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“The Church of God, for Today”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Exodus 20:1-20
Matthew 21:33-46

 

Exodus 20:1-20

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

 

 

Matthew 21:33-46

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

It strikes me that the 10 Commandments are getting a lot less air-time than they used to.  When I was a child, they were one of the first things you learned in Sunday School.  But as we are all aware, we live in a different time and culture today.  Our children and their children are not getting the same Christian Education.

I am grateful that some of this is our realization that indoctrination is not the end-all, be-all.  We in fact want our children and our children’s children to come to know and love and the Lord God, with all their hearts and souls and minds and strengths…  And this does not come by rote.  It does not come intrinsically by Sunday School attendance.  It does not come by perfect church attendance.  It does not come by memorizing all the rules.  It does not even necessarily come from following all the rules.

 

Loving and knowing God simply cannot be educated into a person.  Being loved by God cannot be earned or deserved.  And the journey of faith is a journey of the heart, a journey of living.

 

But the education piece was nonetheless valuable – invaluable in fact.  We were learning more about God by studying God’s word, memorizing those words, and discussing them in Bible Studies and Sunday School classes.  We were learning from one another, as we sought God’s face together in church.  And much of these gems of Christian life are no longer part of the next generations’ experiences.

 

We mourn this loss in the church.

We can wistfully look back on the good-ole-days.

 

As for me, I miss the long table full of food – on church potluck evenings!  I miss playing out in the church yard, while my parents had choir rehearsal.  I miss the nursery – the nursery! – where there were always cheerios to be had, building blocks to stack, and comrades to play with and arm wrestle.

I miss youth group!  I miss the ridiculous games we played.  I miss our trips to Montreat Conference Center.  I miss our Habitat builds.  I miss the lock-ins…

I miss my college fellowship group.  I miss “Walk to Emmaeus,” or “Chrysalis,” an intensive faith formation weekend for disciples and church leaders.  I miss fall retreats.  I miss the holiday dances…

 

But there have also been gains:

  • we now understand that dressing to the nines is not a pre-requisite of holiness and respect,
  • we now know that church is meant to bolster a LIFE of faith (and not be the end-all, in and of itself),
  • we now accept that there are a myriad of ways to serve God – both inside and outside the  church,
  • we are much more attuned to listen to God’s voice in our everyday – rather than expecting our entire spiritual nourishment to come on a Sunday morning,
  • we have stopped shaming those who drink on Sundays,
  • we have stopped shaming those who must work on Sundays,
  • we’ve stopped forbidding folks from playing cards on Sundays,
  • we’ve mostly stopped judging people for having tattoos,
  • many have stopped shaming our LGBTQ brothers and sisters,
  • women have been accepted into more of the leadership of the church – and less cloistered to the halls of the “Presbyterian Women” and other alternative, segregated, branches of leadership,
  • we have begun to open ourselves to learn about God from folks who do not look like us, share our background, or meet our own educational status,
  • persons of varied colors and races are more able to gather in one place to worship God,
  • we have opened to new experiences of worship,
  • we have allowed greater diversity of faith expression – in music and liturgy and practice…
  • Pastors are no longer living in manses, where they were expected to be at everyone’s beck and call.
  • Pastors are setting aside and guarding time with their families and with their God – with intentionality – recognizing that the former ways of neglecting family and self are lacking in God’s faithfulness and love to family and self.

 

There have been both loss AND gains.

 

The new generations have begun to question things that were never questioned before.  They cringe to tell children the story of Noah’s ark – since most creatures and people were simply wiped off the face of the earth, drowned by God.

They are concerned by stories of a vengeful God.

They do not know what to make of God’s commands to kill all the Gentile unbelievers off the promised land.

They don’t know what to make of a “Father” God who sends his son to be killed, sacrificed!

And many are concerned about how modern day Israel is interfacing with the Palestinians and their geographic neighbors.

 

They don’t want to proceed with blind faith.

They don’t want to walk with blinders on.

They don’t want abject obedience – without thoughtfulness and mindfulness.

 

And I must say, that frankly, I respect this authenticity, this honesty, this courageous truthfulness.

I respect all who choose to press into the harder questions of faith.

I respect those who choose to employ the brain God gave them – trusting God to lead them to truth.

I respect those who do not simply lean on conventional wisdom, but who investigate things for themselves and do their homework.

 

It is respectable.

