Tag Archives: suffering

The Goodness of Good Friday – The Gospel of John, chapters 18 and 19

**sermon art: The Crucifixion with Jesus Mother and the Beloved Disciple by Laura James.

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on March 29, 2024

John 18 and 19 – read the whole thing elsewhere if you’d like – sermon begins after this brief excerpt:

John 19:17–18, 25b–27 So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

[sermon begins]

How are we to understand the goodness of Good Friday? A violent execution seems an odd thing to commemorate much less celebrate, especially in a time when the world is wrestling with disturbing violence and deep pain. It’s really important today to understand that it’s not the violence of the cross that is redemptive. It’s not the pain of Jesus that saves us. It’s easy to get lost in the message of the cross because the earliest Jesus followers who wrote down their experiences couldn’t quite figure it out either.

The goodness of Good Friday has to do with God. More specifically, the goodness of Good Friday has to do with who God is in Jesus. The Gospel of John argues that God is Jesus and Jesus is God. The love of God in Jesus, the audacity of grace personified in Jesus, the ultimate power of that love, so enraged his enemies and fueled the mob mentality that ultimately killed him. Jesus ate meals with unlovable people, he had public conversations with women no one spoke to, and he had secret conversations with religious leaders who opposed him by day. The list of his ever-expanding circle of grace and love is endless. Finally, when the threat of his grace, the threat about who is included in the love of God, became too great, he was killed for it. Grace and unconditional love were just too threatening. When Jesus predicted his death, it was the inevitable end that could be anticipated. Hate’s last gasp, if you will, because love is the greatest power and hate will always try to do away with it.

The goodness of Good Friday reminds us that we are not left alone in suffering. God suffers with us. God absorbs our suffering into God’s heart. Good Friday also tells the truth about suffering caused by violence. Large acts of violence are obvious. There are also the smaller acts of violence that destroy relationships and murder people’s spirits and our own spirits – lies, gossip, passive aggression, dissing someone’s body rather than debating their ideas or confronting their hurtful behavior…the list of our violent ways is as endless as we are creative in inflicting ourselves against the ones we love and the ones we hate.  The level we inflict suffering on each other, and on the earth and all its creatures, knows no bounds.

The goodness of Good Friday reminds us that the cross is the place where we struggle in the darkness and the very place where God meets us. We live in this darkness in different ways – failure, addiction, confusion, doubt – our darkest places that we don’t tell anyone about. Most of us are capable of just about anything given the right set of circumstances. The goodness of Good Friday isn’t about pointing away from ourselves at other people who cause suffering. It’s also a sacred space to wonder and confess the pain that we cause as well.

Confessions of sin extend to systems that we’re a part of – institutions, countries, governments, families, friendships, communities, etc. Systems that hold us captive to sin from which we cannot free ourselves. What does free us? Jesus on the cross. Jesus on the cross holds up a mirror in which we can see our own reflections. Reflections that reveal the sin we inflict on each other and cannot justify. Oh sure, we try riding that high horse, cloaking our sin in self-righteousness. But the cross tells us otherwise. The cross also surprises us with grace in the face of sin.

We often act without awareness of how our actions may hurt someone else. That’s why our worship confessions talk about things we’ve done and things we’ve failed to do. That’s why we talk about our sin. Sin gives us language for the way we hurt other people and ourselves with our actions – actions that separate us from each other and God. Good Friday’s goodness creates space to experience life-giving compassion from the heart of God in the face of our sin. God’s SELF-sacrifice in Jesus also reminds us that Jesus’ death isn’t payment to an angry God or a hungry devil. That’s just divine child abuse. Jesus is a revelation of the goodness of God, taking violence into himself on the cross, transforming death through SELF-sacrifice, and revealing the depth of divine love.

God reveals the truth of our death dealing ways while reminding us that God’s intention for humankind is good.[1] Jesus was fully human and fully divine. His life’s ministry and his death on the cross reveal our humanity and the goodness for which we were created. The cross awakens that goodness. Jesus’ full and fragile humanity was displayed on the cross. He sacrificed himself to the people who killed him for his radical, excessive love. He would not raise a hand in violence against the people and the world that God so loves. Jesus’ self-sacrificing goodness clears our eyes to see God’s intention for our human life together.

Our connection with each other is also revealed in the goodness of Good Friday. From the cross, Jesus redefined connection, kinship, and companionship. Hear these words again from the gospel reading:

“Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” [2]

From the cross, with some of his last breaths, Jesus did this incredible thing. It’s amazing. Jesus connects people through suffering. This is not a reason for suffering. Simply one truth about it. When we suffer and feel most alone, Jesus reaches out from his own suffering to remind us that we have each other. God’s heart revealed through the cross destroys the illusion of our aloneness and connects us to each other once more. In God we live and move and have our being through God’s goodness in Jesus on the cross. In each other, we’re given kinship and appreciation for the gift and mystery of being alive.

In the end, the cross isn’t about us at all. It’s about the self-sacrificing love of Jesus who reveals God’s ways to show us the logical end of ours – our death-dealing ways in the face of excessive grace and radical love. We struggle to believe that God applies this grace and love to everyone. It’s hard enough to believe that there’s a God who loves us. It’s downright offensive that God loves our greatest enemy as much as God loves us. But that is God’s promise in the goodness of Good Friday. There is nothing you can do or not do to make God love you any more or any less. God loves you through the cross, in the darkest places that you don’t tell anyone about. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.[3] God’s arms are opened to all in the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross, receiving us by God’s reckless grace because God is love.[4] The goodness of Good Friday is that God loves us. God loves you. Amen.

__________________________________________________

[1] Genesis 1:26-31 God creates “humankind.”

