Tag Archives: Thomas

A funeral homily for E.J.: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – Matthew 5:3 and John 14:1-6

A funeral homily for E.J.: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – Matthew 5:1-4 and John 14:1-6a

Matthew 5:1-4  When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

John 14:1-6a “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

Elizabeth Jane, E.J. – a daughter, a niece, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, a friend, a flight attendant.  All of these titles belong to E.J.  And all of these titles communicate a relationship of one sort or another.  Born and baptized in Fargo, E.J.’s life was filled with relationship both through what I like to call the accident of family and through the choices of friends and work.

These relationships sustained E.J. through thick and thin.  Her work for the airline fueled and fed her love of travel as well as gave her access to the art that brought her joy.  Her work also brought her enduring friendships that stuck through long hours in the air, on the ground, and over the holidays. Friendships with Marianne and Wendy sustained her through to the end. And her work brought her stories.  Stories that engaged the funny bone and entertained many of you over the years.  Leaving you with the satisfied feeling that only shared laughter with someone who loves to laugh can gift you.

The relationships of family carried E.J. through some tough times, including her last years when her health took a turn.  Some of the organizing and conversations were hard on everybody, including E.J.  But, this case, family sticks together even amid the practical challenges of E.J.’s outer world and the darker effect of E.J.’s inner world.

It was E.J.’s inner world that became her greatest challenge.  Beginning in her teens and lasting through her life, anxiety and depression were regular companions.  Her attempts to quiet the anxiety and mask the depression with alcohol only made matters worse for her and for the people who love her.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  This is the verse out of the Matthew reading that came to mind as I listened to stories about E.J.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  There isn’t a lot of agreement about what “blessed” means in this reading.

Because Jesus was Jewish and likely had some rabbinic training, I hang my hat with the rabbis on this one; that a blessing is something that already exists and occasionally we get a glimpse of the blessing that already exists. The rabbinic view is in opposition to the different view that a blessing is something akin to being tapped by a fairy wand and something good happens because of how deserving we are.

The Jewish notion of “blessed” helps us see E.J.’s life in full, revealing what belongs to her even though she herself could not see it as one who was “poor in spirit.”  Hers is the kingdom of heaven.  In the John reading, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

He says this because he knows that your hearts already are troubled.  How could they not be?  Along with the laughter that E.J. shared with you was her struggle with herself.  Also in the reading, Thomas says to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going…how can we know the way?”  Jesus’ reply? “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  What is Jesus’ way?  Jesus’ way goes through a cross.

And the cross is God speaking in human terms.  The human terms of self-sacrifice to save someone else.  For instance, when we hear of someone who dives into a raging river to save someone from drowning, saves that person but succumbs and dies in the flood waters themselves, our first thoughts are often respect and awe.  We also honor the soldiers who return again and again to the firefight to save fallen friends and then die in the firefight themselves. Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  After all, how much more can be given?[1]  Jesus was tried, crucified, dead and buried.  In every way that the cross could be offensive, it is.

It’s offensive to think that the cross, and Jesus hanging there, was effective in any way.  That we even need saving is offensive.  That Jesus’ execution can change anything about real life seems a deception at worst and an utter folly at best.  And yet, quite surprisingly, it does.  Jesus’ self-sacrificing death on the cross changes everything.  Time and again in the gospel, we hear that God and Jesus are one.  Jesus is God and God is Jesus.  And Jesus focuses on the goal of bringing people back into relationship with God.

The self-sacrificing love of God, given fully on the cross, draws us back into relationship with God. [2]  Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life,” means that he has already opened up whatever we perceive the barrier to be between us and God.  The poor in spirit often experience life as a series of barriers in one form or another.  Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus calls the poor in spirit blessed because their relationship with God is not dependent on their own mindset and agency.  The poor in spirit are blessed because their relationship with God already exists through no effort of their own.

We do not make a way out of no way on our own.  Like Thomas, we do not know the way.  Jesus makes the way to God through the cross on our behalf.  The way is made by Jesus which means that the movement is from God to us, from God to E.J.  And because it is God’s movement to us, God’s movement to E.J., God gives us a future with hope as God also brings E.J. into a future with God.

