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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Caitlin Trussel at LCM, 18 Pentecost (B)

Mark 9:30-37

How many of us have ever had the experience of saying something that we wished we hadn’t?  That moment where your whole inside goes, “Ugh…”  So much so, that you can feel it in the pit of your stomach.  Yup, I’m pretty sure that this is an almost universal experience.  For me, because I tend toward the chatty side, it happens with frustrating regularity.  And it’s just here in our text today that the disciples do the opposite – they stay silent; not once, but twice!  First they are silent because they were afraid to ask Jesus to clear up their lack of understanding and then they stay silent because Jesus names their humanity when he calls them on their arguing.  Their “Ugh” moment doesn’t even get to include speaking.  It just sits there in the pit of their stomach probably getting heavier as they walk along – falling back a bit to begin that arguing with one another.

They begin their arguing right after Jesus makes this big speech about what’s going to happen to him.  He talks about being betrayed, his murder and resurrection.  I picture the disciples listening attentively, perhaps even giving a nod or two to show they are paying attention and following along.  And then, they drop back a bit, and what do they do as they follow Jesus?  Argue.  They don’t even argue about what Jesus might have meant by his predication.  They argue about being the greatest.  Maybe they really don’t get it, perhaps arguing about the greatest as they wonder who will take over the leadership when Jesus goes down.  And Jesus, well, because he’s Jesus, knows exactly what they are doing.

I like to think Jesus knows what they are doing because it is simply what we, as people, do.  We follow along behind Jesus, not really sure what to make of these big faith claims in Jesus’ predication and very often afraid or uncomfortable to ask about what Jesus’ death and resurrection might mean in our own lives.  So we turn to each other and we argue.  We argue about all kinds of things but often the subtext, the argument beneath the argument, is about who is the greatest.

One of the ways in which we argue about being the greatest has to do with money.  There are obvious ways we do this in American culture, especially in a political year when we argue about taxes and government spending.  But there are more subtle ways we argue about being the greatest when it comes to money.  This can be so subtle for us we don’t tend to think about it as part of the argument we’re having.  It takes shape in whispers as we move through the world in our designated social class based on our income.  But it includes all the ways in which we look to money to tell us who we are and what we’re about.  Not as a conscious thought, but we look nonetheless.

And, suddenly, like the disciples in Mark, we are following behind Jesus but not looking at Jesus.  We begin looking to each other as we come up with our arguments.  One of the classic arguments begins with a deep suspicion of the connection between money and the church.  You hear this in comments all the time, maybe even in your own comments, that sound like, “All the church wants in my money.”  And this suspicion has real roots.

We were joking the other night at this congregation’s church Council meeting about how fun it might be to hold a tongue-in-cheek ‘Indulgence’ sale.  Indulgences, you may recall, were a 16th century church innovation that cashed in on people’s fear for their loved ones’ eternal doom so that church buildings could be completed.  Indulgences were sold with the marketing line, “When a coin in the coffer sings, a soul from purgatory springs.”  Indulgences were a key fuel in the fury of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, his arguments against the corruption in the church.  So, even as we had fun with the idea, someone made the comment about taking extreme care with such an attempt.  Because even, and maybe especially, we as the church can just as easily as anyone else find ourselves following behind Jesus, confessing him Lord, while arguing amongst ourselves about the greatest.

This gets me back to thinking about the disciples’ silence when they don’t understand.  To my mind, the silence when people want to ask a question but don’t becomes a pregnant silence.  So, because we’d be here all day if people started shooting out questions, I’m asking that everyone take a slip of paper out of the seatback of the chair in front of you.  And for about a minute, think about what you would ask Jesus about money if you could ask absolutely anything, and write it down on the piece of paper.  This question is purely for you – no group sharing or hand raising will be requested.  This means you can send that editor that lives in your head out for a coffee break.  Okay, ready, set, think and write… … … … …

I invite you to consider your question to Jesus that you just wrote down as a prayer this week.  You can simply add it to your prayers.  Or you may discuss it with people.  Or think of the question from time-to-time during the week.  See what comes up for you either as possible answers or perhaps yet another question.

