Tag Archives: Rocky Mountain Synod

You Call Yourself A Christian? [OR Nope, Jesus Names Each of Us ‘Child of God’] John 10:1-10 and Psalm 23

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 7, 2017 – Good Shepherd Sunday

[sermon begins after the two Bible readings]

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

Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

[sermon begins]

At a small dinner party last weekend, spirituality and religion came up in conversation.  In particular, a dear friend brought up a negative church experience that she had as a 10 year old girl.  She talked about being spiritual but not religious. The conversation meandered around with good listening and good comments. I talked about the Holy Spirit giving life to all things making all people are spiritual by definition.  (Yes, I’m that fun at a dinner party.)  So when people say that they are spiritual and not religious this is scripturally accurate.[1]  I added that being religious Christians is about a people and a practice because it was on my mind after just preaching about Thomas. [2] (Yup, once again, really that fun.)  After I added the bit about Christians being about a people and a practice, my friend Karen looked at me and quietly said, “…and a person.”  The dinner talk kept moving while her comment settled in my brain. “…and a person.”  Being a religious Christian is about a people, a practice, and a person.

Last week, high school senior George Willoughby, preached to us about our tendency to want Jesus to be a certain way.  He made the point that we often try to make Jesus into something that we want him to be rather that who Jesus is.  He talked about his understanding of Jesus and how it’s changed during the time George has been a teenager.  It’s changed from wanting certain things from Jesus to instead being led by Jesus to compassion and love for our fellow humans.  His sermon brings us nicely into the Bible story today.

Jesus’ shepherd speech follows his argument with religious leaders about giving sight to the man born blind.  The restoration of sight and who Jesus says he is causes quite a controversy.  In a classic Jesus move, his next words are about as clear as mud in a sheepfold.  He talks about the shepherd and the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice.  Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and the shepherd in Psalm 23 also makes an appearance.  “The Lord is my Shepherd,” sings the psalmist.  This psalm may very well be one of the best known pieces of scripture in and outside of the church.  Psalm 23 is often one of the last available memories of Christians with Alzheimer’s disease. Psalm 23 also shows up in movies so that many people know at least the opening, “The Lord is my shepherd.” They also know something about “the valley of the shadow of death” although this translation reads, “darkest valley.”  Not only was shepherding an obvious metaphor in the first century, it’s also a good bet that Jesus knew and prayed the Psalms.

Lots of people connected God with the shepherd in Psalm 23. It could be one reason that the shepherd talk confuses Jesus’ listeners.  Jesus takes the confusion one step further by saying, “I Am the gate…”  Jesus says, “I Am…”  In biblical Greek, “I Am” is the name of God.  Naming Jesus “I Am” also names him God.  His listeners hear it. Hence their confusion.  The Lord who is my shepherd in Psalm 23 is also Jesus who is my shepherd and my gate.  Jesus says about the shepherd, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”[3]  Jesus’ leads using his voice.

There’s a lot of talk these days about how and where Jesus leads.  These last few days brought Lutheran church members, staff, Deacons, and Pastors together with Bishop Jim Gonia for the annual Synod Assembly.  We came from all over the Rocky Mountain Synod – Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, El Paso Texas, and Colorado.  We sang, prayed, voted, and talked about being the church.  We heard about our thriving companion synods in Madagascar.  We heard about partnerships with churches south of our border trying to keep fleeing people safe.  We heard about AMMPARO ministry that focuses us on helping children migrating by themselves.[4]  With earnest faith, we try to follow where we think Jesus is leading us as the church.

