Posts

“Pleasures Forevermore”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 20:19-31
Psalm 16

 

John 20:19-31

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

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Psalm 16

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.


 

This Psalm is rich.

The Psalmist confesses that God is his chosen portion, his sustenance, the one who holds his lot.  I like this because it speaks to the choice God gives us and to the responsibility we have to choose.  The Psalmist reports that in choosing God, he has effectively surrendered his sustenance and his lot in life, to God.  This is a supreme measure of trust, truly a surrendering, to have God take control over the outcomes of our lives.

Then the Psalmist acknowledges the blessings in his life – how the boundary lines for his life have fallen in pleasant and good places.

I find this confession of gratitude particularly moving because we generally have a harder time truly seeing the gifts we have inherited and those God has given.  I’ve found that this season of quarantine has accented for me the blessings in my life.  I have others, with whom I can eat and watch a movie.  I have folks I can hug and kiss.  I am not alone.  I have folks I worry about – which means I have folks I care deeply about in this life.  I am more acutely mindful of just how blessed I am by those paid the least in our society, the trash collectors, the grocery workers, those who make toilet paper, and those who run around warehouses fulfilling our online orders…  I am aware of how much more space I have to quarantine than many, if not most, in our world have.  Only a year ago and this quarantine would have rendered 4 people wedged in a two-bedroom apartment.  And for how many would even that be a luxury?

 

I am grateful to still seem well.  I am grateful to not have lost anyone dear to this dreadful virus.  I am grateful for private transportation – for the chance to get out without feeling vulnerable to a multitude of other people’s germs.  I am grateful that my work doesn’t require me to put myself and my family at risk on a day to day basis.

I am grateful.  But without a crisis to highlight how fortunate we are, do we actually stop long enough to ponder the ways our lives have been built on the shoulders of others; the ways our parents set us up for success; the benefits we enjoyed of education, connection, and experience?  My own experience is that my laments and complaints quite often steal the lion’s share of my attention.  So this Psalmist’s awareness of his blessings in life is quite notable.

 

Then the Psalmist describes his communication with God.  He says God counsels him, that his own heart guides him in the night, and that God is always before him.  With God at his side, he is secure, he is confident, he is stable and steadfast.

And this my friends, is a feeling quite scarce these days.
How many of us feel confident and secure?

The test of this for me has been grocery shopping.  Every day I learn something new, a new way to protect myself, new best practices and strategies, and every day I find myself wishing I’d known more and done better, earlier.  Each time I go to the store, I find myself winding up tight, like a coil compressed and ready to unleash.  The anxiety and discomfort of my mind manifesting in physical tension, pain, and exhaustion.

But this Psalmist writes that because he has God ever with him, before him and guiding him, that his heart is glad, his soul rejoices, and even his body rests secure.  His body rests secure.  How I am yearning for that!

 

It would seem that…

Living life with God taking the reigns and controlling the outcomes…
Living a life in which God counsels us, staying ever before us,…
Living a life of seeing and giving thanks for the blessings undergirding our lives…
This is a life the Psalmist finds life-giving, joyful, and secure.

And isn’t this what we all yearn for?  Life.  Joy.  Security? 

 

The Psalmist is secure in trusting that God does not give up on him but shows him the path of life.

I remember once, decades ago, as a staff member at Camp Hanover, how one of the lifeguards was gathered with friends in staff lounge, cutting up and shooting the breeze.  A fellow lifeguard, new to the role, came in to ask a question about lights, and instead of showing her how to do it, he withheld information needed for her to succeed and rather made fun of her as soon as she left.  I was taken aback.  But isn’t it true that quite often we are more comfortable judging and despising one another, than in helping one another and pointing one another in the right direction?

Our God did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through God.  And here, long before Christ came to walk the earth among us and work his saving acts, this Psalmist understood the heart of God:  he understood that God shows us the way, so that we might be blessed and be a blessing.  God shows us the ways that lead to life, so that we might have life and live it to the fullest!  Thanks be to God!!!

The Psalmist has experience to show him that in God’s presence is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. 

 

Do we have these experiences?
Have we tried and tested our faith? 

Have we pushed back on traditional teaching to challenge those things that make no sense to us – perhaps that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, or that we must lose our lives in order to find it?

Jesus said many things that folks found it very hard to swallow.  And if we are being honest, we will too.  But until we raise up our doubts and test our faith, we cannot be transformed by our God.  Until we experience God’s timely word, God’s saving arm, God’s perfect provision, God’s answers to our doubts…our confession of faith is often mere ritual.

