Tag Archives: HFASS

John 10:11-18 “A Good God is a Dead One?!”

John 10:11-18 “A Good God is a Dead One?!”

April 29, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell

House for All Sinners and Saints as well as Lutheran Church of the Master

John 10:11-18  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”



I have this memory of an image from childhood.  I’m not sure where it comes from or how old it is.  You may know the kind.  It’s a little hazy around the edges and slightly out-of-focus but a couple of things come through in crisp outline and color.  It pops into my head of its own accord when I hear Jesus talking about being the Good Shepherd.  In this image, Jesus is laughing in a group of children who are also laughing and he is holding a little lamb.  And, after my initial freak-out about overly-sentimentalized religion that would domesticate God, this image rings true for me as I think about the story a friend of mine tells about his Hebrew Bible professor tucking in her children at night.[1]  When she tucks them in she asks them, “Who are you?”  And they reply, “I am Jesus’ little lamb” – a sweet image of mothering and bedtime as she sends her children into the shadows of sleep.  And it rings true for me when I sit with families during funeral planning and they choose Psalm 23 time and time again.  I can hear the psalmist crying out through the families’ tears and from their broken hearts, “The Lord is my shepherd…”


And, for some of us, there are times when it is enough and sometimes quite necessary to allow those texts to wrap around us in the sweet, simple comfort of being cherished and celebrated as Jesus cradles us in light.  But what else might these texts have to say to us?


Wondering about Jesus’ claim of being a Good Shepherd is a good place to begin.  Psalm 23 gives us a glimpse into one of early Judaism’s understandings of God as shepherd.  And the words of Jesus echo deeply from within this tradition as he says, “I AM the good shepherd.”  The ante is upped as Jesus also says the words, “I AM”.  The “I AM” at the beginning of his words is the same “I AM” used in the divine claim by God, by Yahweh, in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Jesus statement is infused with so much divinity it simply spills out all over. In fact, it is THE claim that sets the cross in motion.  The bottom line for us today?  God is made known in Christ.[2]  But how so according to John?


Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep.”   Jesus is the good shepherd who died.  There’s a leadership model that would climb the bestseller list today.  A good leader is a dead one?  Why is this?  How is this a good thing?  How is the good shepherd the one who would lay his life down?  Why does the church call the day of Jesus’ crucifixion “Good Friday” anyway?  I know, that last question seems a bit out of order in this exuberant season of Easter resurrection but I will take the liberty of asking it anyway.  How is any of this good?  It is good because God in Jesus, dead on the cross, reveals the depths of God’s love and the lengths to which God will go to wrap us into God.  Belonging to a crucified God doesn’t mean that God is dead but that death is now captured up in the living God.


Jesus tells the story of the good shepherd not in an idyllic, cozy, safe location as my determined memory of the smiling image of Jesus from childhood would suggest.  In this story, there is howling that warns of threat and danger and hired hands who run away in fear, leaving the sheep to the wolf, leaving the sheep to death.  Ultimately the wolf means death in this story.  This infuses quite a different urgency into the mother tucking in her child at night and asking, “Who are you?”  And the child saying, “I am Jesus’ little lamb.”  The sweet image of mothering at bedtime, as she sends her children into the shadows of sleep, reverbs within a fiercer promise of love and protection.  And the wolf’s howl intensifies the prayers of a family and a community as they pray the words of Psalm 23 together during a funeral – “yea, though I walk through the darkest valley, (through the valley of the shadow of death), I will fear no evil.”


One of the things that I am privileged to do with my time over the last year while awaiting a call to a congregation is funerals – lots of them.  All excepting one have been the kind where I receive the call from the funeral director that a family is asking for a Christian minister to be the officiant for their loved one’s funeral within the following three to five days.  Either they or the person they have lost to death are often long unaffiliated with or never been part of any faith community and the element of having a Christian minister seems important.


One could argue lots of things – that there request for a minister is simply an example of a family hedging their bets or covering their bases or whatever might work as a metaphor for thinking their motivations shallow.  Or it could be that it is something that is a supposed-to-be-done.  In some of the stories these lines of thinking might be true.


But as I speak with these families, often torn open by their person’s death and their own grief, there is something more going on.  That something more has to do with the ways in which meaning in their lives had been suddenly shattered into a million pieces.  What had once made sense from the sum of their experiences and gave life meaning, no longer does.  Something more is needed.  This “something more” that is needed is a word that comes from outside of their own experience.  The story of the good shepherd offers meaning not crafted from within ourselves.  Rather it comes from beyond our experience – gifted to us from outside of ourselves through the cross of the one who laid his life down.


As the conversation about the funeral continues with the family, two things quickly become important as the life story about person who died takes shape – having the body or the ashes at the funeral and the commendation at the end of it.  Having the body there speaks a truth about the death that has happened, just as Jesus and the commendation speaks a promise of new life directly into the heart of that truth.  The commendation is a prayer that acknowledges God’s welcome of the person who died.  The prayer of commendation sounds like this…

“Into your hands, O merciful God, we commend your child. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.”


When I pray this prayer on behalf of the one who has died, I take quite seriously in our text today, when Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”


In the Gospel of John we hear over and over and over again how Jesus came for sake of the world.  In day-to-day living, many, many realities are born out of Jesus’ gift on behalf of the world.  And in the day of dying there is one more.


So hear this gift, the promise of the good shepherd for you this day of Easter resurrection…

By the power of the Holy Spirit of the risen one who first laid his life down,  Jesus draws you through the cross of Christ into faith, into meaning, into new life.

Jesus, the good shepherd, laid down his life and took it up again for you.

Death is now caught up into God, for you.

