Tag Archives: Sin

Football Sidelines and Neighbors – Luke 3:7-18 and Philippians 4:4-7

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on December 13, 2015

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

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.

Philippians 4:4-7  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

[sermon begins]

John the Baptist’s speech has a sideline quality.  I’m talking football sideline.  There’s often a guy walking up and down among the other players.  Arms flapping, mouth flapping, hair flapping, there is name calling, yelling.  The gist of speech is to bring people to the next level.  Up their game when they get on the field.  So much is still possible because there is still time on the clock.  There is an expectation that with a positive mindset, perfect timing, and the right mix of skills coming together at the right time that the win is in sight.

Sitting on the sideline means different things to different people.  Defense may be on the field protecting the end-zone so the offense is resting up and pumping up. Or there are players suited up who are lucky enough to take the field once a season.  Regardless of why players are on the sideline, it is powerlessness in the moment.  There are other players out on the field doing the actual work.

The sideline is a bit of wilderness.  There is wandering around. Sitting down.  Very little appears organized.  But those are appearances.

Check out a game. Maybe around 2:00 today when lots of people will be watching a particular game.  Take a gander at those sidelines.  Chances are good you will see a John the Baptist type – arms flapping, mouth flapping, hair flapping.

John is worked up.  He’s a wilderness guy.  This is his terrain.  And the crowds come.  Not just any crowds, this is the riff-raff – tax collectors, mercenaries, and people with too many coats.  The people come to see a man about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  John yells at them, calls them names, and challenges them to, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance!”  The crowds ask, “What shall we do?”  John hollers at them about playing fair and giving away their extra coats.  John’s answers are nothing earth shattering.  The crowds’ question, though, is compelling, “What shall we do?”

In one form or another, this is a question I ask myself and is also asked frequently by many in the congregation.  It is a sincere question.

John tells the riff-raff what to 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 mercenary 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 standing with your neighbor rather than against them.[1]

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.

John’s sideline coaching to the tax collectors and soldiers can be applied to the rest of us.  We can substitute our own roles and try to finish the sentence.  For me, this sounds like sentence starters of a particular kind:

You are a pastor so go and…

You are a wife so go and…

You are a mother so go and…

You are an American so go and..

The trouble is that the actions that fill in the blanks can become ways to validate myself.  And God becomes a theoretical instrument used merely to confirm my best impulses.

Despite the best efforts of wild-haired guy on the sidelines, here’s the reality on the field. The will be an interception, there will be a fumble, there will be a missed field goal, there will be failure to protect the blind side.  For me this translates to a sermon without the promise of good news, a missed hospital visit, inattentive listening to Rob and the kids, missing the mark on prophetic patriotism.  And those are just the easy ones to say out loud in a crowd.

What are fruits worthy of repentance?  The most helpful answer locates our behavior in the realm of worship, an act of praise. Behavior that points us and other people to the good news of Jesus, not to ourselves.  John the Baptist does this quite beautifully – yelling notwithstanding. He is often depicted in art with his finger literally pointing towards Jesus.  Listen to the end of the Bible reading one more time:

16 John answered [the expectations of the crowd] 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.[2]  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 sin.  But part of the promise is that our repentance, our surrender to the one who has the power to forgive us, is that the sin gets called out in truth, gets forgiven and we are set free.  And once that happens, look out!  It is a salvation day in the here and now.   Salvation that frees us into a new future; one not defined by the past, by location, or by the perception of other people.

God’s freedom unleashed 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 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 now comes among us 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.”[3]

In light of this gift from God we still ask, “What shall we do?”  We shall worship.  We are drawn through worship to do all kinds of good for our neighbor in the name of Jesus. We confess a faith of Jesus Christ and, in our mission statement, we say that we “offer the hope and healing of Jesus Christ.”[4]  The congregation of Augustana regularly points to Christ, first and foremost through our repentant confession at the beginning of worship that is immediately met with the good news of God’s forgiveness, mercy and love.  Like John the Baptist, frank about our shortcomings and, in spite of them, we take action to help other people.  This care of our neighbor is worship, fruit worthy of repentance, an embodied act of prayer and thanksgiving.  Embodied action that points us and other people to the good news of Jesus, not to ourselves.

