Posts

“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!!!

“Holy Spirit Growing Pains”

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

Acts 16:9-15

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

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

John 14:25-29

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


 

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

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

 

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

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

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

I certainly hope so!

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

How do we follow the Holy Spirit?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

And so may we take this good gift!

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

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

GOD STILL SPEAKS.

 

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

It is for this, that we are called!

“Dry Bones Alive”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 2:1-21
Ezekiel 37:1-14

Acts 2:1-21

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

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

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

The Spirit of God is life to our dry bones.  The Spirit of God is hope where there was despair.  The Spirit of God is a new beginning, where before there was an ending.

The Spirit of God guides us in truth and wisdom, righteousness and integrity.  The Spirit of God teaches our secret hearts, so that even the darkest places of our minds and hearts can be made whole in the life-giving light of God.

We absolutely need the Spirit of God.  The fact is that on our own, discerning right from wrong is difficult at best.  Our minds that can take us to new heights and depths of understanding can also rationalize any thing we want.  Shades of gray can feel infinite, and we can become paralyzed.  Our own biases and experiences shade and can skew our perceptions of truth.

We need the Spirit of God.

We need to be led by the One who sees, the One who knows us and the big picture all perfectly, the One who makes new, the One who is full of love and light.

We need this One to guide our steps, in paths we do not know and cannot see.
We need this One to speak truth into our confusion.
We need this One to draw us into the bigger picture, so that our lives matter beyond ourselves and our corners of the world.

This scripture of God telling the prophet to prophesy to the dry, dry bones – it lifts my spirit.  It gives me hope for the things of life that seem so very far beyond hope.  In this vision, we see a people long gone, long lost, long dead.  We see a story that has ended.  Hope that has died.  If there is any redemption here, it won’t start with these lost ones, it would start with those still alive, who could learn from their mis-steps.

But that is now what we see. God does not say, “Tell the people to see and beware.  Turn from their ways, lest they end up like these lost ones.”  No, God tells the prophet to prophesy TO the very dry bones, to prophesy that they might live again.

So, perhaps feeling very foolish, the prophet begins to speak life into the dry, dry bones.  And God sends sinews and skin and then breath into each one, so that a vast multitude is brought back to life.

This is an incredible story. It’s a story fit for a good sci-fi movie.  Can you picture it?

And so what does this story teach us?

I believe it challenges our beliefs about what is possible and what is not, what is too far gone and what is not, where there is hope and where there is not.

In this story, the slain in that valley of dry, dry bones are by every human measure, beyond hope.

And yet they live.

And so invite us to consider who we believe to be beyond hope.

Life teaches us wisdom. We learn who to invest in and who to release.  We learn where to spend our precious time and where to hold back.

These lessons are important. They preserve and protect us from putting ourselves in the position of layered upon layered frustrations and disappointments.  They moderate our expectations and hopes in ways that are more realistic.

And in many and perhaps most circumstances, this God-given ability to size up and assess a situation is life-giving.  It has likely even kept us alive.

But when God speaks and moves, all the rules of engagement are up for grabs.

If God speaks life, who can hinder it?
When God makes new, who can stop it?
When God acts, who can stand in God’s way?

We saw this in Jesus of Nazareth, who spoke calm to the raging storm, who spoke healing to the disabled, who disarmed defenses with a word, who raised the dead to life again.

When God acts, we need to recognize it and follow suit.

And God is acting still, all around us, in our very lives.

So my challenge to each of us, is that we forge patterns and habits in our lives of listening to God, of paying attention, of quieting ourselves, of asking God for what we need and then waiting to hear.

If someone can bring hope to the most dire situation
Life to the most tortured and oppressed,
Light to the darkest night,
It is our God.

And you and I are little Christs.  As Christians, we are made to shine the light of Christ everywhere we go.  It’s not that we have to DO a lot of anything. Rather, it’s more of a being – a being in the presence of God, moment by moment, day after day.  It’s about REFLECTING the light of God – not generating it.

When we spend time in the presence of God, as our deliberate, intentional habit, we begin to shine. When we contemplate and give thanks for God’s unrelenting love for us, our own love grows.  When we become mindful of God’s tremendous mercy over us and grace upon grace poured out, our own lives begin to overflow in mercy and graces ever new.

God’s love begets love.
God’s light begets light.
God’s life begets new life.

So how will you and I live this day forward?

We are not made to know all the answers.

We are not made to see beyond the walls and limits of our sight and understanding.

We not alone capable of loving with that unrelenting, never-giving-up love.

But when we return, day after day, to the One who sees us and loves us, just as we are…  When we spend time at Christ’s feet, learning God’s ways… When we open ourselves to a new mindfulness of God’s presence with us and mercies covering us…

We open our hearts and hands, minds and lives to be filled with by the Spring that never runs dry.  We open ourselves to a life we could never fashion or imagine for ourselves.  We open ourselves to be guided by the Spirit of God, in things big and small, walking in paths we cannot see and experiencing the grace-filled provision for our days.  And we become conduits of God’s love and grace, mercy and forgiveness, discipline and second chances, life and resurrection.

