“Boasting In Our Sufferings”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Genesis 50:15-21
Romans 5:1-5

 

Genesis 50:15-21

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

 

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

 



 

This passage from Romans challenges the way we approach suffering in our society.

 

It is common belief that you reap what you sow.

And where did that idea come from?

Well,… probably everywhere.  It’s the idea behind Karma.  And it is quite literally in the Bible.

There is truth to that statement.  We do reap the consequences of our actions.  But how-much-so does vary by situation.  Some folks, who you can easily and quickly think of, seem to have far more than their fair share of suffering.  And o-so-many have suffering we dare not ever attribute to the result of their actions or inactions, sins, or mis-steps.

 

While we do reap what we sow.  Life has shown us that that’s not always how things go.  Some folks seem to prosper in doing evil.  We can look at any number of big corporations to see that.  In our Old Testament reading today, we glimpsed a merciful ending to the crazy story of Joseph.  While God indeed used all the evil dealt on Joseph for good, Joseph suffered more than most of us will ever know – sold by his brothers into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and imprisoned for many years…

So it is clear that while we do reap what we sow.  Sometimes, we do not.  And perhaps many times, true justice or fairness may only come in the hereafter.

 

But I will tell you why I think this idea of reaping what we sow is so strongly engrained in our sub-consciousness as a society.  It’s because whenever bad things happen to us, we are mesmerized and incensed.  We slam our hands down; it isn’t fair!  We protest with righteous indignation.

We expect that if we do good, we will receive good.

And when we don’t get it, we get mad.

Often we even take it further:  we question what we did wrong.  We wonder where we went wrong to get such a bad outcome.  We rehearse and review moments and years and decades in our minds.  We turn a situation over and over in our imaginations.  We try to figure out why something bad happened.  We are trying to prevent it from happening again.  We hope to learn from the experience and change our future.  And we are grappling with feelings of inadequacy, shame, or guilt for being unsuccessful.

 

Now sometimes, these feelings are well founded in reality:  we have indeed made poor choices and we will do well to learn from them as much as we can.  But other times, this guilt and shame are entirely misplaced.

This is what happens with victims of assault, violence, and violation.  Quite often the victims feel ashamed – as if what happened to them has made them dirty, as if they somehow were flawed to begin with to have had this happen to them.  They, in fact, rehearse the horrid scenes over and over in their minds, searching to make sense out of what has happened.

 

And I think that’s the key to our responses when bad things happen – we want to make sense of them. 

 

We want to believe that we live in a world that is right and just.  We want to believe that good will happen to the good and evil will come to those who perpetrate evil.  We want to believe that we have power over our world and our lives. 

But, experience shows us that this kind of justice and fairness do not yet cover the earth.  This Kingdom of God living, where justice reigns and peace makes its home in our hearts – this Kingdom is ever coming and ever not-yet-here.  It comes in the actions and persistence and diligence, and compassion, and fierceness of those following the Spirit of God in this world.  But in many, many other realms, justice and peace and wholeness are not yet the reality.

And so no, we do not always reap what we sow.

And as much as we want to believe it to be true.  In loving kindness to both ourselves and one another, we must allow that it is also true that injustice and evil also wield their might and bring death and destruction.  We do not fully control or have power over the outcomes in our lives.

 

Now why have I delved into such a tricky topic after such an inspiring verse as this passage from Romans?

I have done it because I think Christian culture in America has a problem with “boasting in our sufferings.”  Christian culture in America will far sooner shame or judge those suffering than recognize, that for some, if not many, their suffering is undeserved and unjust.  Their suffering is a symptom of our societal sins, and not their own personal sins.

We suffer for the sins of one another, not just our own sins.  We suffer when someone in power lacks the courage to stand up to injustice.  We suffer when company’s and individuals think that to win someone else must lose.  We suffer when anyone tries to store up for themselves all the world’s wealth, without a mindfulness and compassion to their fellow human beings.  When one of us weeps, we all weep.  When one of us rejoices, we all rejoice.  …that is also in the Bible.