The things we do in Jesus’ name tumble out from worship as Christ orients us toward each other and the world for the good of our neighbor – sometimes hitting the mark, sometimes not – trusting in God’s promises regardless. With the apostle Paul, trusting that the Lord is near, rejoicing in the Lord, always, not worrying but worshiping and praying – “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”[5]

Amen and Hallelujah!

 

[1] Neighbor is a fully-loaded theological term from the Bible meaning the person in the next room, the next town, or around the world.  Anyone who is not you is your neighbor.

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

[3] Revelation 1:8

[4] Looking back on 2015, the congregation of Augustana bore much fruit, pointing to the good news of Jesus all the while.  We baptize in Jesus’ name (20 adults and children this past year), we welcome in Jesus name (20 new members by transfer), we bury in Jesus’ name (19 members and 8 friends of Augustana), we help people eat in Jesus’ name (Metro Caring, ELCA World Hunger, Buying farms for people starting over), we care for the stranger in Jesus’ name (LWR Personal Care Kits for refugees oversees), we care for the sick and poor in spirit in Jesus’ name (Tender Loving Care home visitors, Home Communion, Pastoral Care, Health Ministry, King Soopers gift cards, Augustana Foundation), we care for children in Jesus’ name (Early Learning Center, Sunday School, Choirs, Children and Family Ministry), we care for people in prison in Jesus’ name (New Beginnings Worshiping Community), we worship and sing praise in Jesus’ name (Choir, Music Ministry, Augustana Arts), and so much more.

[5] From today’s reading in Philippians 4:4-7.

 

Divorce, Grace, and Gospel – Mark 10:2-16

Divorce, Grace and Gospel – Mark 10:2-16

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 4, 2015

Mark 10:2-16  Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.’ 7 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” 13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Grace and mercy are yours, now and forever, through Jesus the Christ…

Who wants to switch places with me and preach a sermon about marriage and divorce at this particular time in the United States?  Actually, some of you might. There are a lot of us who probably have our elevator speech well-honed and ready. The speech that we could give if we only had 30 seconds to explain our position on any particular topic.  We could give that speech and another person would know exactly where we stood.  Some of us may have listened to these Bible verses today and thought, finally, we’re going to get somewhere on the topic of marriage.  Here’s a bit of a spoiler for you.  We’re not.  What I’m going to do is start by talking about divorce. That what the Pharisees are talking about.  It’s what the disciples are talking about. And it’s what Jesus starts by talking about.

The Pharisees’ ask the question like this, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  The lawful part of the question refers to the Law of Moses. The Torah. The question goes after the faithful response to the law.  Everybody sitting there knows the answer is, “Yes.”  A man could divorce his wife.  Women were property.  Women were property in the few millennia B.C.E., through the time of Jesus, and in too many centuries after Jesus.  It was legal for a husband to divorce himself from his property, his wife.

I have a dear young friend who loves Jesus.  He would stop me right here and challenge this cultural reading of the Bible.  However, this first century cultural view gives us a stepping stone to Jesus’ answer as we struggle with it culturally now.

The simply answer to the Pharisees’ question is, “Yes.”  Thankfully, for me anyway, there is nothing simple about Jesus.  Jesus’ response is intense.  His intensity fits with other stories about Jesus when people are left vulnerable by other people.  First century women had few options.  Extreme poverty was the likeliest outcome.  When confronted by questions like these, Jesus regularly ups the intensity and response in the answer.

Bible verses like these are called “Law.”  Not just because the Law of Moses is being discussed.  Although that can be a clue.  They are called law because they convict us.  It’s as if the text has a finger pointed out of it, at us.  If we leave them unexamined, Bible stories such as these become a way for us to see ourselves as okay or not okay, without sin or with sin.  Or, even worse, to decide if someone else is okay or not okay, without sin or with sin.  The danger comes when the move gets made to who is inside and outside of God’s mercy.  Law texts often go unchallenged.  As if there is no other response but to convict.  As if they answer to no other verses in the Bible but stand along, a law unto themselves.