May we be a people who are God’s people, through and through.
May we continue to quiet ourselves in the presence of God, day after day,
Bringing our good days and our bad
And may we find ourselves witnesses the might and power of a God whose love knows no beginning or ending.

We will see wonderful and astounding things, things we thought impossible.
Because our God is not done with us yet,
And our God is breathing life back into dead dry bones!

Will we be a part of it?

“Authentic Joy”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
John 17:6-19

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

John 17:6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

What a tender prayer, we have gotten to overhear Jesus pray.

I love the desire Jesus shows to protect us from the evil one, while still calling us to discipleship, in the world that is not our home…

Jesus would know more than any human soul, the hatred and rejection of the world.  I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that Christ walked his path for all our sakes!  I feel grateful for this prayer, that God would protect us while we follow after Jesus…

And I find most tender this prayer that we would have Christ’s joy and that it would be made complete in us.  How wonderful!  Joy. That life-giving fruit of the Spirit. The kind of gift that lifts our heads, strengthens our bones, and enlivens our hearts.  Joy is longed for, sought after, sometimes given up on.  Joy can feel elusive.  Because we constantly face challenge, after dilemma, after difficult and heart-wrenching circumstance.  Joy can feel like a myth.  Or a façade.

And indeed for so many, it is merely the paint-job.  It’s the veneer over the pain.  It’s the curtain or the closed closet door masking the mess & wreck of our emotional closets, where we hide all our questions and pain and aching.

I don’t know about you, but I hunger for something real.  I long for authenticity.  I can find myself exhausted in the presence of those who feel the need to mask their own honest feelings behind positivity.  But honestly, so much of Christianity has been presented like a positivity workshop.  It is easy to get the message that Christians should be positive at all times.  They should be smiling.  They should be radient.  They should be always grateful, always kind, always polite…  In some faith communities, positivity is actually like a measuring stick used to sort out the Olympic-grade Christians from those who are more ordinary.

And so we compete.  We wear the mask.

And in some cases, the mask is wise to wear.  After all, not all people and not every circumstance will hold the sacredness of your authenticity well.  In fact, authenticity makes many a person uneasy, as real feelings and circumstances are not nice and tidy, black and white, easy to fix or even understand.

Both being authentic and beholding another’s authenticity requires a courage to face the mystery and the unknowns, to accept what is and what is not, and to resist the temptations to judge or fix or prescribe a solution…  Being authentic requires a courage to be seen, to be courageously whole in the light of day.  Beholding authenticity requires us to be, …simply be.  To listen.  To see.

And so, it is hard to be real.

This world does not reward real.

The world photo-shops our images, tidies up our rough edges – all to present a flawless image to the world, because flaws are the places were folks have dug in their claws and ripped us apart.  Spots on our apples doesn’t sell…and so we kill bees and butterflies and a host of other creatures to get shiny, marketable apples…

Real is not very marketable.
Real is not very invincible.
Real can in fact feel more like a liability than an asset.

But what Jesus is praying for here is not the façade, not the image, not the shiny exterior, or tidy looking closed closet door.  Jesus is praying for the whole shebang.  Jesus is praying for joy, real joy, abundant life joy!

I don’t know about you, but I could use more joy in my life!

Life is hard, and joy feels in short supply.

So how do we access this joy? If Jesus prayed this for us, then it would seem there is nothing capable of keeping it from us.  But God has shown us time and again that God is most courteous and does not force Godself on us.  Rather, God invites.

So I invite you to pray that God would open your eyes to the outbreaking of joy in your life.

Where is God breaking into your day?
What small thing brings you delight and satisfaction?
When do you have moments of clarity in which you feel your connectedness to everything and sense your very invaluable purpose in this life?

We indeed need Christ’s eyes to see.
We need Christ’s heart to perceive.
We need Christ’s obedience to receive.
We need Christ’s mind to understand.

How can you and I access this joy?

There are two clues I see. In this same scripture, Jesus prays that we would be one, as he and the Father are one.  This, in my estimation, feels like an impossible prayer, a child’s fantasy.  How will all of us believers ever be one?!  We disagree about so very many things!!!