We affect one another.  But I believe that in our grasping to understand and order our world, in order to make sense of our experiences, we rush to blame.  We rush to explain.  We rush to judge.  We rush to dismiss.

And in-so-doing, we deal ourselves and one another death-blows.  We hit ourselves and one another when we’re down, when we’re at our lowest points.

And that is an even greater injustice.

 

Christ instructs us not to quench a smoldering wick.  In other words, when someone is down, do not push them flat to the ground, do not trample them further, do not break their back and their spirit.

But when we judge…  And when we shame…  And when we reach to explain the evil and suffering we see wreaking havoc in the lives of our brothers and sisters, we quite often are doing just that – breaking their spirit, piling on.

 

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, is counseling us to do just the opposite of this.

Instead of our hiding our suffering in shame.  Instead of tightening the hatchets and closing all the blinds.  Instead of isolating ourselves further when we need the most help – lest we be judged on top of it all…  we are instead to BOAST in our sufferings. 

 

What?!?!??

Boast?

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Who in our society would BOAST in their sufferings?

The only place I’ve seen it consistently done, are in cultures and segments of our society that have known long-suffering.  Those whose descendants were enslaved, for example.  Or those cultures subject to genocide and discrimination.

And WE need to learn from these segments of our society.

 

How can WE become a community of faith that BOASTS in our suffering…

Knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

 

IF WE can become a community that LIVES this advice of Paul,

That speaks out our sufferings,

Without fear or shame

Worry or judgement,

Then perhaps we will open the doors to SEE and HEAR and WITNESS God’s mighty acts among us.

 

For GOD IS DOING A MIGHTY WORK.

 

But we will only have eyes and ears and hearts to perceive it,

When we create a community safe enough

For each of us to be our authentic selves

Without judgement.

 

Perhaps then, a brave soul, would dare share with us the pearls quarried from the depths of their exquisite pain and suffering.

Perhaps then, we will hear and pay attention, and learn to see

Just WHAT our God can do.

“Spirit Poured Out”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 2:1-21

 

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’


 

The Spirit of God is a great equalizing power.  Notice how the Spirit of God knows no lines of race or gender, age or power.  For all the lines in our world – dividing by color, dividing by economic means and opportunity, divisions by gender…or perceived gender, divisions by class, division by age…

For all of this, the Spirit of God cuts right through it.

 

I used to think all these differences were best unseen.  I thought that to love someone different than me meant being blind to all that made us different.  But someone significant to me once said, “No.  I am different.”  Being blind to the differences wasn’t the answer.  It made them feel less seen, less known.  Rather, seeing the differences and loving still,… THAT is closer to the answer.

For it is in the infinite space and differences between us where we find our greatest individual and collective strength.  When we open ourselves to learn from one another, we are all the richer and far stronger.

 

So in this world determined to judge and to draw lines, may we be a people who follow the Spirit of God’s lead.  The Spirit of God made no distinction.  The Spirit did not only come to the righteous, to the worthy, to those good enough.

No.

The Spirit of God has been poured out upon all flesh.  All flesh.

 

What does that mean?

 

Paul in his letter to the Romans speaks more to this when he says:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Paul says that everyone led by the Spirit of God is a child of God. 

Now THAT is a very broad statement.

 

In a world very divided – religiously, ethnically, dietarily, and on and on the list goes – in THIS world where some are considered property of others and a very small segment of society is legally able to own, buy, and sell property, THIS was a radical statement.  Because here Paul is not only saying that ALL FOLLOWING GOD’s SPIRIT are children of God BUT THAT they are also heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. 

These are statements about power and authority.  These are statements associated with wealth and privilege.  These are statements about belonging.

 

And so in this ancient text, fraught with the social structures and limitations in the minds and worlds of its many and varied writers, we have been given this radical ray of light in the darkness of the powers that be in the world.  You will know a tree by its fruit, you can discern the children of God by their obedience to the Spirit of God.