The Christian church over time has had the same inclination.  To designate who is inside and outside of God’s mercy based on interpretation of the law.  Jesus’ intense response is one of the classic ways he responds to law questions throughout the gospels.  It’s as if Jesus wants to challenge the person challenging him.  So you think you’re justified by your reading of the law?  Think again.  There is always a way to be convicted by law – unmarried, married, or divorced.  The overwhelming message is that the law cannot save you.  If you attempt to leave someone outside of God’s mercy, there is always one more interpretive move someone else can make after you that will leave you on the outside looking in.

Perhaps we could agree that there is such a thing as being divorced responsibly and there’s such a thing as being divorced irresponsibly.  Many of us have witnessed or experienced the spectrum.  And perhaps, we could also agree that the pain of broken relationship, including divorce, is not God’s intention for human relationship.

The Bible verses on divorce are followed by the disciples speaking sternly to the people who are trying to get their children to Jesus so that he could touch them.  This is pure gospel in these verses. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  This means, in part, that there is no other way to receive the kingdom than as gift.  Receiving the kingdom of God is about our need and dependence NOT our perfection in keeping the law.  Some people call this grace.  Other people call this gospel.  When we want to corrupt the law into the final word, the Spirit works through gospel, convicting by the law and breathing out a word of mercy, a word of grace.

This word of grace includes all of us – unmarried, married, or divorced.  As it says in First John (1:8), “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

The verses today from the Letter to the Hebrews is quite ecstatic about the gospel of Jesus.  I’m right there joining in the ecstatic praise along with the mysterious poetry.  The wonder of it all.  I am not blind.  At least in part, I can see the way my sin hurts me and other people, especially people close to me.  I see my need for a savior and am grateful to God who it upon God’s self to be fleshy, and in the world, in the person of Jesus.

Everything we do as a congregation is in service to this gospel – from the sacraments of baptism and communion, to worship and praise, to welcoming each other to worship, to helping our neighbors locally and globally, to educating pre-school children, to turning on the lights, to updating the back-flow prevention in the main plumbing, to being present at hospital bedsides and in quiet living rooms, to printing bulletins, to paying bills, to hanging out with youth, to Bible studies, to making sure the roof is water-tight.  Granted, some of these things are by far sexier projects than others.  But ultimately, these activities and their associated costs are in service to the gospel or we should just not be doing them.

One of the tasks I get to do as part of my work here is to meet with the Stewardship Committee. The members of the Stewardship Committee work with the congregation on the Christian practice of giving money, time, and skills.  Helping us think about our own need to give as a faithful response to the gospel.  You should all be so lucky to sit with this group regularly.  We laugh a ton. We take money seriously.  We take the gospel even more seriously. We laugh some more. We love the congregation of Augustana.  All you people.  And we each fit into it in different ways and are sent out from it to live faithful lives in the world.

Kim, Nick, Dwight, Andy, and Braxton are interested in helping us keep stewardship simple in the midst of full lives.  This is why are four Sundays to turn in your Money, Time & Skills cards during the offering in worship.  Next week is the last Sunday.  This is why there is a challenge to you to enroll in regular, automated giving through a bank account of your choice since few people are likely to carry money and checks into worship with them.  The committee members are open to conversations – both of the easy question and challenging topic varieties.  They are available between worship services today and next week.  Come and meet them.  Talk with them.  Teach them something they may not know and learn a little something you may not know.

How am I doing?  I just talked about divorce and money in almost the same breath?  Are you still with me?  These have become tricky subjects in churches because of the well-documented sins of the wider church through time up through today.  There is a fragility to the conversations based on these sins.  People have been hurt.  People already torn and broken by divorce have often encountered a lack of grace from their church.  People who have no financial means from which to give have been manipulated emotionally and theologically to do so.  These are true sins of the wider church and many of us have personal experience with them.

The challenge as gospel people is to continue to hold the gospel as the main thing.  WE don’t always get it right.  But grounded in the gospel, we are a people set free in a world hungry for a shred of good news.  We gather in worship hungry for this good news ourselves, we remind each other that God’s promises are for us and for the world, and then we are sent our as living, breathing, fleshy reminders that God’s good news is for all.  Amen and hallelujah!