[2] John 19:25b-27

[3] Romans 8:38-39

[4] 1 John 4:7-21

The Wonder of It All [OR Hope Dazzles on a Mountaintop] Mark 9:2-9

**sermon art: The Transfiguration by Armando Alemdar Ara, 2004

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on February 11, 2024 – Transfiguration of our Lord

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

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

[sermon begins]

After being ordained and called here 11 years ago on February 2nd, my very first sermon was on February 10th and was about Jesus’ transfiguration. I synthesized scripture from Jesus’ baptism to the transfiguration, did theological flips from the transfiguration mountaintop to the rugged cross on a hill faraway, and was generally pretty pleased with my first effort. That was before we used to process the cross at the beginning and end of worship, so after worship I was walking down the pulpit side aisle to go shake hands. Walking in front of me were two women, dear friends to each other and over the years they became dear to me. They were disappointed in my sermon. Yup. Right down to shaking their heads about it. They wanted to enjoy Jesus’ Transfiguration for itself, not for what came before and what came after. I learned a few important lessons that day. One, don’t lurk behind folks after worship unless you want to know what they really think. Two, not every sermon is for everybody. And three, maybe it’s worth it to stay in the wonder of it all when given the chance.

Wonder helps us stay in the moment. Rather than ask “why” about the past and “what now” or “what’s next” about the future, we so often leave wonder in the side aisle. Maybe you can relate. We know that the church world is rife with analyzing the past and dreaming into the future. We ask often, “what went well and what could we do better next time?” Ministry volunteers and staff just wrote 2023 annual reports that we’ll talk about in next Sunday’s Lunch & Learn (a shameless plug, in case you’re curious). Just last week we had a liturgy planning meeting that took us through Pentecost Sunday at the END OF MAY. My siblings and I are planning a trip for NEXT JANUARY 2025. You each have your own pasts and your own future plans so, just for today, for this moment, I’m going to ask that we enjoy the transfiguration and hang out with Jesus on the mountaintop and be dazzled by the wonder of it all.

But before we’re dazzled, it’s good to acknowledge that Bible stories like Jesus’ transfiguration are weird. The weirdness, the other worldliness, the mystical elements can leave us wanting to know what actually happened up on that mountain. Inquiring minds want to know. It’s just how we’re built. At my gym, we start class with warmups during which we share our name and answer a Question of the Day. Last week, the question was asked, “If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?” I answered, “My name is Caitlin and I would have dinner with Jesus, I know that’s a little cliché coming from me, but I just want to hear Jesus talk about himself, his experiences and what he thought he was doing.” As I finished my answer, one gym friend earnestly said, “That’s exactly what I was going to say, I want to know those things.” He settled on having dinner with Jesus’ mother Mary to fill in the knowledge gaps. After the workout, we chatted a bit more and I learned that my workout friend is an atheist. It was a very cool conversation and we agreed that faith and atheism are both unprovable, two sides of the same faith coin. Although here, today in church, the things we take on faith can open our eyes to the wonder of it all.

Since we have our dinner with Jesus during holy communion, we take the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on faith. Time collapsed in a dazzling light show. Even Jesus’ clothes took on heavenly shine. Moses and Elijah, long dead, talked with Jesus. That undead discussion is eerie and otherworldly. So much so that Peter spoke without knowing what to say. His terror at the vision before him was so overwhelming that he reacted with a plan for what came next rather than pause in awe of the transcendent mystery. It’s common to critique Peter – to laugh at him and say don’t be like him. But we are Peter. Our brains are busy, and we want to make sense of things, to feel bigger than the mystery or somehow in control of it. Transfiguration is a good reminder that mystery will have its way whether we’re ready for it or understand it. It’s a good reminder of the wonder of it all.

Today’s spotlight on the many volunteers who make the work of the church work, reveals an astounding mystery unto itself. People so committed to God, each other, and the world God loves, that you give an hour or two or more a week to the ministries you hold dear. Ministries of welcome and worship. Ministries of leadership and love of neighbor. Ministries that deepen faith and offer hope and healing regardless of cure. Hours upon hours of volunteering that reject a self-centered view of the world in the face of a struggling world. Unbelievable things inspiring unbelievable things. How do we even get our heads around the wonder of it all?!

Last Sunday, Pastor Gail preached that church is a ready-made house of hospitality and socialization and purpose. We could add that church worship is ready made space for transcendent mystery. Maybe not every week for everyone but there are moments when mystery has its way. For me it’s when songs soar from the choir or when we all sing together raising the roof, but it’s also that moment when the song stills into silence. That heartbeat or two before the next sounds begin, when your heart fills until tears brim onto your eyelashes. Or sometimes, the connection with Jesus and all that is holy during communion has no words to describe it. The meal where no one is asked to stay away. Everyone can eat! A meal leaving you not knowing what to say in the mystery of unconditional divine love. Or even in those moments when you drift out of a sermon, tuning out the words, only to receive an overwhelming sense of love and hope that are beyond words. Oh, the wonder of it all!

Worship is otherworldly. It isn’t logical. It’s kinda weird. Worship connects us with an ancient world and a future hope, collapsing time and connecting our stories with Jesus followers long ago and those yet to come. Sometimes hope feels fragile, clouded by our unanswerable questions and reactive plans. And sometimes hope shines like a dazzling Jesus. We pause our day-to-day lives to gather, to sing, pray, and eat together in faith and doubt, fear and hope, suffering and love, while we’re transformed by Jesus, the wonder of it all…

Rise and Sing Again [OR Mortality, Music, and Meaning] – Ash Wednesday Joel 2, 2 Corinthians 5, and Psalm 51

sermon art: Ken Phillips, textiles, 2020

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on Ash Wednesday – February 22, 2023, 11:00 a.m. worship

[sermon begins after two Bible readings from the books of Joel and 2 Corinthians; Psalm 51 is at the end of the sermon]

Joel 2:12-17  Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
2a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
nor will be again after them
in ages to come.
12Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord, your God?
15Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;
gather the children,
even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her canopy.
17Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
and do not make your heritage a mockery,
a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’ ”

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6:1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

[sermon begins]

How would you describe the way a favorite old hymn catches you off guard during a worship service? Or the way a new hymn immediately feels like an old favorite? For me, it runs the range of human emotion. Sometimes singing a hymn feels like joy so strong that it moves me to dance…or at least moves me to the less conspicuous swaying option. Sometimes hymn singing feels like inspiration that strengthens my resolve to love my neighbor and work for justice and peace. And sometimes hymn singing feels like deep grief, when the words get caught in my throat and like I won’t be able to breathe if I keep on singing or, at the very least, tears will dampen the sound. I could go on and on but the bottom line is that singing in this place with you all is food for the soul whether we’re exuberantly singing together on a tried-and-true hymn or bumbling along on a new one. There are very few places in which public singing happens. Concerts have their superfans who know all the songs by heart and include the rest of us slouches who may know the words to one or two of their popular songs. Baseball games have the 7th Inning Stretch with the happy group singing of, “Take me out to the ball game!” But regular singing together happens less and less for people. Places of worship are the main places where songs are sung as a group.

