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“Love Turning the Tables of Sin”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 31:31-34
John 12:23-33

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

 

John 12:23-33

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

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“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.”

Hear this intimate moment we have with Jesus, hearing the trouble of his soul.

 

Have you ever felt troubled of soul?
Have you ever cried out to God – “Save me!”

 

Jesus is troubled but will not cry out for God to save him – as he recognizes his purpose is bound up in this moment.
He recognizes that in this moment, something larger is at play.  And he knows that – in the end – God will use his death to “draw all people” to himself.

And so he remains
present in that miserable moment.
He remains
present
even as the waters of his soul are troubled.

 

How many of us are present to our pain? 

I know we all have deepest pains in our lives, and yet we are taught to sweep it under the rug,
to press through it,
to keep going,
to dry our tears and suck it up…

And Jesus not only expresses the distress of his soul, but cries most earnest tears in that garden, before he is arrested.

Jesus sits with his pain.
Jesus doesn’t turn on Netflix or start scrolling Facebook.
He doesn’t party harder, drink in excess, or just stay busy.
No.
He quiets himself.
He sits with his troubled heart.

 

And then he is able to press through it.

 

You see in sitting with it, he is facing reality head-on, un-medicated.

In sitting with his pain of spirit, he is pressing in, rather than leaning out.

Jesus is facing the awful truth that great fear and acts of evil will seek to end him.
He is facing a most painful transition.
He is facing the loss of this human life, alongside his friends.

He – who has touched so many in healing – will be the object of a people’s effort to silence him and to control the message…
He – who healed the sick and set the prisoner free – will be imprisoned, tortured, and barbarically killed…on full display.

I cannot imagine how Jesus felt, in the months and weeks and days leading up to his crucifixion.  Jesus knows what is coming, and proceeds anyway, step after troubling step. 

 

And he sees that his followers would face much the same opposition and suffering.
And he encourages them saying – you will do even greater things!

Note – Jesus does not say they will have it easy because he has it hard.
He doesn’t guarantee smooth passage, in fact he pretty much guarantees rough passage. 

He does not imply that they will know ease and comfort in this life.
Rather he compares his followers to seeds – that must fall to the ground and die – in order to yield and multiply their fruit. 

 

Like himself, Jesus’ followers would die in faithfulness to the Truth,
in love for God and God’s people
and like Jesus, they would not die at God’s own tender hands,
but at the merciless hands of people who do not know God, who do not see God, and who do not care.

And for anyone awake,
Alert,
Alive,
This is an emotional journey.

But in death, as in life,
Jesus models for us a way to handle such grief, pain, and affliction:
by being present to them
,
being present to that grief, pain, and affliction.
Notice, Jesus doesn’t take himself off the cross early or heal himself, as he most certainly could have done.
Jesus doesn’t command a storm to erase his enemies and free him from that most terrible crucifixion.
He is present. 
He bears it.  He endures.
He speaks peace.  He speaks truth.
He prays.  He keeps on caring…to the end.
And not without cries of pain, complaints and questioning of God,
not without his plea that there might be another way. 

And I suspect that if we are ever to live lives a fraction as faithful as our Lord Christ, we too need learn this deepest form of presence. 

 

Henri Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest, a professor, a writer, and a theologian.  He wrote many beloved classics – some of which were recently donated by colleague Helen Laundry.  In his life, he aimed to speak faith into the most personal and universal matters of daily living.  And he writes this entitled, “Befriend Your Pain”

“I want to say to you that most of our brokenness cannot be simply taken away.  It’s there.  And the deepest pain that you and I suffer is often the pain that stays with us all our lives.  It cannot be simply solved, fixed, done away with…  What are we then told to do with that pain, with that brokenness, that anguish, that agony that continually rises up in our heart?  We are called to embrace it, to befriend it.  To not just push it away…to walk right over it, to ignore it.
No, to embrace it, to befriend it, and say, “That is my pain and I claim my pain as the way God is willing to show me his love.”

 

This is a different way of responding to pain than most of us run to.
Most often we numb it,
run from it,
deny it,
bury it.