Notice, you do not know the children of God by our human labels,…nor by religious membership,…nor by perfection.  No one who has ever followed God has done it perfectly.  The Bible is excellent in showing us that!  But to be part of God’s family, a disciple of God, a follower of the Spirit of God is to be in relationship with God.  It is to be molded and shaped in fellowship with God and God’s people.  It is to be healed and redirected away from death and toward life.  It is to listen while walking in faith, and to turn around, when God says the word and you realize you’ve been going the wrong way….

 

We are defined in relationship to God.  THAT is what matters.

Not the labels

Not the names

Not popularity

Not perfection.

 

 

Our God has poured out the Spirit upon ALL FLESH!

The power of God lives in and among us!

The presence of God is here and now.

And God is all about us, in faces and places we would never expect.

 

But may WE be a PEOPLE WHO FOLLOW the Spirit of God.

MAY WE be a people who are defined in relationship with our God,

Open and ready to see God’s face and hear God’s voice among the last and the least.

May WE be a community that works to tear down the judgements and distinctions that divide and isolate.

MAY WE BE a community where the broad spectrum of beautifully made and utterly loved creatures may find their place of belonging. 

 

May it be among us.

“Holy Spirit Growing Pains”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 16:9-15
John 14:25-29

Acts 16:9-15

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.  On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

John 14:25-29

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.


 

This story of the Apostles figuring out how to follow the risen Jesus, by the power of Jesus’ gift to them of the Holy Spirit – this is what fills the pages of the book of Acts.  Clumsily these apostles keep running into the borders and boundaries of God’s call on their lives.

They have been given this ultimate gift – to know the Lamb of God, Jesus – and to receive forgiveness of sins – what a gift!?!  The Spirit has been poured out on them, and they are all in, eager to share the good news with any who will hear, but they keep awkwardly hitting boundaries.  In the bit just before our passage today about Paul dreaming about a man in Macedonia begging him to come, Paul and Timothy try to go many places, but we read that the Holy Spirit limits them.  It says the Holy Spirit forbade them to go to Asia.  And then they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit would not allow them.

 

I wonder what this looked like.  How did they know it was the Holy Spirit?  We are not told if they both were given hunches or premonitions, we don’t know if they received visions forbidding them to go, or whether or not they deducted the Holy Spirit’s leading by which doors were opened to them and which doors were closed.  But I am very curious, because in our everyday lives, this is what we’re in the business of determining.

It is very easy to read these stories and to make a mental separation between what WAS and what IS.  It isn’t so very difficult to accept that the Holy Spirit led these two early disciples in spreading the Good News – after all, we are all here today because something they did worked!  We know about Jesus because of their good work and those who followed in their footsteps, generation after generation.

It can be another thing to believe that such things happen in our lives today.  So do you believe?  Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is still active and living in the world today, still speaking to our hearts today, still guiding our steps today, still interceding for us with sighs deeper than words today?

I certainly hope so!

 

It gets tricky because how can we be sure?  It isn’t a scientifically proven thing.  It isn’t black and white.  It isn’t something we can fully perceive or even begin to understand.

So in this modern world of facts and fiction, it can be hard to know when and if the Holy Spirit is active and moving.  How do we know?

Well, first off, as scripture says, “For now, we see through a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face.”  In this world, we do not see with clarity and breadth.  We cannot.  And so when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we must approach with eyes of faith.  It is by eyes of faith that we believe and then see.

 

Nicole’s mom Bonnie, Jayne’s sister is a praying person.  When she heard about the needs of a young family in our congregation, she wanted to help.  She offered to buy the baby girl her first pair of shoes and a new dress for her first birthday.  So she spoke with the mother who measured the child’s feet, and Bonnie set out to buy a new pair of shoes.  She went to a shoe store and spoke with the clerk.  She told the clerk about this family and how the child had never before owned a pair of shoes but that she wanted to get the little girl her first pair.  The woman was moved by the Bonnie’s story and said, give me your number, I have several bags of little girl outfits AND shoes.  I want this little girl to have them.  When the clerk dropped off the bag to Bonnie, the clerk explained, ‘The day before I meet you in the store, I was cleaning out all these old clothes from my daughter and preparing to store them.  My daughter, 3 ½ years old, came in and said, “Mommy, there’s a little girl that needs those clothes.  Don’t put them away.” ‘

 

Bonnie was so moved by this.  It was so clear to her that God had spoken through this child.  It was clear to her that God loved this young family.  It was clear to her that the Holy Spirit had directed this mother and was directing her.

