“We Know Love by This”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 5:1-8
1 John 3:16-24

John 5:1-8

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

1 John 3:16-24

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Beloved, let us love not in word or speech but in truth and action.

There is something magnificent about this scripture to me.

We all approach things in our own ways.  For some, speaking the words, “I love you” can be extraordinarily difficult.  For others, the words come rolling off our lips.

For some, we would rather love be seen and felt and known before it is said.  This is how I’ve always felt about the Christian fish folks put on their cars.  Perhaps not unlike many of you, I struggle to keep my cool when I drive.  I can be pretty calm much of the time, but then there are those moments when the struggle against road rage is real.  I have always thought how horrible it would be to put that fish on my car and then drive in anger.  And while I don’t do this often, I figure one time is too much for the negative witness I would be giving!

It is not enough to proclaim that one is Christian.
It is our actions and truth that speak louder.
I have always wanted my actions to demonstrate Christ before my words.
But this is almost always harder.

Words are cheap.  Words are easy.  Symbols are easy.  Even routines and habits can become easy to us.

But action, intentional action…
Living, intentional living….
That is hard stuff.

It is one thing to say we believe something, for instance, and quite another to walk the walk and live into the truth we say we believe!

And so we have this seemingly clear call to LIVE and to ACT in love.  And yet, the living of this proves incredibly difficult.

First we have our moods and emotions.  Many times we do not feel love or affection, compassion or kindness.  Many times we in fact feel anger or hurt, frustration or resentment…

Loving when every fiber inside us does not want to, is a major challenge for most of us.  Some of you may recall the story I shared last fall of Corrie Ten Boom who was faced with forgiving one of her former captors during WWII.  Faced with what felt like a very cruel request to forgive this man so deserving of her hate and condemnation, she found liberty in simply being obedient to the Spirit of God – in extending her hand in forgiveness.  And you may recall that when she did this, she found God supplied all the feeling she needed to be able to sincerely say, “I forgive you brother, with all my heart.”

This was most surprising. That by simply obeying God’s call, she found her emotions fell in line afterwards.

As surprising as this feels to me, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising.  This is the pattern with many things in life.  I have repeatedly found myself not wanting something that is good but when doing the good thing, filling up with joy and the DESIRE to do it after all.

God can work and move in our sheer obedience.

So even when we do not FEEL love for someone.  It is possible to love in action, and we may find our hearts and emotions following suit.

But then we have the question of what love is.

What is love to you? To what can you compare love?  Is it ice cream and comfort food and hugs? Is it safety and being known?  Is it possible only under certain circumstances? Is it unconditional?  Is love being kind and nice and polite always? Is love unfiltered honesty?  Is it pleasing another?  Is it pleasing ourselves?

What is love?

Is there a place for anger in love?

Well, with Jesus as our guide, I would say yes, based on how he responded to the selling of goods in the temple and to various religious leaders with whom he interacted.

Is there a place for setting boundaries in love?

I’d say yes again, recalling the story of Jesus saying to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan” when Peter was outspokenly dead set on Jesus not suffering and dying…

In Jesus, we do not see pandering to other’s feelings.  We hear truth spoken, sometimes with edge, sometimes with the utmost compassion.  I’d say Jesus is not comparable to a warm blanket and teddy bear; he was not all warm fuzzies, but there were definitely those who followed him and found warmth and welcome and home in his presence. Even the children wanted to be near him, and he made time for them.

So many human emotions are seen within the person and life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.  We see his need for time alone with God.  We see him exhausted and sleeping while others are working.  We see him hungry.  We see anger at injustice and falsehood.  We see delight in children and in the faith of those considered least among them.  We see him mourning the pain and loss facing him as he weeps in tears like blood in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. We see him resolute when questioned and condemned before the council of the Elders.  We hear his cry out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” – this feeling of being far from God, when he needed God most…

Thanks be to God for giving us such a one to look to.
To see,
in a life,
what love looks like,
lived out! 

