Tag Archives: anger

Auld Lang Syne and A Breath of Fresh Air – Matthew 2:13-23 [OR Echoes the Sound of Silent Night: Herod, Holy Innocents, and the Holy Family]

 

**sermon art:  “The Flight Into Egypt” by Carl Dixon (b. 1960), mixed media on sculpted wood panel.  African-American wood-carving rooted in traditional West African folk art. http://sacredartpilgrim.com/collection/view/50

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 1, 2023

[sermon begins after Bible reading – check this one out, it’s infrequently read in the church calendar and has an alternate set of readings for the day so it’s not often heard]

Matthew 2:13-23 Now after [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

[sermon begins]

Happy New Year, friends. Today is quite a mash up. Like Christmas Day last week, New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday AND takes in annual place within the 12 Days of Christmas. I’ve been looking forward to today. The Bible readings give us a chance to tease apart the freshly minted 2023 and the urge for a fresh start in the echoes of Auld Lang Syne.[1] Auld Lang Syne means “the good old days,”[2] filtering the past through rose-colored light, softening hard edges with hazy nostalgia. Out of that haze comes the instinct to dust off the past and polish ourselves into new-and-improved versions of self with new year resolutions. The power of this instinct to re-make, re-do, and re-new, makes the good news of the manger that much more needed – the good news that God slips on skin in solidarity with our fragile humanity and reminds us that there is nothing we can do or not do to make God love us any more or any less. God’s love is the good news that unfilters the past and frees us to untangle the good, the bad, and the ugly and to tell the truth about it. Good news that rejects shame and inspires curiosity as a breath of fresh air in a fresh calendar year.

I find myself doing a lot of breathing these days. So much so that “breathe” is the word that I chose in Advent to guide my prayer during the church year. Still recovering from shoulder capsule surgery last fall, my stretching exercises include repetitions of each stretch, twice through the series. I breathe in, stretch, hold that stretch while slowly breathing out, counting 1…2…3…4…5 – 2…2…3…4…5 – 3…2…3…4…5…and so on. That’s A LOT of breathing. My shoulder reminds me that last year’s reality isn’t automatically re-booted by the new calendar. Maybe you have a reminder of your own – a reminder of body, mind, or spirit – that last year isn’t magically re-booted too.

Today’s Bible readings are also a reminder that as much as the world changed with the birth of Jesus, his birth didn’t re-boot the world. There was still the abuse of power by leaders who would have their own way regardless of the human cost. King Herod’s fragile ego and furious response to the wise men’s diversion was beyond the pale. The wise men didn’t let Herod know that they’d found the child Jesus in Bethlehem. After depositing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh with the Holy Family, they’d been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so the wise men returned home on a different road.[3] Learning of their deception, Herod lashed out and “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time he had learned from the wise men.[4] The Holy Family’s escape to Egypt didn’t erase the fear and pain of the families trapped in Bethlehem – their agony and grief echoed in past generations by Rachel’s weeping for the slaughter of other innocents centuries before. Their grief echoes between the sound of silent night and an old rugged cross – God suffering with them in pain and despair.

Herod’s anger is easy to distance ourselves from. His power is incomprehensible as is his slaughter of the innocents, the babies of Bethlehem. But this Bible reading opens a path to examine our own anger, and the regret of actions taken in anger, that invites curiosity, confession, and making amends however inadequate those amends may be in the face of individual and collective grief. I read recently that anger is really just grief with some energy behind it. I suppose we could say that Herod was grieved by a threat to his power. Grief goes hand-in-hand with loss. Losses pile up in situations beyond our control.

Loss comes with changes of all kinds. Herod reacted in anger when his power was threatened by Jesus’ birth. His power was further threatened when the wise men ignored his command and went home by a different road. His anger led to violence. Our anger can lead to violence too. Even our anger with ourselves can lead to violence against ourselves in the form of shame, self-harm, addiction, and more. Most of us can’t imagine Herod’s power. But we can see how anger spirals out of control in our own lives, hurting partners, children, or co-workers with words and actions borne out of anger. We can get curious and ask for help with our anger, figuring out how to move from breathing and counting to quiet anger, into healing from what lies beneath the anger. It’s hard to see through the haze of Auld Lang Syne. It’s even harder to confess that the good old days weren’t that good. But one promise of the Christ-child in a manger is that our personal Herodian holier-than-thou violence is not our whole story because God loves us just that much.

