Category Archives: Sermons

Hope Gains Ground [OR Blundering Our Way Through the Human Condition OR The First Sunday in Advent] Matthew 24:36-44

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on November 27, 2022 – First Sunday in Advent

[sermon begins after Bible reading]

Matthew 24:36-44  [Jesus said to the disciples,] 36“About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

[sermon begins]

Classic blunders often make a good story great. Blunders abound in television and movies. In every episode of Scooby Do, Fred insists that the gang split up, sending Shaggy and Scooby to their inevitable clash with the masked villain.[1] What would the show “I Love Lucy” be without Lucy and Ethel’s regular blunders – think: Chocolate Factory episode when they lied about their qualifications and couldn’t keep up with the candy conveyor belt, so they stuff chocolate in their mouths and cloths before getting fired.[2] The movie Princess Bride lays out a few more classic blunders, “the most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is this, never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”[3]

Real life blunders abound too although the outcomes are, well, real. Falling asleep while driving is a big one. Cars didn’t exist back in the day when Jesus was teaching his disciples. But Jesus’ words about staying awake call to mind that classic parting line before a road trip, “Remember to pull over if you get tired!” It’s classic because we all know and can tell our own and other tragic stories when people haven’t pulled over when they got tired. Driving takes focus. We need to be ready to swerve around obstacles or avoid bad drivers or simply avoid driving into a ditch. Driving takes wakefulness. When we’re tired, eye-hand coordination slows down affecting response times.

Driving is a metaphor for Advent wakefulness. The Advent road trip ends at Christmas – the joy of Jesus’ birth, and it is also the longing for Christ’s return when the Kingdom of Heaven will reign fully and completely on earth. In the meantime, Jesus tells his disciples to stay awake, keep your eyes on the road. Worship this morning serves as pulling over because we’re tired and resting up on the side of the road to continue driving. This apocalyptic reading from the Gospel of Matthew may seem a surprising choice for the first Sunday in Advent, the start of the new church year. But apocalyptic literature is directed to listeners who blunder through the human condition, who have lost hope with the status quo, who despair that those with extreme wealth and power will ever share so that all people can live, who see that suffering goes unexplained and unanswered, and who long for God’s promise to burst on the scene in all its fullness.[4]

This reading is close to the end of the book of Matthew, just before Jesus starts heading to the cross. As we begin this new church year with Advent, we also begin the book of Matthew, beginning almost at the end. The Gospel of Matthew was likely written late in the first century, after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, fifty years after Jesus’ death. The Matthean community seems to have been primarily Jews who believed Jesus was their long-awaited savior. Initially a part of life in the synagogue, a conflict began with either other Jews, or with Roman authorities, or both, that escalated to the point of the Matthean group splitting off to form its own community.[5]

The verses today are a good example of the divide as well as illuminates what we think we already know about these verses.  For instance, in this story, is it better to be taken or left behind? The comparison with the people swept away by the flood in the Noah story indicates that being left behind might be the better outcome. If it’s the case that being left behind is the better option, it brings up another question. Who is doing the taking? The verses aren’t clear, which opens the possibility that there’s a group, perhaps Roman agents, who is taking some people while others remain – not unheard of in the Roman Empire or modern empires for that matter. If it’s possible that Rome is snatching people, why are we so quick to read it as divine judgment. Another blunder we make when we read scripture is already thinking that we know the destination. Framing Jesus’ teaching to the positive, he encourages listeners to actively anticipate God’s promised change when the Kingdom of Heaven arrives. To the negative, living a righteous life veers into the ditch when resignation or over-confidence are chosen as the right way to live.[6]

It’s not clear how pandemic times accelerated the time/space continuum. The Before Times weren’t trouble free but they didn’t seem to move quite so quickly. However it happened, the world came out of those quieter months in overdrive and keeps accelerating. Advent driving includes slowing down, steering with intention, and staying awake to truths that reveal where hope is losing ground.

Our queer siblings in the human family know the truth of hope’s lost ground all too painfully in the recent murders at ClubQ in Colorado Springs. When theologies and political ideologies collide into murder, we can be pretty sure that is not what Jesus would do. It is ever more life affirming to be queer affirming too. Humans are created in God’s image. All humans. Our queer selves, family, friends, and neighbors are necessarily created in God’s image too. Lives are at stake in the claims we make as Christians. Unconditional, assumption-shattering, prodigal love is the only way out of the sinkhole of hate. An active love through which hope gains ground. That is the hope that drives us in Advent. The hope that we long for and are a part of.

Awake and cruising into Advent we have a few driving instructions available to keep us on the road. One is more classically considered devotional, daily fueling our faith with God’s activity, promise, and hope. You can pick up one of these pocket-sized devos at the Sanctuary entrances. Called “prophets & promises: Devotions for Advent and Christmas 2022,” we’re given short bits of scripture, story, picture, and prayer for each day. Lighting our driven days with Advent hope so that God draws our attention rather than the dead end of commercial chaos.

Also part of our Advent road trip is a topographical map of sorts. The rolling hills and water features of the book Sleepers Wake drives our devotion into the discipleship depths of Climate Change. “Shot through with hope,” these daily reflections augmented with paintings, explore how we can remove obstacles for healing the earth injured by our human blunders.[7] With energy and heart, Nicholas Holtam draws on his experience as former Church of England lead Bishop for the environment to guide our spiritual and cultural transformation, so we can all do our part to preserve our world for future generations. A big thanks to Bonita Bock, retired pastor and professor and Augustana member, for leading us through Sleepers Wake in classes scheduled on Sunday or Wednesday mornings starting this Wednesday.[8]

Continuing down this road of Advent where hope gains ground, we drive through the four weeks towards Christmas avoiding the blunder of sleeping at the wheel and hurting people with our momentum in the wrong direction. We heed Jesus’ command to stay awake. Culturally, the season has a careening quality that we can’t entirely avoid. But there are maps given to us, and our faith drives us towards a different horizon, one with a manger snuggled in the midst of a bustling Bethlehem with full inns, one with the Kingdom of Heaven arriving in the fullness of God’s promises as Jesus will come again.

This Advent season, as we worship together on the road towards Christmas, we are reminded that the God of hope and truth lightens our load, reminding us that we are never the worst blunder we have ever made, that we are loved beyond reason, and held by Christ who knows our human suffering firsthand. This Advent season, starting today and into this week, may you be blessed with the swaddled hope on the horizon that is Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thanks be to God. And Amen.

____________________________________________________________

[1] Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (Hanna-Barbera: 1969-1970) https://youtu.be/Bsg3sMPD4XA

[2] I Love Lucy (Paramount: 1951-1957). https://youtu.be/AnHiAWlrYQc

[3] Princess Bride. https://youtu.be/-WTelEdb6jk

[4] Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Dear Working Preacher: Matthew 24:36-44 – Advent Attentiveness. November 20, 2022. https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/advent-attentiveness?fbclid=IwAR0vLeMtMn5rN1vTedkX67LVO0AFam5juKsqHFrh7WMT59U9RIgGti1pxGk

[5] Matthew L. Skinner. The New Testament: The Gospels and Acts. “The Gospel of Matthew.” (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2017), 114-115.

[6] Skinner, Working Preacher, Ibid.

[7] Nicholas Holtam. Sleepers Wake: Getting Serious About Climate Change. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2022).

[8] RSVP to the church office (303-388-4678 or info@augustanadenver.org) for the Wednesday classes, 9:30-10:30 a.m., 11/30, 12/7, 12/14, and 12/21. There is a minimum of eight participants required for this class to proceed. Sunday classes are 9:15-10:15 a.m. between worship services.

First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament on All Saints Sunday [OR Sainty/Sinnery Wisdom and Understanding with a Dash of Love] Ephesians 1:11-23

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.

[sermon begins]

I miss my mother-in-law this time of year.Carol died seven days after Thanksgiving in 2018.[1]  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.[2] [3] 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.[4] 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.