The first part of the scripture we read today, says it very plainly,
“we know love by this, that he laid down his life for us…”

In this supreme act of self-giving, we know love.

Now, there has been a lot of theologizing over these many years since Christ’s life and death and resurrection, and not all of it has been equally beneficial to body of Christ over the years.

Some theology has made God out to be the baddy who won’t be satisfied without the blood of an innocent one. While this is an understandable interpretation of history and scripture, I think it has had most unfortunate affects on the church.  It has led folks to dismiss the Old Testament entirely…and I concede that there is much in the Old Testament that seems contrary to the God we’ve come to know in Christ…and yet I do not believe Christ is different from God.  Rather, I believe Christ is opening our eyes, in the clearest way, to the heart and true nature of God.  Christ came from God.  Christ is God.  They are not separate or different.

And so, through the lenses of Jesus Christ, I read all the Old Testament differently – believing we see more clearly, through Christ, and trusting that the God we have known in Christ, is the God who has been from of Old, for all times.  And this God came near, meeting us in the person of Jesus Christ.

The scripture read today from John about the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep is a good counter to these severe images we may have of God.  Here we have Jesus saying that he lays down his life, of his own accord, and that he can take it back of his own accord.

The crucifixion was not something done to Jesus.
It was not done to him by God.
It was not done to him by Pontius Pilot.
It was not done to him by the Jewish Elders.
It was not done to him by the people, who joining in crying out, “Crucify him!”…

The crucifixion was Jesus’ own act of pouring himself out for the life of us all and the healing of all the world.

Jesus, of his own power and will, laid down his own life, that through him, we might find life, and find it to the full!

So may we go out, renewed!

May we go out, knowing we are loved, beyond all loving!

May we know that the One, able to do all, humbled himself for us
Poured himself out for us
Lived for us
Died for us
Rose for us
Lives eternally and reigns in power…for us.

We know love by this, that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us…
So let us go and love one another
Amidst rush hour traffic
Amidst broken systems
In times of prosperity and times of want
In times of good leadership and times of poor leadership
In times of peace and times of turmoil…

May we live in love, following the example of our Lord, our Savior, our God, our friend…

Praise be to God!!!

“Proclaim Repentance & Forgiveness of Sins”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 24:36b-48
Romans 2:1-16

Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Romans 2:1-16

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.

In this precious last moment the disciples have with Jesus, Jesus says “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed.”  And I am curious about this word repentance.

Repentance has a long history in America and all over the world.  I associate it with big tent revivals.  I think about preachers who preached how we are just worms, how we are full of sin and evil.  I think of frenzied preachers scaring flocks of folks to repentance.

I think of confessionals. I think of the sense some are given that one must identify and name every sin in order to be forgiven.

Repentance has been part of movements of fear and manipulation.  It has been used to shame and to control.

But setting aside those negative connotations, I want to invite you into a more biblical understanding of repentance.  For Isaiah calls to us from the past, with the message from God, that “In repentance and rest you shall be saved.  In quietness and trust shall be your strength.”

The Hebrew word for repentance literally means “to return.”  It acknowledges that to sin is to stray from the presence of God and that repentance is a returning.

Repentance is not an earning of forgiveness by feeling bad or sorry enough.
Repentance is not a groveling in order to gain sympathies and mercies of our God.
These are the tactics we’ve learned work with one another.  But this is not what God is asking of us.

Biblical repentance is a returning.  Repentance is the way back.

And this is why Presbyterians keep this prayer of confession.
Will the confession always speak to you?  No.
Will it exactly convey your personal sins that week?  Probably not.

What it is meant to do is invite us to posture ourselves once again with an attitude of honesty and humility before God and one another.

And so we come together, all in this same boat of having missed the mark, all in this same boat of sin in the things we have done and left undone, in words we have said and words we have left unsaid, in disobedience to the Spirit of God, in wanting to control and direct our own lives, in the ways we have treated one another and ourselves.  We come together, not alone.  We hold one another up to the light – not as different than ourselves, but as similar to us; for even though our particular sins vary, our sinful state does not.  As Paul makes pains to communicate in his letter to the Romans, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

This statement from Paul comes quite suddenly and unexpectedly.  Paul begins in Romans chapter one by talking about “them.”  We can imagine the whole crowd nodding in agreement.  Certainly God condemns those people who we all agree are clearly sinners.