And this gift freed Bonnie to put her money toward caring for the rest of the family, the mom and dad.  And even as she shopped for the parents, she prayed and paid attention.  Even the sales seemed so appropriately suited to the family, and Bonnie followed that trail – she followed the Holy Spirit.

 

How do we follow the Holy Spirit?

How do we understand when God says, “Don’t go there,” “Go here,” “Say this…,” “Don’t say that…”

I do believe that the Holy Spirit is still living and moving among us here and now.  I do believe that God is still speaking to us in ways that we uniquely can here.  Even now as I sit and write this sermon for you, I do not have a plan of what to say.  I’m not mapping things out.  No, I am praying and listening and following the trail.  If I am doing this well, it is because I am following the Holy Spirit as I serve in this way.

For the Spirit of God knows the deepest heart.  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs deeper than words.  The Holy Spirit can use any means by which to guide and direct us.

And so, I believe the key is to listen, trust, and follow.

 

Will we ever KNOW FOR SURE that we are following the Spirit of God?  Probably not in this lifetime, but when in doubt, I have prayed to God saying, “Lord, I hear you, but is this what you’re really saying?  Please confirm it to me.”  And as I’ve kept my heart open, as I’ve stayed alert, listening, I have heard confirmation, God has given me clarity.

Sometimes this clarity has come over years and decades.  Sometimes it has come in days or even minutes, but our God loves us.  Our God is good.  Our God has given us this precious gift of the Holy Spirit SO THAT we might follow God well – SO THAT we might continue to do the work of Christ, in the power of God.

 

Only God knows what’s going on in our secret hearts.  Only God knows the questions we dare not speak.  Only God knows the feelings we dare not acknowledge.  Only God knows the path that leads us to fullness and quality of life!

 

And so may we take this good gift!

May we, like Paul, bump into the boundaries and borders of this gift – trying out wrong paths and being redirected until we hear and find our way.  Scripture says, ‘…Whether you turn to the right or the left you will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way.  Walk in it.” ‘  We don’t need to know the way head of time.  We just need to set out, to start, and to listen as we go.

May we, like Paul, be alert and listen to the many ways God speaks to us – be it in dreams, or visions, friends, or facebook, strangers, or little children.

GOD STILL SPEAKS.

 

May WE be a people who are open – open to the Spirit of God, living and active, working and moving, calling and inviting, opening and closing doors – that the love of Christ might spread abroad in hearts and minds, setting captives free, giving sight to the blind, proclaiming God’s favor.

It is for this, that we are called!

“Following a Spectacular God”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 11:1-18
Revelation 21:1-6

 

Acts 11:1-18

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Revelation 21:1-6

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.


 

Do we have what it takes to follow God?

By all logical and reasonable assessments, the answer is no.  We surely do not.

And yet God has a pesky habit of calling people to follow who don’t look like your usual suspects.  Jesus called Peter – a rash, impulsive, unfiltered, uneducated…passionate, risk-taking, bold, courageous man.  God called Paul – a legalistic Jew/Roman citizen who was passionately persecuting Christians.

 

God calls us.

God calls them.

God calls the them that we avoid and do not like…

God calls.

 

And who are we to stand in the way of God!??

 

We hear this story of Peter as Peter’s explanation of to the Jews of Judea who are appalled to have gotten word that this leader in the faith has broken the Jewish rules and eaten with Gentiles.  He has been called to account for his actions.  And so he explains to them why he broke the rules.