New life is here and now, in you and for you, by the power of the risen Christ!

Thanks be to God.











[1] Justin Nickel, personal conversation, April, 24, 2012.

[2] Craig Koester. Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel.  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 297.

Matthew 6:24-34 “Fragile Things “

Matthew 6:24-34  “Fragile Things”

February 27, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

Cross of Glory Lutheran Church and House for All Sinners and Saints


Matthew 6:24-34  “No one 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.   25  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,  or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  26  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  27  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?   28  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  29  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  30  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  31  Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?’ or “What will we drink?’ or “What will we wear?’  32  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  33  But strive first for the kingdom of God  and his  righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34  “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.



Money is a fragile thing.  It comes, it goes, sometimes it comes in quantities that exceed anyone’s expectations and sometimes it doesn’t come at all.  Money gains interest, it depreciates, it profits, it falls short.  Money makes the wealthy and defines the poor.  Money feeds people, money hydrates people, money clothes people.  Money inspires people to great heights and lures people to desperate acts.  Money is an instrument of great generosity and the object of intense greed.  Money builds schools and money builds prisons.  Money provides a service and money also demands to be served.  Money lives.  Money is powerful.  Money dies. [1]   God knows that money is a fragile thing.


A creature is a fragile thing.  Creatures come, creatures go, sometimes they exceed everyone’s expectations and sometimes they don’t.  Creatures include the wealthy and the poor and everyone in between.  Creatures need food, hydration and clothing.  Creatures are inspired to great heights and creatures are lured into desperate acts.  Creatures are instruments of great generosity and the seat of intense greed.  Creatures build schools and creatures build prisons.  Creatures provided services and creatures demand to be served.  Creatures live.  Creatures are powerful.  Creatures die.  Creatures worry.  God knows that a creature is a fragile thing.


This past Wednesday, I was parked across the street from my daughter’s school to drop her off.  I watched her push the button for the crosswalk light.  I watched her wait.  I watched her step into the street without a care in the world.  I watched a flash in my rearview mirror of a car accelerating toward the red light and realized it wasn’t going to stop.  And I watched the horror on the driver’s face as her car came within three feet of hitting my daughter in full acceleration.  In one and a half seconds, fear ruled my being.  In one and a half seconds, I became more aware than ever before of my daughter’s fragility…and my own.  God knows that I am a fragile thing.


Jesus’ words at the end of the passage, about the worries that will exist tomorrow and the trouble that exists today, do justice to our very real fears as creatures.  Today there is trouble and tomorrow there will be something to worry about.  Jesus is not saying that there aren’t real problems; that real problems don’t exist so let’s just all be ignorantly happy.  The cross itself is a testimony to the very real pain we experience from other people and within ourselves as well as that very real pain we inflict on others.


It’s crucial to consider that Jesus claims God’s kingdom very real in the here-and-now and not solely a promise of the here-after, although he does that too.    Our text today echoes the end of Matthew, just before the beginning of the end of Jesus’ life on earth when Jesus gives deeply intense commands to feed your hungry neighbor, hydrate your thirsty neighbor, clothe your naked neighbor, welcome your strange neighbor and visit your imprisoned neighbor.


Neighbors come, neighbors go, sometimes they exceed everyone’s expectations and sometimes they don’t.  Neighbors include the wealthy and the poor and everyone in between.  Neighbors need food, water and clothing.  Neighbors reach great heights and neighbors commit desperate acts.  Neighbors build schools and neighbors live in prisons.  Neighbors are the instruments of great generosity and the seat of intense greed.  Neighbors provide services and neighbors demand to be served.  Neighbors live.  Neighbors are powerful.  Neighbors die. Neighbors worry.  For the love of your neighbor, and for Jesus’ sake, God sends you out for the good of your neighbor because God knows that your neighbor is a fragile thing.


And God knows that you need all of these things and God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness make these things possible. Jesus’ language about your neighbor, by extension, includes you.  You are included as Jesus says, “God knows already what you need.”  God knows that you need to eat. God knows that you need to drink. God knows that you need clothes.  God knows that you need a welcome when you’re the stranger.  God knows that you need a visit when you’re in prison.  In the text, Jesus says, “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  This is not provision from the clouds but provision from each other.  God’s kingdom now and God’s righteousness now – works through you for the good your neighbor.  And God’s kingdom now and God’s righteousness now works through your neighbor for the good of you.


You are a fragile thing.  You came, you will go, sometimes you exceed everyone’s expectations and sometimes you don’t.  You may be the wealthy or the poor or someone in between.  You need food, water and clothing.  You reach great heights and you commit desperate acts.  You build schools and you build prisons.  You provide services and you also demand to be served.  You might even be a governor or a union worker or a Republican or a Democrat.  You live.  You are powerful.  You die.  You worry.  God knows that you are a fragile thing.  And God knows fragility personally.


God became fragile in Jesus for you so that your fragility is not the last word.  God draws you into relationship through the fragility of the cross into the freedom of new life.  The cross does not separate you from life’s trouble but places you into new relationship with those troubles –confronting the truth of them, the reality of them, the pain of them and asserting the truth that the suffering does not have the last word.  God knows the fragility that leads to the crosses in your life is real and so is the Spirit’s power to draw you through that suffering into new life, tearing your gaze away from yourself for just long enough to see that God loves your neighbor, and unleashes you into the Kingdom love for neighbor that frees you into a moment or two where you’ll look back and suddenly realize that you were not worried, that you were not afraid – not because you were told not to worry but because you just did not worry – which is a small but tasty portion of God’s promise of the feast to come in your moment now.

[1] David Worley, Dissertation Topic: The Ontology (Being) of Money”, personal conversation, February 16, 2011.