Many of you I am sure followed the life and ministry of Billy Graham.  He was Southern Baptist and his wife Presbyterian, and they had a home in Montreat, the Presbyterian township in the mountains of North Carolina.  He often said that if he and his wife agreed about everything that one of them would be unnecessary!  I love that statement.  It shows a wisdom that not all have discovered:  the precious and vital gift of our many differences and disagreements.  He knew that despite the challenges of not seeing eye to eye, the challenge was indeed an invitation to go deeper, to open one’s heart wider, to see more clearly and love more deeply.  And I am sure Billy and his wife Ruth had many an occasion for disagreement.  But as scripture reminds us, we sharpen one another, as iron sharpens iron.  Our friction, our disagreements, are a gift, if we will but receive it.  We do not need to be in lock-step in order to work well together.  In fact if we were, we wouldn’t be doing as good a job at all!  It is the very diversity of our perspectives and experiences, areas of strength and areas of weakness, that invite us into a way of living and being that is stronger and powerful, than the sum of its parts.

Indeed, we are exponentially stronger together.

But we must resist the urge to reject one another from the table of our Lord.  We must resist the urge to simplify our processes by silencing or walling out those we disagree with.

Perhaps our unity is tied to our joy.

Another clue I see is Truth. Jesus prays that we would be sanctified in truth.  We need truth.  Truth cannot be devalued.  It is vital. It is foundational.  And the call to truth is yet another invitation. Because we do not naturally see truth. We see OUR truths.  We see partial truths.  But we do not, indeed we cannot even perceive THE TRUTH.  But God’s Word is truth.

Could it be that by returning to God’s Word and living in unity with one another that we come closer to joy?

Honestly, most pains in life seem to come when people treat one another badly, not living as one, not living as if each person were vital to the whole.

Could it be that when we start living all these teaching of Jesus, when we start believing the Word of God, when we start following the call of the Spirit,…that we might begin to unlock the joy Christ longs to give us?

Our loving Lord is most tender.  And we are the subject of one of his last prayers on earth.  And Christ prayed
that we might be one as he and the Father are one
that we might have Christ’s joy, complete in us!

That we might be sanctified in truth….

Even something as personal as our joy is important to our God.

May we not neglect the gifts Christ has prepared for us!  We are made to live in joy!  That’s why we yearn for it!

May Christ show each one of us, how to access and receive that fullness of joy, that life to our bones, that lift to our Spirits, that mysterious glow that emanates from a true and real joy.

And may we live in it,
ever more and ever more,
day by each gift of a day.

“Jaw Dropped and Astounded Discipleship”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 10:1-23
Acts 10:24-34, 44-48

Acts 10:1-23

In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him.

Acts 10:24-34, 44-48

The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”

Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

This story of Peter praying on the rooftop and God giving him a vision declaring that what God has made clean, Peter must not call unclean, has always stuck with me.  I love this story.

It stands in complete contrast to the law given to Moses and Aaron.  The entire chapter of Leviticus 11 outlines the numerous animals and insects that the people may and may not eat.  And the discussion centers around what is clean and what is unclean for the people, what is detestable and what is okay.  And if the people were to eat or even touch the carcass of many of these animals and insects labeled unclean or detestable, the people themselves would be unclean for the remainder of the day.

My Hebrew teacher in seminary taught us through stories, and one of his most memorable stories was of his breaking a tooth while eating pork chops.  Had this happened here, the incident would not have even been remembered, but it did not happen here.  It happened while he was studying in Israel.

You see my teacher was raised on a pork farm.  But while in Israel pork was forbidden, as a unclean food.  And while he respected the people, he had eaten pork his whole life, and he had a hankering for pork!  Since pork was not sold in the markets, he had to seek out pork on the black market. Had the landlord or anyone known he was eating it, everything that had touched the pork would have had to be sanitized or thrown away.

And it was while he was eating this forbidden pork that his tooth chipped.

Now this may not seem like much, but he now required the services of a dentist, a dentist who most certainly would not work on his tooth, if they knew he had been eating pork when the tooth was chipped!  …lest they have to close down & sanitize the whole office on his account!

The Jewish rules and laws were extensive.  This teacher’s own conclusion many years later was that the rules had been given the Jewish nation to help them survive the perils and temptations that could most certainly wipe them out from the face of the earth – most especially while they were aliens in the land, traveling from place to place, wandering in the desert.  That itself was enough to be the end of them.  And then you add on all the cultural temptations and the fact that many established nations of the land would most certainly see them as a threat and try to wipe them out.

And so God had given them an extensive set of rules to keep them alive and healthy, with their cultural identity and memory of God in tack.

But as we discussed last week, in the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, a new age had dawned.  The laws had been fulfilled.  They had served their purpose of keeping the people alive, distinct, and aware.  It had kept them mindful of the prophets and their teachings that would help them discern that Jesus was indeed God-with-us, Emmanual!  The laws had served their purpose to birth into this world, the Savior of the world!

And now, their whole world was shifting, as Jesus began taking down, law after law.  Dismantling the system of rules and guidance that they had outgrown, in order to make way for what God was doing in their midst now!