In the reading from Joel, the people are assembled and gathered into a congregation – men and women, old and young, even the bride and groom. Everyone is called to return to God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Joel writes, “…rend your hearts, not your clothing…” We hear that the people assembled with hearts broken open before God. When the people gathered even in those days, there were songs to be sung. In the case of Joel’s story, the song was likely a psalm of lament and confession, a psalm that describes their open, penitent hearts and their trust in God’s grace, mercy, and steadfast love – perhaps Psalm 51, an Ash Wednesday classic. The Psalms are the Bible’s hymnal. There are songs to be found in other places in the Bible, to be sure, but the Psalms are a record of liturgical poetry accompanied by music.

The English term [psalm] title derives from the Greek psalmos, meaning “song accompanied by a stringed instrument.” In Hebrew, the book is known as Tehillim or “songs of praise.”[1]

As the people sang in Joel’s story, perhaps their throats closed as their tears fell…and as their hearts opened. Singing yet struggling in the midst of their suffering to trust that God is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love. Suffering and yet still they sang.

In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul lists the suffering that he and the other disciples had endured. It’s helpful that he begins the passage calling the readers to be reconciled to God because it could be argued that Paul reveled in his suffering just a bit much.[2] But the good part of listing his sufferings is that he’s drawing a complete picture of where God shows up in the darkest places of our humanity and how hardship can shape us for the good.[3] Not that suffering is lucky or somehow part of the bitter medicine we’re supposed to take. But because the apostle Paul might say, “It’s because of the ways that suffering conforms to the example of Christ crucified and new life coming out of that.”[4]

On Ash Wednesday, we’re acknowledging our fragility as humans, our mortality in these fragile bodies and we place our trust in God who meets us in our most fragile places – when our bodies betray us and when we betray ourselves and each other. Today is a day to be honest about the suffering we experience because it’s part of the human condition and also the suffering we inflict on ourselves and each other. Care needs to be taken that we don’t corrupt this theology into valorizing suffering and hardship. Rather, if you are going through “hardship, chronic pain, deep disappointment,” if the Beatitudes fit your story in this moment, God meets you there not because it’s a magic ticket to God but because it’s a place where God shows up.[5] God shows up and promises transformation and new life – the story of Lent through the glory of Easter.

Last Fall, I attended our Theological Conference for ministry leaders, pastors, and deacons. The topic was Trauma and Resilience. These beautiful banners in our Sanctuary today were lined up in the hotel ballroom where we met and worshipped together. The art was a visual prayer during that time as we talked about suffering and trauma and healing and research and mental health practitioners and where our faith was or wasn’t in those experiences. I wondered with someone afterwards if the artist might make them available to us during Lent.[6] From the psalmic poetry and the textile beauty, we chose our Lenten theme, “Rise and Sing Again.” It’s part of the words on the banner over by the baptismal font – a location of happy accident as the banners were laid out in the order the artist intended. The banners tell a story of feeling forsaken in suffering and rising to sing again. They start at this one by the pulpit and move backwards in order on this side of the Sanctuary and then forward on the organ side.

Rising and singing again is part of what our faith community does for each other over and over. We sing when the person next to us can’t. They sing when we can’t. We all sing when we can. Rising and singing again acknowledges this imperfect and messy world where suffering often has no explanation and is regularly the actual result of people hurting us through the sin of carelessness or maliciousness or, vice versa, us hurting other people through carelessness or maliciousness. In difficult times, people sometimes use the non-biblical, cultural expression, “Well, everything happens for a reason.” To which, in the right situations, I’ll respond, “Yes, and sometimes the reason is sin.”

Today is a day of penitence. A day to be honest about who we are as fragile, mortal creatures which includes the sin and suffering we endure and inflict on ourselves and others. A day to be honest about whether or not we’re ready to sing in the midst of it – as Paul says, “…sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

Today on Ash Wednesday, the ashes on our forehead remind us that mortality, suffering, and death do not have the last word. God does. And God meets our fragile, careless, and malicious humanity with grace, mercy, and steadfast love, transforming our lives with God’s promise of new life. For this and for all that God is doing, we can say thanks be to God and amen.

___________________________________________________

[1] Rabbi Or Rose. “The Book of Psalms.” https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-book-of-psalms/

[2] Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave Podcast for Ash Wednesday on February 22, 2023. www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/889-ash-wednesday-february-22-2023

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.; Also, find Jesus’ teaching on the Beatitudes in Matthew 5…blessed are the poor in spirit, the grieving, etc.

[6] Ken Phillips, local Denver textile and liturgical artist. Read more about him here: www.regis.edu/news/2022/magazine/06/ken-phillips-weaves-a-tempest-in-tapestry

__________________________________________________

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,
 according to your steadfast love;
 according to your abundant mercy
 blot out my transgressions.
 2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
 and cleanse me from my sin.
 3For I know my transgressions,
 and my sin is ever before me.
 4Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
 and done what is evil in your sight,
 so that you are justified in your sentence
 and blameless when you pass judgment.
 5Indeed, I was born guilty,
 a sinner when my mother conceived me.
 6You desire truth in the inward being;
 therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
 7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
 wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
 8Let me hear joy and gladness;
 let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
 9Hide your face from my sins,
 and blot out all my iniquities.
 10Create in me a clean heart, O God,
 and put a new and right spirit within me.
 11Do not cast me away from your presence,
 and do not take your holy spirit from me.
 12Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
 and sustain in me a willing spirit.
 13Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
 and sinners will return to you.
 14Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
 O God of my salvation,
 and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
 15O LORD, open my lips,
 and my mouth will declare your praise.
 16For you have no delight in sacrifice;
 if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
 17The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
 a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Be Light Because You Are Light [OR Bridesmaids, Pandemic, and Election are NOT the End of the Story] Matthew 25:1-13

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on November 8, 2020

[sermon begins after Bible reading – hang in there, the reading will get the full treatment in the sermon]

Matthew 25:1-13  “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

[sermon begins]

♬You are the light of the world.

