“Children of the Promise”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Genesis 15:1-6
Hebrews 11:29-12:2

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.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But 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.” He 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.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

 

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.


 

How many times have I read this scripture from Hebrews  – to run the race that is set before us – without reading the scripture before it.  And now that I am reading the verses that come before, what a different way I’m hearing it!

The writer of Hebrews lists name after name of those who lived their lives by faith, and then he continues by listing those more recently who have lived by faith and suffered dearly for their lives of faith.  In all these cases, he claims that these faithful ones did not receive what they were promised because God had something better – us!  Yes, US!

Their lives of faith were for a purpose.  Their sacrifices and risks and losses were for a purpose.  And that purpose was all of us!  Through their lives of faith, we have also heard, Christ has come, and God has poured out the Spirit on all flesh!

 

Could these faithful ones – who gave it all, who risked it all – have ever imagined that God would use their acts of faith to reap a harvest of faith in believers to come, for generation after generation?!?

Could they have known how their acts of faith would unclog righteousness that justice would flow down like the mighty waters?

Could they have known how their acts of faith would carry the torch so future generations could see and receive the Messiah, Christ among us?!?

Could they have known, how many would be set free?!??

 

The writer of Hebrews explains that WE make THEM perfect.  WE are the inheritance God promised them.  We are the land of promise.  WE are the fruit of their labors!

 

These champions of the faith have been given us, as their reward.  They have multiplied the Kingdom!  They have helped to usher in the Kingdom on earth!!!

 

 

So, how does that make you feel?

 

It sounds crazy – that the writer of Hebrews would be talking about us, as if we were so great.  But we are!  We are the substance of things hoped for, of things not yet seen.  We are the fulfillment of God’s promises to these faithful ones!  We are what so many labored and loved and worked and sacrificed for.

 

Can you believe it?

 

 

Who do you labor and love and sacrifice for?

Do you ever wonder whether or not all your efforts are in vain?

What if God showed you how your acts of faith have impacted, not only those you love, but also the many who will come after you?

 

We all affect one another.  When we carry the torch of faith, it is not about us.  It is about the God who we serve.  It is about all those God loves and is seeking out.

 

And how many will know God’s love because of us?

How many will hear of God’s mighty acts because of our lives?

How many will know God’s freedom and truth, because of us?

How many will walk in righteousness and do justice, standing on our shoulders?

 

 

It is a humbling thought.

Our lives are more than just our own. 

 

 

And knowing that as we walk in the ways of our God, we are standing amidst a great cloud of witnesses – how does that make you feel?

We are not alone.  All who have come before and ran this race are among us still.  They reside now in the presence of God, and they cheer us on.  They are witnesses to our lives, as we have taken up the torch of faith they carried and continued on.

 

We are not alone.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

Even when we are alone.  We are not alone.

 

Can you see it?

Do you believe it?

 

If we remember that all those we’ve known and loved and lost are with us still, coming around us, cheering us on, what would change about our lives? 

 

Is it possible

we would finally lay aside all the doubts and fears,

sins and distractions that cling so closely?

Is it possible

We would remember what really matters?

It is possible

We would take courage from their courage?

Is it possible

we would live as though our lives really matter?

 

…because they do. 

“Love Your Neighbor As Yourself”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Colossians 1:9-14
Luke 10:25-37

 

Colossians 1:9-14

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 10:25-37

 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He 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.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He 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. The 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.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”


 

What do we do when we want to get out of something?  We argue over semantics.

In this dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer, Luke lets us into the mind of the lawyer.  He says that the lawyer asked this question of Jesus in order to test him.  So we likely have a skeptic here.  He is unsure about Jesus.  Perhaps he is vetting Jesus, to see what Jesus knows.  As a lawyer, he is trained to think critically about a matter.  Perhaps this is his way of discerning whether or not this Jesus is to be trusted.  Or perhaps he simply wants to trap Jesus.  We do not know the lawyer’s reasons for this test, but he stands and poses this question to Jesus to test him.

And what does Jesus do?  In infinite wisdom, Jesus turns the question back to the lawyer.  Now the lawyer is the one being tested.  If he doesn’t answer, it will make him look bad.  This takes away whatever leverage the lawyer thought he had over Jesus – posing this question as a test – and turns it back onto him.  Isn’t this what Jesus speaks of when he says, “the measure you give, will be the measure you get”?

