Tag Archives: Sorrow

Friends in Joy, Love, and Sorrow (OR Wondering about Mother and Daughter Friendships) John 15:12-17 and Acts 10:44-48

**An Artist’s Canvas by Stacey Zimmerman, A Painting Inspired by Friendship: Birds of a Feather

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 9, 2021

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

John 15:12-17 [Jesus said:] 9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Acts 10:44-48 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

[sermon begins

At some point in high school, my daughter noticed that a lot of people described their moms as their best friend. (A relevant aside, I always ask my kids before they show up in a sermon.) Somewhere in that chat about moms being best friends, she and I talked about our own relationship and whether we would describe it that way. I don’t remember the details, but we both remember me saying something like, “You have a lot of friends, but you only have one Mom, it’s important to me that I’m your Mom more than your friend.” The topic came up again recently as she wraps up college. She asked if I thought my answer about our friendship was different now. My conversation with my daughter is timely as Mother’s Day converges with Jesus’ speech to his disciples about being friends with him. Friendship back in Jesus’ day meant something specific. Friendship in the First Century meant direct speak and bold action absent of flattery or distracting social tics. Ultimate friendship also included a noble death on behalf of the friend in both classical and popular philosophy back in Jesus’ day. John’s readers would have understood this definition of ultimate friendship. When Jesus talked about the greatest love exemplified in the one who would lay down one’s life for one’s friend, he was naming a widely accepted moral claim. Curiously, Jesus is not referred to as “friend” in the Gospel of John. He alternately refers to himself as the Son of Man, the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, AND the vine. He doesn’t say, “I AM the friend.” And his disciples don’t call him friend. He names the disciples as his friends when they love each other as he loves them. He defines the greatest love as being willing to lay down one’s life down for a friend. And then he walks the bold talk all the way to the cross. He launched the disciples into friendship modeled on his own friendship with them. Which brings us to Jesus’ friend Peter in the Acts reading today. Taking place well after the crucifixion and resurrection, this short reading is a fragment of the longer Cornelius’ story, the Italian centurion. Read his full story in Acts 10 and 11 this week. He was a Gentile, a non-Jew, who was a God-fearer associated with a Jewish synagogue. Cornelius invited Jesus’ friend Peter to come and teach at his home in Caesarea, the Roman capital of Judea. This means that Cornelius and his household weren’t just Gentiles, they were really, really Gentiles. And he had invited his friends and relatives to listen to Peter’s teaching so there were A LOT of Gentiles there. According to Jewish custom, eating with Gentiles was prohibited. There are visions and prayers and angels in the longer story that clarify the contradictions. Suffice it to say that Peter was divinely directed to this party. It was a party thrown in Peter’s honor and, like any good preacher, he didn’t waste his opportunity to say a few words. He preached about Jesus’ ministry, his death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit, and the forgiveness of sins. “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on everyone listening…” The story says that the circumcised believers who had come to Caesarea with Peter “were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.” It was a wild moment. They couldn’t believe their eyes, nor could they have foreseen that this was where friendship with Jesus was taking them. Except that wasn’t true for everyone. Peter, yes, the same Peter who bumbled his way through many a Gospel story before Jesus’ death, seems to have finally caught up with Jesus’ agenda. Peter’s question about withholding baptismal water from the Gentiles was rhetorical. Of course, the baptisms would happen. But that’s not where the trouble brewed anyway. It’s what happened after the baptisms that got everyone’s knickers in a knot. It’s that last quiet verse in our reading as chapter ten ends. “Then they invited [Peter] to stay for several days.” If we keep reading just a few verses into Chapter 11, we get to the crux of the matter. Peter went up to Jerusalem and was criticized by the Jesus’ followers there – not for baptizing the Gentiles, but for going to the Gentiles and eating with them. Hospitality moved in both directions at different parts of the story. Early on, Peter invited Cornelius’ messengers in and gave them lodging. In our verses today, Cornelius and friends invited Peter to stay for several days. Peter was the kind of friend to Cornelius that Jesus encouraged the disciples to be – walking the talk and boldly widening the circle despite what other people assumed were the natural limits of the circle. I did answer my daughter’s question, by the way. When she asked if my answer about our friendship was different now than it was in high school. I said, “yes,” that as she’s moved into adulthood, it’s become more mutual. Though the truth remains that I’m still her mother. There’s simultaneous mutuality and hierarchy. Before anyone gets antsy, I’m in no way saying that my relationship with my daughter is like Jesus’ friendship with the disciples. I am definitely NOT like Jesus and she would be the first to tell you that she is NOT my disciple. But there is a parallel, albeit limited, in my mother/daughter example that helps us get at the simultaneous hierarchy of Jesus as the Messiah AND the mutuality of Jesus as our friend. Man, I would love to have been in those original conversations with Jesus and his disciples – to see him boldly walk the talk, to hear his instructions firsthand, to wonder about his teachings with the other disciples who were just as lost in his ministry as I was, to hear him call me friend. Not to sentimentalize it, just to capture what those moments might have been like. Imagine that with me. There are moments in various conversations with you all that are hints of what that experience must have been like. The church is, after all, the body of Christ. We are Easter people who support, encourage, and pray for each other when it’s neither easy nor convenient. We hold each other in faith when one of us struggles to get comfortable with doubt. We work together with neighbors on problems in the community hoping that we’re on the right track. In our various ways, we lay down our lives because Jesus first loved us as friends and continues to love us still. The mutuality of friendship is a wonder, located in the middle of Jesus’ farewell to his friends. Made all the more poignant because he’s shared his final meal with them, he’s suffered the betrayal of Judas, and he’s anticipating Peter’s denial. In the midst of sorrow, his command to love, woven with his friendship, is the foundation of joy. Jesus infuses the mutuality with joy in the sorrow of saying goodbye. He said to his friends, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Love and joy are complete in us through the friend we have in Jesus, and through the friendship by which he widens the circle of his love and binds us together in his name.

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.