Tag Archives: Rolf Jacobson

Crosses Here, Crosses There, Crosses, Crosses Everywhere. Why? Mark 15 and Philippians 2:5-11

* Photo montage by Rick Vanderpool, CrossInAmericaTrail.com “A Photojournalist’s History of Christianity in America”

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on March 25, 2018

[sermon begins after note and short Bible reading]

** Palm and Passion Sunday note ** Today includes the celebration of Palm Sunday as Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time.  Palm fronds are waved and the Bible story is read. Then worship shifts to the Passion of Christ – the church’s words for describing Jesus’ suffering from arrest to crucifixion (from Late Latin: passionem “suffering, enduring”). The Passion is read from the Gospel of Mark.  Worship today links with Good Friday worship later this week when we will hear the Passion from the Gospel of John.  The distinct voices of these two gospel writers allow us to claim by faith that the cross is simultaneously an instrument of suffering and a tree of life drawing us to faith.

Philippians 2:5-11 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Passion story from Mark is posted at the end of the sermon.

[sermon begins]

Crosses here, crosses there, crosses, crosses everywhere.

Crosses on top, crosses below,

Crosses needled in ink, crosses gilded to glow,

Crosses here, crosses there, crosses, crosses everywhere.[1]

Why? Why is there a cross outside, sitting on a bell tower 100 feet in the air? Why is there a 40 foot cross inside the Sanctuary; a fragmented multi-colored glass cross in Christ Chapel? Why do we make the sign of the cross?[2] Why do I wear one day in and day out?

In front of the cross, the palm parade waves a momentary filter. The highest honor in ancient Rome was a triumph parade – entering town in victory.[3] In Jesus’ case, triumph flipped quickly to a parade of a different sort. In this parade, Simon of Cyrene carried a cross for the one who would soon hang on it. Simon showed up to watch the action and became a part of it.[4] It’s hard to imagine that he stuck around after dropping off the cross. His ongoing presence is unlikely when even Jesus’ disciples had run away or watched from a distance. Even we listen across a distance gap of about 2,000 years. Even as the cross stands over and against the conventional wisdom of respectability, ideology, and economics. Even as we say we care about this death on the cross. To the point that we care isn’t the point. Rather, the point is that God cares.

God cares SO much that God’s self-sacrifice in Jesus becomes the event on which the whole scheme hangs. And it doesn’t seem to be about dishing up Easter with a side of tragedy just for dramatic effect. There’s something deeper. Something about this death that we cannot look away from. Public. Loud. Crying. Gasping. Jesus dies the ultimate scapegoat. The powers that be assured that he’s over and done so that their power remains unchecked. Holy Week presses slow motion over the scene for us. And it could stay just that – a slow motion story that takes a few extra verses to read while we do our best to seem patient. But for some of us, this is the main event because the longing, denial, betrayal, ridicule, pain, abandonment, and death are all too close to home.  The cross is the main event because we end up in tombs of our own making or someone else’s and the cross becomes the only thing that illuminates the shadows of our experience with anything close to resembling sense. The cross is the part of God’s promise that God’s hand is not inflicting suffering but instead is the very thing sustaining us through it.

I’ve said this recently but it bears repeating. Through the Passion and death on the cross, there is not a hand raised in violence against the people who are around Jesus, even the ones who took an active role. Not one hair on their heads or cell in their skin is injured as each one takes part in his execution. It’s not simply the religious leaders who played a part. Everyone around the story took their turn. The disciples were passive but still did nothing to prevent the outcome. They denied, ran away, or watched from a distance. Not one person in the story is innocent in Jesus’ death on the cross. One thing this means is that the cross is an invitation to put the truth of ourselves into the hands of the one who opens his arms to all as he is crucified.

The truth is that we are capable of dehumanizing violence, of denial, of running away when times get hard, of watching bad things happen from a distance, of not getting involved. Paradoxically, we are also the ones who are baptized into Christ’s death. We are enlivened by the Spirit through the waters of our baptism which means we are filled with the capacity of the one who died on the cross. Paul writes along this line to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.”

