“Forever Changed”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 5:1-11
Jeremiah 29:11

 

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Jeremiah 19:11

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.


 

What a fantastic Gospel story we read today.  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has begun teaching in the synagogues and word is spreading about him, but he’s not yet chosen disciples.  This is that moment in Luke, when the first disciples follow Jesus.

Since this story differs from the story of Jesus calling his first disciples in Matthew and Mark, this raises the obvious questions of which story accurately reflects what happened, and that is an answer I don’t have.  Both Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts are almost identical.  That suggests that perhaps their accounts are more factual, but it can also simply mean they had the same source or that one of them used the other one of them as their source.  So ultimately, we do not have an answer to question of what actually happened.

But as is the case with much of scripture, I suspect the questions of substance are less about what transpired exactly in that moment and more about the truths communicated by each story.  As we’ve discussed before, Hebrew Rabbinic tradition cared less about facts, as we would define them in our modern world.  And as in all of life, every witness experiences things from differing points of view, even focusing on entirely different elements of the same shared moment.  They didn’t have i-phones, camcorders, or tape players.  So necessarily over time, stories – just like our memories – shift.  Perspectives would change from storyteller to storyteller.  What remained was truth.  And that is what we are called to listen for in these stories.

 

So here we have Jesus calling his first disciples.  It isn’t even so much an ask as a telling.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Come and follow me.”  Jesus simply states that from that moment forward, they would no longer catching fish but catching people.  And they leave everything and follow him.

 

Would you do it?

Would you leave everything and follow Jesus?

If you had been there, witnessing this life and love and hope never-before-seen, would you have left everything to follow him?

 

I honestly don’t know.  We have responsibilities.  We have rents.  We have mortgages.  We have aging parents.  We have children.  We have jobs.  We have obligations…

And so did they.

What made them so willing to step out with abandon into unknown territory following Jesus?

 

They have just witnessed Jesus teaching the people.  They have just witnessed the multitude in awe at his words.  Their own work wasn’t going so swell.  They’d fished the whole night, catching nothing.  And here, this traveling new preacher goes and tells them how to do their job?  Where does he get off?!?  I imagine they may have thought him naïve, arrogant, or out of place.  Couldn’t he just stick to teaching?  Why’d he have to meddle in their business.

Simon (Peter) protests, but says that because Jesus has asked, he will do what Jesus has said.  We don’t know if he did it grudgingly.  But it does seem clear he’s not keen.  After all, this was the END of their workday.  They’d been cleaning their nets in order to put them away.  They were done – hungry, sleepy, beat.  And here this teacher goes and starts telling them how to do their jobs.

How do you feel when someone purports to know how to do your job better than you do?

Have you ever been at the end of yourself and had someone say, “Oh, well all you have to do is do it this way.”

 

How have these moments made you feel?

What have they risen within you?

 

I can say that these moments have not risen kind and happy thoughts within me.  So while it is possible Simon and his fellow fishermen were eager to get back out and try again, I suspect they were anything but eager.  I suspect they were anything but optimistic.  I suspect the only thing they had going for them here was their obedience to Jesus.

And that is something.

That is something God can work with.  Obedience is a surrendering of sorts.  It places another person’s will ahead of our own.  It requires setting down our own intention and taking on someone else’s.

Obedience is hard.

 

But the hardest part of obedience is trusting that the one telling us what to do really knows what their talking about,…trusting that they know what is best,…trusting that they have our best interest at heart.  And this is why it’s so hard to trust one another in this world – because so rarely do others have our best interest at heart.  We tend to get caught up in our own needs too much to be truly concerned and aware of what others need.  Our own needs most often trump the needs of others in our lives.  And even when we do want to do what’s best for another, we rarely truly know what IS best for them.  This is why telling others what to do gets so sticky and dicey.

 

But this is also why God alone is worthy of our full obedience.

God alone truly KNOWS what is right and good and true.  God alone truly KNOWS what is best, what will work, what will lead to a future of hope.  God alone can see how one moment will connect to another.  God alone can foresee how everything fits together and all that is coming.

God ALONE is in a position to rightly guide us.