 

But is also means we don’t have the former full-load of attendees in worship.

It means folks are not just giving money to the church, but also to beautiful, new non-profits.

It means folks are not always present on Sunday, because they are finding spiritual nourishment in a variety of places.

 

Again, we have gains and losses.

As a people, we are at once growing and shrinking – learning and regressing.

 

And what of these 10 Commandments?

They do not have the following they used to.  Or at least folks do not study and memorize them as often.  And I do think that is a loss.  Many outside our walls (and some of you within them) dismiss the Old Testament altogether.  The God portrayed there seems vengeful and petty, re-active and harsh, unforgiving and playing favorites.

But the Old and New Testaments – while different – are not meant to tell two different stories.  Rather, they tell one story.  And when we hold that story as one whole, we can begin to better understand the difficult parts of the Old Testament.

We believe that Christ is the greatest revelation of God!  And so through the lense of Jesus Christ, we are to re-visit these Old Testament stories, these texts.  And we are to understand them from the perspective of this greatest revelation of God – the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth!

And so we can begin to piece together God’s purposes.  We begin to piece together God’s heart.  We begin to understand that these rules – the 10 Commandments – are not legalistic.  Rather, they are for the purpose of blessing.

Over and over, God explains why – that you may be blessed, that you may live long in the land God is giving you, that you may not sin and endure those consequences but rather obey and experience God’s steadfast love – from generation to generation to come.

 

Just as our earthly parents wish to guide us in goodness that our lives may be full of happiness and spared of pain, our heavenly Father wishes to guide us in living lives of righteousness – that we might not miss out on the goodness and blessing God intends for us!

How do you feel when your child just won’t obey?
…when they fight your best intentions,
…when they mistrust you and deliberately rebel – thinking they’ll miss out on the best by being obedient…

It’s heart-breaking, is it not?

We watch as they make tragic, life-diminishing, enslaving, harmful, and hurtful choices.

 

And God’s heart too breaksbreaks for us all.
For we have all gone astray.
We have all doubted God’s goodness and heart.
We have doubted God’s future of hope – both for ourselves and for our congregation. 

 

But what would happen if we learn these rules?
What would happen if we study the scriptures?
What would happen if we choose to believe God’s Word over our own fears and wistful feelings of loss?

What would happen?

 

Might we finally experience,
For ourselves,
God’s mighty provision,
The blessings of obedience,
The relief of trust – replacing doubt,
The assurance of faith?  …in this, our journey with God?

 

For everything there is a time and a season. 

We are not in the same season as the one that built our beautiful sanctuary.

We do not have the same folks who gave of all their free-time to decorate and maintain and plan and serve in this place.

We do not have a host of members, pledging money and volunteering their free time.

We do not have a full-time pastor, who is always available.

 

But what is God’s calling to us, in THIS season?

Could it be that we are called for such a time as this??…

  • Might we be a place where the disillusioned can come to God honestly, and without pretense?
  • Might we be a place where the disconnected can experience the steadfast and unconditional love of the Father?
  • Might we be a place where the discouraged, hear a word of encouragement and find strength for their journeys?
  • Might we be a place where the angry can come as they are, in honesty, and be heard and validated?
  • Might we be a place where the hopeless begin to hope again?
  • Might we be a place where the seeking can find?
  • Might we be a place where truth is spoken, and freedom is found?
  • Might we be a place where sin is recognized and released?
  • Might we be a place of forgiveness, seventy-seven times?
  • Might we be a place with our eyes SET on the goal – the heavenly calling of Christ?
  • Might we be a place that does not get bogged down in the weeds, but keeps our gaze onward?
  • Might we be a place where we can agree to disagree – where each one is valued because God made them, and not because they hold to all of our beliefs and value systems?
  • Might we be a place where grace is given and boundaries are set – where we find undeserved blessing, while also fiercely protecting all that is sacred and holy among us?
  • Might we be a place where folks can explore their scary questions of faith -without judgement or condemnation, but with encouragement and support?
  • Might we be a place where folks are not valued and sized up by how often they attend, how much they give, or how much they volunteer.
  • Might we be a place where each persons journey and choices are respected – while we each seek to listen for and be faithful to God’s invitation to press in, step up, take responsibility?
  • Might we be a place where the Spirit of the Living God is mightily felt and swiftly obeyed?
  • Might we be a place where God’s unfathomable, unconditional, undeserved love is experienced and shared?