But then in a most striking turn, he says,

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.

Paul has set them up. Knowing the secret judgements of our hearts, Paul gets us all in the judgement seat, as he lists sinner after sinner, talking about how wrong “they” are.

And then, when no one expects it, out of the blue, Paul concludes saying, “YOU are without excuse, whoever you are…”  YOU.

Everyone thought they were just agreeing with Paul about other peoples’ sins.  Why has Paul turned this on them?  As though THEY are sinners.

Paul is making the point that ALL are sinners.  Paul is making the point that none of us can rightly stand in the judgement seat. Paul is teaching what Jesus taught that day he drew in the sand while accuser after accuser dropped their stones and left the woman they had dragged out to be stoned for adultery.  None among them were without sin.  So as Jesus said, “let he among you without sin throw the first stone” and all fell away, except Jesus, the only one without sin.

Paul is catching us all red handed as we judge and condemn one another, saying,

“You are no different.”

That is a bold and risky thing to say.  Perhaps it was good Paul’s message was delivered by letter and not in person…  This may explain part of why he was beaten within an inch of his life on more than one occasion.  To equate known sinners with those society deemed good and upright people?!  It is offensive.  It feels presumptive.  It could make the best of us want to lash back out at this one who thinks he knows something about us!

So I invite you today to imagine yourself in the crowd that day, listening to Paul’s letter.  Imagine Paul listing out all the commonly agreed upon sinners.  We nod in agreement.  Clearly these folks are wrong.

Then think how do you feel when he then says, “Therefore YOU are without excuse.”

I would feel like saying, “Who? Me?”  I think I would have been looking around, wondering who he thought he was talking to. I am the one showing up.  I am the one listening to his letter in the first place.  I am seeking knowledge and understanding.  I AM seeking God.

YOU?  That must be a typo.

But no, it isn’t a typo.

The whole point of listing out all “those people” was to show these people, to show US,
that WE are no different than the folks we all agree are sinners.
The folks we incarcerate.
The folks we sentence to death.
The folks we ignore and isolate.
The folks we do not like and avoid.

WE are no different.

I cannot express how offensive this must have felt – if you let it sink in, you may well feel offended – but Paul says it anyway.  Paul echoes Jesus in saying that any among us without sin can throw the first stone at another.  Paul, who himself had zealously followed after God all his life, knew that even among “the best” of them, lived sin and evil and brokenness.

And Paul needed to get their attentions OFF their neighbors and back onto THEMSELVES.

As long as they were busy comparing their sins to others, they could feel better about themselves. But Paul makes the point that this is NOT how God measures our righteousness.

OUR righteousness is measured by God’s righteousness.  Our righteousness is measured beside Christ’s.  And WE ALL fall short of the glory of GOD.  WE ALL miss the mark.

We can no longer take comfort in the ranking ourselves beside what we see as sin in one another.  There is not truth in thinking we are better than others.  For we are all alike before God.

And this is why we confess our sins each Sunday together.

This is why we take a moment to be still before God and ask God to reveal to our hearts the ways we have fallen short.  This is why we humble ourselves, day after day – not because we are not beautiful and amazing people, made and loved by God – but because we also continue to miss the mark, continue to fall short,…and we continue to compare ourselves to one another, labeling one another, and justifying ourselves.

This must stop.

As long as we are focused on others, we will not see the truth about ourselves.

The truth that we are beautifully and intentionally created, by the God of Heaven and Earth and that God called us good…
The truth that we have been blessed to overflowing, in more ways that we can count…
The trust that we are loved and cherished by God….
AND the truth that no one of us is deserving of this love.

The truth that on our own, we are full of darkness too.