_______________________________________________________________________

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

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

 

 

Kierkegaard, Reason and Peace – John 20:19-31 and 1 John 1:1-2:2

John 20:19-31 and 1 John 1:1-2:2 – Kierkegaard, Reason and Peace [1]

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 12, 2015

 

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

John 20:19-31 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

1 John 1:1-2:2 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

 

[sermon begins]

Christian churches all over the world do things so differently from each other.  I have friends that worship with huge screens and rock bands.  I have friends who sit and contemplate in silence.  I have friends that sit in front of gilded altar gates and gold rimmed icon paintings, the smell of incense filling the space.  Worship among my Christian friends runs the gamut.  I’ve said it time and again to people who visit here and people who ask me about churches in general, “I hope you find a congregation through which you can hear God’s voice.”  Hearing God’s voice may have to do with worship form, or theology, or music.  It may have to do with the connection between life and scripture.  It may have to do with your family worshiping together in a congregation for generations.  But, mainly, I hope you hear God’s voice.

In the John reading today, God’s voice comes in the person Jesus.  Alive and well and peaceful.  Talking with his friends who are locked in a room, afraid.  They go into hiding not knowing which way to turn after Jesus has been killed.  But then he shows up.  After he’s killed on a cross.  Dead for three days.  He turns up.  In a room.  Among his scared and shuttered friends.  And he says to them, “Peace be with you.”  He says it again for Thomas a week later.  Lord only knows what Thomas has been getting into while his friends were hiding in that room.  “Peace be with you,” Thomas is told by the risen Christ.

There is a unity among the disciples in this story from John today.  Even through Thomas had missed the first visit from Jesus and demanded a sighting to believe with the same information, the other disciples continued to include him in the group.  He then has his own visit with the risen Jesus.  All is well.

A few generations later, when the book of First John was written, a disagreement has happened. There has been a split in the community that Thomas and some of the disciples began.  Some of the people have left to form a new one of their own.  Raymond Brown summarizes the fight between the two groups as being over “their ideas about Jesus, about the Christian life, about eschatology, and about the Spirit.”[2]  Along the same line, this past week I had a chance to speak with a woman who attended a funeral here with Augustana.  She was telling me about her church both in terms of its worship and its denomination as compared to a few of the splits from within the denomination.  It just seems to be the nature of people to disagree and separate.  There is certainly a parallel from the earliest Johannine communities to the denominations of today.

These splits in community give us pause to circle back around to original fear of the disciples in the closed up room.  More specifically, Thomas’ fear.  He wasn’t in the first locked room the week before.   Perhaps he isn’t afraid of the political climate that threatens his life like the other disciples seem to be.  Perhaps he is more motivated by the fear of missing out.  His friends had an experience that he didn’t have and now he wasn’t sure about anything.

Soren Kierkagaard, a 19th century Danish philosopher and Christian, is known today as a great thinker.  One of the ways we know he was a great thinker is because he was a prolific writer before his death at the age of 42.  Kierkegaard seemed to write, at least initially, to work things out in his own mind.  He, like Thomas, wasn’t sure about anything.  The timing makes sense.  His birth in 1813 followed closely after the deaths of Enlightenment thinkers David Hume and Immanuel Kant.

In his early journals, Kierkegaard had a thing or two to say about fear.   He wrote about the doubt, trouble, and anguish that he, “wanted to forget in order to achieve a view of life.”[3]  But, to his mind, the ways in which he was trying ignore certain details to achieve a full view of life, showed themselves to be distractions.  Distractions that came out of the fear that Kierkegaard would falsely give a result to himself that he didn’t believe in.  As he says it himself in his early journals, “…out of fear that I should have falsely ascribe a result to myself.”[4]  There, in that sentence, is one of the gifts and curses of the Enlightenment.  The fear that I would inadvertently say I believe in something that maybe I’m not 100% sure about.  Or maybe even worse, that I would participate in something and give a wrong impression of what I believe.

In addition to encouraging people to find a congregation through which they hear God’s voice, I also tell people that, on any given Sunday, there are people in the pews for all kinds of reasons and thinking all kinds of things.  Like Thomas in that upper room with the disciples, our experiences and ideas don’t line up in tidy parallels or categories.  But also like Thomas and the disciples, we hold space for each other to experience and work through whatever it is we’re working through by way of faith.