He had been praying on the rooftop in Joppa – famished, as he waited for a meal to be prepared – when God sent a vision to him.  It was a large sheet being lowered before him from heaven, with every kind of bird and beast.  And there was a voice saying, “Peter, get up, kill, and eat.”  But he replied, “No Lord, for I’ve never eaten anything profane or unclean,” for the spread of animals before him were those that Jews were forbidden from eating.  But the voice then said, “What God has made clean, you must not call unclean.”  This dialogue occurred three times before the sheet was pulled back to heaven, and immediately 3 men from Caesarea arrived asking for him.  Though these were Gentile men, requesting his presence, the Spirit of God told Peter not to make a distinction between them & the Jews but to instead go with them.

So Peter, trying out his new Holy Spirit capacities, listens and obeys.  He goes with the men.  When he arrives, the head of the house explains that he had seen an angel standing in his house who told him to go to Joppa and get the man called Peter – that Peter had a message for them by which his entire household would be saved.  And so he had sent his men to find Peter and bring him to them.

At this Peter begins to share the good news of the gospel, and even as he began to speak to them, the Holy Spirit fell on these Gentile people – in the same manner in which these Jews had also received the Holy Spirit.  And so Peter reasons that if God is accepting these people into the faith, then who is he to stand in the way of God.

Smart man.

 

Our God is unfathomable to us.  Our God is inconceivable.  Even our best imaginings of God fall dramatically short, for we cannot perceive our God.  Our God expands beyond our best understanding, our best knowledge, our greatest wisdom.  Our God is not contained in our books, in our words, in our hearts, in our communities, in our churches.

Our God is out and about!

Our God is continually surprising.

Our God is continually astounding.

Just when we think we understand, we go deeper and find new caverns and worlds to explore of God’s goodness, God’s mercy, God’s unfailing love, God’s fierce justice, God’s heart for the lost…

 

This is why we need to take care that we follow God – FOLLOW, not lead.

Usually we wouldn’t presume to LEAD GOD, …but we often presume to lead others.

 

And this is a beautiful thing.  Many, if not all, of us are called to lead in some way.  We lead in our jobs.  We lead in our families and homes.  We take leadership among friends.  And we take leadership in church.  This is called showing up and getting our skin in the game.  This is called investing in our communities and our community of faith.

 

But we must ever take care, that in every arena – home, work, church, friends – that we are FIRST followers. 

 

IF God were predictable.  IF God could be fully known and understood.  IF God were somehow contained in scripture or our churches…then perhaps we might could lead without listening to the Spirit.  Perhaps we could KNOW the way to go.  Perhaps.

But indeed God is far greater than we can begin to imagine or perceive or ever rightly anticipate.  THEREFORE, we are only right with God, insofar as we follow.  Follow.

 

We are not called to know all things.

We are not called to understand all things.

We are not called to see the future.

No.

 

We are called to follow the One who does.

We are called to follow the One who knows what is best.

We are called to follow the One who loves us with an unbreaking, never-giving-up love.

We are called to follow the only One who is worthy of our lives.

 

And what a sweet, sweet calling that is!

 

We get to be a part of what God is DOING, here and now!

We get to be part of the Spirit’s healing and saving work in our neighborhoods, in our friendships, in our families, in our homes, in our churches…

 

We are invited to join with the Maker of the Universe in making all things new!

 

And we are only powerful and effective, caring and well-cared-for, peace-making and peaceful, insofar as we are following. 

 

Now God does not guarantee us wealth and prosperity in this world.  God does not guarantee us happiness and success.  The pathways can be fraught with calamities and injustices.  But what we find in God is better than anything we could have bought or pursued, imagined or created for ourselves.

 

And so I ask you – are you getting in the way of God’s Spirit?

Are you fighting God?

 

Are you listening?

And are you following?

 

LIFE, abundant life, is what’s at stake.  That quality of life that makes life worth living is what God is offering us here.  And we open ourselves to this gift by following.

“I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly,” Jesus says. 

 

Will we live life abundantly?

Will we follow?

“Greater Works Than These”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 9:36-43
John 14:12-14

 

Acts 9:36-43

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

John 14:12-14

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”


 

Just last Sunday, we read about how Peter, having just been through an emotional marathon following Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, has retreated to the sea to fish and has led 6 other disciples in doing the same.  This fishing expedition doesn’t go well.  They catch nothing, but the risen Christ meets them on the shoreline with hot fish and warm bread, strait from the fire.  The whole encounter ends with Jesus repeatedly asking Peter whether or not Peter loves him.  Each time Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” but each time Jesus responds by saying “Feed/Tend my sheep.”