But to befriend it,
To recognize our pain as yet another way that we shall know God’s great love,
THAT is courageous.
THAT is hopeful.
THAT is redemptive.
And THAT is what we see in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus walks through his valley of the shadow,
his dark night of the soul,
even while seeing it coming
because he KNOWS that the sacrifice of his life – sacrificed by human hands who did not know and did not love him – will nevertheless yield a great harvest of righteousness.  Through this most gruesome and tragic murder, Christ would indeed draw ALL people to himself – writing the law of God on hearts, instead of stones, in order that EVERYONE might know God.

Halleluia!

In this hell-of-our-own-making, in this senseless murder of a young man of color, in this our effort to prevent the ending of an era of fear-based works-righteousness – with all the power, privilege, and wealth it afforded a few – Christ nonetheless turned all this, our sin, on its head!

Even as we murdered Love,
Love was saving us. 

For our salvation, Christ endured such abuse none should bear.

 

So, as we walk this lonesome valley
– often alone in times of greatest trial, as was Christ –
may we recognize that WE ARE NOT ALONE
FOR CHRIST WALKS IT WITH US.
…For Christ is alive today, in our hearts!

We – who have died to this world and come alive to Christ –
Are under the jurisdiction of Christ.
Our lives are not determined by the evils that swirl around us or the sins that cling so closely.
Our lives are infused with the power of Christ living within us. 

 

So in our living and our dying
and in our resurrection from the dead,
may we too quiet ourselves,
and be present
– amid both joys and pain.

And by pressing in – whate’r our days may bring –
may we too
persevere
to the end,
by the power and presence of Christ,
living in us.

And in-so-doing,
may Christ flip every sin, every evil perpetrated against us, every failure to love and use them to build up the Kingdom
so that
many more might know – in the depths of their being –
just how steadfast and enduring,
long-suffering and relentless
is God’s love for them.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Teach Us to Love”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 Corinthians 8:1-13

 

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned lie a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

 

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as in fact there are many gods and many lords — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

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I am so deeply appreciative to the apostle Paul for writing of such daily matters as eating food sacrificed to idols.

Now, I realize these aren’t occurrences in our day to day, but to me that matter’s little, for every time and place is contextual.  What matters more than a command or directive about doing or not doing something – is understanding the intention behind the command.

It matters more that we hold to the spirit of the law, than to individual, contextually-bounds rules and regulations found in the law.  Jesus often criticized the religious of his day for precisely this – getting all the rules & regulations but missing the entire point of it all.  The law is made for us and not us for the law.  The law is made to protect and preserve life, and not to squelch or stifle it.

 

The ancient city of Corinth had chosen Aphrodite and Poseidon as their gods.  It was likely baked into the DNA of city life, much as Christianity historically has been in America.  Thus you can imagine much social life centering around idol worship and rituals.  Animals would be slaughtered in dedication to the deity, much as animals were sacrificed to God in Jewish culture.  And like in Jewish culture the priests and people ate of the meat offered to God, so here in Corinth, the dedication would result in a feast and food for the community.

The question then becomes, can followers of Christ partake in the meal?

Those with deeper theological understanding saw no sin in the eating of food offered to idols, simply because they believed idols to be mere fancies of the imagination, mere works of fiction.  On the contrary, those without such theological understanding saw partaking in such food and festivities to be wrong and would abstain.

 

Paul sees no problem in the response of either group – feasting or fasting, partaking or abstaining.  What Paul however is very concerned about is that folks act within the bounds of their own conscience.  One’s own conscious will vary from one’s neighbors, and that is okay.  However, what isn’t okay is violating our conscious.  That is sin.

That implies a willingness to disobey what we perceive God to instruct us to do or not do.
That is rebellion.
That is the root of the fall – to do what one believes God has instructed that one NOT to do…

And Paul wishes that none should be lost – spiraling down pathways of self-destruction, believing themselves to have broken God’s law and thus perceiving more and more distance between themselves and our most Holy God.