And in Jesus Christ, we have witnessed God pouring Godself out for our sakes!  Christ put his life on the line, laying his life down, all for our sakes.

 

In God alone, we meet the One able to lead us well. 

 

If we trust anyone in this world, may it be God.

 

I realize that for many of us God seems trustworthy for the big eternal stuff but perhaps not for the issues we face everyday.  Does God really even care about the stuff we are having to make decisions about every day?!?

I would say yes, God does care about all the decisions of our lives because God cares for us.  A God who knows the number of hairs on our head and the number of tears we’ve ever cried, surely cares for all of us, not just the “holy” parts of our lives.   Last I checked, hair and tears aren’t usually considered all that holy, and yet they matter to God.

That also means our finances, our jobs, our businesses, our decisions…

Our families, our households, our relationships…

Our everything matters to God.

 

AND God alone can rightly guide us.

Not only that, but God alone has our best interest at heart.

So we can be confident that wherever God leads, it is the very best for us.

 

Do you believe it?

 

Here Jesus steps into these young Galilean fishermen’s business and shows them that there is far more going on below the surface of the water than they can even begin to know.  Here Jesus shows them that he can indeed provide for all they need.  Here Jesus faces up against their livelihoods and blesses them with more abundance than they dreamed possible – blessing OVERFLOWING!  Here Jesus shows them that he is God and they are not.

 

And something clicks.

 

Life is so much better with him. 

How could they ever go back to the way things were before? 

 

 

May we meet the Living God in ways that bowl us over.

May we be obedient to God – following the Spirit’s lead in our lives – and SEE the Living God provide, blessings overflowing!

May we be so changed that going back to life as usual just isn’t an option

For we have met with the LIVING GOD, and our lives will never be the same.

 

Christ meet us, and may we never be the same.

“Blind Sight”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Kings 17:1-16
Luke 4:16-30

 

1 Kings 17:1-16

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” The word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

 Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

 

Luke 4:16-30

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.


 

I love this passage about Jesus in the synagogue at his home town.  I love the passage he reads from Isaiah.  That passage has always resonated with me.

But this passage is loaded.  One minute Jesus is reading from the scroll of Isaiah and the next he is evading an angry mob of the villagers he grew up with, who are leading him out of town and to the edge of the cliff, that they might hurl him off it.

This is serious stuff.

 

What made them so angry?  Jesus has said so little.

But has he?

 

First off, after reading the part of Isaiah about how God’s Spirit is upon him to do all these good things, Jesus boldly says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled, in your hearing.”  Jesus is essentially claiming God’s power and presence with him to do good works among them.  Jesus is speaking the truth.

Everywhere else, folks are saying as much about him.  Everywhere he goes, folks are amazed at God’s presence in him, God’s works through him, God’s Word spoken to them.  But here, the crowd is harder to impress.  Still, at first, they are enjoying his words and feeling quite pleased.  But only a sentence or two more, and the whole dynamic shifts.

And why?  Jesus’ own explanation is that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown.

And why is that?

I think it’s because we think we know the person.  We think we have them figured out.  There is not mystery.  There is no wonder.  We know who their parents are.  We know all their siblings.  We’ve been to their house.  What’s there to get so excited about?!?

 

Well, perhaps Jesus’ words so far wouldn’t have gotten him killed.  Perhaps they would have.  He’s definitely claiming to be a prophet, at the very least.  But it doesn’t sound blasphemous to them, as it would in later days.  No, I think what got this crowd all riled up is in the words that come next.  Jesus says,

“But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

Here, Jesus alludes to two Old Testament stories.  These are scriptures the people would have known well.  Most likely these Israelite listeners would have heard them and wondered at God’s mighty works through this most famous prophet Elijah.  But Jesus points to another thread in these stories:  the fact that the beneficiaries of God’s mighty acts were all OUTSIDE the nation of Israel, people from Lebanon and Syria.

The widow of Sidon (current-day Lebanon) and the leper from Syria are the beneficiaries of God’s mighty acts here through Elijah, not any of the many lepers or widows from among the people of Israel.  Jesus hones in on this point.  And without words, the offense is palpable.  Jesus seems to directly point out the lack of faith of the people of Israel, and particularly his own hometown.  Instead Jesus is lifting up outsiders as models of faith.