__________________________________________________

[1] https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/gjsentinel/name/carol-trussell-obituary?id=10109452

[1a] Ephesians 1:17

[2] Terry M. Wildman. First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament (Downers Grove, Illinois: First Varsity Press, 2021).

[3] 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.

[4] 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.”

Mental Health Sunday [OR Preaching for the First Time About My Postpartum Depression] Luke 18:1-8 and Psalm 121

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 16, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 18:1-8  Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?

2My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

3He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

4He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

5The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.

6The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

7The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

8The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

[sermon begins]

These past few days, morning walks with Rob and our dog Sunny have been glorious (poop bags not so much). Bluebird skies, wisps of white clouds, sunlight blooming off leaves turned red, orange, pink, and yellow, hills in the distance with hints of the brighter colors close by. During one of these walks, I mentioned how much better I feel when I’ve made the effort to get myself out of the door. The cool breeze lightens burdens and heavier thoughts, and at the same time makes space for lifting people to God in prayer. Times like these walks, when thoughts are clearer and life is calmer, foster so much of the gratitude that Pastor Ann talked about last week. Gratitude that changes perspective and improves mental health. Gratitude for things that aren’t always seeable.

It’s hard to describe the darkness of mental illness. My experience with postpartum depression gave me a glimpse of how dark and out of control it feels. Things were tough after our first was born but the depression went into overdrive after our second child.  A mind hijacked by shame, I felt unworthy of love and the life I had. Everyone else seemed so happy as new parents and I was drowning in anger, losing my cool over the smallest things. Most of you wouldn’t recognize the me that I was then. I was able to camouflage my distress except from those closest to me who felt hurt and helpless. Therapy and time and getting more sleep and my husband’s determination and my eventual honesty about what I was going through and my apologies to the people who care about me and having a weekly reminder at worship of God’s grace and unconditional love, all worked together towards healing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned coming from generations of family who struggle with mental health, it’s that healing from mental illness is never just one thing. Healing is layered. It took a few years to fully recover my light and my confidence and to trust that I was loved. I am most fortunate to have had the support and the resources to make it through that dark time. I do wonder what the outcome would have been if I’d hadn’t had the support and resources.

Support and resources are part of what Mental Health Sunday is about. As we sang in our Gathering Song, we “build a house where love can dwell, and all can safely live.”[1] Part of the building this house is our honesty.

– Honesty that there are no quick fixes to mental illness.

– Honesty that our faith is a layer of healing – mental illness is NOT caused by lack of faith nor fixed by more faith as many of us were taught.

– And honesty that we need other people, some of whom are a congregation and some mental health professionals.

– Honesty that mental illness is a set of real diseases that are sometimes beyond our control to heal ourselves and sometimes beyond anyone’s control to heal completely.

– And honesty that our mental illnesses create pain for ourselves and the people we love.

We start worship with a word of confession about ourselves and hear God’s good word of forgiveness because both are true – we are broken and do hurtful things out of our own pain AND God’s mercy endures forever. Today’s parable of the widow and the unjust judge is a great illustration of both.

“God is everything the unjust judge is not.”[2] This is not a parable that slides God into the power role. But God is present. The widow’s urgent persistence is fueled by God’s promises of justice, by God’s alignment with orphans and widows who are lifted up throughout scripture as worthy of the community’s energy, money, and protection. She has nothing to fear from the unjust judge because her life is on the line. Death is her outcome should her plea for justice fail. The widow is a good example of why the church has a role in advocating for justice of all kinds so that support and resources are broadly available. Today, that means spotlighting mental health and the factors that help and harm.

Our society is dealing with a tsunami of mental illness. Some of it, like my postpartum depression, is situational and familial. But the level of mental illness that we’re experiencing as a country is uncharted territory. This is no longer a discussion about a few individuals who struggle because of genetics and family systems. It is no longer a private health issue. Our culture destabilizes mental health to such an extent that it’s become a public health issue. We’re not going to fix this overnight but, like the persistent widow, we can persistently work on injustices in housing, healthcare, hunger, education, and employment because we know that these are factors that cause stress which can destabilize mental health. It’s not about individuals working harder on self-care to cure themselves in an unjust society working against mental health. It’s about our collective will, working together so that the more fragile among us have a shot at mental health through support, resources, and treatment. Even better would be a society less in need of those things to begin with because it’s less dog-eat-dog and more glorious days of dog walking.

Today’s Psalm 121 is a real fan favorite here in Colorado. It’s often read at funerals as a psalm of faith and trust in God. We sang it as a hymn earlier in worship. “I lift my eyes to the hills,” the psalmist wrote, “from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” The imagery in this psalm isn’t hard for us to imagine at the foot of the Rockies. What is hard is remembering that God’s help comes in the form of people through relationship. From the beginning, the Bible’s stories often focus on people’s responsibility to each other as God continues to show up for them. When the Old Testament covenants between God and God’s people are broken, they are broken by God’s people not taking care of most vulnerable among them – the widow, orphan, and stranger.

Jesus, the one who saves us from ourselves and expands our love of self towards God and our neighbor, was raised in the Biblical, Jewish tradition of caring for the vulnerable, and expands God’s earliest covenant to the Jews around us through the very same Jesus. If I had a whiteboard here with me, I would draw ever expanding circles, first with Abraham, then with Moses, and then with Jesus. Each covenant getting larger, including more people across a wider world. When we are tempted to exclude, God keeps drawing a bigger circle. Because God’s circle is ever-expanding, Mental Health Sunday expands the circle for us as a congregation too.

“I lift my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.” These words are also about being able to take our joy, our pain, our anger, and our longings straight to God. God whose disconnect and despair was embodied in Jesus as he hung on a cross. Imagining Jesus on the cross was part of my own prayers for healing when I couldn’t see through the dark. Many times, I didn’t have the words to pray but I could see Jesus’ feet and felt comforted by God who was in the shadow with me. Digging out of the darkness was painstaking and took a lot of other people working with me, along with God’s promise that there IS light in the darkness and the darkness cannot, will not, never will overcome it.[3]

Thanks be to God. And amen.

_____________________________________________________

[1] Evangelical Book of Worship (ELW), 641: All Are Welcome. Marty Haugen b. 1950, (Chicago: GIA Publications, 1994).

[2] Francisco J. Garcia, Ph.D. Candidate in Theological Studies, Ethics and Action, Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Nashville, TN. Commentary on Luke 18:1-8 for Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-29-3/commentary-on-luke-181-8-5

[3] John 1:5, although, read all of John 1:1-14, its powerful promise of God’s presence is noteworthy.

Harvesting Light [OR The Church on a Road Trip] Luke 17:5-10; Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:1-14

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 2, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings; the Timothy reading is at the end of the sermon]

Luke 17:5-10 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4  The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

2:1I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
2Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
3For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
4Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.

[sermon begins]

This was the text from Ruth Ann: “Would you like to drive together?”

My mind said: Road Trip!!!

My text said: Yes! Let’s do it. I’ve not yet registered. Should we go for it?

We were texting at the beginning of August about our annual Rocky Mountain Synod Theological Conference scheduled mid-September. Pastor Ruth Ann was one of the pastors during my internship at Bethany and we’ve been roommates for colleague gatherings ever since. A road trip to the latest one in Utah was perfect for catching up on the way there and for debriefing on the way home. It was marvelous! So were the snacks – snacks being the foundation of any great road trip. Theological Conference was about trauma and resilience in faith communities. Worship and lectures focused our hearts and minds on faith and the topic of trauma and resilience. There was a lot of ground to cover – another kind of road trip (although Ruth Ann and I had waaay better snacks). I’m not interested in turning this time into a scientific lecture, nor do I have the expertise to pull it off, so I won’t. Suffice it to say that there are many layers to trauma in both our individual and collective experiences of it and the ways we make our way through it. I AM interested in our faith community’s, our congregation’s, experience of faith when trauma seems to be piling on.

Habakkuk was a prophet in the before-before-before times. Before now. Before Jesus. Before the return of the Jews from exile to the Holy Land. He lived and wrote while the people of God were conquered and taken away to Babylon. He seemed to understand the overwhelm of trauma. Habakkuk’s desperation is in his opening words:

2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.