 

Do you want to be someone who can honestly say that your mind is at peace and that your body rests secure?

Do you want to be someone who experiences fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore?

Do you want to entrust the outcomes of your life to the only One who truly sees, the master-gardener, the virtuoso Artist of your life?

 

Until we, like Thomas, question the things we do not understand, until we exercise our muscles of faith – following wherever God leads, until we let go the reigns of our lives and entrust all that matters to our Lord God, we will never know the awesome power and salvation of our God.

When Thomas doubted, it must have been hard.  He was alone in his disbelief.  And that uncomfortable position lasted for a full week.  But God met him.  God showed up for him.  God answered him!

 

As we navigate the new landscapes of our changing realities,
As we work and move and shop differently,
As we wrestle in isolation and quarantine,

May we like Thomas squarely face our demons, our questions, our doubts, our desires and hot anger.

May we bring our full selves before the living God, in honesty and truth.

And may we experience God-with-us in new, transformative ways

So that we too may joyfully confess with the Psalmist,

That with our God is life and peace and security

Gratitude, joy, and pleasures forevermore!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Neighbors”

In this time of social distancing when everything is in upheaval, I have found comfort in my pets, Little Bit and Bandit. Last night around 7:00 my kitty, Bandit, got away from me with his harness and leash on him. I could not find him anywhere. I spent every other hour walking our condo complex looking out for him, calling him, and worrying that he would be hurt by having the leash on. I even had a neighbor crawl part way into a crawl space under the condo to see if he had gotten in there. No kitty. When I finally gave up and went to bed late that night I prayed to God that Bandit would be safe and that even if I never saw him, that he would be ok, or at least not suffer.

The next morning he was not at the door. I put on a coat and shoes and in my pajamas wandered around the complex in the daylight gently calling him so as not wake folks up. I looked through the gaps in fences to see if he had gotten stuck in some neighbor’s back yard. Nothing! I had to stop my search to get ready for the bank appointment about the Small Business Loan/Grant and to make bank deposits and sign CCC worker checks and left with a heavy heart.

When I returned, still no kitty. I spent time finding a picture of him and created a LOST KITTY poster. I put on my mask and went to Office Depot to run off colored copies for posting. A friend came over to get some of the posters and we discussed the best places to post them. He left. A few moments later I headed out my door and my neighbor came running to me to tell me that Bandit had spent the last few minutes following her around as she did some gardening! There he was, collapsed against the HVAC system. The harness and leash were gone, but he seemed to not have suffered any harm. He has not stirred for the last 2 1/2 hours. Safe at home! Thank you, God, for looking out for my kitty and giving me back a source of great comfort during this difficult time in our lives!

 

“Make Space for the Unexpected”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Matthew 28:1-10

 

Jeremiah 31:1-6

At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.

Thus says the Lord:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.”

 

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”


 

Even more-so than we did not see Covid-19 coming, the Disciples and all of Israel and Judea couldn’t see Jesus’ resurrection coming.

Now they foresaw his death.  In the weeks before his death, when Jesus resolved to return to Judea despite his disciples’ warnings not to return to a land so recently hostile to him, we hear Thomas resigning himself to death with Jesus:  “Let us return with him, that we may also die with him.”  The tension is rising.  The conflict is mounting.  Discomfort with Jesus’ identity and power and authority have reached their natural boiling point, and the disciples want to keep Jesus miles and miles away from it.  But Jesus returned.

Jesus returned. 

And he would not be safe.  Not at all.

 

But despite the fact that Jesus had been alluding to his resurrection… despite the fact that many truly believed him to be the Messiah… despite the fact that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead… no one could begin to imagine what God had in store next.

Death was to be avoided at all cost.
Death marked the end.
Death had finality.
Death was the end of the movement.

And so when Jesus is crucified on a cross, for all to see, many of the disciples hide in fear.  They have given the last years of their lives following Jesus, and now Jesus has gone and gotten himself killed.  Will they be next?

And so, in classic moves of survival, they turn their gaze inward.  They hunker down and button the hatchets.  They tighten their inner circle.  They spend their days in a dark room.  They look back upon their former careers and wonder if there’s still a place for them there.  They start to worry about their next meal.  The fishing begins again…

 

Do you know what it is like to hunker down in fear?

 

And no one – no one – saw a future past that cross.

How could they?
How could they imagine a future never before seen in all the world?!
That Jesus would arise from death’s strong grip?
Flesh and blood?
Asking for a bite to eat??