The truth that we sin and screw up time and again, and that it doesn’t matter if someone else’s screw-up seems bigger.  Next to God, they are all screw-ups, sin is sin, and we have missed the mark.

And so when we hear Jesus say to his followers that they are called to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins,…

It is NOT that folks have to REPENT in order to EARN forgiveness of sins
That is much the way of the world.  But it is not God’s way.

It is rather that
In our honesty
In the humbling of ourselves
In our returning our gaze OFF others and back onto ourselves…

We enable the eyes of our hearts to see and to face,
Without endless justifications
Judgements of our neighbors
Defenses or rationalizations…

That we need help. 

We need help.

And knowing that we need help – that we fall dreadfully short of the light and wholeness we yearn for and are indeed made for – we come before God in repentance.

NOT a frenzied, fearful repentance,
but repentance and rest, quietness and trust.

Why?  Because we have heard and we believe that the Maker of all that is knows us, inside and out, just as we are; remembers we are made us dust; and loves us anyway. And this One went to hell and back that we might know, down in the darkest depths of our sinful ways and scary hells,… that God loves us.

And so we repent.

Day after day, we return to the One who made us and loves us and wouldn’t stop until we knew how very precious and beloved we are.

May our lives shine with the light that only comes when we know we have been forgiven.

And may we extend that light to everyone.
that even those in the deepest darkest depths of cycles of sin and pain
may be able to look themselves squarely in the mirror and there know,
in the depth of their hearts and minds and souls,
just how much they are loved
and treasured
and forgiven
by the God of heaven and earth! 

May it be.

“A New Creation – Heart by Heart”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 20:19-23
2 Corinthians 5:1-6, 16-20a

John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

2 Corinthians 5:1-6, 16-20a

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ.

More and more in this life, I’m finding myself craving a different sort of Messiah than we received in Jesus of Nazareth.  Scripture says that the old is gone and the new has come.  We are a new creation in Jesus Christ!  And yet, I struggle with the same issues, day after day.

I wanted everything to be set right.  I wanted my struggle with temptation and sin to be no more.  I wanted evil and sin to stop, for good.  I want to feel all shiny and new, and not struggle with the same issues, I had yesterday.

But that is not the Messiah we get.  We do not get the Savior we want.  But perhaps we have gotten the Savior we need.

The kind of Savior I want grabs hold of the whole world & forces everyone’s hand.  The kind of Messiah many of Jesus’ followers wished him to be was the same – the kind who would shake the Roman government’s grasp off Israel and claim his rightful place as King of the land.  We want a Savior to do all the things we cannot do. We want a Savior to control and make things right, right before our eyes – now and forever.

And this is so not what we get in Jesus of Nazareth.

This Messiah knew his place. This Messiah knew he was the Son of God and yet still allowed himself to be crucified, for all to see.

This Messiah could stop storms, heal diseases, and raise the dead, with his mere words, and yet he did notrescue himself from the pain and suffering. He did notheal all people, everywhere for all times,…with a word. He did not stop all storms for all times.  He has not stopped our loved ones from dying.

This Messiah does things in the most opposite way than what we want.
This Messiah shows power in death on the cross.
This Messiah shows leadership in servanthood, washing the dirty feet of his followers.
This Messiah does not pick the cream of the crop to be on his team, but he chooses folks who were largely simple and uneducated to carry his light and life to the world.

This Messiah is not what I crave.
This Messiah does not stop all my suffering and pain.
This Messiah does not rescue me from sin and evil, at least not in the way and timing that I want.
And so what does it mean that the old is finished and gone, the new has come?

In some ways, the old way still seems to rule and carry on.  The rich get richer.  The poor get poorer…  Still people are oppressed.  Still those most vulnerable are preyed upon.  Our struggles with sin, persist…

But at the same time, everything is different.

While before my sins were a death sentence, now I have the hope of forgiveness and belonging.

While before I was caught in cycles of sin and death, now I can receive the life-giving love and forgiveness of my Maker and choose to live by the Spirit of God, more and more.