You are the light of the world.

So shine, shine, shine where you are…

You are the light of the world.♬[1]

Liturgical geeks among us may be wondering why I’m echoing the season of Epiphany, singing from Tangled Blue’s lyrics pulled from the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Well, for one thing, it’s easier to start there than in today’s reading. For another, in chapter 5, Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” In the verses following, he goes on to say the familiar words set in the baptism liturgy, “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” With hard parables like this one about the bridesmaids, it’s good to be reminded about the main things before diving in. And the main thing today is that God’s promises flow from God to us. We don’t earn or generate God’s promises by our behavior. If that were possible, someone would have cracked that code long ago. It’s also not only easier to start in chapter 5, it’s an important key to how we read about the bridesmaids’ lamps.[2] In Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount includes the beatitudes that we heard last week on All Saints Day. Jesus’ sermon is key to Matthew’s gospel and anchors us to his sermon to the faithful and his trial and crucifixion.[3]

Today we start Matthew’s 25th chapter for three weeks. Jesus’ challenges to the faithful are intensifying.[4] The Matthean community was experiencing conflict between insiders and outsiders, probably other Jewish groups, that called into question who had the proper authority to teach.[5] The community also likely had some internal conflict among themselves. It gives one pause to wonder about the writer’s biggest worry, the kind of pressure they were under. Curiosity about their 1st century distress lends compassion to this struggling faith community and the harsh parable in today’s reading.

A relevant side note here. Lyn Goodrum in our church office asked me recently if I’d fallen in love with Matthew’s gospel. Some of you may remember my confession last December in Advent that I’d had my own struggle with this particular book of the Bible, the Sermon on the Mount notwithstanding. I was able to tell Lyn that I’ve not fallen in love with it but that I have grown to appreciate it. In part, this happened because I have a new appreciation for the Matthean community’s experience. Reading through that lens made room for more compassion. Our current cultural moment adds to that compassion. Division isn’t fun. Division that threatens potential violence, especially isn’t fun.

I wrote this sermon before Election Day and recorded it on Wednesday for today’s worship. There’s no telling what’s happened between Tuesday and today. Impossible to predict the status of the week’s stories. The Matthean community certainly didn’t know how their story ended either. In the parable of the bridesmaids, Jesus was pushing them and reminding them about what’s important regardless. He was pushing them to encourage their readiness. He was reminding them that he’d given them what they needed to endure what was coming. He was barking at them like a coach before game time so that they’d remember that light needs tending to endure what’s ahead. Jesus’ listeners knew that lamp oil lasts longer when the wicks are trimmed.[6] Back-up oil was needed in the story because the bridegroom’s timing was unpredictable, and every bridesmaid wore out and fell asleep. Waiting for something to change can feel long. Jesus challenged his followers to hang in there and be ready. In this parable, readiness included lamps that are lit with the long game in mind. Preparing the lamp includes a supply of oil and a trimmed wick to keep it burning slow and steady. Jesus’ challenge to his listeners means something about the Christian life over the long haul. For us, as a faith community, it’s a word of life in the midst of this prolonged meantime when we might miss opportunities as we’re tempted to wish this moment away.

My Pops used to warn me against wishing my life away when I was impatient for the next, long-anticipated event. I didn’t really understand what he meant for a good many years. But I hear his voice in my head, when I find myself wishing 2020 away as if 2021 is going to magically be better, as if we could fast-forward to our worship and community life together in person. Alas, fast-forwarding is neither possible nor would it be good news to do so. I’d be wishing away the life, light, and love of today. Also, we’re the church, the light of the world, for the long haul. The Augustana community is our tiny corner of God’s whole church. As the church, we can argue from here until kingdom come about what it looks like to be ready, to keep our lamps trimmed and burning. But Jesus is pretty clear in Matthew’s gospel about what trimming the lamp for the slow and steady burn looks like. We’re given images of the slow and steady burn in the Sermon on the Mount and the crucifixion. Jesus preaches about the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the persecuted, and the peacemakers. At the cross, Jesus is vulnerable, non-violent, and self-sacrificing – shining light through the darkness of the darkest moment.

The number of bridesmaids in Matthew’s parable implies that this wedding was a high-status affair. The bridesmaids appear to be more than just friends of the bride as they seem to serve in a necessary role.[7] We could argue that the role is not about works or faith but it’s about the life the beatitudes invites us into – a life centered on the cross that glorifies God, a life that makes it clear that God is the primary actor, the giver of life.[8] A life centered on the cross is a life that knows and endures suffering. Martin Luther names this as the Seventh Mark of the Church. “The holy, Christian Church is outwardly known by the holy possession of the Holy Cross,” he writes.[9] Luther argues that the church endures “hardship…temptation and evil (as the Lord’s Prayer says)…” and “becomes like its head, Christ.”[10]

He goes on to argue that the customs of the church are “necessary and useful…fine and proper” but they are not to be confused with the marks of the church. In this category of customs, he includes “times for preaching and prayer, and the use of church buildings, or houses, altars, pulpits, fonts, lights, candles, bells, vestments, and the like.”[11]  Our Augustana customs do not make us the church – the cross makes us the church.

Jesus’ intensity before his trial and crucifixion is understandable. His preaching in the parable of the bridesmaids is shocking and stark although his word fuels the endurance in his people who will falter, grow weak, fail in readiness, and then regroup to be the light of the world. Dear ones, as one tiny corner of God’s church catholic, we are “in holy possession of the Holy Cross.” There is much to endure in this waiting time but the bridesmaids are the not the end of the story – neither is the pandemic, nor the election.[12] As Jesus is pointed to the cross in this parable, so are we. Pointed to the cross where grace shines in light, where God brings life out of suffering and death. Where, by our baptism, we live “in the light of the cross, in mercy not judgment.”[13]

♬You are the light of the world.

You are the light of the world.