No one.

Now the Israelites were a nation occupied.  They had been colonized by Rome.  They paid the emperor taxes.  They had known victory and defeat, power and exile.  But most common to their experience was uncertainty, change.  They ever faced threats of annihilation.  They built and others tore down.  Nothing seemed sure.  And the people were antsy.  Some were ready to bring on a bloody war with Rome, a war they surely would not have won.  Others played the system, buying their power with purchased Roman citizenship.  And others still tried to exercise their religious power and authority while ignoring the occupying forces (until they found ways the occupiers could carry out their will…such as in the condemnation of Jesus).  Herod had razed the holy city in order to rebuilt it, bigger and better and mightier, with Roman architecture and Roman authority.

It seemed like everyone else was pulling the strings of this nation.  And the people of Israel yearned for independence and autonomy.  They yearned for liberation and power.

But at the very least, couldn’t they just plant a fruit tree and own it long enough to eat of its fruit?  At the very least, couldn’t they reap what they sowed? 

Could they have control over their lives enough
To know the reward of their labors, their energies, their affections?
To build a house and live in it?

To this nation who has known plenty and known want… to this nation who has known both power and powerlessness… to this people who yearn for something to place their hope in, comes this prophetic word:

“Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.”

What this describes is hope.

And isn’t that what we’re grasping for now?

 

Will our mortgage companies allow us to defer payments?
Will our jobs hold out?
Will all those we love, still be here when all this passes?

Will this pass?

 

We are grasping for hope.

 

Are the efforts I’m taking enough?
Can my body overcome the virus if I catch it?
Can my family overcome it, if I spread it to them?
Will there be enough beds and staff and masks and ventilators if I need medical intervention?

And what is the world becoming?

So many are rediscovering simple joys –
writing letters and postcards,
riding bicycles,
taking long walks,
slowing down,
sitting on porches,
making music,
reading and writing poetry,
calling friends and family,
taking advantage of online tools we’ve had for years yet seldom used.

We are more aware than ever that each one affects us all, for better and for worse.  We are more aware than ever that our life and healing is bound up in our working together, whatever our differences.  We are more open to outcomes we wouldn’t have before considered.

But

Is this the world we want to live in, bound up, each in our own house?
How long can we sustain?
Will new and even designer viruses hijack life, over and over again?
Will we again know the touch of a grandchild’s hand in ours,
the loving embrace of a true friend,
the gathering of the body of Christ?

 

We need hope… hope that we will eat of the fruit trees we’ve planted… hope that we will continue to dwell in the homes in which we’ve labored and loved… hope that our diligent service will be remembered as company’s consider cuts…

Hope that our children will once again gather together to learn and to play… hope that love for neighbor won’t be eclipsed by fear of neighbor… hope that we may once again gather to worship and serve in the community of Forest Hill…

 

It is easy to see our fears.  We practically manifest them as we ruminate on all the ways we might meet our demise or experience loss and pain.  It is easy to worry.  There are way too many things out of our control right now.  It is easy to despair….when we cannot see a path forward.

 

The people of Israel who have followed Jesus from shore to shore, see their hope dying on the cross with Jesus that day.

The disciples who have seen Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, now fear their own deaths.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, breathes her last goodbye to her beloved son.

 

But JESUS returns. 

Jesus comes back.

 

When we could not see any hope, our Lord overcame the grizzly bonds of death and blew us all away, in life after death! 

 

Friends, I do not know your particular fears in this time.  I do not know your particular worries.  I do not know how the waters rage around you.

But I do feel the waters rising.  I know the gravity of fear.  I have known the sting of loss.

 

But JESUS returns.  Our Lord God popped the top clear off of our greatest imaginings and made hope where there was no hope, made life where there was death, made a future of hope where there was once despair. 

 

Let us leave room for the unexpected.
Let us open ourselves to the unimaginable.

Is there room in your mind for a new uncovering of Truth?

Is there room in your heart for God’s expansive love of neighbor…and stranger?

Is there room in your day for meeting someone new.

 

A gift of this dreadful pandemic is the shaking up of our days.  Because it gives us all a chance to re-evaluate and to decide WHAT is important.

 

Without openness,
Without space,
Without humility,
Without intention,
We can miss God’s resurrection power,
God’s word of HOPE spoken over our lives, and all creation.

 

We serve the crucified, yet Risen Christ,
the Christ who returned.

Whatever your despair, make room for the resurrection power of God. 

Make room for hope