 

Might we be a place where folks

encounter

 

…the Living God?!?!

 

 

“Loudly He Wept”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Genesis 45:1-15

 

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.  God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.

…for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

 

Genesis 45:1-15

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

“You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.


 

What goodness can follow atrocity.  What healing can come after grave injury.  What morning light can dawn after fierce storms.

 

Here we witness the reunion of these brothers, from one Father and several different mothers.  It is a reunion none of them saw coming…or not exactly.  These brothers had betrayed their own humanity, selling their own brother Joseph to traders to be a slave.  But in a strange and twisted yet truthful kind of way, we can be grateful that they brothers had chosen to sell him over killing him, which was their first instinct.

You see they hated him.  He said things.  Unwise things.

God filled young Joseph with dreams and visions.  And naïve or unfiltered or autistic or perhaps boastful as he was (…we do not know why), he spoke these dreams aloud, no filter, sharing them with his family.  And they did not take kindly to these visions – for Joseph dreamed that he would rule over his brothers and whole family.

It was unsettling.

 

I have wished he’d paused a moment to assess and to reconsider sharing these dreams.  I wonder if he even perceived how it would be taken by his siblings.  Did he sense their anger and resentment?  Did he not anticipate their jealousy over the favor his father showed him?

And why did Joseph share the 2nd time?  He shared one time, and I imagine that couldn’t have gone well.  So when he had yet another of these dreams, why did he share it yet again?

I do not know.

My heart breaks for him.

 

Can you imagine the emotional trauma?  Talk about post-traumatic-stress!
Can you imagine the betrayal?  Can you imagine the sense of abandonment?

What scars Joseph must have carried.  What fears he must have had to live with.

 

He was a good worker and advanced in his servant role to a man named Potiphar, but alas, Potiphar’s wife took interest in him, and when her advances were shunned she decided to slander Joseph – accusing him of violating her.

And thus, Joseph is thrown into yet another hole.  This time it isn’t an abandoned well – meant to hold him until his murder by family.  It isn’t the abandoned well that ended up being his holding cell before being sold to strangers and taken away from all he knew and everyone he held dear.  No, this time it was an actual cell, the hole of prison, and he stayed there for a long, long time, falsely accused, with no justice.

 

Some among us truly endure far more pain and loss than others of us.  Some of us FEEL more pain in our experiences than others.  And some have hardened the walls of their hearts to protect them from these painful moments, years, and lifetimes.

Joseph was one who endured more than he ever should have had to.

Even if he was boastful or proud, sharing his dreams and visions…
Even though his father favored him above the others…
Even if he was unwise in sharing his dreams…

It doesn’t matter.  None of this should have stripped him of home and family and freedom.

…and for SO long.

 

Yet this is Joseph’s story.

 

And when his brothers begin journeying to Egypt to buy grain – after Joseph’s interpretation of dreams has finally freed him from prison and placed him even over Pharaoh’s entire household that he might lead the nation in surviving the coming years of great famine – these brothers have no idea they will see their brother.  They have no idea where he is.  They do not know whether he is dead or alive.  He was probably the last person they ever expected to see again.

And can you imagine Joseph’s feelings upon seeing them?

You’ll see he first tests his brothers.  He puts them in compromised situations in order to see how they will handle themselves.  He wants to be sure that his younger brother Benjamin – his only full-blooded brother – is not being mistreated as well.  He wants to know who his brothers have become.

And when he experiences their changed hearts, he is broken open with grief released and gladness.  He is overcome, such that he can no longer hold back, but weeps so loudly that all of Pharaoh’s house hear it.

 

I have long loved this story.  It may be my favorite in the Bible.  But what I am moved by today is Joseph’s release.  He can no longer hold in his feelings.  They all come tumbling out.  Finally.

And furthermore, I wonder if his dreams came back to mind.  Did he remember his celestial dream, where his family bowed before him, …now that they are all bowing before him?  Could any of them have foreseen the path Joseph would walk to get to this point?  Could any of them have foreseen how their own actions would be woven by God into a tapestry of goodness and life?  Could any have imagined how, what was intended for evil, God used for great good?  And here Joseph is, choosing to see his life, not as a victim but as a messenger, sent ahead of them by God, to save lives.

 

I tend to have visions of an end but no idea as to how to get there.  Like Joseph, I am left wondering what it all means, as none of it yet seems true.  And I’ve long wondered why God does this.  Why does God give me vision?