Suffering overwhelmed the prophet. So did the suffering of his people. He couldn’t figure out God’s place in it and demanded an answer. Thousands of years later, there remains no explanation for suffering other than it is sometimes the intentional violence we do to each other, known or unknown by us. The violence can be physical or emotional or spiritual. Suffering is sometimes accidental. And suffering is sometimes natural disaster. All we know for sure is that suffering and trauma are part of the human condition. It’s so much a part of the human condition that God knows suffering personally in Jesus’ death on the cross and, through Jesus’ suffering, God knows our suffering personally too. Such is God’s promise to us in our baptism to always be present even, and maybe especially when we don’t feel it. When times are dark. When hope feels lost. Those are the times when is present with us. The churchy word for that is the Theology of the Cross.

One of the things we say is that baptism plunges us through Christ’s death into Christ’s resurrection. Baptism is a daily promise from God, not a once and done. Daily we die and rise into new life. Daily God catches us up into the promise. As people drawn together through the waters of our baptism and called the church, we are formed by God’s grace to be present with each other in whatever we bring to the mix. We are a church of the cross as much as we are a church of the resurrection. Sometimes that means holding the space and time for someone’s spirit to heal from trauma. Like with the Grief Group starting today. Or like quietly worshipping in the pew week after week after week, hearing God’s promises for you while your spirit heals. Even as we celebrate the Harvest of Light today, we know that each of us has varying capacity on any given day, or during any given season of life, to be part of the baptismal action of reaching out to neighbors and volunteering in community groups.

It’s one reason why the apostles’ demand is so interesting. “Increase our faith,” they say to Jesus. Notice they say, “Increase OUR faith.” They say it as a group. Jesus replies to them as a group. In the Greek, Jesus uses the plural “you” that means “all y’all.” I don’t know who would need to move a mulberry tree into an ocean but it’s more possible with a team of folks working together than with one person. This gets back to capacity. Kind of like with the Apostle’s Creed. You may struggle with the idea of, oh, I don’t know, resurrection of the dead, but be totally cool with God as creator of heaven and earth. While I might have the opposite struggle. Between us, we have the capacity to say the Creed together. That’s more of a top layer example of faith as an “all y’all” experience.

The Harvest of Light from our Summer of Service volunteering is another layer of our baptism as an “all y’all” faith moment. Those 1,522 hours barely scratch of surface of the ways we reflect the light of Christ in the world to God’s glory. Not everyone who volunteers is going to write it down on a worship slip of paper. And not every action that shines Christ light is a volunteer hour. Many times we don’t even know how the Holy Spirit is impacting another person through our actions. So much of it is a mystery.

We’re encouraged to trust the Holy Spirit, just like Timothy was encouraged in the letter read a few minutes ago. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can trust God’s good news of grace given in Christ Jesus before the ages began – the original (OG) Before Times.[1] Trusting in God’s grace doesn’t negate or minimize suffering or the experience of being overwhelmed by it. Trusting in God’s grace means that we’re given a community of Christ to share each other’s burdens as we have the capacity to do so. It also means admitting when something is beyond our capacity, and we need help.

One of my top favorite parts of the baptism, after the water part of course, is the promise that all y’all make on behalf of God’s whole church. I’m going to go ahead and use Cyrus as an example for this one since he’ll be baptized this morning in just a bit. The part that I’m talking about goes like this, “People of God, do you promise to support Cyrus and pray for him in his new life in Christ?” It’s a great question with a great answer when everyone replies, “We do!” The promises that we make as people are imperfect by definition, but it’s powerful to set the intention to show up for each other, however imperfectly. Just like being honest about suffering, it’s good to keep us honest about what binds us together as we road trip through the world.

Thankfully, at the end of the day, and at the end of our baptismal journeys, it’s God’s promises that are steadfast. Our identity as baptized children of God fuel our actions. Actions that bring glory to God in heaven. But it’s God’s faithfulness, God’s grace in action, that we continue to proclaim from here to kingdom come. Thanks be to God. And amen.

________________________________________

[1] OG is slang for original.

________________________________________

2 Timothy 1:1-14

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
2To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Risking the Least Broken Choice [OR What’s Self-Interest Got to Do With It?] 

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 18, 2022

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Luke 16:1-13 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

[sermon begins]

Once a week, Pastor Ann and I get to hang out at Preacher’s Text Study with other Lutheran pastors. Mostly on Zoom, once a month in person, we talk with our colleagues about the Bible verses for the coming Sunday. We play with crazy ideas that would never preach, daring each other with the occasional, “I’ll give you a buck if you use that in a sermon.” So far, we’re all smart enough not to use those things in sermons. And sometimes we encourage each other with a solid, “That’ll preach!” Text study is a good way to avoid being a one-sermon wonder – although I’ve no doubt that you guys would totally be able to name my top favorite sermon themes. It’s also a good way to let the Holy Spirit live large, shattering assumptions and mischief-making with the texts. Last week’s text study was no exception. You can see why in the parable.

On first blush, Jesus’ parable seems to make a mockery of the life that he’s been demanding of his followers. The dishonest steward seems to end up okay, even commended by his master for acting shrewdly. Text study conversation went all over the place. Topics jumped quickly from the Mafia, staying Christian, John Wayne, Alcoholics Anonymous, righteous indignation, Puritanism, St. Francis of Assisi, and Robin Hood. One of my colleagues saved the field day with the biblical Greek meanings of “shrewd,” most often translated as “wise,” and of the word “dishonest” which is the less common translation of that word. More commonly, the Greek word for dishonest is translated “unrighteous.” Either way, we’re in a bind. Is Jesus’ telling us that it doesn’t matter how money is managed? That can’t be right. If that can’t be right, what gets us closer to Jesus’ teachings about money throughout the Gospel of Luke?

First century Galilee was occupied by Roman landlords and rulers who were loan sharks, tacking on high interest rates that could never be paid back so that they could acquire family land belonging to peasants when they couldn’t repay their loans.[1] At the time, it was common for landlords and their managers to pad the cost of things, adding 25-50% profit margins to the price.[2] Meanwhile, Jews had biblical commands about fair loans and debt forgiveness. Debt forgiveness was so much a thing for Jews that every 50 years a Jubilee year was commanded in which people were released from debt, prisoners and slaves were freed, and borrowed property was returned.[3] In this light, it’s possible that Jesus’ parable implicates the master AND the manager. We’re not told, but it’s possible that the manager was forgiving his percentage of the inflated price which maintained the master’s cut while reducing the peasants’ costs, leaving nothing for himself. This jives with verse 12, about being faithful with what belongs to another which can also be read as being faithful to what belongs to the peasants.[4] This reading of the parable lines up with Luke’s gospel in other places where Jesus’ talks about poverty and wealth but it’s unclear enough to keep us guessing.

So, we could argue that the shrewd manager was faithful with his dishonest wealth, sacrificing his own profit margins (not the landlords) so that he can be welcomed by the people he had ripped off when he loses his job. The bottom line is that the manager is commended for acting out of self-interest which also lightened the load of the peasants in debt. Everyone loves a good Robin Hood story – stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, making a bad thing good. But this doesn’t quite fit. This story has a different twist to it. The manager quite possibly didn’t rob from the rich. The manager robbed from himself for self-preservation. He said it himself in verses 3 and 4, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.”

Self-interest is a powerful thing. Self-interest doesn’t pull the heartstrings like stories of self-forgetting or self-sacrificing, like saving someone from a raging river and dying in their place. But self-interest does have its place when it lines up with Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”[5] Let’s take the real-time example here in Denver of housing unhoused folks. There could be many reasons why housing unhoused people would be important to you:

  • You yourself are unhoused and need a place to live.
  • You don’t want to see people camping on the street because there are no accessible restrooms which causes a public health problem.
  • You have a business and want customers to have clear access to your storefront and parking.
  • You’re tired of taking phone calls at your place of work about unhoused people.
  • You feel bad for people who don’t have a place to live.
  • You don’t want to give money to unhoused people at street corners.
  • You get the idea.