So shine, shine, shine where you are…

You are the light of the world.♬[14]

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[1] Give a listen to Tangled Blue’s full song here: https://tangledblue.bandcamp.com/track/light-of-the-world (2003). Words and Music by Cathy Pino © Cathy Pino.

[2] Dirk Lange, Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations, The Lutheran World Federation, Geneva, Switzerland. Commentary on Matthew 25:1-12 for November 9, 2008 on WorkingPreacher.org. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4620

[3] Ibid.

[4] If you get a chance this week, read Matthew 24 and 25. It’s a intensifying crescendo just before Jesus’ trial starts.

[5] Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary. Sermon Brainwave podcast for November 8, 2020. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1309

[6] Rolf Jacobson, Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave podcast for November 8, 2020. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1309

[7] Skinner, ibid.

[8] Lange, ibid.

[9] Martin Luther, Everyone’s Luther: On the Councils and the Church (1539), 244. https://wolfmueller.co/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Work-on-Councils_100618.pdf

[10] Ibid.

[11] Luther, 257-258.

[12] Pastor Barbara Berry Bailey, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Denver, CO.  Discussion on November 3, 2020, in Preacher’s Text Study of Metro East Conference, Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA.

[13] Lange, ibid.

[14] Give a listen to Tangled Blue’s full song here: https://tangledblue.bandcamp.com/track/light-of-the-world (2003). Words and Music by Cathy Pino © Cathy Pino.

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Knowing Enough to Hope [OR Knowing Enough to Be Dangerous] Romans 5:1-8

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 14, 2020

[sermon begins after Bible reading]

Romans 5:1-8 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.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

[sermon begins]

“I know enough to be dangerous.” This is something people say when they don’t know much about a topic but they think that they have a gem to throw in the mix. I’m that way with art. A few trips through museums and suddenly I feel free to wax rhapsodic on Degas and da Vinci. Whatever my failings in knowledge, though, I make up for in enthusiasm. There are times when you look at a masterpiece and the effect is transcendent. For a moment your eye is captured, and your soul is filled with something “other.” Beauty has that effect. Closer to the ground, we’re cresting into late spring. Aspirations of green thumbs abound across many a beating heart while some blooms begin to fade, and heartier ones take their place.

Last week, it was the pale pink peonies that frothed in a profusion of petals. 2020 is a perfect year for them. The right amount of sun and water fell, and the hail didn’t. After my usual hemming and hawing about leaving them outside or bringing them in, I clipped a bouquet and have been enjoying them all week. I posted a picture of them on the media, attempting poetry about “air for the soul.” (Again, I know enough to be dangerous.) The thing about beauty is it reminds us that our humanity is part of something – something both essential and transcendent. For me, this is especially necessary when times are difficult, when everyone seems to know enough to be dangerous and when suffering seems inescapable.

Suffering is a universal human experience. There was plenty of it in my early kid years when my family was blown apart by mental illness and domestic violence. And more, during my years as a pediatric oncology nurse. And more, over time as a pastor. Here’s one of the things I know about suffering from all those years. Suffering cannot be compared. It’s a lot like beauty that way. What’s more beautiful – Degas’ elegant sculpture of “La Petit Danseuse” or the riotous tumble of pink peonies? It’s a ridiculous question. Suffering is similar. Being with someone who is suffering for any reason is NOT a time to get into qualifying their experience, giving a different take on it, or redirecting them to someone else’s experience of suffering. That stuff is the opposite of helpful. Being with someone who is suffering IS a time to listen and to wonder. It’s a time to share their burden by holding space for it without rushing to comfort. Sharing the burden lightens the suffering without imagining that it can be taken away.

Suffering is something the Apostle Paul seems to understand. How often do you suppose he cried out to God withOUT a pen in hand? It must have been a lot given his turn from the one giving punishment to the one on the receiving end of being beaten, stoned, and imprisoned.[1] For him to write about suffering like that, he knew it intimately, like a friend, just like he knew God. Listen again to a few of the verses from his letter to the Roman church.

“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.” (Romans 5:1-5)

The Apostle Paul is talking to all of us. One reason his words about suffering resonate so strongly is because he describes what he knows and what we know. And he knows way more than enough to be dangerous. He knows enough to be comforting. Comfort is no small thing. It’s not appeasement – meaning I’m not making you feel better so that I feel better. Comfort is deep knowing shared across our human experience. Most of us have experienced suffering and still we live on. Some of us not so elegantly but still we live. Paul’s account of moving from suffering to endurance to character to hope is a description not a strategy. He describes what we know by faith and experience about how suffering works. There are days in the midst of it that we wonder how it’s possible to make it through. Days in which we’re not sure who we are anymore. And then, in the body of Christ, the church, we’re reminded once again of the main things – God’s promises to us no matter what is happening.

For our congregation, one such moment was Matthias’ baptism in the last couple of weeks. Long on the worship calendar, his baptism on Pentecost couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. Masks and quiet sanctuary notwithstanding, water flowed off Matthias’ head in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We prayed for the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and joy. And he was sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. In baptism God promises to be present, to form us as disciples, to always take us back, and to be the eternal One in our lives every day. In baptism, we “have obtained access to this grace on which we stand.” We were buried with Christ in baptism so that we too might live in newness of life. Today. Right now, even in suffering, we are pulled through the cross of Christ.

The cross frames suffering in a different way. The cross promises the presence of God in suffering. We know Jesus’ body broke and died which means that God knows suffering and suffers with us. God’s alignment with our suffering promises endurance through to hope. Hope does not come at the expense of false optimism where we close our eyes and wish everything away. False optimism is knowing enough about hope to be dangerous. Rather, hope comes from being planted at the foot of the cross while awaiting new life and continuing to do the hard work of grieving and the hard work of reconciliation with each other. Simply put, the cross binds us to the hard work of love in the midst of suffering – loving God, loving ourselves, and loving our neighbor in such a time as this. By our baptism, our gracious heavenly Father frees us into hope and forms us into instruments of cross and resurrection in the name of the one who is, who was, and who is to come, Jesus Christ our Lord.[2] Amen and thanks be to God.

And now receive this blessing…

Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers,

nor things present, nor things to come,

nor powers, nor height, nor depth,

nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

You are held by God in the name of the Father, ☩ and the Son,

and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.