While before knowledge and understanding was only for the elite and educated few, now God’s Spirit is being POURED OUT on rich and poor, young and old, man, woman, and child.

While at the surface, everything seems the same.

Just below the surface, in the depths everything is changing.

God’s love, God’s Spirit, God’s forgiveness is changing the deepest parts of human ourselves.  Jesus’ life and ultimate sacrifice are doing what no human can do:  heal the human heart.

So while I want God to deal with all these symptoms.

Christ, in God’s wisdom, is dealing with the root of the problem, the heart of the matter.

And as with most lasting change, the results come over time, as people participate in the life-giving work of God in their lives and in this world. And just as patients will make their own choices about whether to follow their doctor’s advice and counsel or not, so we are continually making choices as to whether or not to join in with what our God is doing.  The more we seek and listen and follow our Savior’s lead, the more healing and life we usher into the world.  The more we seek, listen to, and follow after our own purposes and preferences and interests, the more we can grow deaf and dumb to the Spirit of God.  For seeking after, listening to, and following after God are all active muscles of faith we are called to engage.  When we do not use those muscles of faith, they atrophy.  And if, in their place, we are listening to the voices of everyone around us and even our own hearts, to the exclusion of our Lord, we can become masters of following in the ways of humanity and the world, but complete amateurs at following in God’s ways.

Becoming a disciple of Christ is more than mere lip service.
It always has been.
It is not about believing all the right things.
It is not even about ascribing to a certain set of beliefs.

Being a disciple of God means to turn toward Christ, positioning our whole selves in relation to Christ.  It means spending time in the presence of Christ.  It means quieting our hearts and minds, our hopes and fears.  It means surrendering control and trusting God to guide us better than we could guide ourselves. 

Discipleship is an active choice, day by day, moment by moment.
Discipleship is carried out by actively using our muscles of faith, and choosing to seek, listen, and follow.

Discipleship is not life insurance.  In fact, our leader allowed himself to be killed in one of the most cruel and painful ways.
Discipleship is not a way to get ahead in the world; Jesus’ commitment to speaking the truth and walking in love made him enemies in high places.
Discipleship is not easy. It is not popular, even in our Christian-friendly culture; because really we value autonomy and individuality; thus, surrendering our will to God’s bigger work is actually not very bold or sexy.

Discipleship is a giving over of our lives to the One who has given his life to breath true life into our dry bones,
It is a giving over of our lives to the One who has given his life to shine light into our darkest depths,
It is a giving over of our lives to the One who is making whole, all that has been broken.

Despite how much our culture seems friendly to Christianity, there are marked differences in them.  No culture, no company, no business will adopt Christ’s model in full.  It is a model of self-sacrifice.  It is a model of servanthood.  It is a model of power through perceived weakness.

Christ goes against all we are taught.

But what I can witness to, in my short years, and imperfect life of faith, is that God is faithful. Our God knows what we need.  When God speaks, it is water in the desert, life to dusty dry bones, hope from the depths of despair.  When we tune into God’s presence, when we actively remember God’s love poured out, when we give thanks for all the blessings and gifts in our lives, we can find ourselves standing on holy ground, on solid ground, before the Maker of the Universe!

It is no small thing to be a tool in the hands of our God.
It is no small thing to be wholly known and wholly loved by the God of the Universe!
It is no small thing to be called a friend of God, Child, Beloved. 

Friends, do not be discouraged by the winds that blow.
Do not lose heart by the same old stories of sin and oppression and injustice.
Do not think that all is lost and these stories are only stories…

For in fact, our God is on the move.
Our God is on the loose.
Poured out in hearts and minds,…
Forgiveness poured out for the whole world!…

Light and love and life are on the move, inviting hearts and healing us from the inside out, so that our whole lives become radiators of God’s love,…

And God’s love is never lost or wasted.  God’s love was poured out on us all in the life and death and resurrection of our loving Savior.  Love is never wasted.

So let us be disciples.
Let us exercise our muscles of faith, seeking and listening and following.
Let us join in the amazing work of God, living, moving, radiating heart to heart.