Uniting the self-interests of all the people who care about this issue can transform isolated self-interest into collective will to actually solve the problem of people who need a place to live.[6]

As Lutheran Christians, we believe that we are simultaneously saint and sinner by our baptisms. Being a sinner means that we’re capable of just about anything when left to our own devices in the right set of circumstances for self-preservation. Being a saint also means that we’re capable of just about anything given the right set of circumstances and given the power of the Holy Spirit. Turns out that Christians are just as unpredictable as everyone else. Lutheran Christians long ago adopted the phrase, “Sin Boldly.” This probably doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means. Please don’t run out of here today saying that your pastor told you that you can do whatever you want. Sinning boldly means that risks can be taken. If we know that sin is part of how we move through the world, then sinning boldly means taking the least broken choice and taking risks on behalf of God and neighbor.

Jesus’ parable isn’t metaphorical. Jesus tells this parable about money because it’s about money. The manager is trying to save his own skin. His shrewd self-interest is lauded in part because he risked a win-win solution that paid off for the people who couldn’t afford it any other way. He sinned boldly! He used his own dishonestly gained wealth to find that win-win, to reduce the debt of the very peasants who he hoped would welcome him. It’s important to read this parable NOT as if all bets are off and dishonesty is rewarded. But rather, read this parable as if Jesus is saying, “Game on!” Game on faithful people.

Any economic system is susceptible to greed, extreme wealth, and the exploitation of people. We just so happen to live in a capitalist economic structure. Faithful questions about money include:

  • Who is profiting, who is massively profiting, and who is being exploited?
  • Whose debt is or isn’t forgiven? Individual debt? Business debt?
  • Whose activities are subsidized with money not their own, and whose aren’t, be they individuals or institutions?
  • Who is being worshipped? Is it God? Or is it the idol of wealth?

The clearest thing that Jesus says in today’s reading is, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” It may be said clearly but it’s understood as clear as mud.

As God’s baptized people, Jesus’ teachings about money may honestly and courageously be wrestled with like everything else in life. Whoever said that it’s not polite to talk about money or politics did us a disservice because now we’re a whole bunch of people who don’t know how to talk about money or politics. Talking about money, wealth, and poverty takes honesty and courage. Honesty about our self-interest and the courage to listen to other people’s self-interest is a good place to start. And it can even be fun once we get the hang of it. We are freed by Jesus to talk about hard things and risk sinning boldly because we are a forgiven and free people set to work in this world that God so loves which, by definition, means God loves you too.

Thanks be to God. And amen.

_______________________________________________________

[1] Barbara Rossing, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Chicago, IL. Commentary on Luke 16:1-9 for Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-25-3/commentary-on-luke-161-13-2

[2] Rossing, ibid.

[3] Year of Jubilee: https://www.gotquestions.org/Jubilee.html

[4] Rossing, ibid.

[5] Luke 10:25-28

[6] More on self-interest here: https://www.faithactionhawaii.org/post/25th-anniversary-reflection-self-interest-means-self-among-others

No Time Like the Present to Catch Up on Beauty Rest [OR God Loves People, Not Power: Check Out the Commandment to Rest] Luke 13:10-17

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 21, 2022

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Luke 13:10-17 Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

[sermon begins]

“Remember the sabbath and keep it holy.”[1] Let’s geek out on that for a minute. It’s the third commandment of the big ten. In the Bible books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, this commandment is given with extra emphasis on who gets to rest. God commands rest for all the people – free people, enslaved people, and alien residents in the land. God commands rest for animals too – ox, donkey, and all livestock. In Exodus, the command is given to honor God’s rest on the seventh day after creating creation. In Deuteronomy, the command is given because the Hebrew people were once slaves without rest in Egypt, so rest is not to be taken for granted. In both books, the sabbath command is “to the Lord your God.” Resting to the Lord. Resting in the Lord. A holy day of rest. Breathe that in for minute. Holy rest for everyone and everything. Holiness for everyone and everything.

Holy rest. Holiness. Sabbath. A thing of beauty but a different kind of beauty rest. When we put it this way, it’s easier to have compassion for the synagogue leader when Jesus heals the woman from a crippling spirit on the Sabbath. Holy rest is hard to come by. We all know it. We know it bone deep – deep in the weariness that cripples our own spirits. But unless we have a daily battle that’s physical or cultural, it’s tough to appreciate the woman’s moment in the story. And Jesus had a way of expanding commandments at inopportune times, disrupting the moment while freeing the person in pain. Perhaps we could say he blew apart holiness only to reform it into something even holier. Jesus is always one step ahead, isn’t he? At least one step ahead, disrupting what we think should be happening with what God thinks should be happening. Jesus taking action is sometimes called good news or gospel. But in Lutheran Christian land, we often talk about law and gospel because law is often on the flipside of the gospel. We’re both freed by Jesus’ actions while at the same time convicted by Jesus’ actions.

Much like the synagogue leader whose reaction to Jesus’ action was angst and indignation, our reactions to law can be similar. Sabbath rest is a great example of law and gospel. Here we are this morning, Sabbath resting to God, listening to God’s word, reassured by God’s presence and promise in our lives. That’s gospel. At the same time, there are people who can’t be here, people who can’t take a Sabbath rest because they’re working. So, is Sabbath rest optional? Is Sabbath rest just for some of us? That can’t be right. Deuteronomy includes the alien in your lands, not just people who follow God’s command. Do we assume that everyone is able to rest at other times? Have we constructed a society in which rest isn’t for everyone? Is it possible that there is no such thing as true Sabbath rest until even the most vulnerable among us may rest?

The discomfort grows as the questions smolder. Much like when Jesus asks questions in our reading and his opponents were put to shame. Shame is an unhelpful emotion. Regret is a more useful cousin of shame because we learn from regret what it is we don’t want to do again. Regret edges us towards being convicted by the law which provokes our discomfort. It helps us by shaking us free to see our neighbor’s situation differently and therefore our own situation differently. Rev. Dr. King talked about something similar when he explained changing society through nonviolent resistance. He said:

This approach doesn’t make the white man feel comfortable. I think it does the other thing. It disturbs the conscience, and it disturbs the sense of contentment that he’s had.[2]

In our Bible story this morning, Jesus healed the woman from a crippling spirit. For her, freedom from 18 years of being enslaved to that spirit freed her for a Sabbath rest like none in her recent past. There was nothing more holy than her freedom in merciful healing. As she stood straight, she was living and breathing pure gospel. For that moment in time, she embodied the good news of Jesus. But her vertical body made another body uncomfortable. Maybe it’s like Rev. Dr. King said. Jesus’ approach didn’t make the synagogue leader feel comfortable. It did the other thing. It disturbed his conscience, and it disturbed the sense of contentment that he had. I would say that it disturbed his own ideas about the holy with a greater holiness.

When Jesus healed the woman, he changed at least two people’s perspectives. The woman saw the world around her at everyone else’s eye level for a change. Her perspective literally shifted from looking at the floor to looking people in the eye. The synagogue leader saw the woman’s healing as a disruption to Sabbath holiness rather than her healing as holiness. His perspective shifted when Jesus started asking questions and realized he wasn’t right. All of this to say that I wonder how greater holiness raises questions, disturbs our conscience, and shifts our perspective. I wonder where the law convicts us, and the gospel heals us simultaneously through Jesus’ actions.

In this summer’s Eucharistic Prayer during communion, we praise God’s merciful might in taking on flesh as Jesus our healer, while we remember his cross and praise his resurrection. In our weekly communion celebration, the praise for God’s mercy links first to the cross. On the cross is where God in Jesus chooses vulnerability and refuses to raise a hand in violence against the world God loves. Jesus absorbed human violence into death, burying it in a tomb, and revealing a love so powerful that even death could not end it.

