Tag Archives: Rolf Jacobson

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