Part of the way we hold that space for each other is worshiping together.  We begin worship with a confession that broken places exist in us but that God has our back and will not let go of us.  Like Thomas, we explore the Word, digging deeply into scripture, wounds, and possibility.  Like Thomas, we confess a faith so much bigger than ourselves and our ability to understand completely.  And, like Thomas, we share in Christ’s peace given to us by the risen Christ.

Today’s readings from Gospel of John and the book of First John, as well as Soren Kierkegaard’s works, all contain the writer’s reasons for writing them.  We are in worship together with our various reasons for being here and ideas about what is happening here.  Into all of that reasoning, walks the risen Christ greeting you with a word of peace.  “Peace be with you.”  As you share a word of peace with each other later in worship, this is the good word you continue to preach to each other.  “Peace be with you.”

Christ shares his peace with you and you are immediately captured up into something bigger than you.  You are part of the church, the body of Christ, people of the cross and resurrection given new life in the waters of baptism and new life in each other.   “Peace be with you.”




[1] No Oxford comma because Kierkegaard reflects the coexistence of reason and peace through his experience of faith.

[2] Raymond E. Brown. The Epistles of John (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1982), xi.

[3] Soren Kierkegaard.  The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard: 1834-1854 (Great Britain: Fontana Books, 1938), 41.

[4] Ibid.

John 20:19-31 “The Path of Life” [Or, “Resurrection From…and In”] Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31 “The Path of Life” [Or, “Resurrection From…and In”] Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9

Caitlin Trussell – April 27, 2014

Augstana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

[Additional scripture for today is posted at the end of the sermon]

John 20:19-31 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!  Ahhhh, the words of Easter, the proclamation of resurrection, the sweet relief from the dark days of Lent.  Christian churches fill up on Easter Sunday and right then and there, the very first thing, we show our hand.  “Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!”  These are party words.  Celebration words.  And do we ever revel in this celebration.  Trumpets, lilies, singing, smiles, Easter Eggs – these are symbols of the celebration.  And we keep right on partying for 50 days as the season of Easter unfolds.  And so we should.  This is the biggest and best of the good news – God coming in flesh, in the person of Jesus, dying and rising to new life, and saying to Death, “Your services are no longer needed.”  For Christians, it truly doesn’t get any better…or any more scandalous.

Make no mistake, it is a scandal.  Through sealed stone and an armed guard, all meant to protect death inside a tomb, life emerged.  Not just any life but the life of the One and from the One who brings all things to life.  If death is no longer a given, no longer secured in a sealed tomb, then what kind of life are we talking about?  What kind of life are we celebrating these 50 days?   This is a fair and honest question.

Peter preaches to this question of life eschatologically, that life for the Christian is “revealed in the last time.”[1]  He reassures exiled people that their suffering will end even though they suffer right now. Peter’s words are a blessed assurance in a painful time.

A few years ago I was leading a Bible study out at New Beginnings Church in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility.  The topic of life after death, eternal life, came up as a philosophical question – a question we wrestled with intellectually and thoughtfully.  The conversation moved along as these conversations often do, with a lot of opinions thrown around and some curiosity sprinkled in for good measure.  When from the back of the group of about 100 women, one of them chimes in with a lot of anger.  Her words ring in my ears today.  She said, “I don’t know what you all are talking about but I believe God has a place for me where crying and dying are no more…I’m counting on it!”[2]  She preached as powerfully from her own moment as Peter preaches from his.  We even get in on their preaching when we join our voices with theirs as we speak to the “life everlasting” in the Apostle’s Creed.  This is the Easter promise as deliverance.  This is resurrection from something – from this life that can include the unbearable.

As a relevant aside, some of you may know how much some Christians delight in prepositions.  Those small words of grammar tucked in front of a noun to help us write about things in location to other things.  For example, Lutheran Christians will say that Jesus is “in, with, and under” the communion bread and wine.  The theological battles waged over these little words of location are stunning.  Nonetheless, prepositions have their helpful place.  As in the Easter promise of eternal deliverance from this life once having passed through death.  But this week, Thomas makes me curious about resurrection in this life.  “In” being the operating preposition, the key word.