The Bible story also invites our thinking about the Holy Family on the run to Egypt, the Holy Innocents who didn’t survive Herod’s death sentence, and how we work with people fleeing the violence of conflict, persecution, poverty, and climate crises[5] – including how we hold ourselves accountable as the church, and our local and national governments accountable, for impacting and solving these humanitarian crises. Both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible preach about caring for the stranger and neighbor.[6] Part of caring for strangers is acting in hope and faith whether or not we agree about the causes of mass migration and even if the outcome is unknown.

Last year, and not for the first time in Augustana’s history, our congregation formed a team of people to work with refugees connected with Lutheran Family Services. We have two teams of people led by Amy, Gerd, and Josie, who went through the training and a few folks are waiting on their background checks. One of our Refugee Support Teams just welcomed a Kurdish Syrian family to Denver and is working with them on getting settled. Ways to help this family, and also ways to help the South American migrants who arrived recently in Denver, are in the weekly Epistle emails and your worship announcement bulletin. The scale of human need can be overwhelming. As with all of our work with our neighbors, all of us can’t do everything but some of us can do one thing. The hope of the manger is partly revealed in the action of the church, the risen body of Christ whose humble beginnings in a manger echo through us all.

I recently spoke with someone who feels fortunate to have had a long life with her faith at the center of it. As we were talking about her last days and weeks, she told me that she had an experience years ago in which her anger just disappeared. She ordinarily would have been angry but she wasn’t. The absence of anger in that situation allowed her to tend to herself and other people in the situation differently than she ordinarily would have. While the story was riveting, what caught my attention most was the very last part when she said, “And you know pastor, it was fun!” Apparently, it’s fun not to get angry and see what happens. I wouldn’t know. For me, it goes back to breathing while anger wanes – breathe in, hold breath, slowly breathing out, hold, 1…2…3…4…5 – 2…2…3…4…5 – 3…2…3…4…5… Breathing through anger is a different set of stretching exercises. Getting it down to the point of fun? Now that would be a game changer, maybe even a world changer.

As we live and breathe, 2023 is upon us. It feels hard to believe. What I do believe is that by the power of God’s Spirit, each new day that we’re alive is an opportunity to cling to God’s promises of faith, hope, and love with our very fragile bodies, and is a fresh chance to shower the people around us with faith, hope, and love. While the promise of the manger, of Emmanuel – God with us, does not remove anger and the abuse of power from our world, its light gives us hope.

Hope that our own anger and frustration won’t perpetuate violent words and deeds against ourselves, family, neighbors, and strangers.

Hope that empowers us into action with our neighbors who may also be strangers.

Hope that shifts us from anger into the fun of peace. And ultimately the hope that God meets us where we are, as we are, and calls us beloved.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and amen.

______________________________________________________

[1] Literal translation from the Scottish “auld lang syne” is “times long ago” which in common usage means “good old times.” https://www.merriam webster.com/dictionary/auld%20lang%20syne

[2] Give a listen to this beautiful take on the old song by Ryan Ahlwardt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxQTxn-R1gY

[3] Matthew 2:1-12

[4] Mathew 2:16

[5] This is a good article that includes Biblical references about the Judeo-Christian perspectives of “aliens” and “strangers.” Yonathan Moya. January 21, 2020. www.borderperspective.org/blog/what-does-the-bible-say-about-welcoming-immigrants

[6] Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Matthew 25:35, Luke 10:27, Romans 12:13, Ephesians 2:19. Also, Biblical characters who were migrant refugees: Abraham & Sarah, Hagar, David, Jesus, Aquila and Pricilla.

God is Love [OR It Can’t Just Be About Love…Can It?] Luke 13:1-9 and 1 John 4:7-21

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver, Third Sunday in Lent, March 20, 2022

[sermon begins after 2 Bible readings]

Luke 13:1-9   At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.2[Jesus] asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’

 

1 John 4:8b-21  God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

[sermon begins]

♪♫ “There is a longing in our hearts, O Lord, for you to reveal yourself to us.