Now of course the lawyers question, being the test that it is, is a question the lawyer knows the answer to – otherwise how would he be able to “test” Jesus based on his answer.  …And that is revealing.  If the lawyer already knows the answer, he is surely not asking the question out of an earnest desire to know the truth.  And that is perhaps what separates him from so many of those who approach Jesus.  This lawyer wasn’t approaching Jesus out of earnest desire to know the truth and to do good.  No.  He has other motivations.

So when the lawyer answers Jesus correctly.  Jesus affirms him saying, “You have given the right answer.  Do this, and you will live.”  Notice, it is not enough to know the right answers.  The lawyer knows that right answer, but that is not the important thing.  What is important is what the lawyer then DOES with his knowledge:  does he put this knowledge into practice.

Now, since the lawyer is not asking the question out of a sincere desire to know, it is also unlikely the lawyer truly cares about doing this commandment.  And the lawyers next question to Jesus seems to press this point.  He asks, “And who is my neighbor?”  And this is why I asked, “What do we do when we want to get out of doing something?”  It seems clear to me that this lawyer is looking for a loophole …because he begins to nitpick the semantics:  “who is my neighbor.”

 

Now part of me truly gets this.  If I know that something hard is being required of me, I also will ask the nitty gritty questions.  If I am going to start a journey down a hard road, I first want to get my reasons, goals, and objectives clear.  I want to know that I understand the mandate.

But I do think it is more likely the lawyer is looking for a loophole.  Luke explains the lawyer’s question saying, “Wanting to justify himself, he asked ‘Who is my neighbor?’”

As we all do at times, this lawyer appears to be wanting to defend himself.  We can all instantly think of many, many times we have failed to love others as we love ourselves.  But we also usually have our reasons.  So does God see our reasons and approve?

And to this question, Jesus responds with a parable, the parable of the good Samaritan.

Notice the word “good.”  Nowhere in the story appears the word “good.”  Jesus does not qualify THIS Samaritan as good, with respect to the all the other Samaritans.  No.  We have qualified this Samaritan as good.  People through-out Christian history have put that qualifier on this Samaritan.

No, Jesus simply tells a story of a man who is robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of a road.  Two folks pass by this man.  They are the ones everyone expects to be good:  the priest, the Levite.  But they do not help.  In fact, they go so far as to cross the road to avoid him.   And in juxtaposition to these “holy” men of Israel, a Samaritan man comes upon the wounded man and is moved with pity for him.  As you may have heard, Samaritans were viewed by Israelites as unclean and unholy.  They were definitely seen as second-class humans in Jesus’ time.  So to have Jesus tell this story in which the Israelite spiritual leaders have become the disappointments and a Samaritan has become the hero…well it explains how this story got it’s qualifier, “good.”  Because folks in Jesus’ day would have been shocked to hear of a Samaritan who was being lifted up for Israelites as their moral example.  THIS must have been a gooood Samaritan!

 

Anyway, the Samaritan tended to the wounded man, using his own oil, wine, and bandages (that he had with him for his own needs) to clean and tend his wounds.  And then, he takes it a step further:  he puts the man on his own animal (that he had with him for his own needs) and takes him to an inn, where he takes care of the man.

And then we hear that the Samaritan needs to leave – well obviously!  He was traveling a road for a reason, right?  He needed to get somewhere.  But he takes it another step further:  he pays the innkeeper with the instruction to take care of the man.  And as if that would not already have been more than anyone could have ever expected much less hoped for, he tells the innkeeper that if he spends any more on caring for the man, the Samaritan will pay him the balance upon his return.

This Samaritan – labeled good probably by those shocked that a Samaritan could ever be called good – this Samaritan has gone above and beyond.  This Samaritan recognizes that any one of these actions will not be enough.  This man has been stripped of all earthly belongings, without family or friends with him, and without the physical health to help himself.  And so this Samaritan sees to it that the man is restored to the health he needs to get back on his feet.

This Samaritan is no less than a life-saver, a hero.

 

And this is the story Jesus tells the lawyer, to answer his question, “And who is my neighbor?”

