Tag Archives: suffering

En Pointe, On Point: Dance Made It More Possible For Me To Live [OR Holy Trinity Sunday] John 16:12-15; Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; and Romans 5:1-5                    

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 22 2016

[sermon begins after 3 Bible readings; they’re all too good]

John 16:12-15 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
2 In the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
22 The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

[sermon begins]

 

Jesus tells his disciples that, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  That’s about as frustrating on the listeners’ side as it can get.  Imagine someone telling you that they’d fill you in on the main things if only you could understand them.  This happens all the time when we’re children.  The kids in the room know what I’m talking about.  In fact, Jesus starts his speech that includes the reading from John today by calling his disciples, “Little children…”[1]  Judas betrays Jesus, skulks off into the night, and Jesus starts talking using the endearment of “little children.”  There is a kindness in the endearment but there is also a limit that Jesus places on his listeners.  He knows and tells them that they cannot bear the weight of what he has to say.

When I was four, my feet found their way into a pair of ballet slippers.  There’s was a lot to learn.  A lot of strength to be gained.  But mostly, from my newly slippered perspective, there was love of the dance.  Body and music working together to make something new along with sounds of Bach and Tchaikovsky.  Classical ballet was a fairly consistent part of life even with the family relocations.  I don’t know how my mother did it through some of the family chaos.  It’s possible it made me easier to live with.  But truly, in hindsight, dance made it more possible for me to live.

Around the age of 13, my ballet teacher started talking about point shoes.  You know these shoes.  They’re part of the classic image of ballet dancers moving around on their toes.  For the dancer, point shoes are a big moment.  The joy of that moment of readiness is heady and alive.  There is much that goes into being ready.  Dancing en pointe means the strength and coordination are there to bear the weight of the body.  When the strength isn’t there – the toes can’t bear the body weight and it’s highly possible there will be pain and a lot of it.

Similarly, Jesus knows his disciples aren’t ready to bear the weight of what he has to say.  At this point in the story, Jesus is still alive.  There is no crucifixion or resurrection to give the disciples perspective.  Paul’s letter to the Romans is well after the crucifixion as the early church is making sense of what happened to Jesus.  Paul talks about the experience of suffering moving to endurance, character and, finally, hope.  Hope that comes through the love of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.  That’s a lot for him to put in one or two sentences.  Let’s slow it down a bit.

In the midst of suffering, it’s hard to have perspective and even harder when someone tries to give you their perspective.  It’s like the time-space continuum starts moving really differently.  This happens when you’re sick enough to land in the hospital or losing a loved one or lost a job or making a tough move or fighting depression.  Perspective is possible typically only after there’s been an experience and time passes.  Even then it can be a stretch to look back on the experience, realize you’ve come through it, and make any meaning out of it – framing it with other experiences.

We tend to think of this individually.  But the Proverbs reading tells us that Wisdom speaks publically.  “On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out…”  Wisdom speaks publically in the places where people are together.  Also in the Proverbs reading, Wisdom holds the perspective of time.  Before the beginning of the earth, before the heavens and the deep, Wisdom was there.  Part of wisdom is public when people are together and part of wisdom is time.  It’s difficult to gain perspective when we’re alone in the middle a mess.

Before seminary and becoming a pastor, I spent about 10 years as an adult worshiper. Listening to sermons was a highlight of worship and my week. Scripture and life come together – sometimes like a breath of fresh air and sometimes in a gnarly collision. Sometimes I agreed with the preacher and sometimes I didn’t.  Mostly I was thankful for the reminders week-after-week that the people described by scripture were often just as lost, just as forgetful, just as gifted, and just as loved by God as I am in this beautiful struggle called life.

I needed and still need the forgiveness and strength that are given freely week-after-week in confession, preaching, bread, and wine and reinforced by the worship liturgy both in words and body motion. When I worship now as a pastor, I’m still grateful for the chances to hear another preacher remind us that we’re just as lost, forgetful, gifted, and loved as everybody else.  That is a gift of perspective.  A gift of wisdom.