Describing opening worship at Synod Assembly, my friend and colleague Pastor Kim Gonia wrote this on Facebook:

“A truly ecumenical night. Lutheran liturgy in a Methodist Church with an Episcopal bishop presiding, a Lutheran bishop preaching, and greetings brought from the Colorado Council of Churches/African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ. Church better together. Really.”[5]

Amidst all the enthusiasm for shared ministry, it’s hard to remember that following Jesus isn’t about the gathering of the like-minded.  It isn’t about agreeing with everyone else on how we follow.  It isn’t about who gets to calls themselves a real Christian.  Although we certainly try hard on this last one. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people say why someone else is or isn’t actually a Christian. People base this on what they think about Jesus or what they think the Bible says or what they think Christian ministry should be.  For crying out loud, there are people who think I’m not a real Christian because I’m a woman standing a pulpit.  Will the madness of our drawing lines ever end?!  According to the Gospel of John, Jesus is the one who names his followers, who calls us each by name through the waters of our baptism as he will once more this morning when Aspen is baptized and named Child of God.

Surrendering to the voice of Jesus, we follow as he leads.  The one who leads us to risk being outside the walls of safety on behalf of each other and on behalf of the world, on our way rejoicing, ministering, and disagreeing.  Outside the walls of safety as the psalmist describes it, on our way feeding, anointing, and setting a table with enemies, through the valley of the shadow of death.[6]  That’s just part of the good news. Jesus comes so that you may have life and have it abundantly, naming you Child of God, and moving you through death into life today…right now…no waiting.  This is good news indeed.

[See the Acts Bible reading for the day after this list of sermon references – a preacher cannot cover every gem in a sermon and there’s plenty in the Acts reading for several sermons.]

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[1] As Genesis tells it, the whole world is enlivened by the breath of the spirit. The assertion makes all people spiritual by definition, if not by confession.  Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 2:7

[2] My sermon for Sunday, April 23, 2017: http://caitlintrussell.org/2017/04/23/spiritual-and-religious-acts-214a-22-32-and-john-2019-31/

[3] John 10:3b-4

[4] The word “amparo” in Spanish means the protection of a living creature from suffering or damage. The ELCA’s strategy to Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) was envisioned after witnessing the plight of children who are forced to flee their communities because of complex and interrelated reasons, including chronic violence, poverty, environmental displacement and lack of opportunities in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.  Learn more about AMMPARO here: https://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Publicly-Engaged-Church/AMMPARO

[5] Pastor Kim Gonia, Priest-in-Charge, Intercession Episcopal Church, Thornton, CO.

[6] Psalm 23

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Acts 2:42-27 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

 

Burpees, Eye-rolls, and Other Moving Parts – Luke 4:14-21, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30, and Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 24, 2016

[sermon begins after the Luke reading – two more readings follow the sermon]

Luke 4:12-21 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

[sermon begins]

There’s this thing called a burpee.  It’s a whole body effort that begins by standing.  There’s a quick move to bring the body flat to the floor with chest, stomach, knees, and toes all touching the ground. A quick pop back up to the feet to standing and then jumping in the air to finish.  The burpee was developed in 1940 by Royal H. Burpee, a physiologist in New York City, to assess physical health in non-active people by asking them to do four in a row and taking their heartrates.[1]  The American military picked up the move in 1942 and by 1946 required a one-minute test of max number of burpees.  41 reps was considered excellent and 27 was considered poor.

Burpees came to mind when reading these Bible texts for today. In three of the readings, there’s talk about body parts, whole bodies, movement, and even some weeping which isn’t out of the question when doing max rep burpees.

In story from Nehemiah, “all the people stood up” to hear the reading of the law.  “Lifting their hands” they responded to Ezra’s prayers with an “Amen, Amen.”  “Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”  That is a lot of body movement in unison by a large group.  Then the people wept, convicted as Ezra read the law “with interpretation…so that people understood the reading.”  The people hear the law, understand that they are caught by it, and they start to cry.  However, they are not left to their despair.

Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites tell the people that this is the Lord’s holy day.  The people are instructed to stop crying, to go eat fat and drink wine and “send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared.”  Why?  Because “the joy of the Lord is their strength.”  Conviction by the law of God, by the knowledge that we have not been on the side of our neighbor, is unsettling.  Despair is inevitable if conviction by the law is the only word.