The author of Hebrews has defined faith as,

“the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

 

These hometown neighbors have known Jesus, his whole life.  They think they know him.   And so they have no faith.   And their lack of faith means that Jesus cannot perform any acts or wonders among them.  They are not in a position to believe or receive the working of God, standing in their midst.  And all because they think they see.  They think they know. 

 

Just as with Elijah, others are benefitting from God’s mighty works, because they have come in hope and faith.  They have come open.  They have come seeking.

And GOD meets them.

 

We are a community of faith.  We come from many different walks of life.  We come from different backgrounds and faith experiences.  Some of us are brand new to this place.  Others of us have been here since we were born.

But we all come to faith,

We all come to community,

We all come to church,

With our set of baggage.

 

Many of us have “been there, done that” so much, that we are sure we can predict an outcome with a fair amount of certainty.

But do we also realize that our predictions,

Can seal our fate?

Do we also realize that our foresight,

Can restrict our outcomes.

Do we also realize that our SEEING,

Can be our blindness?

 

In life, the ability to predict outcomes can protect us from many things.  It has in fact probably kept us alive until this point.

But reducing our lives of faith to natural, human outcomes completely eliminates God from the mix.  Assessing the situation using the facts and circumstances we can see, leaves out the possibility of what GOD may do

THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO THINGS THAN WE CAN SEE.

 

So will we be those

Who stand in the presence of the living God

Closed, and certain, and offended?

 

Or will we be like the Lebanese woman and Syrian man,

Seeking

Open

Watching

Waiting

Hoping for God.

 

Can we be a people, ever mindful that there is more to this life than we can see

Ever mindful that there is more to God than we can know

Ever mindful that there is more going on that we can perceive…

 

And will we be a people hoping and expecting, watching and waiting for God to show up?

And shake things up

And leave us amazed?

…In our lives

And in this place?

 

When the voice of God calls to us,

As it did through Elijah to that Lebanese widow gathering sticks to cook her final meal,

     Will we have ears to hear?

Will we dare to hope?

Will we take the leap of faith?

 

Who will we be? 

“We Are One”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Matthew 10:28-31
1 Corinthians 12:12-27

 

Matthew 10:28-31

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

1 Corinthians 12:12-27

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.


 

This teaching by Paul is important.  It has been foundational in the development of our theology.  It is among the reasons why we believe in the beauty and sacredness of each person, differences and all.

But the side of this passage that I find harder and harder to ignore, is this part about inferior members of the body of Christ.  Now when Paul mentions these inferior members, it is to say that we give them more honor, so all members feel cared for and a part.  But that still implies that some folks are more important in the body of Christ than others.

 

Now, this passage definitely challenges the way the world designates and measures value and worth.  This passage reminds us that those we often despise are often invaluable; whereas those we lift up and honor are quite often inferior.  I appreciate how Paul challenges the world’s way of thinking about, measuring, and valuing others.  I appreciate how God’s way is quite often the opposite of our ways.

What I find harder to digest is the fact that God still measures.  From Paul’s words, it would appear that God does not put down the measuring stick, but simply that God measures with a different stick altogether.

 

Now, living in our society today, I find this notion that some are more valuable that others a tad repulsive.  It’s like a bad smell in my nose, that I cannot shake.  I don’t like this idea that some are more important than others.

 

In other places of scripture, we learn that God loves and seeks and saves all people.

I am much more comfortable with those passages.

 

But this passage, cloaked in comparison and measurement, is hard for me to accept.  And I must not be the only one, because everywhere, we have pushes to remove comparison and competition.  School field days are no longer competitions among peers.  More and more, they’ve become more like choose-your-own-outdoor-activity-fests.  The competition has been altogether eliminated.  And everyone receives a ribbon.

Part of me is okay-enough with this.  But then I’ve also noticed how young adults who’ve been raised in this new social order have very little self-awareness.  All you have to do is watch the auditions for any singing competition, and you’ll find person after person who cannot match pitch yet has dreamed of being a singer since they were a little girl.  All I can think is, “how did that young lady grow up her whole life without knowing that singing isn’t her gift?!”