 

 

[More of the Bible readings from today]

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

2:5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6 But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? 7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, 8 subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

Genesis 2:18-24 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Genesis 25:19-34; Romans 8:1-11; and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 “Freedom is Complicated [or A Very Expensive Bowl of Soup]”

Genesis 25:19-34; Romans 8:1-11; and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 “Freedom is Complicated [or A Very Expensive Bowl of Soup]”

Caitlin Trussell at Augustana Lutheran Church on July 6, 2014

 

Genesis 25:19-34   This is the account of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” 24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. 27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. ) 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.

[Please note the Matthew and Romans scripture are available at the end of the sermon post.]

 

Being a middle child of five kids sandwiched me between an older brother and sister and a younger brother and sister.  My younger sister is 5 years younger than me.  The two of us began sharing a room very early on.  Initially she was folded in with my older sister Hilary and me.  Until the day we moved into the house where there was a bed nook just big enough for Hilary’s bed and her things connected to the room Izzy and I shared.

Mostly this room-sharing worked out okay.  There were big belly laugh moments like the time Hilary and I were talking after Izzy had already fallen asleep on the top bunk, only to watch her sail by in slow motion on her way to the floor while falling out of bed asleep.  (She was fine.)  There were the typical off-limits kinds of things between siblings and over-time her tidier nature meant she had to have some patience for her big sister.  And, of course, there were times when having my little sister around was just one too much to bear.

In my pre-teen years, we developed a ritual, Izzy and I.  I would be doing homework or reading or generally hanging around and in would enter her five-year-old energy wanting to connect and play.  I would walk over to my desk, open the drawer, pull out a few possessions I could part with and told her she could choose and keep what she wanted if she went away and left me alone.  I was then free to continue whatever it was I doing without her being there.  A negotiated freedom that happily met my own ends – I had what I wanted and Izzy got a win out of the deal too.  Or so I thought.

Jacob and Esau, in the Genesis story today, are well into an age where sibling shenanigans aren’t quite as innocent.  Although we might be able to argue that the underlying motivations are similar.  Esau’s apparently been quite unsuccessful in the latest hunt and arrives home with a fierce hunger.  He’s looking for freedom from his hunger.  A hunger that blocked everything else from his mind and creates immediate need regardless of the consequences.  Esau walks into the house and rides the smell of warm soup and fresh baked bread right on into the kitchen.  And right into Jacob who is also nursing a desire for freedom.  Freedom from his place as the second sibling; freedom into the rights of the firstborn.  This moment between brothers is a perfect storm of self-interest that frees one brother from a raging hunger but at the cost of his birthright.  A perfect storm that leaves the other brother free from his social location as the second in line but at the cost of relationship with his brother.   The brothers’ freedom from their original problems came poorly thought through by one and highly manipulated by the other.

With freedom as a front and center topic this week, my first remembered Fourth of July came to mind.  It was the Bicentenniel celebrated in 1976.  200 years had passed since the signing of the Declaration of Independence and just a few months had passed since we began living in Washington DC.  It was like a red, white, and blue factory had exploded and the shrapnel blanketed the city.  There were American flags both historic and current of all sizes.  There were banners made of cloth, paper, and ribbons.  There were fireworks, fireworks, and more fireworks.  To my seven-year-old mind, everything around me was about the colors and sounds of Independence Day.  At the same time that was happening outside of me, everything inside of me was aware of the new freedom that my family had found by our move to D.C.  Having just left my mentally ill and violent father in Pennsylvania a few months before, we had a new found freedom from him and from the fear of him.  My single mom and the five of us kids were negotiating that freedom in the face of our poverty.  I learned early on that freedom is complicated.

That first memory of the 4th of July is a microcosm of the complexity of freedom on a larger scale.  During the American Revolutionary War, thousands of people gave their lives for freedom from tyranny of all kinds – political, religious, moral, and financial.   The Declaration of Independence describes the new freedom gained by the ultimate sacrifice of those who died and also served as the basis for freeing slaves well on into the Civil Rights movement.  The flip-side is that these freedoms were gained on land where there were people already here enjoying it as their birthright.  Freedom is indeed complicated.