 

The story Jesus tells goes so very far and beyond anything his hearers would have imagined.  They, perhaps, were wanting to know whether or not neighbor was simply referring to those who lived in neighboring houses…  Or perhaps they suspected, it was the folks in their community.  Or perhaps neighbor meant your nation and people; that makes sense.

But no, Jesus tells them a story that crossed borders.  It crossed racial borders.   It crossed ethnic borders.  It crosses religious borders.

Whatever borders they’d hoped to gain to justify their neglect of those they thought less worthy or less loved or less important…Jesus defies them.  Jesus makes crystal clear that a neighbor is anyone in our human family, even those outside our neighborhoods and churches and families…and countries.

 

God calls us to love our neighbors – all people – as we love ourselves…

And this is a steep ask.  All.

 

And so I ask each of us, myself included, where are our boundaries?  We are certainly not called to help all.  We cannot physically do it.  Even Jesus defined his boundaries of service.

But what I think this passage challenges is our judgement boundaries.

 

We will all find ourselves face to face with those who have been stripped of their power, stripped of their resources, stripped of their voice, stripped of their dignity.  And when we do, will we love them, as we love ourselves?

 

 

 

 

“The Better Part”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 10:38-42
1 John 4:19

 

Luke 10:38-42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

 

1 John 4:19

We love because he first loved us.


 

I have heard this passage preached on so often, that I didn’t want to preach it.  I feel I could preach on it in my sleep, and if you’re like me, you start to tune out the things you’ve heard too often.  But on second thought I realized that this passage was appropriate for us because we have been very busy with many things.

Now I’d say most of what has occupied our time and energy, at least here, in this place, together, has been good things.  And I imagine that much of what fills your day to day, are good things.  But I imagine that you, like me, can loose sight of the important for the urgent.  You, like me, are probably not immune to the voices clamoring about you, asking for your time and attention.  And many of those voices are of those nearest and dearest to us, those we are charged to love and care for.  Some of those voices are the voices of others in this body of faith, asking if you might step up and step into roles of service in our community of faith.

 

Service is important.  Our Lord Jesus Christ served.  He served even those he was encouraged and expected to ignore.  Jesus’ life was service.  But in looking at the life of Jesus we also notice his life was that of rest and eating, retreating and being quiet and alone.  So many of the stories we hear of Jesus take place around a meal.  Some of the most striking stories occur when Jesus wakes from sleep to help folks who are facing life and death.   Or they occur when Jesus returns from leaving the disciples alone and finds them in a quandary or mess.  Countless stories of Jesus tell of him leaving the crowds with the disciples to rest and retreat.  And even more stories tell of Jesus retreating alone, and quite often to the top of a mountain.

Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, knew his earthly need for rest and repose, eating and sleeping, intimate time among friends and intimate time alone with God.  JESUS needed these things.  Therefore, how much more-so do WE need these things?

 

In the story we read today, two sisters, Mary and Martha, host Jesus as he passes through the village.  Now as you might guess, hosting involves many things, not least of which is the preparing of food.  This task fell to women pretty exclusively, and it consumed the largest portion of any day.  So to invite others into the home meant doubling one’s work, at the very least.

Martha was probably the planner.  She probably knew exactly what this invitation would entail for them that day.  And she probably wanted to show as much honor and respect to the teacher as she could.  It was a daunting task, especially when you factor in all the visitors who would have come to hear the teacher.  She needed Mary’s help, but Mary, perhaps as flighty as I can be, was attuned to Jesus’ words.  She was soaking them in.  She did not think about all the work needing to be done.  She was lost in thought and in this person through whom she felt more love and compassion than she’d ever known before…

And quite understandably, Martha complains to Jesus.  She expects Jesus to put Mary in her place – to remind her that she too is a servant to the occasion and not the beneficiary of all Martha’s work – but Jesus does nothing of the sort.  Jesus in fact defends Mary as having chosen the better thing.

 

How could Jesus?  After Martha is serving him?!  How could he look this gift-horse in the mouth?!  How could he defy social expectation and give Mary a pass on the cooking and cleaning?  How could he act as though he didn’t need to eat and drink – as though he didn’t need the services Martha was so diligently offering.