Thomas and the disciples have locked themselves in a room in Jerusalem.  The metallic taste of terror still on their tongues after Jesus’ crucifixion.  Terror that includes their own inability to prevent Jesus’ death or be present for it.  A week before this moment in the locked room, Thomas missed out on seeing the risen Jesus with the other disciples.  But Jesus shows up, wounds and all, and Thomas’ mind and faith are put at ease as he puts his fingers in the hand and side wounds of Jesus.  Which, by the way, gross!  Most of us can’t stomach a small wound that needs stitches much less a stab-wound created by a spear or a nail-hole through a hand.  And there’s Thomas, poking and prodding in the wounds of Jesus like he’s on an Easter egg hunt.

To what end is Thomas physically examining Jesus?  More importantly, why is Jesus subjecting himself to this exam?  The end-point is not deliverance from the locked room or from eventual death.  Thomas goes on to die a martyr after all is said and done.  This is the resurrection of Christ, wounds and all, playing out in the locked room with Thomas and the other disciples – resurrection in, not from.

A good friend of mine has been listed in our ongoing prayer requests for some weeks now.  Her name is Chris.  She gave me permission to tell you her story.  Chris and I go back a ways.  The kind of friendship that includes talking about our families and our lives within the context of our faith.  In part because of this soul-searching and Christ-searching, Chris formally presented me during my ordination.  She and I continue to talk faith, life, and Bible with seamless fluidity.  A year older than me, six months ago Chris was living daily life with the usual mix of highs and lows and good health.  On November 5th, her hands started to hurt during the night.  From that first symptom we fast forward to today.  She now has muscle weakness that makes it difficult to walk up stairs, empty a dishwasher, and swallow.  Looking more and more to her doctors like some kind of autoimmune inflammation in her muscles, she and I spoke at length this past Monday night.

In our usual way, the conversation wove together her Prednisone questions with how her family is doing with what we heard during the Easter sermons at our churches.  She told me that the Easter gift for her this year is a bone-deep certainty that Christ’s resurrection is in her current situation.  She talks about Christ’s resurrection in her current situation whether or not the medications bring physical healing to her disease, whether or not she is delivered from her disease.  She doesn’t know what that will look like but she is sure of it.  I can’t help but hear her voice in today’s Psalm, speaking to the Lord, “…my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure…You show me the path of life.”

There are many of us or people we love dealing with situations in life along the lines of Chris or Thomas.   During Easter we celebrate Christ’s resurrection as life everlasting even as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection in our lives now.

Christ now breathes the Holy Spirit on you, sharing his peace.

Christ’s resurrection, wounds and all, is in this life for you.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!

 



[1] 1 Peter 1:5

[2] Revelation 21:4

 

Acts 2:14a, 22-32 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, 22You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know — 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
29Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

 

Psalm 16

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2I say to the LORD, “You are my LORD;
I have no good apart from you.”
3As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.
4Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.
5The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.
7I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8I keep the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
10For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

 

1 Peter 1:3-9  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith — being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Luke 6:20-31; Part of a Larger Remembering [All Saints’ Sunday] …and Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23

Luke 6:20-31 “Part of a Larger Remembering” [All Saints’ Sunday] …and Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23

November 3, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 6:20-31   Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

 

Today we sing with the saints.  After all, it IS All Saints’ Sunday – a day that comes around every year and is celebrated in the wider church in all kinds of ways.  Here is this place, with these people, we accompany the saints with our own singing as part of a larger remembering.

Today we sing with the saints.  We sing with the prophets of times gone by like Daniel – prophets who dream dreams and see visions during times when chaos seems to have free reign around the world; prophets who bring a God-drenched word of hope in confusing times with uncertain outcomes.[1]  But saints such as Daniel do more than bring a word of hope in the face of despair.  It is their word but it is also their action in the power struggles of their times that move our minds but also our bodies into the struggle.[2] Today we sing with the prophets – Daniel, Anna, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa and so many more who not only spoke but took their bodies into the struggle, and who inspire us to do the same.

Today we sing with the saints.  We sing with those saints described in the Psalm today – saints who carried the two-edged sword.  We sing even as we wonder about the dangers of thinking ourselves on the faithful, and therefore on the right, side of any war.  Today we sing with the saints of the two-edged sword – Joan of Arc, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and so many others who lived and died as warriors and as faithful saints.