The reading from First Corinthians gives us a solid bit of law through the poetry of Paul.  Listen to Paul’s words again:

“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. . 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”

Paul’s talk about eyes not needing hands or the head not needing feet infers that the church in Corinth is behaving in just such an exclusionary manner.  The talk of eyes getting rid of hands or the head getting rid of feet brings to mind the language of dismembering – taking a body apart.  Paul’s description using body parts is applicable because one of the Biblical descriptors of the church is the body of Christ.  He is especially focused on the discovery that some people are dis-membering certain other people from the church, from the body of Christ, for whatever reason that someone deems as non-need.

Lutheran Christian identity is as old as Christianity itself because it can identify its antecedents well before the 16th century Reformation.  However, the way the Reformation came down means that Lutheranism has dis-memberment as part of its ethos.  Meaning that the denomination formed on a foundation of disagreement that resulted in broken community.  We know what this looks like from the outside and from the inside.  It can make us quick to judge others through whether we think we need them or not.

This talk about church and denomination makes me want to broaden this conversation in the direction of politics.  It’s a political time and it’s simple to find dismembering kind of talk in public and in private.  Talk that makes the leap to who cares about this country and the Constitution and who doesn’t.  Talk that makes clear that if you care about this country you’ll believe certain things and act in certain ways.  Talk that includes a lot of eye-rolling up, down, and across the aisle.

As I think about the public dialogue that includes eye-rolling, I realize that even my eyes can get away from me.  My own eye rolls that communicate disbelief and disrespect in one fell swoop.  Eye rolls that disconnect people before their thought is even completed.  My sister and I talked a long while back about those eyes rolls and disrespect.  Whether it’s the eye roll that happens by a parent to teen or a teen to a parent.  Or maybe the eye roll at your spouse’s back.  Or even the eye-roll about a public servant, a politician.  All of this eye-rolling amounts to a cut direct that dismembers one person from another.  There’s a bit of homework for your week.  Catch yourself as you roll your eyes.  Think about why you’re doing it and the effect on what it means for you to listen and respond differently to someone.

For people of the church, people called into a body of Christ, Paul’s description is convicting and a possible antidote to the eye-roll.  Convicted by these words about holding together across differences.  We may not have equal passion about same things.  We may not believe the same things.  We are certainly not gifted for the same things.  This congregation is a group of people who are confronted by difference all the time.  That’s part of being the body of Christ.  We also don’t choose the people who are in the body with us.   Paul writes, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

The Middle School youth of this congregation have some recent practice with Paul’s words.  Last weekend, at the Rocky Mountain Synod’s Middle School Youth Gathering, they had a chance to figure out what their spiritual gifts might be and how they add to mix in the body of Christ.  Some gifts that make the list in First Corinthians are forms of assistance, healing, prophesying, deeds of power, teaching, leadership, and interpretation.  Identifying their spiritual gifts give these young people a baptismal understanding of themselves beyond what the wider culture might have to say about them and what they offer the world.  This is something the church gives people by way of the Spirit.  Another possible antidote in a culture of celebrity, accumulation, and eye-rolling.

In Luke, it’s Jesus’ turn to make a stand – no jump and clap needed for added emphasis.  He stands as he reads in the synagogue.  Something he’s done all over Galilee before returning to his hometown “filled with the power of the Spirit.”

Luke tells us that, “Jesus unrolled the scroll [of Isaiah] and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In that synagogue and here today Jesus makes these promises.  He’s anointed by the Spirit to proclaim freedom, sight, and good news.  Not only to proclaim these things but has fulfilled them in his person.  Note Jesus uses the word “today.”  Fulfillment in the present tense so long ago.  We can make as much sense of his promises as did the people in the Nazorean synagogue.  And still, with confidence in those promises, we find that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  Thanks be to God.

 

[1] Sally Tamarkin, “A Brief History of the Burpee.” Huffpost Healthy Living, May 2, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/02/burpee-history_n_5248575.html

Two more of the Bible readings:

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

1 Corinthians 12:12-30 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.