It is not belief but action that establishes our character.
For it is not belief but action that sets our course.

Usually, in fact, our minds and beliefs follow our actions or inactions…

 

And so Paul is pleading with those of greater understanding, that they set aside their freedoms for the sake of the weak.

This is most curious, for I would have rather preferred instruction to educate and strengthen the weak…  But perhaps Paul wisely knew that the weak shall always be with us (and sometimes will be us).  And it is the way of Christ, to lay down oneself for one’s friends.

It is the way of Christ to lay down oneself for one’s friends. 

 

As our churches, our communities, our nation, and our world have become – or perhaps have always been – deeply fractured – we too are given ample opportunity to lay down ourselves, our preferences, our freedoms, our rights, that others might live.

How might God be calling you to do so?

 

For what these readings from 1 Corinthians teach us is that knowledge matters little in the scheme of things.  What truly matters is love – how we behave with one another.

“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Knowledge, prophesy, and speaking in tongues all come to an end.  All serve a purpose for such a time as this.  They guide us for a little while – until we gain greater knowledge, hear a fresh Word of God, or are lifted by the Spirit into the prayers of tomorrow.  All these, while good, have their end; they are like instructions left by a teacher, only useful while away from the teacher, but irrelevant once the teacher returns.

Christ is our Teacher, and when we finally come face to face, we may finally be at a loss for words – everything needful already being said.

 

Knowledge is passing.  We build on it, from age to age.
Prophecies come and go, each for their own time.

What lasts – truly lasts – is love.

Love

And love is not an ascent.
Love is not a belief or doctrine.
Love cannot be mandated by rule.
Love does not live with coercion.
Love does not live on the page of a letter
Or the lyrics of sweet songs.

LOVE is an action. 

 

If the greatest of all these attributes is love,

What might WE need to lay down, for Love’s sake?

Is there something Love compels us to abstain from doing?

Is there something Love is compelling us TO do?

 

In the words of St. Teresa of Avila,

“The important thing is
not to think much
but to love much;
and so
do that which best stirs you
to love.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Into the Potter’s Hands”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

 

Acts 19:1-710

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied — altogether there were about twelve of them.

 

Mark 1:4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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John the Baptist,

He preached repentance for sins and alerted the people to watch for the one more powerful to come – who will baptize them with the Holy Spirit.

Well, that’s what we’re told, and yet here in Ephesus, Apollo finds some believers who did not hear or understand that part of the message – the part about the One to Come and Baptism by the Holy Spirit.

– Doesn’t this sound familiar:  part of the message getting lost in translation? –

 

This is often what we experience in our relationships with one another.  We hear some but not all.  We remember this, but not that.

And in John’s day, folks weren’t recording his speech by phone or taking notes on their pocket-notebooks or planners.  They weren’t documenting events by email or even tablets.  His words were to be experienced.  The whole experience was one – not to be preserved but to be lived.

And yet, these believers are still doing the hard work.  They are doing that work of repentance.  And that means they are actively and intentionally making room for Christ in their lives – whether or not they know or foresee Christ’s coming.

 

Despite missing a significant part of John’s message, they have done what most find hardest:  repentance.  And for Apollo to be finding them, we know Christ has already been crucified.   Time has passed between their hearing John’s message and their hearing Apollo’s:  years, most likely.  So they have been LIVING John’s teachings…all this time.

Therefore they are in a position of readiness.  And when they finally DO hear the good news, when they finally DO learn about Christ and the Holy Spirit, they receive the Spirit fully – receiving the Spirit’s gifts! 

 

This story reminds me that it isn’t about getting everything just right or remembering everything just perfectly.  They were seeking God.  And God was seeking them!
GOD was seeking them.
And Christ himself taught us, “Seek and you shall find.”
Indeed they find what they are looking for!
What mercy!
What love.

The part of the message they had remembered and been practicing was repentance, and repentance is that returning to God.
It is that taking responsibility for our flaws and failures.
And it returns us to the only true and honest relationship we can have with God and one another – a relationship based on humility.
Humility.