I invite you into this time of asking questions because Jesus has made all of us free to ‘fire away.”  Sitting here, with the whole Bible at our fingertips, we know how the story plays out.  And it is in his death and resurrection that we are made free from the fear that would stop our questions from pouring out.  So that when there are incomprehensible ideas and tension, such as disciples experience, we turn to following Jesus only to find that, with scarcely a glace from us, Jesus is already there.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Sermon

 

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Sermon at “Peace in Christ Episcopal/Lutheran Ministry,” Elizabaeth, CO

Mark 9:30-37

Greetings from the Office of the Bishop, Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA. I need, first of all, to express appreciation for the partnership we share, not only with the other 164 congregations of the RMS and the 10,400 other congregations of the ELCA, but additionally for the special witness you bring to the unity we share as Episcopalians and Lutherans together. You reveal to the broader community the unity Christ brings which overcomes any differences we can create. Thank you for that very visible reminder.

And thank you for the support you provide to both the Colorado Episcopal Diocese and the RMS. By your generosity others are able to be fed, housed, treated, comforted, educated, and have good news proclaimed. You are a reminder than none of us are in this alone. We share this ministry, led by the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus.

I vowed up until a couple of months ago that if I ever spoke on behalf of the Office of the Bishop I wouldn’t bore a congregation with an introduction like that. But I’m seeing things differently these days. I see the difference you make in the wider church. I watch people’s eyes light up when I share your story—what you’re doing here in Elizabeth, how Christ is proclaimed to an entire community through the Holy Spirit active in this small Episcopal/Lutheran ministry. There’s cooperation with youth, food bank, homes built for veterans, community meals, and more.

All this from a very small congregation. Being sent from a very small building. In a very small town.

There are some in our world that would look at the size of this place and attempt to disregard what you do. Others may see your budget and immediately feel superior because they have a more dollars. Does it ever come up in conversation, when you tell people you’re affiliated with Peace in Christ, that the other person says, “Oh, and how many members do you have?” They’re ready to either apologize for their own smallness or brag about being larger.

In our culture, success is automatically measured in size of bank accounts, number of clients, higher income, more expansive acreage, increased sales, higher bushels per acre, and the like.

Even the size of people matters. Adults’ viewpoints often are taken more seriously than childrens’. We still live a little by the old dictum, “Children Should be Seen and not Heard.” They’re just too small to have a valid opinion. We’re better in our attitudes toward children today, but not fully there yet. We have a high school student that serves on the ELCA churchwide council. Because he is “only” in high school, he has voice, but no vote on that council. Hmmm. Really??

In Jesus’ day, children were almost completely disregarded because they were so small. They were weak, a liability, and had no rights. They had to be fed but couldn’t do enough work to compensate. They were completely vulnerable with no power at all. They were simply too little to matter to most people. Have you ever felt that way? Too insignificant to make a difference, to really matter?

Jesus sees things differently than the rest of the world. In God’s eyes, power isn’t revealed by size, but by the Savior of the World scooping up an impoverished child, holding her close, and telling everyone that when we welcome her, we are exhibiting real importance. When we love her, value her, respect her, walk with her get to know her, that’s power as God defines it. Not in spite of the fact that she doesn’t have a lot to offer, but because what this little one has to offer right now matter—it is important, it is significant, and—perhaps even more than big people—what she has to offer is what God values.

Peace in Christ will get bigger—you’re simply too compelling not to. But please never forget these day of being small. As a congregation will get larger, you will sooner or later need to do things differently as a result. Your budget will increase and an already effective ministry will expand. That won’t make Peace in Christ more important, more powerful, or more loved and respected by Jesus.

As a congregation, you are valuable right now. And in the same way, you reveal to the littlest, the weakest, the most vulnerable in Elizabeth and  Elbert County, that they too are valuable, loved, and respected right now. Not is spite of their vulnerability, but because they reveal God’s love and priorities right now. When you help build a home for a veteran, when you stock a food bank for someone who’s hit on hard times, when you have a spaghetti dinner and welcome those outside this congregation, you are Christ, taking a child in his arms. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

On behalf of the RMS, ELCA (and may I dare to speak for the Colorado Episcopal Diocese of the Episcopal Church), thank you, Peace in Christ. Thank you for your partnership, your witness, and your ministry. It is, in fact, beyond valuable. In Christ’s name. Amen.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Sermon

 

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Grace is Spilling Over the Edges

Mark 7:24-37

 Wait a minute. Are we hearing this right? Did Jesus just call this woman a dog? Did he actually tell her that healing her daughter would be like taking a child’s meal away from them and giving it to a stray mutt? Is he saying that this woman is outside of God’s grace and love? Is Jesus wrong? Or just rude? Or is everything else we’ve come to know in our Christian faith not true?