It’s in moments like this that I feel the new social order of “everyone wins” is grossly inadequate.  It’s like we’ve traded one extreme – competition at all costs – for another – Everyone is a winner!

 

Whatever your personal taste may be, this idea of ranking one another or being ranked is controversial.  And yet, through-out scripture we hear these words of ranking, value, and measurement.  Now, this measurement, God’s measurement, is radically different and juxtaposed to our own, but it IS measuring, nonetheless.

 

Perhaps a difference is this – Jesus speaks to action, choices, decisions, inactions.  Jesus measures the acts of all people, while treasuring each person.  Not all acts are okay.  Some are good.  Some are bad.  Some actions are right.  Other actions are wrong.  What we do and say and fail to do and say matters.  Some acts are full of faith, while others are full of fear and doubt.  But all the while we are reminded that God sees every sparrow that falls from the sky, and that we are of more worth than a sparrow.  All the while, we are reminded that God knows the number of hairs on our heads.

We are precious, honored, and beloved in God’s sight.

AND, we act in ways that are good and evil, right and wrong, faithful and unfaithful, courageous and cowardly.

Not all actions are equal.

 

But this explanation still does not satisfy OUR passage today, because the passage isn’t so much talking about actions.  It is talking about people, and their differences.

But no one passage is meant to be read in isolation.  They are a chorus.  When we hear them in conversation together, we are best able to discern the truth.  And it is no different with this passage.

While we are assured over and over in scripture that God values all, we also hear that God measures between different acts, good and evil.  In fact, God alone can accurately and wholly determine which is which.  God alone is in a position to judge.  Not all acts are equal.  In God’s eyes, it may be that not all people are equal.

All we know is that God alone is qualified to make that judgement.  We are not. 

 

Perhaps the key to understanding this passage is the phrase in verses 22 and 23:

On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor,…

Perhaps Paul’s distinctions between the inferior and honorable members is simply a reflection of what WE think.  Is it possible Paul is merely speaking to the prejudices and judgements we make about one another, in order to challenge them with God’s way of thinking? 

We do not know for sure.

But what IS clear is Paul’s final assertion:

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

 

We affect one another.

Each of us matters to the whole.

One person’s suffering, is all our suffering.

One person’s honor, is all our honor.

 

Now you may be thinking now of all the ways this does not seem true.  But we are part of one body, the body of Christ.  We are part of one human family.  We affect one another, both for good and for bad.  The harm or wellbeing of each individual matters to the whole.  “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” Paul reminds us.

So in a day and time when we are as tempted as ever to label one another, to judge and dismiss one another, to reduce one another to their shortcomings or political persuasions, may WE be a people who reflect God’s heart for the world:

I came not to condemn the world but that all people might be saved.

May WE be a people who believe God that every person’s suffering and every person’s gain is a loss or a gain to us all.

May WE be a people who STOP ranking and sorting one another with the measuring sticks we’ve found in the school of the world.

May WE be a people who begin to perceive our own worth and the worth of others, more and more, with God’s eyes.

 

Each made by the hand of God, we are bound together as one creation, one human family. 

Baptized into the family of God, we are bound together, as one body of Christ. 

 

May WE love and care for all our members and each person, remembering that we are joined.

When one of us weeps, we all weep. 

When one of us is honored, we are all honored.

 

The Word of the Lord.

“BeLoved”

Isaiah 43:1-7
Acts 8:14-17

 

Isaiah 43:1-7

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,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

Acts 8:14-17

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.


 

In college I had the joy of studying the Bible and learning about God through various Christian perspectives.  And one of the most impactful teachings I remember from that time was to read God’s words to the people of Israel, as if they were to you and me.  Why?  Because we too are now God’s chosen people.  As believers, we have been adopted into the family of God.

This made Isaiah 43 one of my favorite passages.  Favorite because it tells of God’s utter love for and commitment to us.  God claims us:  “You are mine.”  And God speaks tenderly to us, “you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

I loved these verses.  They helped me understand God in a more personal way.  You see, in my final years of high school, my home church had hired a youth director who we all adored.  She was funny and spunky and fun.  The Bible was alive for her, and she was opening it up to us, for the first time in our lives.  She used to always say, “Christianity is not a religion.  It’s a relationship.”  Of all the things she taught us, this was most profound.  For the first time, we were beginning to realize that the juicy goodness of faith was lived out in relationship with God.  And the way we best got to know God was by studying the Bible and growing in fellowship with one another.