Well, I don’t know exactly how this played out.  We do not know so many things – such as the breadth or scope of work Martha was attempting.  She may have been trying to make the fanciest, most difficult dish she could – to show respect or possibly to show off…  We don’t know.  We don’t know if this was Mary’s usual behavior, or if this Teacher caught her so off guard that she completely forgot her usual duties…  We do not know.

But once we move through the shock and perhaps the initial offense of Jesus’ words to Martha, I hear a deep compassion for Martha.  Instead of a rebuke, I hear an invitation.  Jesus reminds Martha that she has a choice in all this hustle and bustle.  Jesus SEES how distracted and worried Martha is about so many things.  And he points to Mary as an example of what is good and needful.  Martha too can choose to stop and be, to listen and be present.

 

Now if I were Martha, I would feel enraged at this insinuation that my work was irrelevant or unnecessary.  But Jesus wasn’t necessarily saying that.  Perhaps they all would have chipped in to cook at some later point…  We do not know.  But if I were Martha, I would also find myself longing to stop and sit and be still.  I would have been beside myself with jealousy at Mary, sitting at the Teacher’s feet like that, without a care in the world but to listen to each word he said.

Could I abandon my lists and tasks like that?!

Could I pause the hurry and bustle of my mind like that?

Could I step off the treadmill and sit and be?

 

And this is where I think of all of us.  We take on many tasks in love and service to the Lord in this place.  This place of sanctuary and community is living and effective because of YOU.  Your passion and vision, your sweat and service, your diligence and expertise, your care and planning.  YOU make this place overflow with love.

 

…But we cannot fill another’s cup, if our well is empty.

We cannot love, unless we have been loved.

We cannot serve, unless our needs have been served.

 

To say it another way, “We love because God first loved us.”

 

 

And so very logically, if we are not attentive to sit and be still, if we are not pausing to listen to God’s words, our wells will surely run dry.  And when we run around trying to fill other’s wells while ours is dry, we usually end up spreading need and hurt more than plenty and love.  We cannot give what we do not have.  We need to be nourished by God’s word, sustained by God’s presence, held in God’s unfailing love…before we are made ready to go out and serve.

And so I remind us all, that even as you work and serve and labor in the love of the Lord, in this place, and in your own places of life and work… May you take refuge in God.  May you return to God’s feet and open your mind and heart to hear God’s words to you.  May you lay down the needs.  May you lay down your worries.  And may you bring it all to Christ’s feet.

 

Our Lord who fed 5000 from two loaves and five fish, can care for you.

Our Lord who made the lame man walk, can care for you.

Our Lord who raised Lazarus from the dead, can care for you.

Our Lord who created the earth and all stars, who formed the planets and the ladybug, can care for you.

 

Let us heed these words of Jesus, spoken to us now, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”

 

 

May we, like Mary, choose the better part.

“The Invisible Ones”

Rev. Katherine Todd
2 Kings 5:1-14
Isaiah 43:1-4a

 

2 Kings 5:1-14

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

 

Isaiah 43:1-4a

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,


 

 

This story of Naaman’s healing is a wonder.  But reading it this time, I am struck by the servants.

We do not know their names.  We never will, I imagine.  And yet, they are the heroes of this story, truly.

 

We learn that it was a girl from Israel who’d been taken captive by the Arameans who told Naaman’s wife about the prophet in Israel who could cure Naaman’s leprosy.  This girl who had every reason in the world to wish evil and harm on her captors instead wished them well and made them aware of a prophet in Israel who could cure him.

So this whole miraculous healing story owes its beginning to a young girl, unnamed, captured and made a servant in a foreign land.  See, even before Christ, God was making the Israelite people a blessing to their neighbors.  They were in fact blessed in order to be a blessing – that all the nations might come to the light of their dawn and be blessed in them.  Even before Christ and that tearing down of the dividing walls between nations and people – even then the gifts of God were spreading by word of mouth and deeds of kindness and compassion, like that of this young girl.

 

So Naaman approaches his King with the news that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him, and the King sends a letter ahead of Naaman to the King of Israel along with many presents and gifts, asking that Naaman may be healed.  The King of Israel felt damned by such a request – which he had no earthly power to grant, as he could not heal Naaman – but Elisha heard of the King’s distress and sent word that he would heal Naaman.