There is a longing in our hearts for love, we only find in you, O God.”[1] ♫♪

We are singing this song in Lent in place of the usual Kyrie, a prayer for God’s mercy. We sing and claim that God is love. We hear that ‘God is love’ in scripture like the 1 John reading today. The Psalmist’s lips praise God’s “steadfast love [as] better that life.” God is love. Do we believe it? Is God really love? We say to each other in word and deed, “It can’t just be about love.”

We doubt that God is love. We perform mental gymnastics to explain some of the more troubling parts of the Bible – contorting God’s love into strange shapes that none of us would recognize as love. It’s a little unclear as to how we benefit from these mind games. In these theologies, God gets set up as unpredictable, angry, and insecure, one who could lash out in condemnation at any moment. “You better watch out” doesn’t sound like love to me. It sounds more like Stockholm syndrome when victims develop feelings of affection and trust for their kidnapper.

In a sermon a couple of weeks ago, I said that “the death of Jesus was the logical end of human anger, not God’s.” This means that the cross holds up a mirror to the violence in us, not in God. More than one of you had questions about that, bringing up the Old Testament and wondering about God’s anger and God’s love and what you’ve been taught about it. Stories like the one in our Gospel reading from Luke today are a good way to talk it through. Jesus had been teaching the crowds and the disciples for quite some time before the question about the Galileans was raised.

 

The Galileans, whose blood was defiled by Pilate, were quite possibly known by Jesus.[2] Galilee was not a big place. His statement wasn’t an abstraction about somewhere far away. These people were his neighbors who died violently and unexpectedly. In Luke’s Gospel, Pilate comes up throughout the story of Jesus (3:1), and at the end he will mix the blood of Jesus the Galilean with the Passover sacrifices. Pilate used the power of government to inflict suffering – NOT the power of God.

According to Jesus, neither the Galileans’ executions nor the eighteen folks crushed by the Tower of Siloam were punishment for sin. Explanations for suffering are always inadequate but it’s interesting how often suffering is attributed to divine retribution, punishment for sin through catastrophe. Jesus rejects the argument that suffering and catastrophe are divine punishment for sin. Jesus said, “No.” Yet still, we find it hard to believe that God is love, finding it much easier to believe that God is anger.

Let’s put a placeholder there for just a moment and talk about people as an example. It’s often easier for us to believe that people are mad at us or that we’re in trouble – yet one more example of the continuum between adolescents and adults. We get older but don’t really change all that much. We’re quicker to assume that people are mad at us, or just don’t like us, than we are to assume that people love and accept us. Is it possible that we’re also quicker to assume God is mad at us than that God loves us, projecting our assumptions onto God? It can’t just be about love…can it?

 

Take notice when Jesus tells a parable in response to a question. Parables are never direct answers. Parables don’t offer certainty. Parables invite creativity.  In this parable about the fig tree, we can play with who might be the man with the vineyard, the gardener, the tree, the fruit, the manure, or the calendar. Okay, who wants to be the manure? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Playing with a parable means there can be multiple lessons in any one story. So, if God is love, where is God in the story? The gardener? The fruit? Could Jesus be the tree and Pilate be the vineyard owner? Could God be the calendar in the reference to time? I have my own thoughts about the story but it’s helpful for us to be uncomfortable before jumping to quick answers. Parables disrupt our assumptions and invite our curiosity. Could disruption and curiosity be love? It can’t just be about love…can it?

In addition to Pilate’s appearances throughout the gospel, Luke prioritizes fruit-bearing.[3] In chapter 3, John the Baptist calls everyone to bear fruits worthy of repentance (3:8). In chapter 6, Jesus preaches that good hearts produce good fruit (6:43-45). In chapter 8, he explains that honest and good hearts “bear fruit with patient endurance (8:15).”

Before telling the parable about fig trees and fruit bearing, Jesus invites his listeners to repent, in the plural. Meaning that repentance in this story is a group activity. How many of you like homework that are group projects? Me neither. Too much unpredictability when a grade is on the line. But here is Jesus, using the plural of repent and assigning a group project. Some Jesus followers took him at his word, named the group project of repentance and called it Lent. Lent can’t just be about love…can it?

 

Repentance means to change our minds, to change our thinking. Changing our thinking does not mean 100% agreement. But putting our minds together, repenting together, can lead to deep discernment of what it means that God is love and THAT repentance, discernment, and love can transform the world. It can’t just be about love…can it?