Jesus is deep in Gentile territory, apparently trying to get away from the constant demands of the Jewish crowds. This Syrophoenician Gentile woman comes up to him, begging for him to heal her daughter. Even way out here she’s heard of what Jesus has done. She breaks all kinds of taboos, takes a huge risk out of love and concern for her child. And Jesus says, “no,” that he came for the Jews, not people like her. Then he insults her by calling her a dog. What is going on? This isn’t the Jesus we know and love. This isn’t the one who gave up his life, bringing forgiveness and life into the world’s sin and death.

There are some things to ponder here, to be sure. Maybe Jesus is trying to make a point to his disciples about their own self-righteous attitudes. Maybe he’s a racist. Maybe even he doesn’t yet understand the extent of God’s love and mercy. We can spend the rest of our lives trying to figure that out. That would be fun. We could get into some really good arguments about it. Maybe we should. But that would leave out the end result of this story: God’s grace finds a way. God will not be stopped from loving those furthest away, least deserving, beyond our radar.

When Jesus tells her that he won’t heal her daughter because that would be like taking food from a child and throwing to a dog, her reply is pretty gutsy, don’t you think? She doesn’t argue with him. She doesn’t get offended. She challenges him. She says that even the dogs get crumbs from the children. She’s is saying that God’s grace and mercy are bigger than Jesus is letting on. God’s love includes her! Is she schooling Jesus about God’s grace?

But she’s right, isn’t she? When a family sits down at the dinner table, where is the dog? Always under the table by the kids. Why? The children will always give crumbs under the table; or more. Sometimes they do it on purpose, sometimes they do it just because they’re messy.

This Gentile, foreign, very non-Jewish woman somehow understands that every time anyone tries to put a limit on God’s grace, that grace spills over the edges. Mercy, love, and forgiveness—the things of a joy-filled life—are always spread further than we think. Include those who we may not want included. They are always spilling outside the lines, beyond the boundaries, further than we are comfortable with.

I had a facebook friend, someone I’ve known since I was in Jr. High. He had posted last week that God’s grace and forgiveness are for those who decide that Jesus is their personal Lord and Savior. I responded with a challenge to that. I said that God’s grace is even more for those who do not—or cannot—make that decision. He dropped me as a friend. Very loudly. He had a hard time with God’s grace extending outside the lines he had drawn—lines of decision and understanding. God’s love and God’s forgiveness always go further than we are comfortable with. God includes more people than we would gather at the table. God has plenty of forgiveness; for those at the table, for those under the table, even for those who cannot get to the table. Wherever we draw the line, God’s grace is bigger.

During these last several weeks since Act of Grace (our music leaders at 10:45 service) began a two-month sabbatical, we’ve contemplated what God desires from our worship at LCM. The Spirit moved, and we discovered that the purpose of “worship at LCM is to create an atmosphere where God’s unconditional love can be experienced through the gathered community and translated into everyday life.”

What struck me about that realization is that God’s love and grace aren’t just experienced by a mystical, spiritual transaction between each individual and God. It is also experienced through the love we show to those God gathers here. Even though we are Gentiles, we really are the children at the table! We who are part of LCM feast all the time on God’s forgiveness, God’s love, and God’s generosity. Sometimes we deliberately spill God’s grace under the table; sometimes it’s just our nature and we do it because we’re messy.

LCM is the place where people come because they are starving for grace, love, and forgiveness, and they are hoping for it to spill over the edge of the table even to them.

They don’t come because of our doctrine. They don’t come because of our excellent theology. They don’t come because of our outreach programs. They don’t even come because of the extraordinary preaching. They come for crumbs of grace; a taste of love; a morsel of forgiveness.

Who is sitting under the table today? Who is hoping for crumbs? Who is needing to taste God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness through you? Many who are here today are filled to overflowing, and some are starving. Here, we are spilling over the edges of the table with grace. There’s more. There’s always more.

Come to the table. God’s grace is spilling over. There’s plenty here. Eat your fill. You are invited. God’s grace cannot be contained. It is for you.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Sermon

 

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What Happens When You’re Touched by Holiness?