Sometimes, especially when I am in the pits of life, I can resent these visions because they seem so far-fetched.  I can get discouraged.

But God is faithful.
Whatever God says, is true. 

If God says something will be, then it will be.  And God can use whatever comes, to get there.  We can work with God or against God.  Those are our choices.

 

Joseph chose to trust his dreams and visions.  God showed him, over and over again that they were true.  He was leading an entire nation in preparing for a major time of famine – based solely on a dream…a dream

And yet, to this point, he had not yet seen his earliest dreams come true…

Until

Now.

 

God speaks to each one of us, in different ways.

Some dream dreams.
Some interpret.
Some have visions.
Some interpret.
Some perceive the end.
Some perceive the path.

But God is speaking.
And God is trustworthy. 

 

May we have the courage and audacity

To follow our dreams – the visions God plants in our hearts –
And to believe that God is indeed working ALL things for good
For those who love God
And are called according to God’s purposes.
For God is the primary actor in this play.
God is using it all to save lives. 

God is working God’s purposes out.

Will we trust God’s call,
and join in the work? 

 


 

PRAYERS   

                                                                       (Iona Abby WB)
Creator Spirit, wellspring of our lives,
as the refreshing rain falls on the just and unjust alike
refresh us with your mercy, who knows our own injustice.
As the stream flows steadily on, defying all the odds of stone and water,
flow over every boundary and border that separates us from each other.
As the waters of our baptism washed us and welcomed us
renew us now in newness of life and unity of love.
As we were once held in the waters of our mother’s womb,
hold us now in the power and peace of your abiding presence. 

                                                                        (Richard J. Foster)
Today I accept your acceptance of me.
I confess that you are always with me and always for me.
I receive into my spirit your grace, your mercy, your care.
I rest in your love, O Lord.  I rest in your love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLESSING                                            (Vienna Cobb Anderson)

The blessing of God,

whose love reconciles all who are divided,

be with you

as you seek to heal the brokenness

around you.

“Hospitality to Strangers”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Matthew 25:31-46
Genesis 18:1-15 and 21:1-7
Hebrews 13:1-2

 

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

Genesis 18:1-15 and 21:1-7

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

 