One way to think about Paul’s emphasis of mind, humility, and obedience to the death is to consider the life of Christ Jesus that led to his inevitable, public execution on the cross. He repeatedly challenged religious and political authorities by eating with social outcasts, feeding hungry people, and healing sick ones of disease and demons. He never let anyone off the hook for ignoring the needs of the poor. It’s fairly clear that the singular focus of Christ’s compassion became more than pesky to the powers that be.  So incessant was the compassion of Christ Jesus that was he crucified, died, and was buried. His broken body was taken down from the cross, packed in spices, wrapped in linen, and laid in a tomb by his friend Joseph. Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Joses watched the stone as it was rolled against the door of the tomb.

Christ’s crucifixion, death, and burial are signified by the crosses on our buildings and bodies. Symbols of the promise that we are baptized into Christ’s death. Baptized into the same mind, humility, and obedience to compassion that led to his death for us. For you. In this most holiest of weeks, the slow motion draws us deeper into the promise of this good news. Thanks be to God and amen.

___________________________________________________________

[1] It took me awhile to remember where this familiar poetic rhythm and sound came from in my brain but finally remembered just before posting that it comes from the children’s book, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (1947). The end of the book: “Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.” I read it to my children when they were small so many times that it’s woven itself into my brain. It seems a fitting comfort when talking about how I feel about the cross.

[2] Matthew Skinner. Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday) on Sermon Brainwave podcast for March 25, 2018. http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?lect_date=02/23/2014&lectionary=rcl

[3] Ibid., Rolf Jacobson.

[4] Ibid., Karoline Lewis.

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Mark 15 (add the 14th chapter for even more of the Passion)

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.9Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ 10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do* with the man you call* the King of the Jews?’ 13They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ 14Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ 15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters*); and they called together the whole cohort.17And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ 19They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22Then they brought Jesus* to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.*29Those who passed by derided* him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah,*the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land* until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’* 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he* breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’*

40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.44Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time.45When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46Then Joseph* bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body,* wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body* was laid.

When Beauty Sustains [Mark 9:2-9, Psalm 50:1-6, and Romans 12:1-2]

**sermon image celebrates nature’s beauty through the photography of Jim Doty

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on February 11, 2018 – Transfiguration Sunday

[sermon begins after three Bible readings]

Mark 9:2-9  Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Psalm 50:1-6 The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. 2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. 3 Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him. 4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: 5 “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” 6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. (Selah)

Romans 12:2  I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

[sermon begins]

The Transfiguration readings from Mark and Psalm 50 have me thinking about beauty. Specifically the beauty of God that breaks through whatever normal thing is happening. The moments just before the transfiguration are normal enough. In Colorado, we might call it a hike among friends.  Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. They barely bag the peak when the light show begins.  Dazzling them and even terrifying them.[1]  Psalm 50 brings up the perfection of beauty and God shining through. The word perfection in this Hebrew usage means all-in-all or complete which has parallels to telos in Biblical Greek.[2]  The Psalmist refers to Zion as the conduit of beauty through which “God shines forth.”[3]

Beauty is thorny.  We often suspect that beauty is contrived or exploited for gain. I’ve met many people who are suspicious of the aesthetics of beauty because they’re troubled about who sets the definitions and principles of what is beautiful. Here’s what I suggest for today. Let’s let the Transfiguration guide us. The Transfiguration is a dazzling, terrifying moment that surprises the disciples. Peter, James, and John are thrown off-balance to the point that Peter wings out an absurd building plan to sustain the moment. But it seems that it’s not about sustaining the dazzling moment of beauty. It seems that the dazzling moment of beauty is about sustaining them.