Given my family’s experience with the mental illness of my first father and now my 19 year old niece, it comes as no surprise that I’m interested in mental health diagnosis and treatment.   I recently attended a meeting of Together Colorado which is an interfaith group of leaders whose efforts include the issue of mental health.  Several of the people at the meeting were Christian clergy who had just attended a walking pilgrimage at the site of the Sand Creek Massacre.[1]  In 1864, 150 Cheyenne and Arapahoe women, children, and elders were murdered and mutilated by 700 soldiers of the Colorado State militia.  One of the pastors led a conversation with our group of 15 people about his experience at the site.  He discussed the Christian faith of the perpetrators led by Colonel Chivington who was a soldier and a Christian minister; someone who considered himself a “good Christian.”  He suggested that perhaps what the world needed were “bad Christians.”  I piped up and said, “That’s where the Lutherans come in.”  There was general laughter all around.  Why?  What did that inter-faith group of people think they knew about Lutherans?

Perhaps it’s because Lutherans experience sin and talk about sin as something real.  It’s why we confess our sin when we gather for worship, knowing that God is using us in spite of our sin.  The freedoms we negotiate between ourselves and by ourselves are fraught with the complication of sin.  Whether it’s my 10 year old self trying to be free from my little sister; Esau and Jacob negotiating freedom between hunger and a birthright; my first father’s violence that sent my mother and us running for freedom; or the people of the United States fighting for their freedom in the 18th century even as they declared a country on land that other peoples already called home.

Sin is in bodies. Paul’s language for this in the reading from Romans is that it exists in the flesh.  Sin exists in us.  This is true for us as individuals, which by extension makes it true for us as church and true for us as country.  We can be just as group-serving as we can be self-serving.  Perhaps even more so when we’re grouped together, cloaked in anonymity.   In a group it’s so much easier to justify our same sin when other people dealing with the same sin are giving us the thumbs up.  In the same way, it’s easier to call out another’s sin over and above our own.  Using their sin against them to dehumanize them while elevating ourselves as the arbiters of only the good.

Looking back to the 18th century, the good and the sinful are perhaps more easily recognized than looking back to last week to separate the good and the sinful.  It is there regardless.  The gift, or what Matthew calls “the good soil”, is to have our sin called out by the Spirit of Christ.[2]  This conviction comes from Christ who came in a body, in the flesh, and puts our sin to death through his body put to death on a cross.  Christ’s humiliation on the cross saves us from ourselves and each other, collapsing our differences into a sobering oneness of the flesh.  Through his humbled body on the cross, Christ infuses us with the humility that comes from such a death.  So humbled, we are free to recognize the ways we are more like Jacob and Esau than not like them, the ways we are more like Colonel Chivington than not like him.[3]  Our need for Christ laid bare at the foot of the cross and in the public square – for his sake, for our sake, and for the sake of the world.

 



[1] There are many resources that offer a full treatment of the Sand Creek Massacre.  Here is one of them from Northwestern University: http://www.northwestern.edu/provost/committees/john-evans-study/study-committee-report.pdf.

[2] Matthew 13:23; Romans 8:11

[3] Augustans Lutheran Church mission statement: “Guided by the Holy Spirit we gather in Christian community, reach out and invite, offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ, and walk humbly with God.”

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

 

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

 

Romans 8:1-11   There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

John 18:1-19:42 “Think Again” [a sermon for Good Friday]

John 18:1-19:42 “Think Again”

March 29, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Pick a spot, any spot, in Jesus’ crucifixion.  There are many places to sit, stand or lie down.  We can betray, deny, judge, rant, abandon or despair.  Go ahead, pick a spot, because those characters are us.  Those characters who run amok and rail against Jesus, ridicule him, or despair in his death are us.  The irony of being a part of this cast of characters is that the person who hangs on the cross is the precisely the one who saves us.  Jesus was tried, crucified, dead and buried.  In every way that the cross could be offensive, it does indeed offend.