The mystery of God is voluminous, unknowable it it’s totality. Thank God that Jesus was given as the shorter, Spark Notes version of God.[4] Jesus is the summary of God’s love. The Bible stories of Jesus’ earliest followers are part of the group project. What is God’s love? Jesus. Jesus bridges the gap created by our self-preservation through hoarding prosperity, power, and protection. Self-preservation over and against our neighbors, also known as sin, is the opposite of fruit-bearing and looks nothing like love.

 

1 John reminds us that Jesus reveals God’s love so that we might live. Jesus is called the “atoning sacrifice,” but he isn’t payment to an angry God or a hungry devil. That’s just divine child abuse. It’s not love. Oh no, Jesus is not payment. Jesus is a revelation to a world, to a people, to us, that needed to be loved and shown how to love. Taking violence into himself on the cross, transforming death through self-sacrifice, and revealing the depth of divine love, Jesus shows us that God’s judgement of the living and the dead clarifies where we fall short in loving God, self, and neighbor. Judgement is neither condemnation nor punishment. Judgement is a call to love, a restoration of love – restoration not retribution.

1 John tells us that there is nothing to fear because there is no punishment – “Perfect love casts out fear.” The word “perfect” in 1 John is perhaps better translated as “complete,” as in “God’s love is made complete in us.” Whatever God’s reasons are, God, who is love, “…first loved us,” and God’s love is made complete. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us…”

We love you God. Thank you for loving us first. Amen.

__________________________________________________________

[1] Listen to “There is a Longing in our Hearts” by Anne Quigley’s here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gP9BBz6fRkk

[2] Jeremy L. Williams, Assistant Professor of New Testament, Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University, Forth Worth, TX. Commentary on Luke 13:1-9 for https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-in-lent-3/commentary-on-luke-131-9-5

[3] Williams, ibid. Dr. Williams highlights these passages in Luke in his commentary.

[4] Cliff Notes and Spark Notes are similar. They’re the easy, incomplete summary of a full book or area of study.

Mark 13:24-37; Isaiah 64:1-9 – The God For Whom We Wait With Longing

Mark 13:24-37; Isaiah 64:1-9 – The God for Whom We Wait With Longing

Caitlin Trussell on November 30, 2014 with Augustana Lutheran Church

 

[sermon begins after these two Bible readings]

Mark 13:24-37  “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Isaiah 64:1-9 “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence– 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”

 

 

During sermon-writing for this Sunday, I felt a strong need for a few laughs and lighter moments.  Especially given all the weeping and gnashing of teeth that we’ve been treated to out of the Gospel of Matthew these last several weeks.  Today we turn the page into a new church year on this first Sunday of Advent.  At the same time, we turn the page into the Gospel of Mark.  With all of this page-turning, we land again where?  Sploosh, right into Mark’s version of the end of time as we know it.  And we begin our Advent waiting with a snap-shot of the beginning of the end.

Jesus is on his way out of the temple from teaching there.  One of his followers strikes up a conversation with him.  They head over to the Mount of Olives, across from the temple, and take a seat.  Once there, Jesus begins a private conversation with a few more people from his inner circle Peter, James, John, and Andrew.[1]  We are listening in on their conversation that takes places just before the events of Jesus death on a cross in Chapters 14 and 15, just before the beginning of the end for Jesus.

Jesus says to his friends, “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Jesus is telling time.  He is telling time in the language of his day.  He is telling his friends both that they are not in charge of time and that there is a master who IS in charge of time.

Not only is he telling his friends who is in charge of time, but he is telling them about something that will happen in time. Listen to his words to his friends.

Jesus says, “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Jesus begins his description of time at “evening.”  Might this “evening” he is describing be sooner than later, in a garden maybe, praying desperately, betrayed by a friend, arrested, hopeless.  [2]

“…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  “Midnight”…cross-examined by the high priest, in the cross-fire of false testimony, accused as a blasphemer, hopeless. [3]

“…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  Cockcrow, denied three times by a friend, hopeless.[4]

“…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”  And dawn, condemned by Pontius Pilate, convicted by the crowd, a dead man walking, hopeless. “…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”[5]

Jesus says, “…the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”  This sunless time that Jesus links with suffering, where does this echo in scripture for us?  Just two chapters past our text, Jesus hangs on the cross, hopelessness personified in the light of day and then we are told in the Gospel of Mark, “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.”[6]  Jesus, the Word made flesh, the son of God, God from God, light from light, hung in darkness, nakedness, hopelessness…dead.  The sun was darkened…and the moon gave no light.

