Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on November 6, 2022
[sermon begins after Bible reading; Find the Gospel of John reading at the end of the sermon. I don’t preach on it today but it’s a good one.]
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, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In 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; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I 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, 18so 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, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God 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, 21far 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. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
I miss my mother-in-law this time of year.Carol died seven days after Thanksgiving in 2018. She loved autumn, decorating tables with mini pumpkins along with dried leaves and seed pods of all kinds. We spent Thanksgiving with them during most of their time in Grand Junction. After I received this call to Augustana, they started coming here for Thanksgiving Eve worship and Pie Fest, adding their cans of chili to the pile. Carol’s sparkly, cornflower blue eyes were usually full of mischief. Between her salt of the earth Iowa farm girl ways and her salty language, she couldn’t be pegged into any one category. She was saint and sinnery in her own way. Carol’s last Thanksgiving included her attempt to help Rob with the turkey as he came through the sliding glass door, almost scalding herself in the process. You can take the woman out of the Iowa farm, but you can’t take the Iowa farm out of the woman. She was ready to wrestle Rob for the turkey pan although she no longer had the strength to do so. I had the instant reaction to yell, “Carol, NO! What part of ‘don’t touch the turkey’ do you not understand!” It was one of two of my most disrespectful interactions with her. The second of which was the prior Thanksgiving in a similar turkey incident.
After dinner, when she had taken her usual position at the kitchen sink (I tried to get her to sit down for 30 years), I put my arm around her shoulders and told her that I was sorry for yelling at her. She put her head on my shoulder, and said, “Aww, hon, I don’t even remember that – I love you.” I said, “I love you, too.” Seven days later, I couldn’t have been more grateful for that exchange at the kitchen sink. I’m still grateful for it and for having her in my life. Carol was the first person to ask when Rob and I were “baptizing that baby.” We’d both been away from church awhile and it honestly wasn’t our first thought. But, oh, I’m so glad she did. Baptizing Quinn and then Taryn enfolded us in a church community that we’re forever grateful for. The gospel was preached in love there. I received it as such and here I stand preaching today. It all started with baptism.
The baptismal liturgy has pieces of the Ephesians reading. There’s a prayer after the water part when the pastor places their hands on the head of the baptized and prays:
“Sustain them with the gift of your Holy Spirit, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.”
The prayer in Ephesians asks that God “give a spirit of wisdom and revelation.”[1a] The baptism liturgy helps us with that word “revelation” by using the word “understanding.” Revelation means to see something new or in a new way. Understanding is the ability to interpret that new thing. A spirit of wisdom and understanding. Biblical translation and word choices are interesting. In seminary, pastors are trained in Greek and sometimes Hebrew to understand the original biblical texts. Martin Luther was the first to translate Greek and Hebrew into the German Bible. His sense of his own sin overpowered him, making God’s grace all the sweeter for him. Every translation makes word choices to convey meaning which is why biblical literalism is a fool’s errand. But wisdom and understanding, now those are possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Wisdom and understanding come from experience, teaching, learning, prayer, and more. Wisdom and understanding come from having your mind blown when you think you already have the answers, being humbled by new information that doesn’t fit into your current thinking. A recent example in my own life includes reading portions of the new First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament.  First Nations is a term that started in Canada for original inhabitants of the land interchangeably called American Indians or Native Americans. The term has been accepted and used by some people in the U.S. and all over the world. The translation council, along with other First Nation people who provided feedback, represented a variety of tribes, ages, genders, denominations, and geographic locations to reduce bias.
The First Nations Version is dedicated to healing people through the “good story,” people who have suffered at the hands of our colonizing government helped by churches and missionaries, who stole their land, language, culture, and children. The beauty of this new version of the New Testament is hard to describe because the words and flow have the cadence of First Nation storytelling. It would be ridiculous for me to try as a White pastor of Scandinavian and Irish descent. But much like the original and utterly scandalous German translation was liberating to 16th century Germans, and the variety of English translations find their way into English-speaking hearts, the First Nation Version attempts to do so for First Nation peoples. This new translation is one more way that the Holy Spirit brings wisdom and understanding through the diversity of the baptized.
Wisdom and understanding come through baptism which includes the theology of saint and sinner. If you hang around Lutheran Christians long enough, you’ll inevitably hear that phrase “Saint and Sinner.” The fancy pants way to say it (or tatoo ink it) is, “Simul iustus et peccator,” or “Simultaneously justified and sinner.” This means that we are both saint and sinner at the same time because of Christ’s righteousness bestowed on us in baptism and our simultaneous capacity to sin against ourselves and our neighbors. If you read into the next verses of Ephesians, after the sainty parts in our reading today, you’ll get to the trespass and sin part. When I’m out in the community or formally welcoming folks at the beginning of a funeral, I’ll sometimes bring greetings or welcome “from the Sinner/Saints of Augustana Lutheran Church.” The phrase is just confusing enough to make it intriguing, while at the same time acknowledging who we are in the world.
On All Saints Sunday we acknowledge the saints who have died, completing their baptismal journeys and celebrating in the company of all the saints in light. This is not to say that they were perfect people doing miraculous things. Rather, it’s to say that God’s promises through their baptisms draw them ever closer to God right on through their last breath. I find myself in both grief and gratitude on All Saints Sunday. I think of the people who are named in worship and their impact on my own faith and on our congregation. I think of the people I still miss – my father, stepfather, in laws, grandparents, friends, and patients.
And I think about the sinner/saints who persevered in faithfulness as the church so that I could hear a word of grace in Jesus Christ when I most needed it. I’m here because of their word of grace and their words of wisdom and understanding. I’m in awe of the wisdom of our youngest sinner/saints who bless us with their thinking week after week on the Sanctuary steps, right through to our eldest elders who we visit in their homes. I’m bowled over by the wisdom and understanding of sinner/saints who write or podcast about their faith and experience with the God of grace. I’m transformed by sinner/saints around the world and right here at home who speak different cultural and actual languages to talk about Jesus and his self-sacrificing love of us. All of us. Every single last one of us until, at the end of our baptismal journeys, God will bring us through the death and resurrection of Jesus into the company of all the saints in light.
All the wisdom and understanding in the world is just noise if we do not have love. The Ephesians letter in our reading today thanks the church for their love and their faith before praying that they receive wisdom and understanding. This is a time in the world when we need our sinner/saints who pray for us and who teach us to pray from that love. Much like the prayers for the Ephesians taught us to pray. Much like Carol taught me the prayers that were passed down through their family to her. Not perfect. Just perfectly loved by God and imperfectly lived out God’s love. I’m grateful for them. And I’m grateful for you, dear sinner/saints, as we get to be church with and for each other in these weird times in the world.
Thanks be to God. And amen.
[1a] Ephesians 1:17
 Terry M. Wildman. First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament (Downers Grove, Illinois: First Varsity Press, 2021).
 I’m pretty grateful for Don Troike, Augustana member and retired Biology professor, who told me about the First Nations Version and lent me his copy.
 Read about First Nation history of boarding schools and the ELCA’s confession and intentions here: https://religionnews.com/2022/08/11/reckoning-with-role-in-boarding-schools-elca-makes-declaration-to-indigenous-peoples/
Luke 6:20-31 Then [Jesus] 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. 23Rejoice 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, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.”