 

It offends the sophisticated thought of modern people to think that the cross, and Jesus hanging there, was necessary or effective in any way.  That we even need saving offends our enlightened sensibilities.  That this appalling execution can change anything about real life seems at worst a massive deception and at best an utter folly.  And yet, alarmingly, and quite surprisingly, it does.  Jesus death on the cross changes everything.  Jesus insists, time and again in the gospel, that God and Jesus are one.  Jesus is in God and God is in Jesus.

 

Think on this for a moment.  How might God go about getting our attention?  What are all the ways in which that may have been possible?  God, at some point, needs to grab us in ways that we might have some shot at understanding.  God needs to speak in human terms.  When we hear of someone who dives into a raging river to save someone from drowning, saves that person but succumbs and dies in the flood waters, what are our first thoughts?  What kinds of things do we say to honor the soldier who returns again and again to the firefight to save fallen friends?  Wow!  Spectacular save!  How selfless!  And on and on goes the praise and adoration.  Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  After all, how much more can be given?[1]

 

In the Gospel of John as a whole, and in this reading from John on this Good Friday, Jesus is aware and focused on the goal of bringing people back into relationship with God.  Somewhere along the way, as human creatures we lost our way.  Rather than living into the image of God we became much more interested in placing ourselves in the center of things and holding God to the outskirts, leaving us free to make God into whatever image we choose – distorting God.[2]  It is in that re-creation of God that we are separate from God, powerless to repair what has happened.  This separateness, this breach, this distance between us and God is called sin.  Out of that separateness, that breach, that distance, that sin, comes all the ways in which we hurt each other and ourselves; inflicting sins against each other, ourselves, and God.

 

The cross is God’s answer to all of that re-imagining of God that we are so wont to do. That re-imagining that leaves us separate from God.  Oh, so you think you know who God is?  Well, what about a God who hangs dead on a cross and needs to be buried in a tomb rather than use divine power over and against the very creatures whom God loves.  Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.”  Jesus on the cross simultaneously reveals the scope of divine power poured out to reveal the depth of divine love as we are drawn toward the God who saves us.  When the self-sacrificing love of God, given fully, is made known to you, when this message of divine love gets through to you, you are drawn by God back into relationship. [3]

 

With great intention, Jesus hangs on the cross.  And, in one of his final acts while still breathing, does something radical.  Jesus turns to his own mother and then to the beloved disciple and redefines their relationship with the cross in between them.  “‘Woman, here is your son…then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’”

 

Not only does Jesus draw us into relationship with God through the cross but Jesus redefines our relationship with each other at the foot of the cross – standing with the cross between us, Jesus intercedes for us on each other’s behalf.  Drawn back into the relationship with God our Father, Jesus the Christ turns us towards each other in new ways.  Here, at the cross, love is freely taken up for us and for the sake of the people standing next to us.  In the same moment we have everything to do with what happened at the cross and we have nothing to do with it.

 

We are, first and foremost, passive spectators who are being handed a radical realization of our powerlessness.  As people in and around the story of the crucifixion, we think we know what’s happening and that the power is ours to create the story.  It is our turn on this day to hear God say, “Think again.”

 


[1] Craig Koester, class notes, Luther Seminary: Gospel of John class: John’s Theology of the Cross.  December 1, 2010.  I am sincerely grateful for Dr. Koester’s faithful witness as a master of holding aspects of Jesus Christ’s life and work in formative tension.  His work is beautiful, articulate, and draws me more deeply into faith and love of Jesus.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 113.  This is a great text for deepening into the theological reflection on the “The Fall” that breached God’s intention for the creature as imago dei, in the image of God.

[3] Koester, course notes, 12/1/2010.  For further study see: Craig R. Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

 

Luke 13:1-9 “The Promise of Judgment”

Luke 13:1-9 A sermon for this 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 3, 2013

March 3, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

Luke 13:1-9 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

 

Those poor, poor Galileans.  Those poor, misguided religious pilgrims who walked and prayed and sacrificed as they put one foot in front of the other to acknowledge the God of their ancestors as they put their faith into action.  We can picture the earthy, rural Galileans laughing and crying with each other, with their families, while the rest of the city moves about its business.  And, then, out of nowhere, comes Pontius Pilate. The villain extraordinaire, the ne’er-do-well to end all ne’er-do-wells – the Pharaoh to the enslaved Israelites, the Osama bin Laden to millions of people both living and dead, the shooter in Newtown to our beloved children and teachers.  We can almost hear the hiss of the crowd as Jesus mentions his name.