Amen.

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[1] Acts 7 (when Paul was still Saul); Acts chapters 9, 13, 14, 16, 18, 21, 22, and 23.

[2] A paraphrase of Revelation 1:8

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The Gospel Reading for worship today:

Matthew 9:35-10:8 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Daring to Gather Around the Light (OR Perspective of Great Age, Suffering and Peace) Luke 2:22-40

**sermon art: Simeon en Anna by Jan van ‘t Hoff b.1959

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver

February 2, 2020 – Presentation of Our Lord and Candlemas

[sermon begins after Bible reading; it’s a meaty story – hang in there]

 

Luke 2:22-40 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

[sermon begins]

When I was a kid, not sure quite how old, I was walking down the street with my grandmother. Time alone with Grammops feels like it was rare. She could be a little intimidating too – almost regal in her bearing. I used to joke that if you had the manners to dine with Grammops, you could easily dine with the Queen. Walking alongside Grammops, armed with the ignorance of youth, I dared to ask how old she was. She told me that it was NOT a question to be asked, her body language speaking volumes, and we just kept right on walking. Clearly her response made an impression since I remember this story. I wished she’d simply said, “Caitlin, I am of a great age” and kept right on walking. A “great age” is how our Bible story describes the prophet Anna who lived in the Temple. So, to our friends of a great age, feel free to use this one. If someone asks you what it means you can tell them to check out the Bible’s second chapter of Luke in the 36th verse. Not only will it be Biblically accurate, you can also remain mysterious about said great age if that’s how you roll.

Anna and Simeon’s great age, in contrast with the 40-day-old baby Jesus, is part of what I love about this story. Artwork inspired by this Bible story captures the smooth newborn and the texture of age along with a radiant light. The contrast also frames a faithful perspective on peace and suffering. Simeon scoops Jesus into his arms and celebrates God’s long-awaited promise fulfilled with a song of peace. In the next breath, Simeon tells Mary that Jesus “is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will piece her own soul too.” (Probably not what you want to hear when you’re a first-time mom showing off your new baby in the Temple.)[1]

The widow prophet Anna follows Simeon’s speech with her own praise and talks about Jesus to anyone who would listen. Contrasts are vividly shaped in a matter of moments – old and young; life and death; peace and soul-piercing pain. Two faithful people of great age in the story are an audacious portrait of peace and suffering. You don’t arrive at a great age without experiencing things that you wish you hadn’t. Perhaps Anna and Simeon’s perspective can lead us to dare similarly, to gather around the light when death is ever present in the world.[2]

The light of Christ is part of what is celebrated annually on February 2 in the festival of Presentation of Our Lord and the accompanying ritual of Candlemas, also celebrated today. Blessing candles for use this evening and year-round invokes Simeon’s words as he held Jesus and praised God for “a light of revelation to the Gentiles.” The candlelight reminds us that the light of Jesus shines in the darkness and the darkness did not, cannot, will not overcome it.[3] Anna and Simeon lead by their example of showing up in sacred space where God’s promise is more readily remembered. They would find it hard to imagine how counter-cultural it is in the 21st century to self-identify as religious.

Religious ritual helps us to remember our center when the culture at large fails to do so. The grief for Kobe Bryant’s death is one such moment. The many layers and voices in the mix of what happened to Mr. Bryant, his daughter, and the other people in the helicopter make it difficult for us to remember that all of them are beloved children of God.  As the two women (not of a great age) in our congregation, who died recently and unexpectedly in different situations on the same day are also beloved children of God. As the people that you’ve lost to death and on your hearts and minds are also beloved children of God. And, as such, there is nothing they could do or not do to make God love them any more or any less.

Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross, hinted at in Simeon’s words, is God’s refusal to raise a hand in violence against the world God so loves. The empty tomb of Easter, also hinted at in Simeon’s words, is God’s promise to swallow death up into God, into holy rest with all the company of the saints in light perpetual. It’s tough to remember all those words when we need to hear them. It’s not tough to light a candle, say our loved ones’ names in prayer, and to remember God’s promise of love and light in Jesus – to comfort the afflicted with peace that passes all our understanding and to remember that we dare to gather around the light when death is ever present in our world.

Simeon’s praise and speech doesn’t end once he announces his own peace. He keeps right on going. Anna also keeps right on talking to all who will listen. Apparently, even at a great age, there’s more for them to say about Jesus. Do they keep going because there is little time to waste? Or do they keep going because their perspective gives them a vantage point that people of a lesser age can’t see? Regardless, our 21st century world of media and nation states would be unimaginable to them. Our ability to impact our world through a representative government would shock them. But the call of Jesus to disrupt any status quo – private, political, local, global, or otherwise – that ignores the pain of our neighbor remains the same.[4]

Anna and Simeon are saints in the faith as their stories are recorded in Luke for us to learn and gain strength from. We can look to them anytime or anticipate this day annually on February 2. Their story is easy to find. Whether you’re afflicted and needing comfort or whether you’re too comfortable and need to be agitated out of that comfort for your own good or for the good of your neighbor, the day that Jesus was presented in the Temple is your day. Jesus shows up both as a promise of peace and as a sign that will be opposed; as both a consoler and an agitator. We are people of faith drawn together by the Holy Spirit, daring to gather around the light when death and suffering are ever present in our world. Jesus, our light, our life and our peace, leads us on the journey.  Amen.

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Blessing for your home candles (Adapted  by Pastor Inga Oyan Longbrake from ELW Occasional Services)

Let us pray.

We give you thanks, O God, creator of the universe, for you have enriched our lives with every good gift, and you have invited us to praise you with lives of love, justice, and joy.

Send your blessing on these candles, which we set apart today; may they be to us a sign of Christ, the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.

To you, O God, be all glory and honor through your Son, Jesus Christ,in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever.

Amen.

________________________________________________________

[1] Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary. Sermon Brainwave on Luke 2:22-40. December 25, 2011. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=252

[2] Ibid. David Lose, Senior Pastor, Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, MN.