A love that now lives in us as the body of Christ, the church. Sometimes the church is called the Body of Christ because Christ’s death and resurrection promise lives in us through our baptisms which empowers us by the Holy Spirit to love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But I wonder how we as the church more quickly react like the synagogue leader when our perspective of holiness is challenged rather than like the body of Christ from whom Christ’s love pours out to renew an exhausted world, deeply in need of rest and the reminder that God loves people, not power.

Jesus made himself vulnerable to power when he healed the woman in pain despite it being the Sabbath rest day. Embodying God’s love and mercy was high risk for him. God’s mercy is so radical that the world as it was, and as it is now, could not fathom a holier way. A holier way through which there is no time like the present to receive God’s love and mercy. And there’s no time like the present to give away God’s love and mercy. God’s merciful might is revealed through Jesus, our healer, who pours out his love for us here in this place of Sabbath rest, promising rest through disruption, pardon through conviction, and life through death. For this and for all that God is doing, we can say thanks be to God. And amen.

____________________________________________

[1] Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and Exodus 20:8-10 – Remember the sabbath and keep it holy…

[2] See video here: https://twitter.com/BerniceKing/status/1558245621064146944

What is God’s Joy? [OR Hummies, Hippos, and Humans] Luke 12:32-40 and Genesis 15:1-6

**sermon photo: Fiona’s first taste of watermelon with her mother Bibi. Cincinnati Zoo.

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 7, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 12:32-40 [Jesus said:] 32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Genesis 15:1-6 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

[sermon begins]

My daughter will tell you that I get pretty intense about our hummingbird visitors. I come by it honestly. Granddad and Grandma Ruth had extensive seed feeders for the birds. Teaching us bird names and sounds whenever we visited. My sister lives in a rural setting and has a bear and squirrel proof feeder. Mom and Larry had feeders until life became complicated both by health issues and the grackles who chased away the other birds. I keep things simple with my single hummingbird feeder outside my kitchen window. Visiting hummies bring joy all summer. Some trill as they swoop in for the nectar. Others are as stealth as a secret. I don’t know what it is about watching animals eat but I also follow several creatures on Instagram whose mealtime videos make me smile – Rico the porcupine crunching corn, Lightning the sloth slurping banana, and Fiona the hippo crushing watermelon.[1] Andy, our Minister of Music with an office next to mine, has been subjected to my sharing these silly videos of animals eating. Anyway, what could this possibly have anything to do with today’s readings?

Between last week’s parable about the rich fool and this week’s teaching about God’s good pleasure in giving the kingdom, Jesus teaches about God feeding the birds and dressing fields of grass.[2] God feeding the creatures leads into our Luke reading this morning. Have no fear, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. God’s good pleasure. God’s joy. While Jesus is teaching the disciples and “the crowd gathered in thousands,” he pauses to highlight God’s joy in sustaining their creatureliness by calling them “little flock.”[3]  I don’t believe for a second that we’re as cute as eaters as Rico the porcupine or my hummie visitors, but I do think it’s good to wonder about God’s joy when it comes to us as God’s creatures.

In the Genesis reading, God tells Abram that his descendants can be counted by stargazing. Actually counting the stars is an impossible task. God is asking Abram to step outside, in the dark of night, and look up to experience the beauty of joy. My brother Kevin likes to talk about how we’re star-babies because we’re made of the same molecular compounds found across the universe. Abram didn’t know that. But he had faith that God was God. He knew that the God of the stars was the God he understood very little about even as he trusted God to keep God’s promises. God invited Abram into joy even though he couldn’t see it yet.

In Jesus’ example in Luke, the master shows up ready to serve which is ridiculous. Dinner is served to slaves by the one who is usually served. The Master dresses for action, belt fastened so that robes don’t get in the way. Ready for action. Ready to feed. Ready for joy. The same action and joy that Jesus’ commands his listeners to be dressed and ready for. First century slavery would make Jesus’ statement silly. Our country’s history of White Americans enslaving Black Africans puts Jesus’ teaching about God into even starker contrast. Our collective imagination can barely grasp the absurdity of a God who serves slaves. Yet, here we are. Jesus is going for it, wanting the crowd, the disciples, and us to hear a good word about a reckless, extravagant God, “[4]filling the hungry with good things.”

Hungry people require urgent action. I don’t have a lot of patience for questioning whether or not people should be fed as if there is any justifiable situation where immediate food should be withheld. Hungry people need food. An anonymous note was left on our Sanctuary Soup Shelf last week that brings this idea to life. Here’s what the note writer wrote:

“Hello – I am not one that is eloquent with words so I do hope the meaning (as my heart see it) come through this right now…I live approx. 15 mins away & was asked to stop by one night w/ a elderly woman that is pretty much a “shut in” with limited mobility (I drive and help where I can). The 24 Hour access to food is so much appreciated by those that do not always have a reliable form of transportation AND as she stated, coming here, especially @ night helps her try to maintain her pride. I appreciate how beautifully (organized) it’s stocked. Thank you all!”

The Soup Shelf note writer understands that immediate hunger needs immediate food. 24/7, anonymous food access at the Soup Shelf on the front of our sanctuary serves a small and emergent need. A few chapters before our reading today, Jesus understood immediate hunger, feeding 5,000 men, not to mention all the women and children too.[5] There’s immediate need and then there’s figuring out why people are hungry and structuring a society in which hunger doesn’t exist. We’re talking hunger that means poor nutrition and bellyaches.

500 years ago, Martin Luther, the namesake of the Lutheran Church, worked with the church and public leaders in his town to set up a system called the “Common Chest.”[6] It was literally a chest with multiple locks and had to be opened by several key holders. The point was to make sure that needs were being met. Churches and princes working together to do so. In our 21st century times, faith driven community programs and legislation function similarly. Jesus teaches against fear and self-serving uses of money time and again. It’s like he totally gets how much we distort money and its use for our own comfort and power. Our verses from today push Jesus followers then and now to sell our stuff and give alms. Alms are money that go directly to the immediate needs of people with immediate needs. Luther also took action and created a system between church, the princes, and the towns to meet those needs. You could tell the Reformation reached a town because people received both bread and wine at Holy Communion and because there was a Common Chest.

Immediate needs are not just about food, but what it takes to live. One of the indicators of a troubled society is when politicians start speeching about tougher laws, increased prison sentences, and more police. Yet law and order policies tend to put more people in prison, especially more black and brown people caught in the net of poverty related crimes for a host of other systemic problems. Before anyone too angtsy with me, BOTH major political parties are gearing up with this message before the November elections.

As community members, it’s helpful for us to know that prisons come at a high cost and incubate people in an environment with known risk factors for violent crime – shame, poverty, isolation, and exposure to more violence.[7] Prison exposes people to the things that increase the likelihood that they will commit more crime. You know what’s proven to reduce crime and increase public safety? Housing, education, and health care. [8] The very things that help people provide food for themselves. Yet we spend money on building more prisons rather than solve the problems that lead us to build them. Food insecurity is a sign that larger issues are at hand. That we even have a Soup Shelf out there meeting people’s needs is a symptom not a long-term solution. Tackling those issues through the ballot box, putting our treasures where God’s heart is, into the very programs that help the people for whom God’s heart breaks, and building communities where each life is sacred is taking action.

Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Luke goes a long way in helping us see the joy in God’s heart when God’s creatures are sustained in living their lives. God’s joy in giving away the kingdom is one of God’s “now and not yet” promises. God’s kingdom here and now means that, as Jesus followers, the Holy Spirit inspires us for action and joy when any of our fellow creatures need an extra boost from human friends – whether they’re hummies or hippos or other humans. Creaturely comfort is a cooperative effort not an individual foot race. God’s heart holds the birds and the lilies and us. That’s a remarkable claim. And God knows that our heart follows our money. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[9] Jesus hardly lets up on the topic across the gospels. (At least, that’s what it feels like right now for this preacher anyway.)