And so this life-giving new path was opening to me.  So then when I learned in college that we could read God’s words to the people of Israel, as if they were written to us, so much more of the Bible opened up to me.  It meant that the Bible was overflowing with God’s words of love and promise.  And I was coming to adore this God who was everything needed, respected, trusted and yearned for.

Listen to these verses from Isaiah again, and whenever you hear Israel or Jacob, instead hear your own name.

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.
hen 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[a] and Seba in exchange for you.
because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;

 

This is utterly beautiful.  This is the commitment we may seek from one another our whole lives.  This is the commitment shown us by our Beautiful Lord.

 

But what I didn’t delve into at the time were the words about God exchanging others for my life.

After college and while in seminary at Union, I became friends with an Egyptian family.  The husband was also a seminary student, and our families became good friends.  They explained that the Bible is hard to read for them because it makes such negative mention of Egypt, time after time.  And yet these Egyptian friends of mine were also believers, and their families had been for many generations.

I had never before thought about those countries and people who are labeled negatively in these stories.  And here, right in the middle of one of my favorite passages, is a section about God exchanging others for us, for God’s chosen people.

And this was hard to digest.

 

First we have the trouble of being God’s chosen.  If some are chosen, does that mean others are not?  And why?  Other parts of scripture made it clear that God’s heart is for the whole world and that God came so that ALL might know God’s saving love.  And yet, there is this element of choosing.  What does it mean?

On the one hand, I love this idea of choosing.  Choice means that God’s involvement in our lives is voluntary.  It shows us that GOD WANTS US.  And that is part of what’s so beautiful about these words of God, shared through the prophet Isaiah.

At the same time, choice seems to imply that others are not chosen.  And these verses about exchanging whole other people groups for the chosen ones, seems to support that idea.

I was torn.

 

And yet, in the very chapter just preceding this one, Isaiah writes of the Lord,

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations

A light to the nations.  God called the nation of Israel, took it by the hand, and kept it IN ORDER TO give them as a covenant to the people, a LIGHT to the nations.

So again, there is this idea that God chose the people SO THAT they might shed God’s light on the nations, everyone!

 

To this people who has been taught for so many years to avoid other nations, these hints throughout the prophets that Israel would be a gift FOR the nations come as a great surprise.  The people had internalized this notion that God’s choosing them somehow meant they were better than others.  But here, we see that God’s choosing them is part of God’s whole plan to save everyone.  God was keeping them, taking them by the hand, that they themselves might be the fulfillment of God’s promise, God’s covenant, to all creation.

The chosen people were the means by which God’s light would come!  Through them, a tiny baby would be born, of a virgin, in a backyard stable barn.  And through him, God’s Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, spilling out beyond the boundaries of the people of Israel and spreading to people far and wide.

We are here today because of how God spoke through and came through the people of Israel.  Through them, Jesus came into this world, and we have come to believe!

 

Perhaps this is what helped my Egyptian friends.  Perhaps they could hear God’s love for them and their nation, amidst all the negative press their nation gets in the Bible.  Perhaps they too had learned to read God’s words to the Israelites, as also being God’s words to them.  Perhaps their identities as Children of God had become the main identity with which they read God’s Word.

 

 

There is much in the Bible to digest.  There are mysteries that may remain mysteries our whole life long.  There is Mystery and there always will be, as long as we are seeking the one true God, the One whom we cannot ever fully know or understand.  And so our relationship with God will never be one of full knowing.  This God who we serve is far above and beyond all our understanding.  If we think we fully know God, then we must question whether we know GOD at all.  Our God is above all.  Our God is beyond our understanding.  God’s ways are not our ways.

And so we walk by faith.  We place our trust in the One who is above all and in all and through all.  We decide that this One who loves us with a never-stopping, never-giving-up love is worthy of all our praise.  We choose back this One who has claimed us in the waters of baptism and chosen us as God’s own.  We bind our lives to the One who came that we might have life and have it to the full!