[3] An emphatic paraphrase of John 1:5 – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

[4] Luke 10:25-37 The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Entering the Easter Mystery [OR Life, Joy and Suffering] Luke 24:1-12

**sermon art: Resurrection by He Qi

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Luke 24:1-12 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

[sermon begins]

Oh, these women – “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James and the others.” The things they’ve witnessed as part of Jesus’ ministry, especially in the last few days. They watched Jesus hang on a cross.  They watched Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus off the cross and put him in the tomb. They made a mental list of the spices and ointments with which they’d return after resting on the Sabbath “according to the commandment.”[1]  The women were faithful, courageous, and diligent through the previous days of tragedy, confusion, and grief.  When so many disciples fled, or otherwise fell apart, these women remained.  Here, Easter Sunday, at the tomb they face more confusion.  They had seen Jesus’ body laid in the tomb so they were ready for the dismal task of using those spices and ointments. Instead, they encounter a couple of razzle dazzle dudes of the divine kind. Luke uses the word dazzle to convey their divinity.  The women’s reaction signifies the same thing.  Rather than looking at the “two men in dazzling clothes,” the women bow their faces to the ground.

What the two dazzling men do next is fairly ordinary. They remind the women about what Jesus told them when he was alive.  Their reminder connects the women’s experience to and from the cross.  And, ohhhhh, now the confusion begins to clear a bit. The women witnessed ungodly violence and sift their experiences through what Jesus said before he died and through what the two dazzling dudes in the tomb are saying now which starts to help make some sense of things.  Which is the way that life generally works.  We hear something that gives our experience a new or different meaning– not explaining the grief away or making heinous suffering magically better, but reframing suffering and grief in a way that feels like a gift.

This gift is no small thing.  An old friend of mine recently gave me The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, in which they reflect on joy and suffering from their respective traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and Anglican Christianity.[2]  Neither they nor any of us here has to go very far personally or culturally to find tragedy, confusion, and grief. From arson destroyed black churches in Louisiana, to the immigrant crisis, to the 20th anniversary of Columbine, to whatever you’d like to add to the list, we totally get tragedy, confusion and grief.  We get it deep in our guts. The point of the book, besides the sheer delight of listening to these two wizened elders, is to help the reader see the possibility of living in deep joy even though we experience suffering. Sounds nice.  Actually a little better than nice.  And lots better than how we often handle suffering.  Suffering makes it easier to indulge in the sizzle-and-fizzle cycle of dopamine by way of food, alcohol, nicotine, or online zines.  The problem with the sizzle-and-fizzle cycle is that, by definition, it becomes repetitive.  We wrap ourselves up in them and entomb ourselves in the very things we think bring comfort.  Tombs of our own making that isolate us from each other and steal our joy.

Take Jesus’ apostles who weren’t at the tomb with the women.  Having been through the confusion and grief of the last three days and thinking Jesus was still in the tomb, the apostles were hiding out, wondering if they were next up for the death penalty.  When Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and the others shared what they had heard, the apostles called it an “idle tale” (the G-rated translation of that Greek word, by the way). Except…except…there’s the apostle Peter.  The very same Peter who denied that he knew Jesus three times during Jesus’ crucifixion trial.  It doesn’t add up that Peter would run to the tomb if he thought the women were telling an idle tale.  Or perhaps he was more concerned that the women were telling the truth.  Peter would likely wonder what his friend Jesus would have to say about Peter falling apart during that time of trial.  It could be hope or fear or maybe a little of both that sent Peter running.

Regardless, Peter’s room to tomb dash was dependent on the women’s story.  That can be a frustrating thing about resurrection faith.  We have no access to it outside of the witness of other people, the witness of the wider church.[3]  Like Peter, we’re dependent on other people for resurrection faith.  Like Peter looking into the tomb himself, ultimately the witness of the church is not enough and people have their own encounters with Jesus and the empty tomb. The point where our individual experiences connect with the resurrection faith of the church is part of what the empty tomb is about. Like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Peter, we do not solve the mystery, we enter the mystery of resurrection faith – God bringing us through cross and tomb into new life because we are God’s children, broken and beloved.

New life literally abounds as Easter and Spring happen simultaneously this year.  Perennials pop up green and budding while birds fly back to our latitude for nesting.  Perhaps your suffering, confusion, and grief make it difficult to see life at all.  Sometimes our lives don’t align with the season of the earth or the season of the church. The prayers, practices, and people of the church’s resurrection faith cocoon us while we grieve or heal. Siblings in Christ pray for us when we can’t pray at all – as the risen body of Christ for each other and for the world. The good news of Easter reminds us that God does not leave us alone – the dazzling men in the tomb reminded the women that Jesus had told them this good news already; the apostles heard the good news of the resurrection from Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and the others; and today, Easter Sunday, we share the good news with each other.  Our suffering is joined by the risen Christ who knows suffering, who rolls open the tombs we make for ourselves, and draws us into new life given to us by the risen Christ.  God brings us through cross and tomb into the joy of new life solely because we are beloved children of God.  Unconditionally beloved.  There is nothing we can do or not do to make God love us anymore or any less. This is how it works. Thanks be to God for new life!  Alleluia!

______________________________________________________

[1] Luke 23:50-56

[2] Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. (New York: Avery, 2016).

[3] Matthew Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary. Podcast on Bible readings for Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1129

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.

 

________________________________________________

[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.

Suffering Defies Logic [OR Mondo Cozmo Answers the Religious Question] Matthew 16:21-28 Romans 12:9-21 Exodus 1:22-2:10

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 3, 2017

[sermon begins after Bible reading; Exodus and Romans reading at end of sermon]

Matthew 16:21-28   From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

[sermon begins]

I often listen to music on the radio on the way to worship, Sunday Sunrise on KBCO is a favorite.  One parishioner heard the bass pounding as I pulled into the parking lot and, as I got out of the car, asked if I was getting my pastor jam on.  Hadn’t thought of it that way, but yeah, I guess that’s part of it. One recent Sunday morning, a band I didn’t know was playing a song I’d never heard called “Then Came the Morning.”[1] Not a religious song, but I heard Psalm 30 in the music. Regaling my family with the concert video during dinner that evening, one thing led to another and suddenly Rob and I had concert tickets for a three-band evening at the Fox Theatre in Boulder. Being an early to bed person, I was super disappointed The Lone Bellow wasn’t on first. That slot was reserved for Mondo Cozmo, another unfamiliar band. It didn’t take too long before my ears perked up, though. The opening lines of their song Shine goes like this:

Stick with me Jesus through the coming storm

I’ve come to you in search of something I have lost.