For ballet dancers, being ready to dance is partly about practicing coordinated movement with other dancers.  For people of faith, living this beautiful struggle called life is partly about regularly practicing the faith with other people.  Just as the disciples are together with Jesus in the Bible reading today, we are together with Jesus through scripture and worship by the power of the Holy Spirit.  So together, the Holy Spirit draws us into perspective and hope through the love of God.

This Sunday, we celebrate the Holy Trinity – God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The Trinity is shared experience of otherness within itself – separate yet whole.  A mystery revealed to us by Jesus who suffered, died, and lives again. The Trinity integrates us into shared experience with God and with each other through worship and life in the world.

The dance between Father – Spirit – Son makes it possible for us to live.

No one says it like Paul says it to the Roman church and also to us:

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Amen and thanks be to God.

 

Hymn of the Day sung by everyone in response to the sermon.

Come, Join the Dance of Trinity (ELW 412)

Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun –

The interweaving of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.

The universe of space and time did not arise by chance,

But as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.

 

Come see the face of Trinity, newborn in Bethlehem;

Then bloodied by a crown of thorns outside Jerusalem.

The dance of Trinity is meant for human flesh and bone;

When fear confines the dance in death, God rolls away the stone.

 

Come, speak aloud of Trinity, as wind and tongues of flame

Set people free at Pentecost to tell the Savior’s name.

We know the yoke of sin and death, our necks have worn it smooth;

Go tell the world of weight and woe that we are free to move!

 

Within the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun,

We sing the praises of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.

Let voices rise and interweave, by love and hope set free,

To shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity.

[1] John 13:33a [Jesus says to his disciples] “Little children, I am with you only a little longer…”

 

John 2:1-11 – Best Bible Story Ever (or maybe just this preacher’s favorite, come and see)

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 17, 2016

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

John 2:1-11  On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

[sermon begins]

Take a walk down a grocery store aisle with me.  Imagine it.  Laminate tile floors. Bright fluorescent light.  A slow, very relaxed shopper in front of us.  A parent telling their child “no” as they walk by the soda.  We’re making a quick stop at an unfamiliar store because it’s our job to show up with water.  We’re checking aisle signs so we can get in and get out of the store quickly.  Down at the end of the next aisle we can see the sign for water.  Arriving at our destination under the water sign, there is row upon row upon row of wine bottles.  Three shelves high, wine bottles in rows underneath the sign for water.  And you turn to me and say dryly, “Jesus was here.”[1]  Not only do I have a little envy that you thought of it first but, more importantly, we laugh like crazy about one of my favorite Bible stories.

Which leads me to the point that this Bible story is difficult for me to preach.  Not because it’s in the Gospel of John.  Not because of any need to try and explain how or if the supernatural sign occurred.  Not because of its links to Hebrew scripture and God’s covenant with God’s people that’s compared to marriage vows.  And not because I’m left wondering why the wine steward doesn’t seem to have any of that bad wine to serve the drunk wedding guests.  (Do those drunk people really need more wine?)  It’s difficult for me to preach because it is dear to me.  It’s dear to my experience of faith and my experience of life.  A dear taste of grace in scripture when other verses can be so puzzling.  When something is so dear and well-worn, it makes preaching trickier.

Regardless, we begin at a wedding.  Joy and celebration abound.  Jesus is there.  His mother is there.  It’s an epic party where the wine is flowing until it runs out.  The celebration seems fitting.  Jesus’ ministry is inaugurated by the events at this wedding.  Parties are commonplace at inaugural events but how often do inaugural events happen at parties?  During a party like this one, I can imagine someone saying, “I feel like I shouldn’t be having fun when there is so much suffering in the world.”  Why can I imagine that question?  Because people say that kind of thing to me fairly regularly.

It is in this tension between joy and suffering that the Wedding at Cana really shines.  Jesus is at a wedding celebration.  He is embodied grace smack in the middle of it.  His presence and activity at the wedding does not obscure the very real problem of Roman oppression or the pain that is experienced in everyday living.  He is an example of celebrating life in spite of Rome and in spite of day-to-day suffering.  He is also more than an example.