Pastor Ann asked us a question last week out of the Isaiah reading.[4]  How does faith sustain you in the weary places?  Today, the Transfiguration shifts that question ever so slightly to wonder how glimpses of God’s beauty sustain us through Lent.[5] Ash Wednesday arrives in three days.  For today, tomorrow, and the next, I’m inviting us into a transfiguration not of our own making – a beauty makeover, a transformation of a different sort.  Because I think this is what Paul is getting at in his letter to the Romans when he writes, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”  The word for transformed is a Greek word rarely used in the New Testament – only 4 times.[6] It’s translated “transfiguration” in Mark and Matthew; it’s translated transformed in Romans and in 2 Corinthians.  Let’s play with moments of God’s beauty that might transfigure us, renewing our minds so that we “may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Here’s one such moment. I was talking with a friend early last week about this idea of God’s beauty surprising us. He was one week into teaching a two-week technical class that includes electrical safety and the like out at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. He told me about a class moment during which a woman’s attention was drawn to a book underneath her desk rather than on the class discussion. Stopping the class, he asked the woman what she was reading. Turns out it was the Bible. She had been to a worship service the evening before and wanted to keep going. My friend’s exact words to describe that moment were, “Beauty tore into life to dominate the day.” Poor class behavior notwithstanding, this woman’s Jesus moment would not be thwarted. My friend saw a glimpse of God’s sustaining beauty in that moment.

Here’s another one.  Last Sunday, our youngest choir called the Cherub Choir sang a song called, “God has made me wonderful.” What made it beautiful was not harmonious brilliance. The beauty was their exuberance in singing the message and the fact that they were singing the message at all. I would hasten to bet that the thought bubbles that pop up over your heads during the week about yourself and other people don’t exactly echo “God has made me wonderful.” Think about what does pop up in those thought bubbles in the grocery aisle, in the hallways, and in traffic. Now is probably not the best time for the turn-to-your-neighbor and have a conversation on that topic. When those kids were singing last week, it was a glimpse of the beauty of God. So much so that the beauty of it intruded my mind several times during the week.

Surprising glimpses of God’s beauty are pure gift that transfigure us, sustaining us in dark times. This is not to be confused with putting on rose-colored glasses to avoid bad news or the pain of trauma. This is about God’s beauty that sustains us through the pain. There is a centuries old Christian practice of iconography that trains the mind’s eye to see the beauty of God revealed in the world. Martin Luther, from whom Lutheran Christians are so named, was no iconoclast.[7] He did not support or encourage the destruction of religious images and icons the way other 16th century reformers did. Icons were simply one more way to catch glimpses of God’s beauty in the world. They are paintings that often feature Christ or the infant Jesus and his mother Mary or other ancestors of the faith. They’re painted with precious metals and have many meanings painted into them by way of color, clothes, hand positions, halos, and more. I have a couple small icons in my home. One is of Mary and the baby Jesus. This icon hangs next to a crucifix so that I can regularly reflect on the mess and the beauty of the incarnation of God from a mother’s body in tension with the suffering of God on a cross. Icons engage the senses and imagination preparing the faithful to see the image of God in the world.[8]  The in-breaking of God’s image, God’s beauty that surprises and transfigures us.

Pictures that flood social media very often include sunsets, sunrises, mountains, trees, flowers, animals, and birds. Christians believe that nature in all its glory reveals the glory of God.[9] Referring to nature as creation reveals it as another icon of sorts – revealing God’s provision of food and water as well as the beauty of God that surprises, inspires, terrifies, and ultimately sustains. I believe that the beauty of God sustains us, my friends. But I also believe that sharing our glimpses of the beauty of God sustains other people especially when we see it in them. At a time when despair nips at our own heels and overwhelms people we love, we offer by faith the glimpses of God’s beauty that we experience by grace. Whether through prison Bible reading, a song by young children, or the icon of creation, God breaks through with glimpses of beauty so compelling, so dazzling, that we cannot look away.  Not only can we not look away, but we are sustained through bad news and trauma.

God has made you wonderful. You are living icons through whom God’s beauty is revealed and sustains. Be at peace. The light of Christ shines in you.[10] Thanks be to God. And Amen.

