jesus is the gate who sees the truth of the whole you – the image of God in you and the worst of the brokenness in you.

Jesus is the gate with whom you enter into the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil.

Jesus is the gate who promises that death, when it comes, may win the moment but does not win the day when you breathe your last in this body and awake in the next.

 



[1] 1 Corinthians 13:12  For now we see through a glassdarkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as also I am known.

[2] Craig Koester, Gospel of John, Course Lecture at Luther Seminary, October, 13, 2010.

Mark 9:30-37 “Money, Skepticism and Questions”

Mark 9:30-37 “Money, Skepticism and Questions”

September 23, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

Mark 9:30-37 30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then 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.”

 

 

How many of us have ever had the experience of saying something that we wished we hadn’t?  That moment where your whole inside goes, “Ugh…”  So much so, that you can feel it in the pit of your stomach.  Yup, I’m pretty sure that this is an almost universal experience.  For me, because I tend toward the chatty side, it happens with frustrating regularity.  And it’s just here in our text today that the disciples do the opposite – they stay silent; not once, but twice!  First they are silent because they were afraid to ask Jesus to clear up their lack of understanding and then they stay silent because Jesus names their humanity when he calls them on their arguing.  Their “Ugh” moment doesn’t even get to include speaking.  It just sits there in the pit of their stomach probably getting heavier as they walk along – falling back a bit to begin that arguing with one another.

They begin their arguing right after Jesus makes this big speech about what’s going to happen to him.  He talks about being betrayed, his murder and resurrection.  I picture the disciples listening attentively, perhaps even giving a nod or two to show they are paying attention and following along.  And then, they drop back a bit, and what do they do as they follow Jesus?  Argue.  They don’t even argue about what Jesus might have meant by his predication.  They argue about being the greatest.  Maybe they really don’t get it, perhaps arguing about the greatest as they wonder who will take over the leadership when Jesus goes down.  And Jesus, well, because he’s Jesus, knows exactly what they are doing.

I like to think Jesus knows what they are doing because it is simply what we, as people, do.  We follow along behind Jesus, not really sure what to make of these big faith claims in Jesus’ predication and very often afraid or uncomfortable to ask about what Jesus’ death and resurrection might mean in our own lives.  So we turn to each other and we argue.  We argue about all kinds of things but often the subtext, the argument beneath the argument, is about who is the greatest.

One of the ways in which we argue about being the greatest has to do with money.  There are obvious ways we do this in American culture, especially in a political year when we argue about taxes and government spending.  But there are more subtle ways we argue about being the greatest when it comes to money.  This can be so subtle for us we don’t tend to think about it as part of the argument we’re having.  It takes shape in whispers as we move through the world in our designated social class based on our income.  But it includes all the ways in which we look to money to tell us who we are and what we’re about.  Not as a conscious thought, but we look nonetheless.

And, suddenly, like the disciples in Mark, we are following behind Jesus but not looking at Jesus.  We begin looking to each other as we come up with our arguments.  One of the classic arguments begins with a deep suspicion of the connection between money and the church.  You hear this in comments all the time, maybe even in your own comments, that sound like, “All the church wants in my money.”  And this suspicion has real roots.

We were joking the other night at this congregation’s church Council meeting abut how fun it might be to hold a tongue-in-cheek ‘Indulgence’ sale.  Indulgences, you may recall, were a 16th century church innovation that cashed in on people’s fear for their loved ones’ eternal doom so that church buildings could be completed.  Indulgences were sold with the marketing line, “When a coin in the coffer sings, a soul from purgatory springs.”  Indulgences were a key fuel in the fury of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, his arguments against the corruption in the church.  So, even as we had fun with the idea, someone made the comment about taking extreme care with such an attempt.  Because even, and maybe especially, we as the church can just as easily as anyone else find ourselves following behind Jesus, confessing him Lord, while arguing amongst ourselves about the greatest.