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This is now and not yet. We are called to action in God’s kingdom now, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and find incredible joy in God’s joy of creation. And we’re also promised God’s kingdom when our earthly pilgrimage as God’s creature is done. Have no fear, little flock, for God’s joy includes you in the kingdom.

____________________________________________________

[1] Check out videos of these animal friends here: https://search.yahoo.com/search?fr=mcafee&type=E210US714G0&p=cincinatti+zoo+animals+eating+videos

[2] Luke 12:22-31

[3] Luke 12:1 describes the crowd.

[4] Luke 1:53 from Jesus’ mother Mary’s Magnificat (song)

[5] Luke 9:14; Matthew 14:21; Mark 6:44 – Feeding the 5,000

[6] Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. Video: The Common Chest Ensures that Everyone’s Needs are Met. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaP423egx-0

[7] Restorative Justice: Why Do We Need It? By Brave New Films https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N3LihLvfa0&t=131s

[8] Consider doing your own quick web search on public safety and crime reduction. It’s illuminating.

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2018/01/03/new-evidence-that-access-to-health-care-reduces-crime/

https://siepr.stanford.edu/publications/policy-brief/how-better-access-mental-health-care-can-reduce-crime

https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2013/aug/15/affordable-housing-reduces-crime/

Why Does Education Reduce Crime? University of Chicago https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/717895

[9] Luke 12:34

Generosity and Connection: The Antidote to Greed and Despair [OR The Parable of the Rich Fool] Luke 12:13-22, Ecclesiastes and Psalm 49

**sermon art: Generosity by Stig Lofnes (~1960 – present) oil on canvas

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 31, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings; Psalm 49 is at the end of the sermon]

Luke 12:13-22 Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

12I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

2:18I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me 19—and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

[sermon begins]

Last Sunday, Pastor Ann preached about the audacity of this congregation to live life on Jesus’ terms and not just on our own.[1] To live and pray and serve as Jesus did. To imagine what could be done with the empty land just down the hill from this sanctuary as part of our strategic planning. To vote as a congregation to partner with Habitat for Humanity Metro Denver to build affordable townhomes. Pastor Ann preached about that over four-year process and the persistence of the congregation that culminated in the rezoning vote at the next day’s Denver City Council meeting. I’m very excited to report that this past Monday, Denver City Council voted unanimously to rezone, 13-0.[2]

At the City Council meeting, Pastor Ann and Council President Michael Zumwalt testified on behalf of the rezoning alongside one of our neighbors representing the South Hilltop Neighborhood Association, alongside our partners from Habitat for Humanity Metro Denver. Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer adder her enthusiastic remarks about the congregation and the process it took to get here. There is A LOT of excitement in the City of Denver about this Affordable Housing! (My sermon copies include a link to check it out.) It’s unique to have the neighborhood association, the developer (Habitat), AND a faith community working together towards a shared goal of housing – so that, as Pastor Ann preached, “people we haven’t met yet will have a safe and decent place to call home.”

Homes come in all shapes and sizes. Multifamily homes like apartments and condos. Single family homes from the tiny to the towering. Common denominators shared by all homes are money and people. People need homes and money to sustain them whether they’re rented or owned. We often talk about money as if it’s a disconnected thing. Money’s over there while people are over there. The two topics get disconnected as if one has nothing to do with the other.

I wonder if this could be why Jesus gets right to the point when he talks about money. People and money are as connected as it gets and Jesus focuses on connecting people with God and each other. Like today’s Gospel reading from Luke about the disputed inheritance and Jesus’ parable about the rich fool. It was normal for a younger brother to bring inheritance questions to their rabbis who could settle a dispute.[3] He was likely a younger brother because there was a norm in estate law of the time that either kept the estate fully intact by the oldest son OR that allotted the older brother a double-share with the younger brother receiving a third – much like the younger brother in the Prodigal son parable[4] who received one-third of his father’s estate.[5] Somehow Jesus was on to the younger son’s greedy motives because he answered his question with the parable about the greed of the rich fool.

Even Jesus’ easy parables aren’t easy. At face value, the parable of the rich fool is kind of simple. Simply interpreted: Greed is bad; and so is the man who builds the bigger barn. So what if the man builds a bigger barn? It’s HIS grain. He can do what he wants with grain produced on his land. But the reality of parables is that they have layers, layers that wrap around listeners and pull us in. Pull us in and shine light on our own lives by the parable. Here’s a layer. Building a bigger barn focuses on HIS wealth, himself and no one else. He’s not simply a rich fool, he’s also a lonely one. His bigger barn builds walls not only around his grain but between himself and his community. He dies alone with no one to give it to. Missing the chance to bless God by blessing others.

Greed as a topic is difficult. No one enjoys self-examination on the greed spectrum. It’s made extra difficult because we humans have a survival instinct that trips us up. This is one reason that the empty tomb of resurrection is helpful. The empty tomb is the end of the story promised through the cross of Christ. Because we know the end is rich in God’s promise, we’re free to examine the middle of the story; our own stories through the lens of the parable of the rich fool.

His greed is one example of self-preservation run amok. He has so much grain at his disposal that his bigger barn turns into his only idea. The rich fool is in an echo chamber of his own making. He turns only to himself about what to do with all his grain. Once he decides to build a bigger barn, he tells his soul to relax, eat, drink, and be merry. He doesn’t talk with his workers, his community, or God. And he curves in on himself even further by taking his own advice. And then he dies alone, curved around his wealth yet unable to take it with him.

Jesus often convicts his listeners, showing them how curved in on themselves they’ve become. Turned inward and, therefore, turned away from God. And turned inward and turned away from neighbors. Jesus attempts to turn the younger son, who is worried about his inheritance, outwards. The parable about the man who builds the bigger barn can be heard as Jesus’ attempt to wake up that younger son along with everyone else who is listening in, and live life on Jesus’ terms and not our own. Jesus’ terms include right-sizing ourselves alongside everyone else. As his mother Mary sang in her Magnificat earlier in Luke, “Bringing down the powerful…and lifting up the lowly.”[6] Leveling and strengthening the connections between each other as a meaningful way to live before any of us flat lines.

Last weekend, a lot of my time was spent with families who were saying goodbye to loved ones who had died. When we celebrate someone’s life, we often say quite a bit about the person who died. We remember them and we remember God’s promises to them. I often remind people during the welcome that as we celebrate the person who died, funerals can also bring up other losses in our lives, allowing grief a sacred space and time. With each funeral, as I listen to the stories about the person who died, it makes me grateful for the ways that I knew that person, grateful for other people in my life who have died, and grateful for the precious fragility of my own life and the people I love.

In Ecclesiastes, the writer known as the Teacher reflects on mortality. In the verses read today, the Teacher is almost cynical about the transience of life. Here one minute, gone the next. The Hebrew word for vanities is “hebel,” meaning breath or vapor.[7] “All is vapor…and a chasing after the wind,” says the Teacher who reminds us what really matters about life. The Psalm is nicely paired with both Ecclesiastes and the parable in getting us to think about the value of life. The parable reveals the value of life in the tragedy of the rich fool who wastes his life by spending abundant wealth only himself, the psalmist reflects the value of life in a matter-of-fact way – you’re mortal and finite so you can either trust God or trust self and wealth; and Ecclesiastes edges toward the cynical before the Teacher turns the book towards hope in later verses.[8]

The value of life is worth wrangling through hard conversations, intense prayer, and careful thinking. Figuring out how to spend our moments and our money makes at least the attempt to align our lives on Jesus’ terms, focusing on life with our short spans of life together here. Encouraging each other along the way lest we fall into despair or turn inwards on ourselves and lose sight of each other and of God. One of the gifts of being part of a faith community is the gift of reminding each other to uncurl from inward turning. Christ unleashes us from the perils of self-preservation at the expense of our neighbors by reminding us that we belong to each other and to God, inspiring generosity as the very antidote to greed and connection as the antidote to despair. In the very next verses after our Luke reading, Jesus tells his followers not to worry. Next week we’ll hear a few of these verses as Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Reminding us once more that out of God’s generosity comes our own. Thanks be to God, and amen.