Humility is a seeing ourselves AS WE TRULY ARE.
For if we are not humble, the truth is not in us.
If we think we are without sin, the truth is not in us.
If we think we SEE, then we do not see.
If we think we know, then knowledge is not in us.
And GOD is the TRUTH.

We see, only in part.
We know, only in part.
We do good, only in part.

To have any kind of right relationship with God, AT ALL,
The starting place is to humble ourselves.
And repentance is the beginning of humility…of TRUTH.

We cannot be a cup, open to the rain of heaven, unless we are empty. 
We cannot be taught, shaped by truth, unless we are open. 

 

I share with you this poem by Christine Lore Weber:  Mother Wisdom Speaks.

Listen for God’s words to you:

Some of you I will hollow out.
I will make you a cave.
I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.
You will be a bowl.
You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain.
I will hollow you with knives.
I will not do this to make you clean.
I will not do this to make you pure
You are clean already.
You are pure already.
I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.
I will do this for the space that you will be.
I will do this because you must be large.
A passage.
People will find their way through you.
A bowl.
People will eat from you.
And their hunger will not weaken them to death.
A cup to catch the sacred rain.
My daughter, do not cry.
Do not be afraid.
Nothing you need will be lost.
I am shaping you.
I am making you ready.
Light will flow in your hollowing.
You will be filled with light.
Your bones will shine.
The round open center of you will be radiant.
I will call you brilliant one.
I will call you daughter who is wide.
I will call you transformed.

 

We do not live for ourselves alone.
We are not saved for ourselves alone.
We are not chosen for privilege but for purpose.
Purpose. 

When we return to God in repentance,
humbling ourselves before God,
God does this most holy work in us:
growing our hearts,
t
eaching our minds,
e
xpanding our capacity,

SO THAT our own mortal being might be shaped, more and more, into God’s divine proportions.
WE will never reflect God wholly in this world.
We will never perceive God wholly in this world.
But when we position ourselves, at the feet of God, in humility
w
e offer ourselves to be shaped as clay in God, the Potter’s hands.
And Christ shapes us to be vessels of God’s nourishment,
p
athways to God’s unending grace, expanses for God’s light. 

 

The more and more we humble ourselves in God’s presence,
the more and more God shapes us to be bright lights in the Kingdom of God.

 

So fear not, missing a part of the message.
God is not like that.
God is not arbitrary.
God does not expect us to be perfect, to be God.
That isn’t what any of this is about at all.

Fear only
passing up the chance
to be surrendered truly
and wholly
into the loving and most skillful
Hands of God.

 

And so may we, like these Ephesians,
Follow the truth we have received,
Trusting God to reveal more and more truth as we are ready,
Trusting Christ’s words that
when we seek God, we shall find God,
when we seek with all our hearts. 

Thanks be to God!!

 

 

 

“Love One Another Deeply”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 13:31a, 33-35
1 Peter 1:17-23

 

John 13:31a, 33-35

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 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.”

 

1 Peter 1:17-23

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.


 

I am struck by the words of 1 Peter.  In the second section, he says that now that the believers are being purified by obedience to the truth and have been given a genuine, mutual, brotherly and sisterly love, they are to love one another deeply, from the heart.

In obeying God, following the Truth, these disciples have been given God’s love for one another.  Given.  Somehow in their obedience and following, God has bestowed on them God’s love for one another.  And this is huge, because how often to we struggle to love.  Is it possible that it is in our obedience to God’s leading, that we will find God’s strength to love?

This seems to be how Peter is laying it out for them.  Their obedience to God has lead to their being filled with God’s love.

And now they have a responsibility.  They are not simply to go along, come what may.  No, they are to actively and intentionally love.  They are to love deeply, fervently, sincerely…from the heart. 

 

Interesting, is it not?  I would have thought, that as far as God is concerned, loving actions would be enough.  After all, it is often our loving actions that precede our sincere feelings of love.  And doesn’t God care more about our actions?