Hebrews 13:1-2

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

~~~~~~~~

 

This passage from Genesis stops me in my tracks before the story even gets going.  From the start we are let in on the fact that God was in fact meeting with Abraham, but it does not appear that Abraham knows this.  Rather, he looks up and sees 3 strangers standing nearby.

And not knowing that these 3 strangers are in fact God, Abraham’s response is so much more remarkable.

 

Do you know those who will fall all over themselves to bless and care for you?

That is the image I get here of Abraham.  Upon seeing strangers, he immediately jumps up, runs to them, and humbles himself – bowing low before them.  He begs them to allow him to provide for them nourishment as they rest awhile, and they accept.  He instructs Sarah to use the choice flour to bake cakes.  He instructs his servant to choose a calf, tender and good, from the herd to slaughter and prepare as food for his guests.  He gathers it all together with curds and milk and takes it to these three strangers

I am struck because I’m not accustomed to anyone going to such great lengths without a profound history of foreknowledge and respect for the guests.  Or perhaps one would go to such great lengths if one was afraid and wanting to pacify and please their unexpected guests.

But beyond such scenarios, I think we hardly ever see such willing, determined, and generous hospitality in our time.  …especially for complete strangers.

In fact, I suspect our first response would be more akin to irritation at the danger we might feel and the inconvenience of the drop-in.  And I, for one, find myself reticent to share the very best of what I have.  I usually want to save some (or all) for me…

 

But I suspect what is happening here is more about social norms.

With no fast food, no hotels or motels, every traveler remained dependent on the kindness and generosity of complete strangers.  And you would be more welcoming to others because you know that one day you may have to call on that same generosity and kindness, for survival.

 

But I suspect that Abraham’s own character is on display in this exchange.

He didn’t have to use the choice flour, to kill the tender young calf.  He didn’t have to run to meet them.  He didn’t have to.

He could have spoken only after they fully approached.  He could have remained seated, after all, he and his camp outnumbered them; Abraham was holding all the cards.  He could have served them but begrudgingly, not eagerly.  He could have planned to rob them of whatever they had on their person and to leave them half-dead somewhere obscure.

But Abraham rises, he runs to them, he humbles himself, and he lavishly serves them.

 

The writer of Hebrews exhorts the people to show hospitality – for in doing so, some have entertained angels.  But even greater than angels is God.  And here, we find that in entertaining these strangers, Abraham has indeed welcomed God.

And this may sound far-fetched to us – as we do not expect to encounter God in our driveways, hallways, or front steps, but Jesus brings is home, when he tells the parable of the nations.  In this parable, God separates people, and the deciding factor is how they behaved to “the least of these,” the nobodies, the unmentionables, the dregs, the invisible, the dispensable.

 

Please do not hear me as condoning these disparaging and demeaning names for those most vulnerable in our society.  But I use these words, to hopefully call to our minds the various faces of those we have passed by.  Can you see them?

Can you see the faces of those deemed un-noteworthy?  Those who have been counted as collateral damage to progress?  Those ostracized and rejected?  Those condemned by the dreadful circumstances into which they have sometimes been placed, been born, or fallen into?

 

Do we show this abundant, eager, insistent hospitality? 

Do we humble ourselves before them – not assuming our better situation is the result of our efforts alone, or that their disparaging situation is the result of their negligence or sin?

 

I suspect most of us cannot say we have ever offered hospitality like that which we see in this story of Abraham.

Let that sink in.

 

When the Kingdom of God is – at its center – hospitality to the stranger, how have we gone so wrong as to judge and ignore those who come close to our tents. 

I am guilty.

 

And what is it that we miss when we fail to welcome God in the stranger in our midst?

Where would any of us be now?  …We children of Abraham – not by blood but grafted onto the family tree by the grace and favor of our God?

Scripture says that in this meeting the Lord met with Abraham,
and in this meeting unawares,
God foretells that this aged couple will at last bear a child of their own flesh and blood!

It is the hope for which they long-waiting, went astray, and stopped hoping altogether. 

 

What is the hope for which you long-await?
What is the hope for which we long-await?
What is the relief and provision that will be balm to our souls?

I suspect that you, like me, ache.

We ache.
And our long-waiting has taken the form of prayer,
Of hope,
Of discouragement,
Of misguided efforts, and
Of despair, …at times.

 

How much more-so would your whole being ache
To think that God’s mighty and perfect provision came,
But was ignored,
Judged,
Dismissed,
Despised,
Shown the door?

 

God shows up among us in the stranger.

God shows up among us in the powerless.

God shows up among us. 

 

And what will you do?

 

What will we do?

…when such stranger shows up here?

 

What will we do? 

“God Shows Up”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 9:1-41

 

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”


 

This story was won my curiosity since childhood.  This is an incredible story!

In reading the text anew, several details grab my attention.  For one thing, the main characters are already known to us.  This is the same Mary and Martha we’ve read about before, who hosted Jesus, teaching in their home.  Martha was doing all the work while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet.  And when Mary protests and asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her, Jesus instead commends Mary’s choice and encourages Martha to do likewise.