14th Sunday after Pentecost (B)

Deut 4:1-2,6-9; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

This text is about holy and unholy, Godly and ungodly, even the sources of good and evil. We’ve been led to believe that avoiding unholy things makes you more holy. That not doing evil things will make us good. That doesn’t get at the root cause of unholiness or the source of evil. But we keep trying. That’s why some have interjected views of righteousness and holiness into politics. If you vote with us you’re on the side of good. Vote with them and you are wrong, evil, and responsible for the demise of all things good and holy. When good and evil are made into philosophies or views or political action, we are avoiding what Jesus is telling us here. But, oh, if only it were that simple.

That’s why religion is big business. Behave in certain ways and you are aligned with the will of God. Yes, you can know joy in your marriage if you follow God’s seven steps to a holy relationship. Or send a check to this address and you will be rid of the demons that are making you ill. Or die in a holy cause and you will live forever in the arms of God. Or believe correctly and you can avoid the eternal fires of hell. When good and evil are made into beliefs or behaviors, we are avoiding what Jesus is telling us here. But, oh, of only it were that simple.

This is what the Pharisees and scribes think too. They would teach that the things that were unclean could be made clean through outward actions. Something could be made holy if it went through special purification rituals. This was important. As distinct from all other nations, the Hebrews were given specific instructions concerning cleanness and how to recover it when it had been lost through carelessness or disobedience. The Jews recognized themselves as “a holy people, God’s own people,” and therefore holiness was an important part of their life. Care had to be taken to make sure they remained holy, because holiness was of God, and unholiness was against God. So traditions and rituals developed over the centuries. Different interpretations of these customs evolved, and debates were held around the issue of holiness. The Pharisees were instructors to the people in the laws of holiness, and their interpretations were taken very seriously.

So it was an issue of their very identity as the people of God when people who claimed to be Jews ate unholy food with unholy hands. If you are God’s people, recognize that food is a gift of life from God and treat it as such! Receive it with holy hands! Follow the customary rituals of washing so that unclean, unholy food won’t make you unholy. Your standing with God is at stake! Dress better and you’ll be a better person.

The thinking was that the ordinary, the common, was unclean. If something unclean touched something clean, the clean would be defiled and no longer for God, no longer holy.

But Jesus’ response goes a new direction. Jesus says that evil doesn’t come about from touching unpurified things. Rather, it comes from the sinful nature that’s part of who we are. And so, going through rituals to make things clean and holy cannot make a person holy, because it doesn’t get at the source of the unholiness. You can’t come closer to God through actions beginning on the outside of you any more than adding purified water would cleanse e-coli contaminated water. People who are religious are just as sinful as those who aren’t. It’s much deeper that beliefs or actions.

Worship, prayer, belief, Bible study, kindness, political affiliation, voting record, generosity, good moral character, a specific dress code – none of these make us holier, better, or closer to God. These are external things, outside of us. These are hand-washing actions and cannot begin to touch the sinful nature that exists in our hearts, the very core of our identity.

It’s not what we do that makes us holy or unholy, good or evil. If that were the case, then all we’d have to do was quit doing bad things and we’d all be cured. Quit fighting and wars would stop. Be kind to others and your world would be a kinder place. Stop being self-centered and you would be happier. Dress better and global warming is stopped.

But we know those things don’t work. We’ve been trying it since Genesis 3 and it hasn’t worked yet. Being good can’t begin on the outside. Jesus says we have to get at the source, the heart. That can’t come from what we do. It has to come from God. And that is what Jesus is all about. His purpose here is not to show us a new, improved way to behave. It isn’t to give us good moral instruction. As God the Son, the holiest of the holy, Jesus came amongst the unholy, the sinful to make us holy. He came to bring us into God’s own holiness. He came to touch us with his holiness, to give us a new and holy heart. He came amongst us to take on the power of evil – at its very core, within us – and make it holy. And he came to give that new and holy heart to us. In him we are made holy. As he changes us from within we are made holy.

Of course, not everything about us is unholy and evil. We are created in the image of God and have capacity for great goodness and selfless compassion. But I believe his point is that holiness changes unholiness. The holy touches the unholy, the clean touches the unclean, the right and good and generous and merciful touches the corrupt, the self-centered, the evil – and it is changed.

That is the hope of the world. That’s how the world will change – as God continues to touch it in holiness. As God continues to touch us.

Jesus comes amongst us to touch us with holiness. And then to call us, as people made holy, to touch others with that same holiness. We show compassion and love and mercy and forgiveness to each other and the world, not to become holier people, but to make the world a holier place.

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Sermon

 

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