Shine down a light on me and show a path

I promise you I will return if you take me back…[2] (my apologies to the band for my vocals on that one.)

The song has a great sound. The crowd of 500 was having a blast along with the band.  My ears perked up at the Jesus part.  (Shocker…I know.) Some of you have known me long enough to be unsurprised that I did some poking around about the band afterwards. One online interviewer asked an expletive-laced question about the song Shine and whether or not the singer was a religious man.[3]  Josh Ostrander answered, “I get asked this a lot, I’m not totally sure how to answer it ‘cause the song seems to be resonating with a lot of people, but for me it’s a song of hope.”  His answer seems reasonable answer given that the interviewer was aggressively negative in asking about being religious. Which also is fairly reasonable given that religious Christianity often shows itself in public spaces as ridiculous, repressed or radicalized and sometimes all three at once.  Let’s be honest, though. Jesus doesn’t especially help the cause in today’s Bible reading when he calls Peter, “Satan,” either.

It happens fast, too.  Just before this infamous Satan slam, Peter moves to the head of the class, getting an A+ for naming Jesus correctly.  Now? Not so much.  Let’s take a close look at the reversal.  The reading today begins, “From that time on…”[4]  We can hear this as: [From the time that Peter names Jesus correctly], “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering…, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”[5]  Jesus BEGAN…  This is the first that Jesus’ friends hear about the cross. Those fishers turned disciples follow him around, listen to sermons on the mount, walk on water, and feed thousands.[6] Sure, John the Baptist’s murder was terrifying but that was a one-off.[7] Up to this point it’s been mostly positive.

Peter appeals for Jesus’ safety.  Who among us wouldn’t do the same for a friend? But in the temptation of Jesus way back in Matthew’s 4th chapter, Jesus’ self-preservation by avoiding his own suffering was deemed “satanic”.[8]  Hence, the name-calling here in the 16th chapter. The cross talk is confusing.  Jesus warns against self-preservation in the face of suffering as he tells his followers to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow [him].” Jesus’ first disciples know that crosses kill slaves and political rebels who defy Rome at their peril.[9]  They haven’t seen crosses on top of church buildings and worn around people’s necks. Crosses become a Christian symbol in the 5th century.[10]

Jesus BEGAN to show his disciples’ about suffering and the cross. He knew his teaching about the cross would need some repetition. The cross of Christ isn’t something that’s easy to bear or to understand. We remind each other that the cross is the foundational story of our faith while spending a lifetime working out what it means.

This morning, Phoebe and Benjamin get wet with the waters of baptism. I meet with families several weeks ahead of baptism.  These conversations are chances to get to know a family just a bit and also to talk about God’s promises in baptism.  We talk about God promising to be present, to always forgive, to form lives that are ever more Christ-shaped, and to keep these promises forever. That first promise of being present is a biggie.

God promises to be present even, and maybe especially, when we don’t feel God is with us or don’t feel faithful or don’t feel worthy.  In baptism, God promises to be present with us despite any of our feelings to the contrary. This is sometimes called Theology of the Cross.  It means that Jesus shows up in our most confused, messiest, darkest places. The parts of ourselves we don’t like to talk about or show anyone. We all know that we don’t have to go looking for suffering. It seems to be a part of how the world works. Sometimes we do bring it on ourselves. But many times it comes from other people or from the natural world. The times when we seem inclined to say that God is absent is the very time when God promises to be present with us. God, who is Jesus. Jesus, who is God.

Jesus’ unconditional love for all people regardless of class, gender, race, or sin, led to his execution on a cross. Jesus’ death on the cross means that God does not respond in violence. Later on in Matthew, the one who pulls out a sword to protect Jesus from being taken into custody by Roman soldiers is told by Jesus to put the sword away.[11]

Jesus’ death on the cross also means that God knows suffering. More than that, the cross reveals the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer.  For some of us, this promise through the cross of Jesus makes all the difference even as it defies logic. It’s how we survive in the face of unspeakable suffering and loss.[12] It’s how we sit with other people in the face of their unspeakable suffering and loss.  The cross tells the truth about how we experience life.

Matthew writes, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering…, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”[13]  In this verse, we also hear the truth about how we experience joy.  God is a God of resurrection life, too.  We heard this in last week’s Bible story about the Egyptian midwives who defied Pharaoh and let the Hebrew babies live.[14]  We hear it again this week as Pharaoh’s daughter conspires with Moses’ sister and mother to keep him alive.[15] We hear it in Jesus’ teaching of his disciples that he would be raised on the third day.  We hear it in Paul’s letter to the Roman church:

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers…Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep…life peaceably with all…if your enemies are hungry, feed them…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”[16]

God is a God of resurrection life through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

______________________________________________________

[1] The Lone Bellow performs “Then Came the Morning” live on the Honda Stage. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4szaR8CJvA

[2] Mondo Cozmo – Shine (Live from Bardot) on December 9, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cN0H6dpa9nU

[3]  Mondo Cozmo interview by Jeff Laufner for RockBandsofLA.com on November 30, 2016. http://www.rockbandsofla.com/mondo-cozmo-shine-and-devine-intervention/

[4] Matthew 16:21a

[5] Matthew 16:21b

[6] Matthew 5-7 and 14 are the chapters that cover these stories.

[7] Matthew 14

[8] John Petty. Commentary on Matthew 16:21-28 on August 28, 2017 for Pentecost 13. http://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Matthew 26:50-52

[12] Matthew Skinner. Sermon Brainwave podcast for Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Posted August 26, 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=919

[13] Matthew 16:21

[14] Exodus 1:8-20a

[15] Exodus 1:22-2:10

[16] Romans 12:12-13, 15, 18b, 20a, 21. (I picked a few of the many beautiful exhortations from Paul in the reading for today.)

_________________________________________________________

Exodus 1:22-2:10  Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”  2:1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.  5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Romans 12:9-21  Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

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…”