___________________________________________________

[1] Watch Ann Hultquist’s powerful sermon here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKgPQP8TXbM

[2] Listen to those 32 minutes about the rezoning vote of the Denver City Council meeting here: https://denver.granicus.com/player/clip/14946?meta_id=1105979

[3] Niveen Saras, Pastor, Immanuel Lutheran Church of Wausau, Wausau, WI. Commentary on Luke 12:13-21 for WorkingPreacher.org

[4] Luke 15:11-16

[5] Saras, Ibid.

[6] Luke 1:52

[7] J. Blake Couey, Associate Professor of Religion, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota. Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-18-3/commentary-on-ecclesiastes-12-12-14-218-23-5

[8] Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. Sermon Brainwave Podcast: #855 8th Sunday after Pentecost. https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/855-8th-sunday-after-pentecost-ord-18c-july-31-2022

_______________________________________________________

Psalm 49:1-12

Hear this, all you peoples; give ear, all inhabitants of the world,

2both low and high, rich and poor together.

3My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.

4I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

5Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me,

6those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?

7Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it.

8For the ransom of life is costly, and can never suffice

9that one should live on forever and never see the grave.

10When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others.

11Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they named lands their own.

12Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.

Broken Open to Mercy (OR The Good Samaritan and the Intimacy of Wound Care) Luke 10:25-37

 

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 10, 2022

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Luke 10:25-37  Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

[sermon begins]

The Good Samaritan has been on my mind these past few weeks. Little bits of the parable would bubble up, capture my imagination for a few minutes, and then fade away when something more pressing took his place. Jesus’ parable isn’t limited only to my imagination. His story that defines a neighbor lives large in public record too. It’s one of those stories that people know even if they don’t know the Bible. There are Good Samaritan laws in the U.S. and around the world that legally protect people who give emergency help. And there are hospitals named after the Good Samaritan. It’s in hospitals that I learned a lot about wounds. When I was a 19-year-old nursing student, I did a rotation through the burn unit at Los Angeles County Hospital.[1] For those of you who’ve been in Denver a long time, think Denver Health but on a massive scale – 1,680 beds, 20 stories, Art Deco style, a regional medical center caring for the poorest of the poor while also boasting a world class teaching program and a Level 1 Trauma Center. To my 19-year-old eyes, the burn unit was overwhelming. Patients were all ages, in pain, scared, and wounded. Two of the patients are seared into my memory even today. While I was there, I learned that there was no way that I could ever do what those burn nurses do daily. I also learned a lot about wounds.

Skin is a barrier that we don’t really think about until it’s breached. Wounds are a breach. Large, multiple wounds are deadly. Especially deadly in antiquity with no access to antibiotics. Those of us who have had such a wound or have cared for such wounds know that each injury is unique and so is the care. Personal care of wounds cannot be outsourced. People are needed to care for people. Wound care is intimate. The barrier of skin no longer exists. The wounds of the stranger on the side of the road captured my imagination as much as the Samaritan. Robbed and beaten, laid flat on the roadside, he needed personal care to live another day. The Samaritan stayed on the same side of the road, close enough to be emotionally moved by the wounded man. Emotionally moved to get involved in his care. Kneeling in the dust to clean his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them to flush them out and seal them before bandaging them, the Samaritan used what he had and did what he could. Crossing barriers of all kinds to do so.

A few verses before the Samaritan story, Jesus followers were wondering if they should rain fire down on a Samaritan for not receiving Jesus.[2] Jesus rebuked James and John for the ridiculous plan but the story reveals conflict and hostility. A few verses later, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus goes the extra mile in redeeming the Samaritans by spotlighting their humanity in the one he calls a neighbor, the one whose broken heart bleeds mercy. The lawyer tries to justify himself in the eyes of God by asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” The short answer is that your neighbor is the very one that you think would be better off dead. The longer answer is that your neighbor is the very one you have something to learn from when you think they aren’t worth saving. We don’t know if the wounded man was good or bad, worthy of the tender loving care, time, and money given by the Samaritan. Worthiness isn’t part of the parable. Mercy between strangers in the form of wound care is a part of the parable.

Woundedness looks different for different people – physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial. The wounds of our neighbor can be easy to miss or ignore. This summer, our Compassion and Action with our Neighbors ministry invites us into a Summer of Service. CAN Ministry has opportunities for volunteering with our local ministry partners like Habitat for Humanity Metro Denver and Metro Caring. No prior experience necessary. The invitation also includes filling out the worship slips to track our volunteer hours beyond the congregation in the wider community. CAN Ministry hopes to better understand the variety of volunteering and neighboring organizations that our congregation works with at the individual level. The number of hours given to a variety of organizations and individuals are already interesting. Please keep filling out those slips either online or at worship on Sunday.

Just like not everyone is cut out to be a nurse in a burn unit, not everyone is cut out for every act of service. Likewise, we have different capacities for service during different seasons of our lives. Regardless, the capacity for neighborliness emerges out of the grace and love God gives us which frees us to love and serve our neighbor without any need to justify ourselves. The lawyer in the parable attempted to justify himself, meaning that he was attempting to make himself right with God. Lutheran Christianity became a thing over 500 years ago because there was clarity that the only thing that makes us right with God is God. We don’t build our way to God by being good or by being loving neighbors. We are freed by God to love our neighbor because we don’t need to make ourselves right with God. This is a tough concept.

It’s amazing to me when faithful, wonderful people in the church agonize over whether they’ve been good enough to meet God. God doesn’t meet us because we’re good. God meets us because God is good. Again, a tough concept for our minds that are laser-focused on merit and worthiness. Even dear Mr. Rogers of 31 seasons and over 900 episodes of television fame[3]…Mr. Rogers the ordained minister who sang, told stories, and listened to neighbors…even Mr. Rogers struggled with the idea of worthiness when he asked his wife towards the end of his life if he was good enough. We can put this question to rest. No one can justify themselves before God. Not the lawyer in the parable. Not Mr. Rogers. And not us. We are justified by God’s grace alone through the love of Jesus, love revealed in his earthly ministry and love ultimately revealed through self-sacrifice in cross-born wounds.

And just like that, we’re back to wounds. From the shadow of the cross, beneath the wounded feet of Jesus, we take baby steps as we try to love our neighbor. The Samaritan is an example of advanced neighborliness. He stopped in the road and tended wounds at great cost to himself in time and money. Where others saw a barrier, the Samaritan saw mercy through his broken heart. The invitation today is to take a baby step. Perhaps we could think of a baby step like the difference between washing a small cut and applying a Band-Aid versus applying a full moisture-retentive dressing.

Some of us are worshipping today with deep emotional or spiritual wounds and barely healed scars that still need tending. If that is you, allowing someone else to be your neighbor, to show you mercy, to care for your wounds and help you heal, may be the baby step that you need to take. Some of us know a thing or two about vulnerability, allowing someone to cross through our barriers when we desperately needed hope and healing. It can be difficult to accept that you need help and to ask for the help you need. Consider that the Samaritan wouldn’t be famous without the wounded man. There are times when our wounds are too big to tend ourselves. The story about the Samaritan is one of connection through suffering. We more clearly see each other as fellow humans on a shared journey when the things that we think are important are stripped away, knowing that the next person who needs help could be ourselves. Thanks be to God and amen.