_______________________________________________

[1] Mark 9:3 and 6

[2] Rolf Jacobson, Professor of Old Testament and Alvin N. Rogness Chair in Scripture, Theology, and Ministry at Luther Seminary. Transfiguration of Our Lord on February 11, 2018. Sermon Brainwave podcast. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=977

[3] Psalm 50:2

[4] Isaiah 40:31

[5] Matthew Skinner, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary. Transfiguration of Our Lord on February 11, 2018. Sermon Brainwave podcast. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=977

[6] Bible Hub. “3339. μεταμορφόω (metamorphoó).” Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18   http://biblehub.com/greek/strongs_3339.htm

[7] Anthony Ugolnik. The Illuminating Icon. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1989), 59.

[8] Ugolnik, 61

[9] Romans 1:20

[10] This phrase is part of the worship liturgy called the Dismissal during this Sundays after Epiphany.

Joy and Suffering are All of a Peace [sic] Psalm 126 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (Luke 1:46b-55 and John 1:6-8 and 19-28)

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on December 17, 2017

[sermon begins after two Bible readings; Luke and John readings may be read at the end of the sermon after the references]

Psalm 126 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. 2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. 4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. 5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. 6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

Whew! Today’s Bible readings are full to overflowing. John the Baptist points to Jesus, the Light coming into the world. Mary sings about God lifting up the lowly, scattering the proud, dethroning the powerful, feeding the hungry, emptying the rich, and mercy-ing the fearful. Paul tells the Thessalonians that God’s faithfulness gives them the peace through which they rejoice, pray, and give thanks. And the Psalmist rejoices. Our Psalm today is one of the “Songs of Ascent.”[1] Scholars generally agree that Psalms of Ascent were likely sung by the faithful while on pilgrimage towards Jerusalem.

Although their ancient pilgrimage is loosely analogous to our preparation for Christmas during Advent, this Psalm was more likely chosen for this third Sunday of Advent because it rejoices in God’s restoration.  First and foremost, Psalm 126 rejoices in the restoration of God’s people to the land of Zion. They returned to the land after the Babylonians took their ancestors as spoils of war seven centuries before the birth of Jesus. The complete joy upon being restored to their land is like living a dream too wonderful to be true.[2]  Laughter and shouts of joy flow freely – like the watercourses of the Negeb.[3]

Psalm 126 also connects with other divine restorations – Sarah to Abraham, Joseph to his father and brothers, God’s people to the land through Moses, Ark of the Covenant back to the people, the birth of the Messiah, Jesus to his parents, and the resurrection of Jesus.[4]  These stories of restoration, like the return of the Babylonian exile, all follow pain or disconnection or trauma beyond anyone’s control.  Tears and weeping are held in tension with shouts of joy in the Psalm.

A few weeks ago, I invited those worshipping to pick a word from scripture that would become their word for the church year.[5] My colleague Pastor Wright mentioned choosing her word as an Advent discipline for the last several years and I brought it back to you all. Before I preached that Sunday sermon, I spent a few days praying and mulling over my own word. For some reason it seemed important to me to choose before I had a lot of conversations with other people about their words. So I thought about my life to this point, and the last year in particular. In the midst of it all, there was a word that kept popping up for me.  So I searched the Bible for the word “laugh.” There’s a lot of things happening in the world, city, and families that need serious attention, rightly so. I need to be reminded to laugh for I dearly love to laugh and no one has the power to steal joy. [6] The search turned up Psalm 126.  I love it for the imagery of laughter flowing freely. The kind that comes up from the deep.  Not forced laughter like when someone tells you to “cheer up.” Rather, the kind of laughter that comes from experiencing hard things and also being able to experience joy.  Psalm 126 holds this tension.

Early on that first Sunday in Advent, Pastor Margot texted me. Keep in mind that I hadn’t told her my word or even that I was going with the whole word choosing thing for my sermon.  Here’s what she texted:

“Blessings on your proclamation today! You were in a dream I had this morning and we were laughing. May there be joy for you today.”