And while they needed to be separate, distinct, and apart BEFORE, now they needed to be integrated, moving, reaching out, sharing the Good News they had received with all nations. They needed to be able to eat the food they were served, to socialize with people long-labeled unclean, to speak with men and women alike.

And what amazes me is how God so magnificently led the people.

We have Peter, praying on his rooftop, hungry and waiting for the meal to be served, falling into a trance as he prayed.  And in the trace, God shows him a whole feast of animals – all the kinds off limits to him before this point – and invites him to eat.  To his deliriously hungry soul, this invitation must have been tantalizing, but each time he resists saying, “No, Lord, for I have never eaten something such as this that is unclean.”  But each time, God replied, “Do not call unclean what I have made clean.”

This is brilliant. Here we have God seemingly contradicting Godself – because WHOSE words and commandment was Peter quoting? GOD’s!

And we need to hear this.

We yearn to KNOW what is right and wrong, black and white, good and evil.  We indeed learn about good and evil through Scripture and the teachings of Jesus Christ.  We know that some things or wrong and others right, but discerning between them can be a difficult puzzle indeed!

As a case example, if you knew the law of Moses about clean and unclean animals, Peter’s response is spot on.  He passed the test, we might say.  Indeed, was God testing him, tempting him in his moment of hungry weakness?

But no, God was not testing him but teaching him.  God was showing him, very viscerally, that God had made these animals too, and that they were good and okay for eating.

Then, as if on cue, the men Cornelius from Ceasarea had sent to fetch him arrive.  They are seeking him by name, him who they’d never met, him who Cornelius had only heard about through an angel visitation.

And right there, tenderly guiding Peter, for each new step, the Spirit directed him.  The Spirit told him that 3 men were seeking him, that God had sent them, and that he should go with them, without hesitating.

Peter, who did not know yet WHAT that vision was about…
Peter, who did not know WHO was coming looking for him…
Peter, obeyed the Spirit of God.  He followed, though he didn’t know the reason or the way.

Peter followed the Spirit’s nudging and met the men.  He identified himself as the one they were seeking, and asked why they’d come.  They proceeded to explain that they were there because Cornelius, a God-fearing man, had been instructed by an angel to send for Peter, that he might hear what Peter has to say.

And that is it.

Peter invites them in. He gives then lodging for the night. And the next day, they all set out for Cornelius’ house in Ceasarea.

Just like that.

Notice how God orchestrated each vision, each nudging, each visitation, so that each person would know what to do next.

They didn’t start out with a grand master plan.
No.
They simply were tuning in to God.
And they obeyed what they heard.

So when Peter arrives in Ceasarea, he again quotes the rules he’s known his whole life – he is not to associate with a Gentile, which Cornelius was,

But then he adds to that, “But God has shown me not to call anyone profane or unclean.

Peter is in completely uncharted territory.  But he is there because he’s felt led by the God who has known him all his days, and so he follows, trusting,…and listening for God to guide him.

And God has led him to the home of a Gentile, and he finds that the home is filled with many others, there and eager to hear what he has to say, and so he begins sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And he starts out by saying, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…”

Once again, Peter is following God, who clearly loved these “unclean” people enough to send them an angel, to send him a vision in a trance, to nudge him by the Spirit to go with 3 strangers,…  all that THESE people might here the Good News of Jesus Christ.

And so he begins to speak.
And here again, we see God move in the most tender and loving of ways.

God knows that Peter is following, but that he is still processing all these new events in light of his old playbook of Jewish rules and rituals.  And so GOD again makes the first move.

And while Peter is still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those present who heard.

And Peter’s friends who had accompanied.  His Jewish group, they were floored and amazed, that God had given the gift of the Holy Spirit, even to these Gentiles.

But Peter, still following and listening as he goes, discerns that IF GOD has poured out the Spirit on the people, WHO ARE THEY to stand in the way and not baptize them.  Thus, he orders that they all be baptized.

This outbreaking of God – from all the previous bounds and constraints of the Jewish nation – was radical. And the people God was working through, they did not understand or anticipate God’s next move.  Rather, God was leading them, step by giant step. God was leading them.

They only had to follow, and trust God.

It is natural to want to cling to all that has come before.  After all, God has met us in the before times.  God has met us in our rituals, our events, our songs, our services of worship.  God has met us in preaching and affirmations of faith.  God has met us in church.

But I ask you, are we tuning into the Spirit of God here and now?

Are we listening as we tune in?
And are we willing to follow God, with faith as a child, wherever and to whomever, God is calling us?
God is still active and present in the world today.
You and I are Christ’s disciples.

May we, ever more, day by day, become expert listeners.
May we, ever more, day by day, become trusting followers.

And may we too stand, jaw dropped and astounded, at all the ways God is breaking out the boxes in which we’ve held God in,…

And celebrate the wondrous, unrelenting, seeking, merciful, and gracious love of God for all the world!