Today we sing the saints.  We sing with the apostles of times gone by like Paul who wrote the Ephesians reading we heard today – apostles who encountered the risen Christ and were sent away from that encounter to speak the good news of Jesus.  The good news that tells the truth about our flaws, our sin, and where Jesus meets us in all that flawed, flailing around.  Or as Paul puts it in the reading today, “with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”   Today we sing with the apostles – Paul, Thomas, Peter, Mary Magdalene and so many more whose stories of the risen Christ draw us into the hope of faith.

Today we sing with the saints – the poor, the hungry, the crying, the lonely – these saints among us whose existence afflicts the more comfortable among us.  The comfortable are afflicted by the people who reveal the Kingdom of God without qualification or contingency.  The saints among us who bear almost all the weight of the most painful life experiences and who leave the others of us wondering what part we play in that poverty, benefiting from structures of power that create pain for others.  Today we sing with the nameless saints who are poor, hungry, crying, and lonely even when our song should be silenced so that we can hear the suffering and do something about it.

Today we sing with the saints – those people we know and love who died within the last year – saints who were part of this baptized community and saints who were connected to this baptized community in many other ways.   We sing through tears of loss and grief as we mourn those who were with us for the briefest of days to the longest of lives.  Today we sing with the beloved saints whom we name as we remember their time with us and as we cling to the promise of joining them when we too will die and pass from this life to the next.

Today we sing with the saints next to us in the pew – family, stranger, or friend.  You heard me right.  You, me, them…saints.  We ourselves and those people sitting next to us are deeply flawed people, sinful people, who by the very grace of God in Christ Jesus are at the same time beloved saints.  Right here and right now we are one hundred percent saint and, at the same time, one hundred percent sinner.  This is the radical calculus given and revealed in each one of us.  And I can say with clarity that is not I who live but Christ who lives in me and it is not you who live but Christ who lives in you.  It is this Christ who presents us as saints to the eternal God and as saints to each other in the here and now.

Today we sing with the saints.  Thanks be to God.



[1] Steed Davidson, Working Preacher Commentary: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 for November 3, 2013.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1842

[2] Ibid.

 

Daniel 7:1-3; 15-18   In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: 2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 
15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 16 I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: 17 “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”

Psalm 149   Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful. 2 Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King. 3 Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre. 4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory. 5 Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches. 6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, 7 to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, 8 to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron, 9 to execute on them the judgment decreed. This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the Lord!

Ephesians 1:11-23   In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

John 20:19-31 “Doubt in Community”

John 20:19-31 “Doubt in Community”

April 7, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  21  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  22  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  24  But Thomas (who was called the Twin  ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”  28  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  30  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  31  But these are written so that you may come to believe  that Jesus is the Messiah,  the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Very, very few people have been able see and touch the wounds of the Risen Christ as he is standing in the living room.  So, for those very few people, I celebrate what faith must look like and feel like beyond the shadow of a doubt.  There are a few more people who have told me that they have never struggled with their faith in Jesus – it just has simply always been there for them and remains with them as pure gift.  I have to imagine that this group is more widely represented in churches around the world than the first group.  Again, I celebrate the fullness of their faith with them and am grateful for the ways in which those people of great faith have impacted my own faith.

Then there’s a third group of people for whom the Gospel of John was expressly written.  Check out verse 31 again, it says that, “these [signs] are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  If the number of people in the pews of the church around the world is any indication, this is by far the largest group.  While conversations and theories abound as to why this is so, the Gospel of John presumes this is so.  There are people who believe and there are people who don’t.  Just as there are today.

At Luther Seminary, I took a course called ‘Jesus the Savior and the Triune God.’  Our first reading assignment was a named Doubt: A Parable.[1]  As a class, we had a lively discussion about doubt and its place in conversations about faith.  The various opinions about whether doubt or skepticism should be part of faith conversations are missing the point.  The reality is that most conversations about Christian faith in the western world are fraught with questions and skepticism pretty much since about the 17th century and the Enlightenment.

Many of the conversations people have with me about their own faith are on the very topic of doubt – as if faith and doubt are mutually exclusive, as if faith cannot exist while doubt exists or vice versa.  But they aren’t mutually exclusive, they are connected.  It’s right here that I need to give a shout-out to something called a dialectic.   A dialectic is when you take two ideas that seem in complete opposition to other but yet they are connected.  Today, the dialectic in this sermon is faith and doubt.  One of Martin Luther’s favorite dialectics is Law and Gospel.  Rather than saying that one cannot exist while the other does, a dialectic connection acknowledges their coexistence and allows the tension between them to reveal meaning.