I believe God does care more about our actions – certainly more about our actions than our words, our promises, our acclamations, or ascent.  Actions speak louder.  However, it would seem that God’s love does not stop there.  God’s love goes beyond action and into our hearts.  God’s love, when truly active and manifested, is active.  God’s love is intentional.  God’s love is fervent and deep.  God’s love is wider and more enduring that we can begin to imagine.  So our love does not even come close to the love of God until our actions of obedience and love are met with heart.

 

Our God is not interested in mere money.  God owns all that is.

Our God is not interested in mere puppetry.  We are more to God than vehicles of God’s will.  After all God made us and delights in us.  And God can accomplish whatever God wills – whether or not we ever follow, obey, and join in.

Our God is not interested in pageantry and appearances.  God is interested in the substance behind an action, a gift, a smile, or a sacrifice.  God has no one to fool or impress.

 

Our God came and went all in.  Our God was born into our midst as a helpless child, dependent, hunted, a refugee.

Christ gave of himself, healing the sick, seeking out the lost, feeding the hungry, raising the dead.

And when the time came, Jesus Christ walked that long road to Golgotha, allowing his blood to be spilled, his lungs to collapse, and the life-breath to leave his body.

 

Our God went all in.
And this God calls us to bring our all.

Obedience alone is not complete.  Love makes our actions complete.  Perhaps this is why we are encouraged to speak the truth in love.  Truth alone is incomplete.  Perhaps this is why Paul speaks about faith, hope and love: that faith, hope, and love abide but that the greatest of these is love.  Perhaps this is why Paul waxes about the gifts of the Spirit, making the point that without love, all the gifts are sounding gongs or clanging symbols – mere noise, obnoxious clutter, impediments.

And isn’t this our experience.  It does not matter how much we know; no one cares until they know how much we care.

Skill, talent, resource,
Wisdom, insight, knowledge…
None of it matters unless we employ them with love.  In fact, our failure to love as we serve, is actually an impediment to others, an obstacle, an annoyance.

Love completes our obedience.
Love completes our gifts.
Love completes our knowledge.
Love completes our wisdom.
Love completes our helping.
Love completes our serving…

 

God has called us to love deeply.  The Greek word also means fervently, sincerely, and out of purity of heart.

We are called to a higher standard of living.

God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit, filling us with God’s love.
And God then calls us to love on purpose, love in all sincerity, love one another deeply.

 

It matters…what dwells in the depths of our hearts.
It matters.

 

And so as we seek to know God’s will,
As we seek to be faithful, following God in trust and obedience,
As we live and work,
May we bring it all:  our whole self, our whole life, our whole heart.

 

God is glorified in our gifts and talents.
God is glorified in our obedience and service.
And all these things are made complete,
            As we love one another truly, from the depths of our hearts.   

 

THIS is how everyone will know we are Christ’s disciples. 

“The Main Point”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 58:1-12

 

Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator[a] shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.


 

This passage from Isaiah is one of my very favorites.  It is a favorite for so many reasons.  But first let’s set the stage.  Much like the scripture we read last Sunday, God is complaining to the people.  God is confronting the people with their sinfulness.

“And what is this sinfulness?” you might ask.  It is the sin of following the letter of God’s law, crossing one’s t’s and dotting the i’s, without actually caring about the main point of all the law in the first place.  The sin is in doing outward things with the appearance of holiness, but not living out God’s commands and will.  It is the sin of “covering our butts” by doing and saying all the proper things, while still trying to get away with as much as we can.

Do you relate?

Have we cared more about the appearance of holiness, about our reputation and status in society, about our image in the eyes of others…than about obeying God, following after Christ, or doing justice, loving kindness, and actually walking humbly with God?

 

This is what the people of God were doing.  They were actually doing what God had commanded them – fasting, making sacrifices, and giving offerings.  But the whole point of all these rituals what SO THAT they would listen to God, opening themselves to God’s voice and guidance.  The whole point was SO THAT their very lives would mirror the heart of God, doing God’s will here on earth.  The whole point was that – in abiding in the light of God – they too would shine with God’s love and mercy, grace and forgiveness, justice and freedom.