Now when Naaman comes to see Elisha, Elisha doesn’t even give him the honor of meeting Naaman.  He simply sends out a messenger to tell Naaman what he should do in order to be made well.

And this discourtesy offends Naaman’s pride.  He was a powerful and mighty commander of the Aramean army, and this prophet wouldn’t even give him a moment of his time to see him face to face.  Naaman was furious.  How rude!

On top of the offense of not meeting him was the humiliating instruction to bathe in this foreign river.  Naaman was very powerful and proud.  He believed the rivers of his homeland were far superior to this Israeli river.  So adding insult to injury was this instruction to bathe in this inferior river.

 

But again it is the servants, these unnamed servants who are the heroes of this story.  We are told they follow after Naaman and encourage him.  They reason, “If the prophet had told you to do something hard, wouldn’t you have done it?  So why not do this, which is so easy?”

These servants prevail upon Naaman, and he washes in the Jordan, just as Elisha instructs, and it says that his skin is made whole, just like that of a young boy.  Can you imagine?!  All these years, despite having everything – power, authority, reputation and ability, the trust of his King – still Naaman was powerless over the one thing that arguably mattered most:  his health.  And his disease would have isolated him from many, including his own family and wife and kin, whom he could never touch.  Can you imagine?

 

God has just restored to Naaman that quality of life that is everything.

 

Did Naaman deserve it?  I’d say probably not.  Probably not at all.  And yet our God blesses him, heals and restores him.

And insodoing, God’s power and love are made known far and wide, to people and nations around the world, from generation to generation.

 

 

In our world there are many, many people who we do not see.  They are the invisible ones.  They are the servants.  They dump our trash.  They clean our buildings.  They grow our food and prepare it.  They cut our grass.  They clean our bathrooms.

They watch and care for our children.  They deliver our packages.  They build our houses, roads, and infrastructure.  They drive the trucks that deliver the goods we need to stores nearby.  They prepare hot food to sustain us on the street, when we’re out and too busy to cook.

We are surrounded by the servants, the invisibles, the ones we take for granted and seldom notice or truly see.

These are heroes among us, who do the most necessary and life-sustaining work to support life.  We rely on them.  We need them.  And they change the course of history, unnamed.

 

May we not be as Naaman, proud and arrogant, puffed up in our own self-worth and value as measured by the powers of this world, our degrees, our certifications, our accomplishments…  Our God does not see as we see.  Our God does not measure as we measure.  Our God shows no partiality but sees the indispensability of those we are tempted to undervalue, to dismiss, to overlook.

 

As servants of the Lord, we may be unnamed.  We may be unseen.  We may be undervalued and sometimes dismissed.  But we are precious and valuable in the eyes of the Lord, who loves us and calls us by name.

The work we do in love and faith is bigger than us.  It is bigger than our vision or even our time.  As servants of our Lord, we join with God in doing a work that the Kingdom of God may come, among us, here and now, bringing life and health and hope and light to all who cry out and sit in the shadow of death.

 

May we see, more and more, as God sees.

May we affirm the value of each person, for whom Christ suffered, died, and rose again!

May we lay down our judgements and valuations of ourselves and one another.

Forgive us, Lord.

Would you give us eyes to see one another as you do?

 

And may we truly celebrate and cherish the servants in our midst,

through whose life, and blood, and sweat

we live and love

and have our being.

 

“Holy Spirit In Our Lives”

Rev. Katherine Todd
2 Kings 2:1-14
Galatians 5:1, 13-25

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”

Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

 

Galatians 5:1

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.


 

In these weeks leading up to and following Pentecost, we’ve heard stories of how the disciples learn how to listen to God’s Spirit directing them – on what to say and what to do.  It’s a prayerful way of being, where God is like your internal GPS – continually redirecting you.

 

Today we heard a story about Elijah and Elisha, when Elijah is about to be taken into heaven and Elisha asks that he might receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, as a parting gift.  In this Old Testament story it is understood that this gift of the spirit is how both Elijah and Elisha are empowered by God to do things such as parting the water, to walk on dry ground.