It is a counter-cultural exchange.  Women are supposed to host and serve.  They are not to BE served.  Martha was fulfilling her social obligations and responsibilities, but Mary was coloring outside the lines, behaving more like a child than a grown woman of her culture.  Jesus’ response to Martha must have come as quite a shock.  This is very likely the reason this story got repeated over and over, making it into our scriptures.

 

These two women love Jesus.

So of course when their brother takes ill-unto-death, they reach out to Jesus, sending someone to summon him.

But when the messenger arrives, Jesus sends him away, saying the illness will not leave Lazarus dead.  Jesus stays another two days where he is, before announcing to his disciples that they will return to Judea to waken Lazarus.  And to his disciples, this makes no sense.  Why on earth would Jesus return to a land so recently hostile to him, and why would he be needed to wake someone up?  None of it made sense.  And so Jesus speaks more plainly to them, explaining that Lazarus has died, and that he must go to him.

 

While Jesus is still in-route, Martha hears that he is coming and goes out to meet him on the road.  Her first words are:  “If you had only been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”  And this is perhaps both a profession of faith and a complaint.  Martha knows that Jesus can heal anyone.  In her approach to Jesus, she likely feels a mix of love, deep sadness, and irritation.  Why didn’t Jesus return when they called for him?

But Martha does not leave it there.  She continues, “But even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”  In this, we sense that Martha still has hope.

 

I have no idea what outcome she was hoping for.  I doubt she would have imagined what Jesus would do next.  Would she dream Jesus would bring her brother, dead for four days, back to life?  I doubt it.  For when Jesus asks for the stone to be rolled away from the cave, it is indeed Martha who protests, saying that there will be a stench since he’s already been dead four days.

It seems more likely that Martha may have been asking for God’s protection and provision for them.  After all, it seems unlikely that these two sisters had husbands.  If they’d had husbands, we would likely have never learned their names, or they may have been known as so-&-so’s wife.  So these two have lost their entire means of a living.  They’ve lost their security and standing in society.  They didn’t have husbands or children, and without a man in their lives, they wouldn’t have access to any societal benefits or work opportunities.  It was a hard world for women who weren’t under the protection and provision of a man.  This family had survived by sticking together.  And the two women left, were at risk of losing everything.

 

And this is the moment of crisis Jesus returns to.

 

Not only are these two women grieving.

Not only are they upset that Jesus didn’t return in time to save their brother.

Not only are they full of faith in what Jesus can do.

Not only are they full of love for Jesus.

But they are likely in a profound social and economic limbo.

 

Do any of you know what that feels like?

 

It kind of changes Jesus’ possible motives, does it not?

Jesus speaks often about caring for the poor, the oppressed, the widows and orphans.  And here we have two friends of Jesus who have been left in a position of vulnerability.  It makes me wonder all that may have been behind Jesus’ own tears, as he weeps in Mary’s presence.

 

Not only would Jesus’ next act – calling Lazarus to get up – to return from the dead – change the outcome for Lazarus himself.  Not only would it profoundly bear witness to God’s presence and power.  It would also change everything for both Mary and Martha.

And Jesus shows up for them

  • Not when they thought he should have –
  • Not before they experience deep pain and great loss –

But perfectly and profoundly.

 

Have you experienced this kind of deliverance before?

Late (in your estimation)

But perfect and profound, full of grace and love and goodness?

 

Quite often when God doesn’t show up in the moments we think God should, we grow discouraged and resentful.  If you told me you had some beefs with God over things, I’d tell you that you are not alone; I do too.  I wrestle with God over the presence and seeming victories of injustice.  I wrestle with God over the pain and suffering.  I complain to God about all the loss of color in my hair, the new streaks of white and gray.

But God has nonetheless, shown up in ways mighty and profoundly loving.

 

When Mr. Rogers was growing up, his mother used to tell him that in times of trouble, he should look for the helpers.  There are always helpers, she would say.

 

And so I ask you:  who have been your helpers?

 

I invite you to take 3 minutes right now and to remember and write the name some of these who have brought grace and provision, mercy and deliverance, love and compassion, healing and justice into your lives.

Please take a moment to actively remember. 

 

Through-out the Old Testament, God is instructing the people to remember, to write of God’s acts on their doorposts, to tell it to their children and children’s children, to erect monuments, and to enact rituals and holidays of remembering.  God knows how IMPORTANT it is for us to remember.  God knows how very scatter-brained we each can be when it comes to focusing on our blessings and giving thanks.  And God knows how easy it is for us to focus on our troubles instead of on our blessings, on our gifts, on our helpers.

 

Our God does not always show up when we think God should.

Our God does not always deliver us from pain and suffering.

But our God does show up.

And our God does deliver.

Our God does heal.

Our God does see.

Our God does weep with you and with me.

Our God does act, with righteousness and with justice, with mercy and with grace.

And our God does breathe life into the long dead, into dry, dry bones.

 

Heavenly Father, Holy Mother,

We believe.