And may we find ourselves smack in the middle of God’s powerful working in our lives, our culture, and the world,

Truly living as disciples of Christ, ambassadors of God’s love!

May it be in us. 

“Don’t Press the Fast-Forward Button”

Easter Sunday

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 19:1-7, 14-19, 28-30, 38-42
John 20:1-18

John 19:1-7, 14-19, 28-30, 38-42

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

When Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

It’s Easter!  What comes to mind?

I always remember the flower covered cross.  I loved doing that as a kid!  And I remember my grandmother’s backyard. She’d hide those candy-coated marshmallow eggs around the yard for us to find.  To this day, I love those eggs!

And I think of pastel colors!  Smocked dresses in delicate colors!  White Sunday shoes.  Colorful eggs artfully dipped in vinegar-smelling colored dyes.

I think of Spring, and how the whole earth bursts with color!  I think of green everywhere – fresh, spring green!  Azalea’s laden with blooms! Wisteria vines with their purple, grape-ish blooms!  I think of honeysuckle, and pollen coating everything!  (Can you tell I grew up in the south?)

I think of the hope of summer – that yearning for a bit of warm weather so I can get outside!  I look longingly at the summer dresses in my closet asking like an eager child, “Is it time yet?  Is it time yet?!!”

Growing up in the south, Easter always cued the coming of Spring!  Easter symbolized hope after despair, vibrant life invading the dull, cold, life-less winter. Easter symbolized a long-awaited hope! It reminded us that winter would not last forever.

I love all these things!  It is fitting to celebrate new life.  The coming of Spring, the life springing from dormant ground, the reminder that the cold and the dark too will pass…  all of this alludes to the true celebration of Easter. When all was lost, hope sprung again! When evil had done its worst, goodness overcame!  When the tomb was sealed, Jesus arose!

But the whole story is hard.  The whole story opens more questions.  The wholestory makes me uncomfortable, and I want to find the fast-forward button. I want to fast forward through the cross to Easter.

Peter wasn’t so different.  Remember the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain? Jesus and a few disciples had climbed the mountain to be with God, and God met them in a big way.  Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white.  They could hear God’s voice, and saints who had passed, famous ones like Moses, showed up to talk with Jesus.  And Peter thinks to himself, “This is it!  This is how it should be!”  And he makes a suggestion, “Let’s build shelters here for you all, on this mountain!”  In other words, let’s preserve this moment in time!  I don’t want to lose it!  But this is not what Jesus was about.  Jesus’ face was set on Jerusalem.  He was set on what he had to do.  The cross was in his sights.  And Peter didn’t understand.

It makes sense, does it not?  To see Jesus exalted in that way – how perfect!  How fitting!  How divine!  And yet it was not yet time.

Later, we hear again as Peter grapples with Jesus’ coming death.  Scripture tells us Jesus had begun to show his disciples that he would be killed at the hands of the chief priests and later be raised, but Peter protests: “God forbid it, Lord!  This must never happen to you.”  Jesus’ response to Peter is alarmingly sharp, “Get behind me Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me, for you are setting you mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter is just not getting this suffer and die thing. What’s his deal?

He confesses Jesus to be the Messiah.  He sees and believes.  He knows Jesus is worthy.  He sees the appropriateness of Jesus being exalted.  So how does any part of “suffer & die” fit into the picture?  How could it be right?  How could it ever be just?  Isn’t there another way?

Peter wants Easter, without the cross.

And I’m the same way.

Couldn’t God have saved everyone and thrown a big party? Why couldn’t Jesus have simply come and said, “The party’s on!  Your debt’s been paid!   God loves you!!!  You’re in the family, now!”

And yet my few years of parenting are teaching me differently.