It seems as though Jesus is trying to break through the disconnect between Peter’s affections and his actions.  Peter feels love for Christ, but his actions are less that of a disciple and more reflective of the man he used to be, before he met Christ.  Jesus is challenging Peter to live his love and devotion in service to others – not returning to his former life but continuing his discipleship by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

So in today’s passage, we finally see Peter DOING the work of a disciple of Christ.  In fact this story, along with several other stories of Peter and the early church, neatly reflects stories that came out of Jesus’ life.  Just as Jesus raised a girl from the dead, so Peter raises this faithful disciple from death.  Just as Jesus heals a paralytic man, so Peter heals a paralyzed man.  Peter is DOING the work of discipleship!

This Peter, who was once looking wistfully back at the fishing life, is now all in.

And I find this very encouraging.

 

We know that Peter was not an educated man.  Luke reports that the religious leaders of the day found Peter ordinary – such that they were amazed as how he taught them with authority and performed deeds of power among the people.  Peter was an ordinary guy.  He was rash and a bit impulsive.  He liked to fish naked, and the sea was a source of comfort to him.  He spoke before he thought.  He couldn’t always follow through with his intentions.  When Jesus was in custody before his eventual crucifixion, Peter denies Jesus 3 times, in order to save his own skin.

And it is this Peter who Christ calls and uses to spread the Good News of Great Joy.

This Peter.

 

Though he has failed over and over, Jesus lovingly pursues him, and keeps calling Peter to follow.  Now, Peter’s words and his actions are finally starting to match.  Peter’s faith is finally taking shape in works.  He chooses to leave Christ’s presence, not just a hearer but a doer.  Peter chooses to tend the sheep – to shepherd God’s people, to lead others in doing good and not in turning back.

 

In the Gospel of John we heard these words of Jesus:  “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me[e] for anything, I will do it.”

Jesus is explaining that we will do greater things than he did – precisely because Jesus will be with God, hearing our prayers and giving us what we ask.

This is hard to believe.  It sounds too genie-in-a-bottle for us.  It sounds too anecdotal to be true.  And yet, in the person of Peter, we see an ordinary person doing extraordinary things, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And I would assert that God is calling you and I to do great things by the power of the Spirit.

 

Do you look around and think – we need a miracle!

Do you look around and think – how can we begin to fix the messes we are making?!

Does each new grim report simply pile onto your already-mounting-stack of tragedies-with-no-answers?

 

Well, good.

Perhaps God has made you, for such a time as this.

Perhaps God is using you to do even greater works by the power of the Spirit…

Perhaps God has given you eyes to see the mess, so you can be a part of the solution.

After all, Christ said we will do greater things than he did!

 

We are not alone.  God is not finished with us yet.  There is more to this world than we can see or perceive.  And Christ is still at work, doing miracles, turning tables, raising the dead, healing the sick.  Christ hears our prayers.

 

We do not pretend to control God.

We do not pretend to understand why God acts and does not act, why God heals some and not others.  We do not pretend to know why some suffer all their lives and others seem to walk such an easy road.

And yet,

Paul encourages us to pray without ceasing.  “Cast all your cares upon the Lord, for God cares for you.”  And “the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective,” scripture reminds us.

 

Therefore,

in all things,…

as we face enormous obstacles to justice and equity,

as we stare down the mountains between us and where we need to go

as we face off against the darkness within ourselves and one another,

May we remember that Christ, who raised Lazarus from the dead, lives in you and in me.

May we remember that the One who made heaven and earth and fashioned you and me has called us precious and beloved.

May we remember that there is more to this life than we can see.

And may we call on Christ,

Interceding on behalf of our brothers and sisters,

Crying out to God in the face of injustice,

Sharing what we have with one another,

…..DOING the work of discipleship. 

 

Who knows what mighty work Christ may do,

in you and in me!