And these very rituals that God had commanded them actually meant NOTHING to God, apart from ACTS of goodness and righteousness, justice and love.  Nothing.  In and of themselves, these rituals are absolutely meaningless.

Especially when the very folks doing these rituals are then turning around and DOING the very opposite of what God calls them to do.  Instead of loosening the yoke around other’s necks, they have indeed tightened them.  Instead of setting the captives free, they have enslaved more and more people in cycles of debt from which they can never get free.  Instead of paying living wages, they have lowered the wages of the poor.  Instead of treating the vulnerable with dignity and respect, they have struck them when they are down.  Instead of clothing the naked, they have turned the other way.  Instead of feeding the hungry, they have locked their doors and sent them away empty.  Instead of speaking the truth in love, they have been busy – pointing the finger and blaming one another.

 

We don’t know anything about these things, do we.

 

When we meet together in God’s name it is a holy thing.

When we pray together – listening for God’s voice and casting our cares on God – it is a vital thing.

But if we then leave this place and behave as the world behaves…

If we ignore the needs of the poor…

If we exploit those most vulnerable, because we can and they’ve no recourse…

If we turn our backs on our own kin…  (You know the ones…)

 

God is not with us.

 

If we ignore injustice…because it doesn’t affect our lives…

If we speak evil, and blame each other…

If we quarrel and fight…

 

God is not with us.

God is not in us.

 

Do you get the drift?

 

No matter how righteous we appear,

Following all the rules

Showing up every Sunday

Giving up our evenings or weekends to attend meetings

NONE of it matters…

NONE of it matters, unless we also love as Christ loved

And do as Christ did.

 

It isn’t about perfection.  It isn’t about being right or getting everything right.  All of the fathers and mothers of faith were flawed, many of them deeply.

But it IS about the seeking.

It is about listening.

It is about communing with God.

Being with God.

It is about

It is about letting God’s Word of Truth sink into our bones.

It is about soaking in the light of God.

Until we shine with the light of God

Simply because we’ve been with God, face to face.

Remember how Moses used to shine after he spent time in the tent, meeting with God in the mist?  They said his face was radiant.  Each time.

 

Everything we do here in this building and in the name of the church,

It is all about being the presence of God.

 

And if we are in the presence of God, we will be transformed. 

 

Transformation in God’s presence isn’t a possibility.  It is a guarantee.

No one enters into the presence of GOD and comes out the same.

 

And so I ask you.

Are you meeting with God?

I ask you:  are you communing with God, face to face?

Are you opening your heart,

Laying down your defenses

Setting aside your battles, fervent beliefs, and even your convictions

And allowing Christ inside?

 

It is a scary thing to come into the presence of God.

Because when we truly open ourselves, discomfort is assured, change is inevitable, the rearranging of our lives is likely, and we will never be the same.

 

Let us read again the final portion of this scripture passage from Isaiah:

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

When we follow after God, doing justice and loving mercy, God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  God satisfies our needs in the parched places of our lives.  God makes us strong, from the inside out.  God heals the places among us and within us that lie in ruins…such that YOU in fact become foundational in the lives of generations to God.  YOU become a repairer of the broken places.

 

Can you imagine a life where hope springs up and gushes forth?  Can you imagine the aching parts of you feeling whole and alive?  Can you imagine being secure, knowing GOD has your back?

Can WE imagine a church where scarcity isn’t our first thought?  Can WE imagine becoming a spring of God’s provision and love?  Can WE imagine bridging the gap between God and God’s people, in a culture where religion is viewed with skepticism and the word Christian has become synonymous with Judgement and narrow-mindedness?

Friends, our rituals and “the way we’ve always done things” is not important to our Maker.

What IS important is how we treat one another.
THAT is what matters to our Maker.

And when we make the first things first,

when we focus on the main thing,

when we in fact DO what God is asking us to DO

when we DO justice, LOVE kindness, and WALK humbly with our God,…

GOD causes our light to shine forth like the dawn!

GOD satisfies our needs in the most parched places!

GOD shows up and makes us strong.

 

Thanks be to God!!!