What?!!!  I couldn’t believe it. Maybe you don’t either. When these kinds of things happen, I prefer not to try and explain them. I just think it’s cool. And I like to think it’s the Spirit but there’s really no definitive way to do an evidence check. So let’s just say in this moment that it’s cool.  It’s also cool that it’s one of the lectionary readings for today.  I didn’t know that before I picked it either.  When I started tuning into sermon prep for today another circuit in my mind crackled. Again, no explanation, just cool.

Way cooler is that Jesus prayed the Psalms while on earth.[7] This means that in the Psalms we encounter the praying Christ as we pray the Psalms. Think about that for a minute. Psalms are prayed weekly in worship and countless times of day by people of faith, by the body of Christ, around the world. These words become Christ-bearers in the world, we become Christ-bearers in the word as we pray them.

Sorrow and joy are all of a piece. There are people who know suffering and who know joy. Not necessarily at the same time but they are often experienced together. I’ve seen it in people who are dying who seem to hold both joy and suffering at the same time. I’ve seen sorrow and joy in people who lost a spouse and learn to live again. I’ve seen sorrow and joy in people who have lost children and who celebrate the joy of parenthood with the memory of their child who died and with their living children.  I’ve seen sorrow and joy in people who experience significant assault and oppression get up the next day, living and laughing, knowing why the caged bird sings. [8a] You may be, or may know, one of these people. Their joy will not be stolen by anyone or anything for any reason.  The co-existence of joy and sorrow is difficult to put into words but it’s certainly a shared human experience.  Let me put it this way, you know it when you see it.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent also considered joy or rejoice Sunday when we light the pink candle symbolizing joy here in the sanctuary.  As with all things liturgical, consensus can be elusive but there is general agreement about rejoicing in the Lord because we are that much closer to Christmas.[8]  Paul encourages us to rejoice always.[9]  Again, not a shallow “cheer up,” but rather rejoicing in God’s faithfulness that gives us peace through which we rejoice.  For it is God who is the foundation of our joy.  Mary sings her joy at the coming of the One who levels the ground between the mighty and the lowly.  John witnesses to the One who is the light, who pushes against the darkness that would overcome us if left to its own devices.  We join them in rejoicing for these things and for all that God is doing in us as Christ-bearers in the world.  Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice![10] Thanks be to God and amen.

 

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[1] Rolf Jacobson, Professor of Old Testament and Alvin N. Rogness Chair in Scripture, Theology, and Ministry
Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minn.  Commentary on Psalm 126, WorkingPreacher.org, December 14, 2008. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=193

[2] Psalm 126:1b

[3] Psalm 126:

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Pick A Word, Any Word.” Sermon for Sunday, December 3, 2017. Posted at CaitlinTrussell.org. Step 1, she chooses one word from scripture at the start of Advent. Step 2, she keeps the word on her radar for the whole year. She talks about listening for the word in her scripture study and also in her life. The word serves to keep her awake and engaged as a disciple throughout the church year. http://caitlintrussell.org/2017/12/03/pick-a-word-any-word-or-slp-happens-mark-1324-37-and-1-corinthians-13-9/

[6] A nod to Jane Austen’s character Ms. Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice who finds it a shame to not have a reason to laugh with Mr. Darcy.

[7] Jesus prayed these prayers while on earth and now we do too as a congregation, the body of Christ. Therefore, in the Psalms, we “encounter the praying Christ…Even if a verse or a psalm is not one’s own prayer, it is nevertheless the prayer of another member of the fellowship.” Excerpt from: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 46-47.

[8a] Maya Angelou. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” (1969).

[8] The Rev. Tim Schenck, Episcopal priest and rector with parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusettes. “What’s Up With The Pink Candle?” on December 9, 2011. https://frtim.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/whats-up-with-the-pink-candle/

[9] 1 Thessalonians 5:16

[10] Philippians 4:4…and more from Rev. Tim Schenck (ibid.) “The Third Sunday in Advent [is known] as Gaudete Sunday because the introit for the mass begins “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete” meaning “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say rejoice.”

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Luke 46-55 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

John 1:6-8 and 19-28 here was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

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