The cross is so many things all at once.  In this instance, the cross is apocalyptic revelation.  Jesus’ death on a cross says something about the God of the much anticipated new heaven and a new earth.  The depth of love revealed and poured out on the cross is the same depth of love that accompanies Christ’s return.  Perhaps any apocalyptic doom and gloom on our part says more about what we think we deserve and very little about who God is revealed to be through the cross.

God is the one who dies on the cross in Jesus; God’s the one who returns in Jesus.  If God’s the one orchestrating the redemption, then what are WE doing?  We are waiting.  It’s an odd, enforced passivity.  Like waiting for someone we dearly love to show up.[7]  We can’t control when that loved one gets to us.  We wait.  There is anticipation, suspense, longing.  Isaiah’s words from the reading today sum up the longing…“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”

But this longing, this waiting, is not complacency.  No “whatevers” or “when-evers” from this crowd.  No!  Jesus tells us that we are each with our work (v. 34).  Part of this work is the good news that we share.  We sing, “Lord, have mercy…Kyrie Eleison” because we know God is merciful.  We rehearse the mercy of God in here because so many people need to hear it out there.

From time-to-time, people ask me if I think God is mad at them.  Or someone will wonder with me if God will be mad at them because of something they have done or because of a difficult decision they need to make.  The heartbreaking part of these questions is the worry that somehow God’s mercy only goes so far and no further.  That the wrath of God will ultimately decide the day.  Yet from the cross, we know the love of God has gone through the worst that humanity can inflict and prevailed over death with love blazing; from the cross we learn that God does not raise a hand in anger against us.  This is the God we worship, this is the God of our waiting.

God who comes in skin and solidarity is our Advent hope.  This Advent, we join in the longing of Isaiah and call out to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”



[1] Mark 13:1-3

[2] Mark 14:32-52

[3] Mark 14:53-65

[4] Mark 14:66-72

[5] Mark 15:1-20

[6] Mark 15:33 (Jesus’ crucifixion, death on the cross, and burial: Mark 15:21-47)

[7] Mark Allan Powell, Commentary on Mark 13:24-37 at Working Preacher.org. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2265


Matthew 5:21-37; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 “A Matter of Life and Death in the Here and Now [Or This Preacher Tackles Those Adultery and Divorce Verses]”

Matthew 5:21-37; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 “A Matter of Life and Death in the Here and Now [Or This Preacher Tackles Those Adultery and Divorce Verses]”

February 16, 2014 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Matthew 5:21-37 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder'; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be “Yes, Yes’ or “No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

 

Let’s get a few things straight about these verses right from the get-go.  If we think this is some kind of Jesus-versus-sinner smack down that includes only some people, let’s think again.  It looks to me like the final score would be Jesus: 7 billion; people: 0. Borrowing Paul’s words from the Corinthians reading, there is no milk for children here, it’s all solid food.

Over and over in these verses Jesus says, “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you…”

It isn’t enough not to murder; Jesus orders us to choose our words oh so carefully.

It isn’t enough not to commit adultery; Jesus orders us see other people as people, not objects.

It isn’t enough not to divorce; Jesus orders us not to throw people away on a whim.

It isn’t enough not to lie; Jesus orders us to live so truthfully that we’ve no need to make an oath.

If you spend any time around a Lutheran church, it won’t take too long before someone would say that Jesus is talking about “law” in these verses.  To which some of us could nod and agree and move on as if we understood what that means.  Hanging around the same Lutheran church you might hear over time that the law “leads to death while the gospel gives life.”[1]  Another catchy phrase but I wonder if it has lost some punch over time; wildly misinterpreted to mean the law doesn’t matter so domesticated into spiritual milk, not solid food.  Let’s try to stay squarely in the solid food category here this morning shall we?