Help our unbelief.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“So Abram Went”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Genesis 12:1-4a

 

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

 

Genesis 12:1-4a

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went,


 

 

What a beautiful God we serve!

This passage from Genesis is simple.
And it is beautiful.

 

God planted this dream in Abraham.  God spoke and Abraham listened.

And then, Abraham followed.

 

It is that simple.

 

Did Abraham know the way?

No.  God said God would show him the way.

Did Abraham get to stay in the familiar and the comfortable?

No.  God said to leave everything he had known and to go.

 

And so, Abraham took this leap of faith.

Abraham chose to believe God over his own wisdom.

Abraham chose to follow God over his own Father and family.

Abraham allowed God into the nitty gritty of his life.

Really.

 

For Abraham, God was not a ritual.  Faith was not merely a profession.  Faith was not an assent to a belief system or set of doctrines.

No, for Abraham, God was his life-line.

For in their culture, people survived by clumping.  They survived by numbers and connections.  To go out alone was to ensure your own death.  There were no fast food chains.  There were no internet lists of best hotels and accommodations.  There wasn’t Google Translate or Rosetta Stone language learning systems.  Maps were limited.  And you stayed alive by staying among the familiar, surrounding yourself with family.

New folks in town could be completely on their own, outsiders and excluded.  And worse yet, you were most certainly more likely to be met by armed men than a welcome basket of home-baked goodies…

And God was specifically instructing Abraham to leave all his security, on a mere promise.

God promises to lead Abraham.  God promised to protect Abraham.  God promises to bless Abraham and to make him a blessing.

 

And Abraham believes.

 

This belief is not merely talk.
This belief is up close and personal.

This belief is living and active:  Abraham is leaning on God moment by moment to find his way forward.  Abraham is leaning on God to protect him.  Abraham has put all his eggs in God’s basket.

 

Have you ever experienced such a thing?
To put all your eggs in God’s basket??

 

When I was living at Camp Hanover, I felt God call me into church ministry.  And I was eager to follow.  But God had me on a journey of discovery and transformation as well.  God was freeing me from the weights of oppression.  God was freeing me to finally see and know myself.  God was freeing me to live more authentically true to who I am.

But I was searching for my next step.

And finally in the middle of a worship service at Ginter Park Presbyterian, God spoke to me through the hymn, “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore.”  The phrase, “now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me.  By your side, I will seek other seas” struck me.  I felt in my Spirit that God was calling me to walk away from my job, my security, my source of income…and to follow.

 

Now, I don’t think my leaving was as graceful as Abraham’s.  Or if Abraham’s leaving was ungraceful, we’re not privy to that information!  But I needed assurance.  I asked God to confirm it to me, and in moment by tiny & big moment, God made me know in my bones just how needed it was.  And finally, I followed.  I stepped away from where I was, in order to embrace where God was leading me.

And it was terrifying.

I dubbed it: “The Grand Experiment of My Life.”  I was the experiment.  And the question I was asking as I was followed was, “God, if I follow you, will you keep me from harm?  Will you bless me and make me a blessing?”

 

Now, I can assure you that my journey has not been without suffering.  We follow a God who came to us in Christ Jesus and knew an agonizing death.  And I have suffered following God.  That is true.

The way has been fraught with the effects of human sin and discrimination.  The way has been fraught with fears and uncertainties.  The way has been fraught with anger at injustice.

And yet, I once was dead, and I’ve come back alive!

I was lost, and now I’ve been found!

I was alone without true companionship and friendship, and now I am embraced in loving partnership and community.

 

I have grown in depth.

My eyes have opened to many whom I’d never before seen or understood.

I have learned to be slow to speak and quick to listen.

 

And I can honestly say that God has blessed me and made me a blessing. 

 

And my journey is not yet through.

I continue to follow after God:  listening for the still small voice; reclaiming my identity, responsibility, and power; laying down my fears (over and over again) at Christ’s dear feet; and asking God to direct my steps.

 

We all journey differently.  There is no one the same.  But until we let go and fall into God’s waiting arms, we will never truly know the depth of God’s love and mercy, grace and provision, deliverance and protection.  Until then, all these promises of God that we affirm Sunday after Sunday are hardly transformative and little understood.

 

So, will we, like Abraham, choose to follow where God leads?

Will we, like Abraham, release our death-grip on the comfortable and the familiar, in order to follow God into the promised land that awaits?

Will we, like Abraham, exercise our daily muscles of faith – trusting God for the smallest and biggest aspects of our daily lives?

Will we, like Abraham, exercise our daily muscles of faith – trusting God for our common life together, as church?

 

We believe in the cross and resurrection! 

Are we willing to allow God into our moments of obedience (…unto suffering and great loss…)

that we might finally KNOW our God who brings life out of death?

 

THIS is the God we serve.

The God who raised Jesus from the dead is our God.

May we KNOW that God.

May we believe that God.

May we trust our God.

And may we follow, such that our very lives witness – alongside the Bible – to the goodness, might, mercy, grace, healing, wholeness, beauty, protection, provision, and deliverance of our God,…our Maker, Redeemer, and Friend.

 

Amen.