As a parent I continue to grapple with the desire to save my child from his mistakes.  But over the years, I have found that when I did step in and rescue him, I did not find a child who was grateful – one who knew the truth of what he’d done, feeling regret and grateful for my help.  No, I found a child who felt entitled.  I found a child who was demanding.  My action of stepping in to save my child, though done in love, only created further distance and injustice between us.  Instead of feeling my love, he felt self-pity, of all things! Instead of seeing me as one who had blessed and lovingly cared for him since birth, he saw me as the obstacle to his dreams and desires.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Funny creatures we are.

The reality is that we need to know the truth about ourselves firstbefore we can ever feel the love of another.

Jesus came that we might know God’s love for us! And yet, until we know the truth about ourselves, the truth about our sin, the truth about what we’ve destroyed,
…we cannot recognize or feel God’s love.

If we feel deserving of another’s affections, their love is never enough.

If we feel entitled to another’s generosity, we grow to feel short-changed when we don’t get what we want, when we want it.

But the truth is, we do not deserve affection.
We do not deserve generosity.
We do not deserve kindness or charity.
We do not deserve comfort.

There are moments when we know this to be true about ourselves.  We have moments when we can’t run away from the shame and ugliness within us.  There are times we cannot mask the darkness, the selfishness, the hatred…

There are moments when we’re taken aback by another’s true beauty, true honesty, true kindness, sincere charity…  There are moments when we witness the poor widow giving her last coin, and we glimpse true generosity.  In these moments, we know we do not meet the mark.

And in these moments, we are most ready to know God’s love.  Like a lover, who sees all our mess and still says, “I want in.  I want to love you.  I’m not going anywhere.”  So Jesus comes to us in our mess.

And in these moments – the very moments we try hardest to avoid – we can know true love. 

When have you most known the love of another?  Was it when you shined?  Was it when you looked your best, did your best, said all the right things?

Or was it when you really screwed up?  Was it when you had fully judged yourself and found nothing of worth there and yet someone else saw all that and loved you still.

This Easter, I want to invite you to pay attention to the moments, and hours, the days, and weeks of brokenness.

When we are cut off.  When we are despised.  When we are lonely and broken and afraid…  That is precisely when we are most ready to absorb the life-giving rain of God’s love.

Pummeled by circumstance.
Battered by pain and suffering and injustice
When we feel rejected…

This is when, like so many we read about in the Bible, we are most thirsty, most hungry, most ready for Jesus.

When we are face to face with our demons,
When we feel the pull of addiction,
When we go down the darkest paths of our minds and hearts…
We too, know our need for a Savior.

So friends, I beg you.
When the rains come.
When hardship presses in, and you feel you may not make it.

In your darkest hour, when fear closes in, and you question if the day will ever come for you.  When a stone seals-in death, and guards keep watch over your tomb, and the whole earth shakes in mourning…

When the cross, and evil all around seem to have killed what you love most…
Pay attention!
For our Savior is near.

Let us quiet our hearts and listen,
For like Mary,
In the depths of her grief and pain and loss,
We may find Christ already there,
And calling out our name.     

“Claiming the Narrative”

Maundy Thursday
Rev. Katherine Todd
Mark 14:12-16, 22-15
John 13:1-17, 34

Mark 14:12-16, 22-15

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

John 13:1-17, 34 

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Fatherhad given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Do you ever fantasize about making things right?
Do you ever wish to be able to grab a hold of all that is wrong and fix it?
Do you mourn all that is wrong in the world?
All that is wrong in your life?
All the wrong that has been done to you and around you?

I often fantasize about making the world better.  Sometimes, my fantasies are ones in which I employ every beautiful tool in my personal toolbox to win hearts and remake the world around me.  Other times, I wish for God’s wrath and righteous judgement to step in and remove from places of power and authority all who dare to step in the way of God’s good and right ways.

We all experience injustice differently.  We all have seen things we wish we could unsee.  We have all been diminished, suffered violations, been held back from our fullest potential.  In one way or another we all have grown jaded about certain things – things we can’t seem to change, things that seem rooted in evil and injustice, things that are so fraught with wrong that to remove one wrong would only uncover another and another and another…

These wrongs.  These injustices.  These gross falling from the holiness and wholeness and righteousness of God in our world can get us down.