So we have heard these stories that show God’s Spirit to lead us, similar to an internal GPS, if we are of a prayerful mind to hear God’s voice to our spirits.  We’ve heard stories of how God’s Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak in other languages they’d never even studied before.  We hear this story of how God’s Spirit empowered both Elijah and then Elijah to do things like parting the water in a lake – so they could walk across it on dry ground.  And in this passage from Galatians, we hear of how God’s Spirit grows within us all the best qualities – like patience, kindness, gentleness, love, and self-control.

This Holy Spirit life is full of surprises!  We don’t have to know the way to go; God can guide us.  We don’t have to know how to do everything; God can anoint us with skills we didn’t have before and cannot even explain.  We are not always bound by the rules of nature; God who has power over all nature can make mountains move and bodies of water part.  And we are not left to our own devices to try to be better and overcome all our demons and our temptations, but God’s Spirit grows within us patience and peace and love and self-control…

 

This is awesome!!!

 

Now for all you skeptics, I respect you.  I get that hearing these as nice stories is one thing but believing life can really happen this way is altogether another thing.  Perhaps God moved in one way back then and another way now.

But I do want to invite you to peer outside the boundaries of your belief system for just a moment and consider – what might you see and experience, if you only believe?

Believing opens us.  It opens us to outcomes we cannot fully control.  It opens us to the possibility of being amazed, and it opens us to the possibility of being disappointed or downright scammed.

We don’t want to be taken advantage of.  We don’t want to be scammed.  We don’t want to let our guard down, only to be disappointed.  And God’s Spirit is not like a genie in a bottle; we don’t just get whatever we wish for.  It’s not a ticket to unlimited blessing and prosperity.

But I do believe the Spirit is beckoning us toward our best lives.  I believe God is inviting us to step out of the shallow and into the deep.   God is inviting us into a fullness of life that we will never walk in, unless we let go of our illusions of control and open ourselves to God.

 

Listen to “Shallow” by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper

Tell me somethin’, girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?

I’m falling
In all the good times I find myself
Longin’ for change
And in the bad times I fear myself

Tell me something, boy
Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?
Or do you need more?
Ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore?

I’m falling
In all the good times I find myself
Longing for change
And in the bad times I fear myself

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

In the shallow, shallow
In the shallow, shallow
In the shallow, shallow
We’re far from the shallow now

 

Do you want to experience all the blessings and fullness of life God has prepared for you?

Do you want to know the power and presence of God in your regular, everyday life?

Do you want to see the answers of God to your prayers?

Do you want to be a channel of God’s power and love into the lives of those around you?

 

Our God is good.  Our God is beckoning.  Our God is inviting.

But we have to take a risk.

We have to exercise our faith – put it into practice – let the rubber meet the road.

We’ll never know just what our God can do…

We’ll never experience for ourselves the depth and breadth of God’s love for you and for me…

We’ll never see the deliverance of our God in our lifetimes…

Unless we step out of the shallow and into the deep

Unless we open ourselves to the Spirit of God IN OUR LIVES

Unless we listen and watch and pray…

Unless we step out.

 

Listen to “Something Beautiful” by Needtobreathe

In your ocean, I’m ankle deep
I feel the waves crashin’ on my feet
It’s like I know where I need to be
But I can’t figure out, …I can’t figure out

Just how much air I will need to breathe
When your tide rushes over me
There’s only one way to figure out
Will ya let me drown, will ya let me drown

Hey now, this is my desire
Consume me like a fire,

‘Cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I’m in reach
‘Cause I am down on my knees,

…Waiting for something beautiful
Oh,… something beautiful

And the water is risin’ quick
And for years I was scared of it
We can’t be sure when it will subside
So I won’t leave your side, no I can’t leave your side

In a daydream, I couldn’t live like this
I wouldn’t stop until I found something beautiful
When I wake up, and all I want, I have
Ya know it’s still not what I need

(Something beautiful)

 

You know what’s changed from the times of all these stories we read in the Bible?

So much has, indeed.  And thanks be to God for that!

But scripture actually says that in Christ, the Spirit of God has been poured out on all flesh.  Christ also said that we will do even greater things than he did

 

So may we, of little faith, grow.

May we begin to dream God’s dreams.

May we begin to see God’s visions.

May we begin to hear God’s voice speaking to us, more and more.

May we open ourselves to God, leaving the shallow, stepping into the deep, and personally experience God’s power and presence to do astonishing and amazing things in our lives.

 

Do you believe?