**Shattered-Glass Art by Baptiste Debombourg at Brauweiler Abbey, Benedictine Monastery, Cologne, Germany
Caitlin Trussell with New Beginnings Worshipping Community at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility on October 12, 2018; and with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 14, 2018
[sermon begins after two Bible readings]
Hebrews 4:12-16 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. 14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Mark 10:17-31 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Nursing school is full of the unimaginable. Procedures, bed pans, and math, lots of math. Many of these experiences are served up on rotations. Time is spent alternating through locked psych wards, labor and delivery units, and surgical suites. It’s that last one, surgery, that caught my 19 year old self off guard. Stay calm…I’m not going to get graphic about it. I was excited. Truly couldn’t imagine anything more cool than being in an operating room. Then and now, surgery seems on that magical side of medicine reserved for the few, the bold, and the people who can stand on their feet for hours. The O.R. nurse in charge of me gave me the skinny on how things work as she gave me the scrubs and papery hat and shoe covers. I talked about it for days leading up to it. I was set. Unflappable in my own mind. Doing my best to live up to my long time book heroine, nurse extraordinaire, Cherry Ames. Based on this build-up, you might be starting to imagine what came next. I was on my feet, trying to get a better view. The surgery began, there were the odd sensations as my composure shattered, and I must have turned white as a sheet because the scrub nurse flagged down the circulating nurse who took me out of O.R. and into a chair to regroup. I was able to go back in but I was given a place to sit with a lesser view than standing. Humbled, and turns out, quite flappable. Things just didn’t go the way I thought they would.
Things didn’t go the way the faith community described in Hebrews thought they would either. No one knows who wrote Hebrews except God. (Although mystery-solving nurse, Cherry Ames could probably figure it out.) It gets clumped in with the other New Testament letters because of the closing verses but it doesn’t follow the format. It’s closer to a sermon. Hebrews begins poetically, similar to the opening of the Gospel of John, in the verses we heard last week:
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
The book of Hebrews reminds listeners about God. Not just any God. This is a God who speaks through prophets and now, more specifically, through a Son. The verses we hear this week bring God’s speaking more sharply in focus. Precision focus. One might even say God’s word is surgical precision. Listen to verse 12 again:
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
We hear in this verse about a living word that is sharper than any sword, dividing soul from spirit, joint from marrow. Is it any wonder that a scalpel comes to mind?
Living Word is a helpful way to consider what the Bible is doing. Last Sunday, I met with people in the Discover Augustana class who are learning about the ministry of this congregation and what joining that ministry as members might mean. I cover several topics during our time together and one of them is the idea of Living Word as it relates to the Bible. For this conversation we use Daniel Erlander’s book called Baptized, We Live: Lutheranism as a Way of Life. In 28 pages, Reverend Erlander summarizes worship, scripture, cross, and more. The pages on scripture include the Living Word. A Word that is neither a science textbook nor follows modern journalism standards, but rather a Word that works on each one of us, shattering our ideas and our very selves so that new life may grow in dark places inside of us. The drawing in the book is a large arrow of Living Word blasting through scattered squares of bits and remnants. Perhaps Reverend Erlander thought that the description in Hebrews of the sharpened Living Word dividing “soul from spirit” and “joints from marrow” leaving all creatures “naked and laid bare” to the eyes of God would be too graphic to convey in a drawing meant for personal study or Sunday school classes. But he does convey the point that the Living Word of God acts upon us. In the words from Hebrews, “…it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” and bares us before “the one to whom we must render an account.”
And no one felt this more sharply than the man kneeling before Jesus in the gospel reading from Mark. A man who thinks he knows what is required of him. A man who likely thinks he’s going to get affirmation from Jesus that he’s on the right track, the God track, the eternal life track. But what does Jesus do? Jesus ups the ante.
Jesus, looking at [the man], loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
In this story, Jesus judges the man’s “thoughts and the intentions of [his] heart.” The man can render no account that justifies himself before God. The man is attached to things more than he is attached to God. In essence, Jesus is telling the man that the “doing” is God’s alone. God does the impossible. God saves human creatures. Human creatures do not save themselves. This is good news. The hard news is that in God’s economy there are priorities. God’s grace is not a carte blanche to do whatever we want to do and ignore vulnerable people – particularly people without financial resources. The man kneeling at Jesus’ feet goes away grieving because he knows that his priorities aren’t lining up with what he’s just been told. There’s no way to pretty that up. It’s part of the Christian challenge. It’s a Living Word that works on us, shattering our composure, and pointing us towards God’s economy.
A couple things to notice here. In verse 31, Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Notice that no one is booted out of that line or voted off the island. There’s a rearranging that reveals the priorities of God’s economy but no one is left behind. And the other thing to notice is in verse 21. Jesus “looking at [the man], loved him.” The man is the only person singled out in the Gospel of Mark as being loved by Jesus. We don’t get to know the end of his story. Perhaps his open-ended story is a way for us to see ourselves as the story’s closers, to hear a call of obedience as Jesus followers that we hadn’t considered before or feel stronger to respond to now. It’s a good time to pause and feel uncomfortable because we tend to make quick moves toward grace when we get uncomfortable. An alternative is to live in the discomfort of not measuring up and actually pray our confessions knowing that our sin is as real as God’s grace. When we see our sin as real, when we own it, there’s the chance to be freed from it. The promise of confession is begins in verse 14 of Hebrews:
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
This promise emboldens our shattering by the Living Word who is Jesus. Jesus our priest who sympathizes with our weakness and does not hold it against us. People who’ve experienced this shattering, of having soul divided from spirit and joint from marrow, know the freedom of that shattering. The freedom of knowing our limitations and our sin. The freedom of “[receiving] mercy and [finding] grace to help in time of need.” Because it is that freedom that reminds us that we are children of God. Heirs of what Christ has done. Not inheriting because of what we do or not inheriting because of what we didn’t do. Rather, we live as free people drawn into obedience to God by the Living Word who lives in us. Thanks be to God! Amen.
 Craig R. Koester, Professor and Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament, Luther Seminary. Commentary on Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 for October 7, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3790
 Hebrews 1:1-3 (check out John 1:1-3a and 14, to ponder the parallels.)
 Craig R. Koester, Commentary on Hebrews 4:12-16 for October 14, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3796
 Hebrews 4:12
 Daniel Erlander. Baptized, We Live: Lutheranism as a Way of Life. (Daniel Erlander Publications, 1995), 11.
 Hebrews 4:12-13
 Mark 10:21
 Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, Editor, Lutheran Forum, St. Paul, MN. Commentary on Mark 10:17-31 for October 14, 2018 on Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3795