Turning water into wine and other things happening at the Wedding at Cana points us somewhere.  It’s a little bit like echolocation that bats and whales use.  Those animals make a sound and they can figure out their position in relation to another location based on the echoes that return.  If fact, when I preach from these verses at weddings and funerals, I often use the word “echoes” to describe what’s happening between the wedding celebration and Jesus’ death on the cross.

Some of the words in the story echo back from the cross.  The story itself begins “On the third day” which echoes Jesus’ resurrection.[2]  Jesus references his “hour not yet come.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ hour refers to the time that he will hang on a cross.[3]  Even the tasty wedding wine itself echoes back from the sour wine given to quench Jesus’ thirst on the cross.[4]  Jesus’ mother is not named in the Gospel of John.  She is called “the mother of Jesus.”  She shows up in the gospel only twice – once at the Wedding at Cana and then again at the cross.[5]  Jesus’ mother is another echo.  From his first sign of turning water into wine, the cross is already in play.  Suffering is on the horizon.  And curiously, Jesus is at a party.

The Wedding at Cana is how life works.  There are moments of joy and there are moments of suffering.  Neither joy nor suffering are completely absent while the other is present.  Both are human.  Both are faithful.  I want to be clear here that I’m not talking about blind optimism in the face of suffering.  As if everything is fine despite all evidence to the contrary.  I’m talking about faithful joy in the gift of life while being honest about the truth of suffering and working to alleviate it as Jesus calls us to do.

Jesus is at a party where the wine steward knows how things usually work in the world.  After Jesus turns the water into wine, the wine steward goes to the bridegroom and says, “Everyone serves the good wine after the guests have become drunk; but you have kept the good wine until now.”  I read this as the place where sin shows up in the story.  “Everyone” tries to hide what they’re doing and get away with substandard wine late in the wedding celebration.  This shenanigan is the norm.  But not this time.  Not this wedding.  Not this Jesus.

Jesus’ turning of water into wine toward the end of the wedding party throws the reverse switch on how things often work in the world.  Jesus’ sign reverses what we expect as normal.  Like the wine steward, expecting that people will protect their own interests at the expense of people who are unaware of the mischief at their expense.

Tomorrow this country celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and ministry.  He stands among the saints as an example of throwing the reverse switch against the accepted cultural norms of racism and poverty in his day. He believed people could do better in the face of black people suffering at the hands of white people.  He believed that racism makes everyone less than human – victims and perpetrators alike.  He believed this from a place of faith that is unequivocal about God loving all people.  All people.  And God’s love for all people inspired a movement of human dignity that continues through today.  People of all colors continuing to throw the reverse switch against the cultural norms of racism and poverty. He believed this from a place of faith that is unequivocal about God loving all people.  All people.

There is a relevant aside about MLK Jr. to add to our conversation about living in joy while being honest about suffering and our own hand in it.  He is attributed as saying, “It is cheerful to God when you rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart.”[6]  This from a man who saw and experienced raw suffering as racist cultural norms were viciously protected.

We sing songs and pray prayers of praise, joy, and thanksgiving in worship today as our bodies turn toward the processional cross as well as face the cross at the front during worship.  Our worship mirrors the tension between joy and suffering at the Wedding at Cana.  Our worship mirrors life.  Life that Jesus gives as he shows up with us in both celebration and suffering.

Jesus gives life by way of his own life.  Life that showed up in the skin of a baby.  Life that laughs with joy at a wedding party.  Life that knows suffering.  Life that is given for all people.  Life that is given for you despite your own efforts to live on your own terms.  That’s the promise God makes to you.  Let’s celebrate.

 

[1] Meme posted: http://dailypicksandflicks.com/2012/05/20/daily-picdump-464/jesus-was-here-wine-on-water-aisle/

[2] John 21:11-20

[3] John 16:32

[4] John 19:28-29

[5] John 19:25-27

[6] Martin Luther King Jr.  http://martinlutherkingjrquotes.org/martin-luther-king-jr-quotes-bootstraps.html