“You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you” says the Lord.

This is the One whom I have placed my trust.  With Timothy, I proclaim,

“I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”

 

With our faith and our doubts,

With our fears and our hopes,

In understanding and in awe,

In mystery and in knowing,

We come

Before the One who knows us

And chooses us

And loves us

Just as we are.

 

You are precious in God’s sight.  Honored.  And beloved.

 

Believe it.

And be loved.

“Make Us Wise”

Isaiah 60:1-6
Romans 1:20
Matthew 2:1-12

Isaiah 60:1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Romans 1:20

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 


 

In this story, we learn of a great power scare.  The ruler Herod feels threatened by this prophecy about a promised ruler coming to shepherd the people.  As many around him, he thinks this ruler will be a challenge to his Kingdom.  He does not know that Christ is the King of all the world and not another political challenger for the nation of Israel.

And so, feigning interest and reverence, he asks the council of the wise men from the East – to gather information about where he might find the child.  And covering all his bases, he asks that the wise men check back in with him, after they’ve found the child, “that I may also go and pay him homage,” he says.  But the wise men, who are apparently wise both in name and in character, are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they return to their homes by another road.

In a birth story with so many twists and turns, Christ comes to live among us, born as a little baby, just like us.  And God is moving heaven and earth that we might this heavenly love letter, this little child, our Savior.

 

I am struck by the wise men.  We are told they are from the East.  Beyond that, we can only speculate who they might have been.  But what we know for sure is that they are not Israelites.  They are not the chosen people of Israel, and yet they are in tune with the greatest revelation of God!  And how did they hear?  How did they know?  How did they see?

They saw in the stars.  They were students of the stars.  They watched creation.  They knew something spectacular was happening, and they were not going to miss it.  And so these star gazers from the East find themselves prostrate before a tiny baby, King of the World.

 

I love how God’s heart for humanity is not bound by race or family, religion or creed.  When God shows up, God makes it known in the stars, for any and all to see.  After all, the whole point of choosing a people at all was they would themselves become a beacon, a city on a hill, a light for the nations.  This gift is for the whole world!

God’s heart has always been for all people.  It has just taken us a long time to believe it.

In fact, it’s still something we struggle to believe today.

It’s far too easy to revert to thinking God loves some and not others.

It’s far too tempting to think our blessings are for ourselves alone.

But in fact, we are blessed – in order to be a blessing!

We are called for a purpose, and not simply for privilege.

 

I am glad these men from the East are known today as “wise men” for indeed they were wise men.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains that everyone is without excuse when they sin – because, he reasons, God has made Godself known through everything created.  ALL AROUND US, God is visible.  In every created thing, God’s fingerprints can be seen.  God can be known simply by paying attention to the created world.

And here we see the wise men, studying what God has made, following where it leads them, and coming face to face with God-made-flesh.

 

Friends, we are not called by God in order to feel safe and good and privileged.  We are called because we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good!  We are called because so many need to know that God is good.  So many need to know that God is for them.  So many need to know that they are loved by the King of Heaven and Earth, just as they are.  So many need to know that their lives matter.

You and I are called to be light.

The Psalmist writes:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Indeed thick darkness covers this world.  We create such darkness in our world.  But in God’s great mercy and steadfast love, God has come.  God comes into our cycles of death and darkness, breaking in with unquenchable light.

And this light has broken upon us, piercing our darkness, in the unthreatening brightness of a little baby, laid in a manger.

And in this light, we shine.

Not because we are the light ourselves, but because our Light has come!  Christ has come!

And we who are witnesses to God’s in-breaking Light,

We are called to arise.

We are called to shine.

In the presence of God-with-us, we radiate the love and light of our Lord,

When we are present to,

Alert to,

Waiting and watching,

Witnessing God’s present in-breaking into our day to day lives,

We reflect God’s life-giving light.   

And scripture tells us

“Kings and nations will come to the brightness of our dawn.”

 

So friends, keep alert.

Our God is visible in EVERYTHING God has made.

And our God is here.

 

May we too be wise children of God.

May we SEE and be radiant!

So that many more may know

the boundless,

Life-changing

Love of God.