And what about those poor people who were flattened by the tower of Siloam?  What of them?  We can imagine the thoughts of the people listening to Jesus.  The people for whom this was a fresh event and who could probably name some of the people killed that day.   We can imagine them thinking with relief that they were not standing by that tower on that day.  We can imagine them wondering about God in the midst of that tragedy.  Their attention is drawn to the death and destruction like bees to honey as they try to answer the question, “Why?”

Jesus speaks to them with the well-known traumas of the day fresh on everyone’s minds.  The people are pulsing with fear and survivor guilt as Jesus revisits the stories.  The people are looking for a comforting word – ears tuned, necks craned toward Jesus. And what does he do?  He disappoints them.

It’s important to note that what Jesus is doing here is separating the sin of the people from the calamities that befall people.  There is no connection between the horror that Pilate inflicts and the sin of the people that he inflicts it upon.  There is no connection between the Tower of Siloam and the sin of the people in the wrong place at the wrong time when the tower falls.  Jesus disconnects the sin of the people from the calamity that befalls them and, for all intents and purposes, tells the people to stop gawking in that direction.  They aren’t going to find any good news about themselves through the misfortune of others.  Nor are they going to find a God that is against others and, therefore, for themselves.  God’s judgment is not doled out as calamities in our lives.

Jesus is separating sin from calamity but Jesus is NOT separating sin from judgment.  Judgment has simply been moved to a different place away from the punishment of calamity.  Jesus says, “…unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”  Hmmmm…“Just as they did…just as they did.”  Jesus is separating sin from punishment and, in the same breath, he is comparing the people who are dead to the people who are listening to him.  The comparison being that those who have died were unrepentant just as the people standing before him are unrepentant.  They are unable to see all the ways in they work against God and work against each other.  And until they can see this, acknowledge this work against God and each other, they are unrepentant.

Perhaps this is where the fig tree can help us out. You all know this one right?  The parable of the barren fig tree has to be in the, what, top five most favorite parables ever?  Okay, so…no, not a well-known parable.  But this parable seems to follow Jesus’ calamity stories as some kind of explanation.

The vineyard owner is angry about a tree that has not borne fruit in three years and he wants to cut it down.  The gardener stalls the owner’s anger and asks for more time for the tree.  Take note that it is not more time for the same disappointing barrenness.  This is not a stay that delays an inevitable execution.  The gardener promises to tend this tree with fertilizer, giving it the chance to bear fruit, fruit that is worthy of the repentance from which it springs.

The people to whom Jesus is speaking are called out.  They are called out as unrepentant.  In the Psalmist’s words we sang earlier, they are called out as dry.  Today, we are being called out as well, called out as dry as the barren fig tree.  Repentance begins in this moment of being called out.  A word comes from outside ourselves and reverberates with truth as it moves inside.  There is nowhere to hide from the reality in us that is being named; the reality of the ways in which we move away from and work against God and each other, the reality of our sin.

This is one of the reasons why speaking out loud the confession and forgiveness when we gather for worship feels like air to some of us.  Not by way of shaming but by way of naming, we confess and are brought together in the light of truth – the truth about ourselves, our need and our God.   Being named for who we are and what we have done is called judgment.  And as we listen to Jesus in the text today, Jesus very much connects sin and judgment.  This, of course, is totally fine when it’s someone else’s sin that gets questioned or named or judged.  It feels more than a little difficult when it’s our own.

During the Apostle’s Creed we name Jesus as the one who will come again to judge the living and the dead.  This isn’t a far off threat.  This is a promise here, in the moment of now.  We speak these words in spite of the bad rap that surrounds the notion of judgment.  Quite possibly one of the worse things to be labeled is “judgmental.”  And, yet, it is exactly judgment when God names something about us that is true, something we are in no rush to confess about ourselves.  It is God’s judgment that convicts us and draws us to the surrender of repentance.  And it is at that point where the gardener nourishes us.