Way down.

Some of us have felt down for hours, for days, for years, for lifetimes.

We can watch as every glimmer of life ekes away under the weight of injustice and oppression.  We have watched as powers that be make decisions about other people’s lives,…our lives.  We have watched as powers that come and powers that go use and abuse our lives, our needs, for their campaigns, forgetting those on whose shoulders they climbed, after they have arrived.

So much pain.
So much injustice.
So much harm.
So much loss,
Loss upon loss.

And so we cry out with the stones – crying out for justice to roll down like the mighty waters and to cover the earth.

There is much that is out of our control.
Many things happen to us and around us that we cannot change.
Our hearts bleed and bodies ache from the brokenness of ourselves and of this world.

Where is our deliverance?

Jesus Christ too stepped into this world

This world of endless possibility and endless and pain and suffering.

Our Lord Jesus Christ walked a heavy road,

A road of painful awareness of ALL the brokenness and sin and suffering and oppression all around him.

If any have seen a life lost,

A life wasted

A precious life thrown away

Jesus saw more

Equipped with eyes that could see all that one could ever be, Jesus knew that extraordinary pain of loss, seeing life after life directionless, life and after life barely surviving, life after life trying to gain off the sufferings of their brothers and sisters, life after life trapped and caught in cycles and systems of poverty, suffering, and oppression.

Equipped with eyes to see, Jesus was vulnerable to all.  Jesus was not numbed or comforted by his own ignorance.  Equipped with eyes to see, Jesus could see all the beauty and tragedy, all the goodness and evil that stirred deep below the surface of what is seen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was more than “acquainted” with grief and sorrow.
Our Lord Jesus Christ knew suffering.  Knew sorrow. Knew grief, loss, and pain.

And so on the eve of his time of greatest pain, greatest sorrow, greatest heartbreak, greatest loss, our Lord spent an intimate evening with those who knew him best, breaking the bread of the Passover, pouring the cup, washing their feet, and showing them in symbol and in action what he was going to do and why.  He demonstrated love in service, showing us a new way to live and to lead.

And he took back the narrative. 

Because A LOT was about to happen TO him.  Evil and injustice, harm and brokenness were about to take him by the throat and try to choke out the life in him.

He needed his disciples to know that it was NOT a HAPPENING to him that was taking place but rather HIS OWN ACT.

He would choose to go with his armed pursuers.
He would choose remain silent.
He would choose to remain nailed to that tree.

But all that pain.
All that suffering.
All that injustice and flashing evil were not the authors of this story.
All the powers that seemed so in control.  The powers that took it upon themselves to condemn and to kill.  These powers were not in control.

No, this story was God’s. And Jesus had the lead role.
And afterwards, we would finally know and see that all our darkness could not quench the light.
Afterwards, we would finally see that all our evil, could not overcome the good.
Afterwards, we would finally see that all our hate, could not overcome love.

Love was writing this story.
Love was driving this script.
Love was pouring itself out,
without restraint,
without reservation

That we might know how unstoppable, unbreakable, unwavering, unquenchable is God’s love for us.

I don’t know about you, but I need God in this very hour.
I need God to show me again, that evil is not in control,
that our sin and brokenness don’t have to rule and control our lives,
that God is working all things for good,
that God has plans to prosper us and not to harm us,
…that there is hope.

I need God to show me once again that light is more powerful than darkness,
That goodness is more powerful than evil,
That love is stronger than hate.

Read this poem from Tyler Knott Gregson’s book, “chasers of the light.”

Mr Roger’s shared a similar wisdom given him by his mother.  Whenever tragedy struck, she encouraged him to look for the helpers. There are always helpers, she said.

There is always grace. God is with us, Emmanuel!  Not just when Jesus walked our dusty roads, but stillliving in the hearts of each one who will make room for Christ. 

May the power of Christ, living in us, reclaim our stories.
Our job is to diligently,
stubbornly,
persistently,
relentlessly,
find the grace.