_________________________________________________________________

[1] Hospital Operations have since been relocated into adjacent buildings with updated earthquake safety standards required for hospitals. The Hospital is currently known as LA County+USC Medical Center. https://www.laconservancy.org/locations/los-angeles-countyusc-medical-center

[2] Luke 9:51-56

[3] https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/11/8850958/what-happened-to-mr-rogers-after-show-ended

My Three Dads [OR Jesus, Juneteenth, and Self-Justification] Luke 8:26-39, 1 Kings 19:1-15a, Galatians 3:23-29

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 19, 2022

[sermon begins after two Bible readings; the 1 Kings reading about Elijah is at the end of this post]

Galatians 3:23-29 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Luke 8:26-39 Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

[sermon begins]

My Three Sons was a T.V. show when I was little. I can still hum the opening music…[1] That show pops into my head whenever I talk about my three dads. It IS Father’s Day and, as someone who had more than their share of dads, it’s a relevant aside today. I learned a lot from each of my fathers. Dad, my first dad, is a faded memory a little like a dream.[2] I remember good and bad, echoes of love and fear. Dad died in 1989 although we hadn’t seen him in many years. Pops, my second dad, did the love and work of raising the five of us siblings after he had raised four children of his own. My stepsiblings were all young adults when Mom and Pops were married. Pops died in 2002.[3] Larry, my mother’s husband of 18 years, is a third dad of sorts. He nearly became a Catholic priest but married, had children, and became a college professor instead.[4] I carry gifts from each of my three dads in addition to the baggage. Seeing the gifts through the baggage is something I’ve worked on and treasure at this point in my life. One of the gifts of having three dads is experiencing different ways of being family, of knowing deep down inside that love expands even when people think love is finite. Having had these experiences where family norms changed up, it makes sense to me that we learn patterns of behavior that are as invisible to us as the air we breathe. We just think they’re normal because they’re normal to us.

The Gerasene demoniac in our Bible story had become a normal part of his community. Oh, sure, Legion was naked, unpredictable, dripping with demons, and living in the tombs when he wasn’t shackled and chained in town, but his community knew what to expect from him. He was their normal. They knew what to expect from the man until Jesus showed up. Jesus showed up, sent the demons into a herd of pigs who raced to the lake and drowned. It’s curious that the city folks were afraid when they saw the man sitting calmly at the feet of Jesus. Their fear was so great that they asked Jesus to leave town. Their normal had been disrupted with healing. It makes me wonder about our own comfort with the demons that we know versus the healing that we don’t know.

A lot is known about individual healing and transformation especially related to addiction and recovery. Less is known about how we might transform systems, whether that system is our family, our town, our country, or our world. The more people you add, the more complicated it gets. I’m interested in those systems and what it takes to fight through fear of the unknown future to leave behind the chains and shackles that bind us. I’m interested in how a God who loves the whole world animates us by the power of the Spirit. We know that those of us who face addiction and find healing in rooms of recovery like Alcoholics Anonymous process those experiences with an honest accounting of the hurt inflicted while making amends to those who have been hurt.

Notice that Jesus sent the healed man back into his community, back with his people. Restoring the man into relationships long thought irredeemable. I see that demoniac reconciled with his community, and I see our families, and cities, and country and I wonder, do I believe in a God of transformation or don’t I?

Racism and its effects on our country are hotly debated. We just passed the seventh anniversary of the Emanuel 9.[5] Nine black people were killed by a 21-year-old white man at a church Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. Two of the black people at that Bible study were educated in Lutheran seminaries. The killer was raised in an ELCA Lutheran Church. Racism is not a problem unique to the ELCA. It is a problem baked into the system of our country’s formation right through the practices and policies and laws today. The church, the body of Christ, is uniquely positioned to address racism and work on it in ourselves and within our faith community because we confess every Sunday to things we’ve done and left undone, not loving our neighbor with our whole heart.

This summer, Augustana’s Human Dignity Delegates ministry invites us to read How to Be an Antiracist.[6] All of us are invited to read it, wonder about Dr. Kendi’s arguments. Bring questions and thoughts to our check-in conversation in July and the larger conversation in August. We’ll critique the book from our different perspectives and wrestle with the content.

Today is Juneteenth[7] – a celebration of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 finally arriving in Texas over two years later on June 19, 1865, along with the Federal troops to announce and enforce the freedom of the enslaved people there. Juneteenth (short for June 19th), as of this year, is a state holiday in Colorado. It’s as good a time as any for us as Coloradans and as Lutherans to wonder about how we work for truth and reconciliation across differences of race that are unexamined and embedded – a.k.a. normal – in our policies and practices because it hadn’t occurred to us to look at them in that way.

As a confessional church, we confess our faith in Jesus as Lord of heaven and earth, giver of radical grace and unconditional love. We also confess each Sunday that there is much we do and leave undone that hurts ourselves and our neighbors. Frankly, there’s not much difference between family systems like mine with my three dads, and larger cultural systems that bring both gifts and challenges. There are differences of scale and impact for sure. But there is no difference in the ways that most of us leave patterns of behavior unexamined and, if they are examined, we can end up justifying those patterns as just the way the world works. It’s just normal.

The Elijah Bible story we heard this morning, offers a few hints about continuing fearful, exhausting work with an unknown future. Elijah is on the run from a furious Queen Jezebel who wants to kill him. He hides in the wilderness in despair, thinking he’s better off dead. While hiding, he rests, and he eats, and he rests again. He is sent out to wait for God to pass by which God eventually does in the sound of “sheer silence.” Naps, snacks, and silence are examples of slowing down to figure out and do what we think God wants us to do. The world is a noisy place. Many voices clamor for attention and the fights often devolve into who can be first to humiliate whom. Jesus followers are offered a different path. We are free to get rid of things that have become normal that don’t serve us or our neighbors.

The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Galatian church that we are free. Freed in Christ by faith so that all are one in Christ – no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male and female. Bible stories name differences all over the place and names us neighbors across difference – think the Syrophoenician woman[8], the Good Samaritan[9], and the Ethiopian eunuch[10] – although in fairness, race as we understand it is a much later 16th century social construct.[11]

While reassuring that Christ is the great leveler, hierarchies that divide us remain true our own minds. It takes practice to celebrate and not fear difference in other people – practice in prayer, practice in worship, practice in thought and conversation, and practice in relationship with all of kinds of people. As people freed by Jesus, without any reason to have to justify ourselves, we are free to practice as the body of Christ so that all may freely live without fear. Happy Juneteenth and amen.

 

Song after the Sermon:

Healer of Our Every Ill

Refrain
Healer of our ev’ry ill,
light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear,
and hope beyond our sorrow.

1 You who know our fears and sadness,
grace us with your peace and gladness;
Spirit of all comfort, fill our hearts. Refrain

2 In the pain and joy beholding
how your grace is still unfolding,
give us all your vision, God of love. Refrain

3 Give us strength to love each other,
ev’ry sister, ev’ry brother;
Spirit of all kindness, be our guide. Refrain

4 You who know each thought and feeling,
teach us all your way of healing;
Spirit of compassion, fill each heart. Refrain

_______________________________________________________

[1] My Three Sons opening credits and music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpEsDaOuiyk

[2] Captain Larry Brien Palm, Ph.D. (9/1/1938-7/28/1989). We left my Dad when I was small because his mental illness devolved him into violence. Dad’s gravestone may be viewed here: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/113725753/larry-brien-palm

[3] John William Cloer (1/3/1929-12/28/2002) https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/latimes/name/john-cloer-obituary?pid=691002. Pops’ gravestone may be viewed here: https://billiongraves.com/grave/John-William-Cloer/12973585

[4] Lawrence P. Ulrich, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Dayton. https://udayton.edu/directory/artssciences/philosophy/ulrich_lawrence.php. See Larry’s Curriculum Vitae here: https://academic.udayton.edu/LawrenceUlrich/UlrichCV.html

[5] “South Carolina Lutheran Pastor: Dylann Roof was Church Member, His Family Prays for Victims.” June 19, 2015. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/dylann-roof-religion-church-lutheran_n_7623990

[6] Ibram X. Kendi. How to Be an AntiRacist. https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2020/june/ibram-x-kendi-definition-of-antiracist.html

[7] What is Juneteenth? https://www.history.com/news/what-is-juneteenth

[8] Mark 7:24-30 Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman

[9] Luke 10:25-37 The parable of the Good Samaritan

[10] Acts 8:26-39 Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

[11] The History of the Idea of Race https://www.britannica.com/topic/race-human/The-history-of-the-idea-of-race

_______________________________________________________ ___________________

1 Kings 19:1-15a  Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” [5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” ] 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15aThen the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.”