I’ve been on a tear about these verses this week.  They come on the heels of my family attending a funeral for the young adult son of some friends of ours.  He took his own life after physically surviving a tour in Afghanistan.  Hearing Jesus’ words through Eric’s despair, gives those words urgency.  We are a people who are given new life and freedom in Jesus.  Out of this new life and freedom we are called to “offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ”.[2]  If this is a given, then Jesus’ words are directed to us and into our relationships with other people.

No longer self-centered, we are made Christ centered – made free to look deeply into the cracks and fractures of those relationships for our own culpability.  And Jesus gives us four places to start looking: Anger – Adultery – Divorce – Oaths.

None of these places are comfortable and there are easy ways to end up in the proverbial ditch along the way.  But I believe that Jesus words have life and death implications for us in the here and now which makes the risk of the ditch worth it.  I’ll make you a deal.  I’ll try to avoid any ditches and you can tell me me if you think I ended up in one (pastor.caitlin.trussell@gmail.com).

Have you ever been angry with someone?  That deep, simmering kind of anger that may even have had a righteous origin?  But somewhere along the way the righteousness part of the anger was lost and now it hangs around like a bitter, old friend. The anger simmers on a slow, inside burn that keeps us away from the one who made us angry but also cuts us off from everyone else.  Making us prisoners of our own anger, our own private hell on earth.   Perhaps it is because there is no life in this anger that Jesus is so adamant about reconciliation.  Not to be confused with a bland acceptance of the status quo, reconciliation is a commitment to stay in relationship across intellectual disagreement and injured feelings.  Because, left unchecked, anger has a way of infecting families, communities, institutions, and countries.  Any of this sounding familiar?

In the adultery verses, Jesus focuses on those of us doing the looking.  He challenges our treatment of people as objects that exist for our pleasure.  What’s the harm, we might ask?  Just as anger destroys relationship and creates hell on earth, treating people as objects denies relationship and creates hell on earth.  On a smaller scale, once we make an object of someone, someone who exists for our pleasure, then what’s to stop us from hurting them when they make us unhappy?  The violence of partner and child abuse has at its roots the objectification of people.  So too does the modern day human trafficking and slavery crisis.  Jesus’ hyperbole about gouging out our eyes and cutting off our hands if they lead us to make people into objects is attention getting.   People are not to be treated as objects and it seems that Jesus is challenging us to consider the ways in which we are doing so and to stop doing it.

A few things need to be said right off the bat about this divorce text.  First, Jesus is likely talking here about the practice of divorce that left women and children vulnerable both physically and financially.  And second, the church across time and place has done a miserable job on the topic of divorce and has inflicted the pain of isolation on many families already devastated by divorce – in fact the church could stand to do some confession in this regard.  Please hear this clearly, there are times when divorce is the least broken choice.  If we are all broken people, then any of our decisions are also broken.  A few obvious examples are marriages that end due to addictions, mental health issues, and abuse.

All of that being said, what challenge might those of us who are married hear from Jesus’ words?   Maybe it helps to hear that courage is possible, remembering that we are made free by Jesus to look deeply into the cracks and fractures of our marriages for our own culpability.  Some of us may need to confess our part in the mess.  Some of us might need a coach or counselor to help us engage with indifference or mediate the anger.  For some of us, our marriages still may not make it but reconciliation around certain issues may give co-parenting or healing after divorce some traction.

At first glance, the fourth challenge laid out by Jesus may seem almost anticlimactic.  However, many of us are involved in daily work that puts pressure on us.  Our jobs put food on the table and a roof over our heads.  Dealing honestly in our work environments can sometimes feel precarious.  What Jesus is asking here is often not easy and may be difficult to tease apart during a work day filled with contract negotiations or sales figures.  In fact, we could go so far to say that the temptation here may be similar to adultery – that to deal falsely with someone might start with making an object out of them, making them a means to an end.

Jesus is talking life and death issues in this text today; life and death in the here and now for us and for other people.  He is laying down the law that brings life through the gospel.   May we, who are made free by Christ, be unleashed into the costly discipleship that brings life to each other.  Amen.



[1] One interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3:1-11 focusing on verse 6.

[2] Augustana Luther Church mission statement: Guided by the Holy Spirit we gather in Christian community, reach out and invite, offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ, and walk humbly with God.  http://augustanadenver.org/pages/aboutus/aboutus.html

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

1 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.