In the Gospel reading for today, Thomas is on the outside of faith looking in at the disciples who have seen the risen Christ.   I wonder if he’s listening to all of that excited faith-filled testimony of the rest of the group and feeling left out, feeling frustrated that he missed out and wondering if he could ever trust as they seem to trust, could ever be comforted as they seem to be comforted.  Or maybe it’s something else entirely.  Maybe Thomas thinks the disciples have truly lost it.  The trauma of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion was simply too much and they were under the power of some kind of group delusion.

Regardless of his motive and tone, we can learn from Thomas.  Not only does he own his skepticism, he talks freely about it with his friends, his community.  He struggles, wondering about the truth of the risen Christ, and the people who know him best make space and hold his doubt.  That first day in the locked house, Jesus appears to the disciples but not to Thomas and when Thomas shows up later that same day he makes his big speech about what it would take for him to believe.  Then we are told that it’s a week later, the disciples are still in the house and Thomas is still with them.  He is still with them!  He responded to the disciples with skepticism but he is still there in the house…with the disciples.

So, yes, we can learn from Thomas.  But I think today we also learn from those disciples, those disciples who hold the space for Thomas even as they hold to their witness of the resurrected Jesus.  They are true to the story as they received it without ridding their group of one who stands resolutely against what they say they saw.

A few weeks ago in the Gospel of John class, I asked everyone to break into twos or threes and talk about something that they had heard or learned.  Two people from the same pair then shared their thoughts with the larger group.  I asked them if they agreed with each other or did they agree to disagree because at that moment it was unclear.  The conversation moved on without an answer but then a hand from the pair went up after they chatted a bit more and realized that they were, indeed, in disagreement on a particular point.  Their capacity to discuss and hold this disagreement is a powerful example to us all.

When I begin teaching a class, one of the things that I like to say is that, “Jesus is Jesus; what we say about Jesus, sing about Jesus or construct about Jesus is not Jesus.”  It is so tempting, so unbearably tempting, to hold up what we say about Jesus and slip into believing that whatever it is that we say is actually Jesus.  Listen to Thomas again.  He says, “My Lord and my God.”  This claim and confession of “My Lord and My God” is the starting point.  And in saying this with Thomas, we are freed into the conversations about Jesus that deepen our faith and expand our witness of Jesus in the here and now by the power of the Spirit.

Thomas is not an example of meek acceptance of the status quo.   He stands in the middle of that house and makes a demand – a demand that allows for the possibility of faith.  And who is able to respond to Thomas’ request?  It is the risen Christ Himself.  As Thomas stands in the presence of his friends who faithfully witness to the risen Christ, it is Christ who yields to Thomas’ demand.

The story of Thomas gets at some of the most daunting dimensions of faith because it’s clear that faith is not self-generated, nor can we generate it in others.  Faith can only be generated by God in Jesus through the Spirit working through the witness that people hear.[2]  As readers of the Gospel, we are the ones who have not seen the risen Christ, we receive only the witness about Jesus.  This means that seeing is not a precondition for faith as it was for Thomas but rather “faith is evoked by words from and about Jesus…through the work of the Spirit in whom the risen Christ is present and active.”[3]

By the work of the Spirit, the risen Christ is revealing his wounds and birthing faith.  He holds out his wounded hand as he challenges us to a new reality through the scriptures.  He turns and offers love from His side as He forgives, strengthens and renews the Body of Christ, His church, to make space for faithful testimony as well as doubt.  He immerses with us into the waters of baptism as He washes through our sin and brokenness to reveal the power of His resurrecting grace.  Christ beckons us through His meal as His wounded and resurrected presence offers love and forgiveness unknown except through Him.

May God grant that you be born out of Christ’s wounded side,

and be drawn to faith in Him.

 

 



[1] John Patrick Stanley, Doubt: A Parable (2005).

[2] Craig R. Koester, Class lecture, NT3211 “The Gospel and Epistles of John” (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary), December 18, 2010.

[3] Craig R. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 73.