This gets me back to thinking about the disciples’ silence when they don’t understand.  To my mind, the silence when people want to ask a question but don’t becomes a pregnant silence.  So, because we’d be here all day if people started shooting out questions, I’m asking that everyone take a slip of paper out of the seatback of the chair in front of you.  And for about a minute, think about what you would ask Jesus about money if you could ask absolutely anything, and write it down on the piece of paper.  This question is purely for you – no group sharing or hand raising will be requested.  This means you can send that editor that lives in your head out for a coffee break.  Okay, ready, set, think and write… … … … …

 

I invite you to consider your question to Jesus that you just wrote down as a prayer this week.  You can simply add it to your prayers.  Or you may discuss it with people.  Or think of the question from time-to-time during the week.  See what comes up for you either as possible answers or perhaps yet another question.

I invite you into this time of asking questions because Jesus has made all of us free to ‘fire away.”  Sitting here, with the whole Bible at our fingertips, we know how the story plays out.  And it is in his death and resurrection that we are made free from the fear that would stop our questions from pouring out.  So that when there are incomprehensible ideas and tension, such as disciples experience, we turn to following Jesus only to find that, with scarcely a glace from us, Jesus is already there.

 

 

 

John 3:1-17 “Honest Questions”

John 3:1-17 “Honest Questions”

June 3, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Greenwood Village, CO

 

John 3:1-17 1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

 

I went to a Memorial Day barbeque last Monday.  You may know the kind. We are long time friends of the people who gave the party but don’t really know the other guests as well, maybe only met some of them once or twice before in the last decade.  I found myself standing next to a new acquaintance, chit-chatting with him about the town I grew up in because he had lived there briefly after college. I was enjoying the connection of someone simply knowing background without needing to share it all.

From a few feet away came a voice, “I like your leg.”  The man looked over to the boy, around 9 years old, and said, “Thanks.”  The boy said, “It’s the color of skin.”  I looked down and for the first time noticed his prosthetic leg and looked up to the man looking at me, and he smiled and winked at me.  Then the boy said, “How’d you lose your leg?”  “Hunting accident.”  The man looks at me and smiles and winks again.  The boy continues, “What kind of accident?”  “I was shot.”  “Oh, and they had to cut off your leg?”  “Yes.”  And then, as suddenly as the conversation began, the boy was done with it.

At home, this scene played in bits and pieces in my head as I sat down to read my book of the moment.  So much so that I finally had to put my book down, pull out my laptop and sit down and write it out because I couldn’t stop the chatter in head between this boy’s straight questions in the daylight of high noon and Nicodemus’ questions of Jesus in the dark of night.   Boy…honest questions… and Nicodemus…honest questions…

When I picture Nicodemus, I see him in firstly in the dark of night, well, mostly because that’s what the story says.  And then I see him doing that tip-toeing and sneaking around that we get to see in episodes of Scooby Doo.  You know the kind – dink…dink…dink… with lots of looking this way and that way to make sure no one is onto him.  He has some questions and he thinks that maybe Jesus has the answers.  But he is also an educated man and a religious leader in a group that doesn’t really know what to make of Jesus except they know enough that they’re uncomfortable about him.  It is out of this discomfort that Nicodemus tip-toes over to Jesus and asks questions.   Nicodemus has big questions and Jesus has big answers about being born from above by water and the Spirit and being sent from God into the world not to condemn it but to save it.  All very clear and easily explained answers to Nicodemus’ questions – or maybe not.

I was 17 when I left the fundamentalist church in which I was raised.  God was scary, big and unpredictable, and Jesus was someone who made me very, very uncomfortable.  So, I left the church and ran away from Jesus.  In the years followed, I met two women – Moni when I was about 20 and Lisa when I was about 26.  These women were church-goers, Christians.  I was mystified by their faith and connection to the church.  But I began to suspect, perhaps a little like Nicodemus, that there might be something to this Jesus thing.  I asked each of them at some point in our friendships why they went to church and what was up with that Jesus anyway.  Both of them replied, “It just works for me.”  No big speech, no stumbling around and handing over John 3:16 to me, only their simple evangelical message, “It just works for me.”