This is a moment when the whole creed becomes so important.  Because then what do we say together?  We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins…wait, wait a second now, what was that…the forgiveness of sins?!

God judges and God forgives.

God judges and God forgives in the proclamation of forgiveness.

God judges and God forgives in the waters of baptism.

God judges and God forgives in the bread and wine from Christ’s table.

God judges and God forgives in the reconciliation one to another in this body of Christ, this church.

God judges and God forgives as the one who resuscitates us and births divine love in our lives.

 

This IS the nourishment that is laid down around our dryness in the face of God’s judgment;

Nourished here, in this place, by this God so that our lives are a testament to the one who sustains us.  Nourished here, we can then bear the fruit of Christ in us, serving our neighbors – for the sake of our neighbors and for our own sake as others turn to serve us.

Nourished here, we can then sing with the Psalmist, “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. 5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips 6 when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. 8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

John 2:13-22 “Using God and Loving Things”

John 2:13-22 “Using God and Loving Things”

March 9, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility

 

John 2:13-22 – The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

 

A long, long time ago, in the year 350, there lived a man named…Augustine.  He tells his story in a book titled The Confessions – he simply pours it all out, the good, the bad, and the ugly…saint and sinner…all of it…and how God met him in the middle of it.  Fast-forwarding sixteen hundred years to this past Sunday, I was preaching at a congregation that I had preached at one other time, one year ago.  A woman came up to me before worship began and told me that she needed to speak with me.  So we arranged to meet back up after the service.   We sat together in the back of sanctuary, the worship space.  This was her 3rd time visiting this congregation and she told me that had spent very little time in church throughout her 60 years.  In the span of just a few minutes and speaking quickly, she spoke of the sin in her life, some of which had happened over 30 years ago.  She then told me that she was too much of a sinner to be in church and then she fell quiet.

 

“First,” I said, “you need to know that God forgives you all your sins.”  She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and began to tear up and said, “Oh, that feels good.”  After a few moments of quiet, the second thing I said to her was that, “One of the things I love about being in Lutheran-land is that we all come before God as sinners, all of us are level with each other at the foot of the cross…so, as a sinner, you’re in the right place.”

 

So, you may be asking yourself, what do St. Augustine and this woman have in common – across time, gender and life situation? St. Augustine wrote, all those many years ago, that sin can be described as what comes from the mixing up of what God has given us to use and what God has given us to love.  His argument is that God means for us to love God and use things but somewhere along the way we use God and love things…we use God and love things.  We have mixed up use and love.

 

Today’s scene in the temple started me wondering about this mix up between what we use and what we love.  Jesus is furious.  The temple has become a marketplace, a place where God is being used and everyone is part of using everyone else as a commodity, as currency, as cash.  Relationship has been transaction.

 

If we’re not very careful in this story, we end up standing behind Jesus, cheering him on, placing ourselves on his side, comfortable that our opinions about God and Jesus are the blameless ones.  I wonder, though, if our rightful place in this story is in the position of the sellers – the ones who use God and love things so much so that in our use of God we end up using each other in such as way that our relationships are transactions.  We see this time and again, right?  The ways in which we use each other, and the ways others use us, create deep pain.  Let’s be clear, while we’re at it, that this is not only a problem magnified within these walls, this is a problem within this world, inside all of us!  And it is into the mixed up mess of use and love that Jesus comes crashing in to clean house.

 

Jesus cleans house by first taking the problem into his own body.  In the Bible story for today, Jesus says that his body is the temple which will be destroyed – hung on a cross – and that he will raise it again three days later.  There is hope after all because Jesus does what we cannot do when left on our own – first in his body and then in ours.  Jesus fights this fight in us daily by virtue of our baptism.  Jesus attacks our sin and sends it packing, right out the door like the sheep and the cattle of the temple.

In his clearing of the temple, Jesus challenges us to look at the way in which we use and the way we love.

In his dying on the cross, Jesus destroys the power of sin and its death dealing way.

And in his rising again, Jesus heals us into new life.

In the name of Jesus Christ, may you be strengthened and filled with God’s grace, that you may know the healing power of the Spirit.  Amen.