As providence would have it, I also married a Lutheran.  I always say you have to watch out for those Lutherans with all the unconditional grace zinging around.  15 years ago we had the first of our two children.  My husband seemed unscarred from his Lutheran upbringing so our children were baptized and we began to raise them in the church.  And slowly, oh so slowly, the message of grace, the good news about God not condemning the world but saving it through Jesus, captured me.  What we don’t see on those John 3:16 signs at football games is the juicy news in John 3:17 – “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

We also don’t get to see to see to the end of the Gospel of John in our passage today so I’m going to jump ahead and give you a glimpse into the last tidbit we are offered about Nicodemus in John 19:39.  Jesus had just been executed on the cross and it was time to bury him.  Verse 39 reads, “Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.”

What happened to Nicodemus?  In chapter 3 today we read that he’s tiptoeing around at night and in chapter 19 we read that he turns up in the light of day, thudding along with 100 pounds of spices, risking his own life to bury Jesus’ body.  We get one other brief verse about him in chapter 7.  While we could have a ton of fun wondering and guessing about what happened to Nicodemus, one thing we do know about the in-between time is that Jesus was hung on a cross and died.

Nicodemus was not privy to the resurrection at the time of burial.  The hinge point for him, indeed for the Gospel of John, is the cross.  All the God, Son and Spirit talk in the Gospel of John points us there and draws us, like Nicodemus, to faith through it.

But for us, as 21st century evangelists, as bearers of the good news of Jesus, the cross is a tricky place to start.  There is the reality of Jesus’ execution on a cross recorded by the Romans as a historical event.  And there is the swirling mystery of the Trinity – of Father, Son and Spirit – active on and through that same cross and drawing us to faith through it.  But how many of us, and I include myself in this, are prepared to give a neat and tidy speech about why the cross stuff is a good thing to someone who has never heard a good word about Jesus and perhaps is tip-toeing towards Jesus with some questions of their own about him and his church?

This week, as the season of Pentecost, the season of the Spirit working through the church begins to heat up, I invite you to think about the words you would use as people of the good news of Jesus Christ.  What might you say?  Where might you begin?  My two friends, my two evangelists, started something with a very simple piece of good news.  “It just works me,” they said.  And this gave me something to think about all by itself.  They kept it simple much like the man at the party kept it simple about how he lost his leg.  Obviously, in both scenarios, there is much more that could have been said.  Once back in church, while I was nervously tip-toeing about the edges as others seemed to get it, there was one verse that spoke to me – one verse in the whole Bible that made any kinds of sense.  20 years ago, one friend; 17 years ago, one husband; 16 years ago another friend; 15 years ago, one verse!  That’s a lot of tip-toeing.

Nicodemus went from tip-toeing toward Jesus in the night to lugging 100 pounds of spices for Jesus’ burial in the daylight.  There is a lot that happens during the in-between time that is difficult to fully explain.  Being born from above is just the kind of thing that is difficult to fully explain.  As talked about by Jesus to Nicodemus, the Spirit is involved along with water which for church has meant baptism.

One thing I’m clear about is that all the action belongs to the Spirit who, through the cross of Christ, through the waters of baptism, draws us to faith daily.  And, in drawing us to faith, the Spirit draws a confession of good news out of us.  This is not to be confused with confession of having done something hurtful to ourselves or our neighbor – although the Spirit does that too.  The kind of confession I’m talking about is the kind that the Spirit draws out of us the about who God is and the good news that comes with God.  The Apostle’s Creed is one such confession as we join our voices with our ancestors of the faith and speak it together.  My friends offered me a very different but also powerful confession.  I’m certain that their longer confession would blow me out of the water as they bore witness to Christ by the power of the Spirit.  And it is these confessions, and others like them, confessions born from above that are the good news shared through us to people like Nicodemus.

May the Spirit of God ignite your confession of this good news that is for the world as it is also for you.

For, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”